Most of you won't be surprised by the appointment of CPB to its
now familiar post as Agency of the Year. You might be surprised
though by how utterly boring were our reasons for the choice (those
imaginative readers who email us every year alleging that our picks
are the result of everything from payola to sex favor swapping,
step away from the keyboards, monkeys, and prepare to be
disappointed): the agency just did better, more resonant work for
more clients than anyone else.
Though we naturally gravitate toward forward-thinking work and the companies behind it, we're not blinded by channel chicanery for its own sake. Great ideas that come from great audience insight, executed with greatness, win. All the things we spend the whole year talking about?breaking through, engaging audiences, creating content that can compete with any kind of entertainment?the agency just does, and for an inarguably wide range of brands?the client roster includes fast food, cars, household and beauty products, an airline, dried meat, big retail, beer, a search engine, bike gear, a lad's magazine, and an anti-tobacco body among others. All of the work CPB submitted?from TV spots to fake print ads in Auto Trader, to DVDs to masks and rubber grips?just worked. It got into faces and into lives and into the cultural stew, which isn't a wank on the agency's part nor a lapse in marketing judgment on ours for recognizing it. It's what we think makes a difference, ultimately, for brands. We could be wrong. CPB could be wrong. But right now, at a time when the smartest people in the industry are making shit up as they go, the agency's brain trust is making up stuff that often seems, in its own sometimes silly way, important. And it's translated into business success for the agency. After parting ways with Ikea, Molson and Mini, the agency's well known M.O. translated into nothing but upgrades?including new business from Miller, and the Volkswagen and Sprite accounts.
But it's hard to look at the work and the clients in isolation from the agency itself. CPB also puts its money where its pretty mouth is on one of the other things we spend time talking about?the agency model. Again, nobody gets points for just for trying to create some novel new one, but the shop has structured itself to think big and act decisively, and perhaps more importantly, to make the sanctity of its own brand, its own culture a high priority. That alone may not be a sufficient condition for winning Agency of the Year, but right now it seems like a fairly important thing to focus on.
But how do they do it? Below, we present our attempt at a simple answer to that loaded question?CPB Deconstructed. First, some insight on the agency's workings from two guys who set the agenda. Second, a rundown of the work?with perspective from the creatives behind the campaigns.
CPB Deconstructed?The Agency
Here, CPB chairman and MDC A&R man Chuck Porter and agency CCO Alex Bogusky break it down. Creativity asked, basically, this question: How have you guys been able to do this; what do you do internally tha allows you to conceive and sell this work and build the agency's culture? OK, that's a question and a half, and we also asked some follow up questions?we couldn't help it.
I don't know how other people do it but I know how we do it. The reason we're able to get the stuff produced that we get produced is that we really try to function without fear. We try not to be afraid of what the client will think of something or really anything else. A long time ago we had what was a big client for us back then, Del Monte. We had them for a few years and we disagreed with them a lot. Finally I said, "We have to fire these guys." At the time was a big deal for us; we were a little agency but we did it. It created such a great resurgence of enthusiasm in the agency in the short run it was way better for us. We learned that lesson early on. We've been lucky, we've had success and it's enabled us to approach problems with 96 percent of our mind on what's going to be magic here and less than 4 percent of our mind on "I hope are we aren't going to screw up." The only thing people are afraid of around here is not being brilliant. So you end up with ideas that maybe in a lot of places would end up stuck to the wall that we end up getting produced.
Does it reliably translate into success for clients? Yes. Maybe that's the other thing we've seen?is that when we do uncork one, when we produce stuff, out-of-the-ordinary stuff that a lot of people would be afraid of or is different from the way people have always done it, a lot of that stuff has had great explosive success in the marketplace. We ask our clients to trust us a lot. If we're not successful for them it becomes more difficult for them to trust us. If you are wrong very often, pretty soon they don't trust you anymore. There is an enormous incentive to be right.
What are some of the things you've done to maintain the agency's culture?
