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THIRST, THAT WEIRDLY INVENTIVE, Chicago-based computer-driven design group led by Rick Valicenti, best-known for its long and strange association with Gilbert Paper, has widened its focus.

The Thirst reel now has its first TV :30 (graphics only, you understand) for none other than Wrigley Winterfresh chewing gum and BBDO/Chicago. Clean, simple and effectively minty typography (Goudy, at the agency's request) is intercut with standard-issue gum-poppin' pleasure shots that one might think an avant-guardian like Valicenti wouldn't deign to scrape off the bottom of his shoe-but, hey, you gotta start somewhere.

"Yes, it's a very mainstream commercial," Valicenti notes. "We haven't had a whole lot of experience, so in an effort to gain experience, we're looking for opportunities. And here in town, that was a generous opportunity.

"I begged for the job," he continues with his usual refreshing candor. "You've got to get your foot in the door; we've done a great job talking to designers in our own little world. Now we want to get into that mainstream and see if we can make a difference there."

Well, he seems off to a good start. Thirst/Mad Ave collaborations presently in the works include: an MCI campaign with Messner Vetere and Chicago's Backyard Productions; a Levi's Silvertab identity redesign with FCB/San Francisco; and a design project with Tracy Locke/DDB Needham, client yet to be revealed.

According to Valicenti, the Thirst reel, known as the Unreel, has helped more than a little to interest agencies in the company. It's not called the Unreel because it goes well with 7UP; "we don't call it a reel because it is probably unlike any reel you've ever seen," says Thirst designer Mark Rattin. Indeed, that's not far from the truth, and, at 44 minutes, it's also one of the longest reels you'll ever see. On the one hand, it features a slow-moving film called "Once Upon a Time," directed by Valicenti and seen at Gilbert Paper promotional events in the Far East. This no-dialogue paean to the power of paper features a message in a bottle, an imprisoned damsel and plenty of candles, which seem to wax into the wee hours before they wane. On the other hand, there's one Rob Wittig, a disciple of Decon don Jacques Derrida, who appears as a literal (composited) talking head, to offer-in an accelerated Alvin and the Chipmunks voice-a lengthy but very lively critique of a Thirst-produced series of Gilbert ads that are made exclusively for Wired.

There's also a bizarre section in which a lawyer, an old friend ofValicenti's, is seated uncomfortably in a mock newsroom set to give us his (long) take on the current social scene, during which he, most disconcertingly, almost never looks directly at the camera. "We don't have a collection of 30-second spots to show," explains Valicenti, "so we play."

Speaking of which, a Thirst-designed typeface called Ooga Booga, one of the digital fonts available from Thirstype, Valicenti's in-house type house-which also markets several cool faces by New York designer Barry Deck (see Creativity's October cover)-is gracing the cover of the Lego Christmas catalog.

Also upcoming: besides the Gilbert ads for Wired (there is also a series of Absolut ads made exclusively for ID magazine), Thirst is creating an interactive Internet "online presence," as Rattin calls it-sort of an artistic bulletin board-for Gilbert.

Ultimately, says Valicenti, "We just want a few more people to knock at the door."

And they don't have to park their gum outside, either.

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