Institutionalizing this is a complicated thing. I don't know how great we're going to be at it. I think so far we've done it pretty well. I think there are certain elements in our culture that have a lot of staying power and that I see still working. From day one, I always believed in treating everyone we hire as if they are at least as smart as we are, to allow them to solve their problems. We've always been very hands-off management. The other thing I think that's been true forever is that when new people come in they don't get expectations from top management they get them from the people they work with every day. The most senior people don't have to sit down and say here's what we expect?it's in the air. I think that's still true.
You often hear people speculating on your win of an account like VW?much as they speculated about BK. How will VW change things?
We've been hearing that for a long time. My view is that audiences are audiences and they are not all that dramatically different in terms of what engages them. Kids have different sensibilities than older people do. But nobody likes to be announced to?nobody likes to talk to a salesman. So, I think its kinda boloney. I always hope we're going to be brilliant but I don't think we're any less likely to be brilliant for VW than we have been for any of our other clients.
The Seven Habits of one Highly Effective Agency. Bogusky addresses the core question with a handy list of agency characteristics, and throws in some thoughts on the King, popular culture and where funny hats can take you.
We have great account people. It's something that new creatives always comment on. And a funny thing has happened over the last few years?you can't tell the account people from creative people. There was a time when account people wore suits then they started wearing business casual; now everyone is dressed the same. We all have to dress up sometimes. But for the general agency wear, the fact that everyone has elected to dress in similar manner is because everyone is doing the same job. The account people don't want to separate themselves from creatives and vice versa. They are all ad people trying to produce good work. I wish I would have known that, I would have asked them to wear sneakers and jeans a long time ago. But once it happened I realized why it happened and I think it's a good sign. But we do have amazing account people who think of their job more as production people than as "account service work."
We like to put funny hats on. (See below for a link between this characteristic and Burger King).
We don't protect our ideas. Within the agency we don't protect our ideas from one another. We share them because we think ideas are abundant, they are everywhere. Here, it's professional to give away ideas and add ideas and not professional to have one idea and spend all your time trying to protect it.
That leads to: we trust each other. We are all going to get credit for the work. Everyone will remember your rightful part in it and everyone will benefit.
The last thing is we shoot fireworks from our asses.
Those account people ? how would you characterize them?
We are lucky in that we have two account guys, Jeff Steinhour and Jeff Hicks that are prototypical. We use them as the prototype and literally try to mould everyone else in their image. They are linear thinkers who understand the reason why we use creativity in what we do for our clients. But the reason why it's important they are linear thinkers is that they help us translate some of the leaps we make for our clients who tend to also be more liner thinkers. Especially with Hicks I rely on him for that a lot. Its fun for me- he'll say explain this- and he can turn that into a Powerpoint deck. Which is critical because we don't believe in the value of any creative that isn't actually produced. I think you can fool yourself into thinking you're good by pointing at the unproduced work in the corner and the things the clients have decided not to buy.
Usually the goal for us is to make something that people might talk about, so that was part of it. The biggest thing was just to replace the equity that had gone away. The idea that we were named Burger King and there was no king seemed like a lost opportunity. We thought about how to bring him back and this helium head showed up on eBay. We bought it. We would occasionally put it on?we do like to put on funny hats. We started thinking about how we would bring back this guy. I didn't like the idea of an actor being the king- you don't really own it that way. We looked at different ways to do it. I don't know, at one point we had it on and said what if it was just this?this big fiberglass head with a smile.
CPB DECONSTRUCTED- THE WORK
Here, we break down some of the ideas and the executional approaches that distinguished CPB's '05 creative offering, with comments from ECD Andrew Keller and CDs Rob Reilly and Tom Adams on how and why the work came into being in the manner that it did.
The Client> Burger King
What They Did: Well, what didn't they do? In sum, the agency created a genuine pop culture phenomenon in the King, the mute spokesman for BK, who showed up in commercials, in sanctioned and (maybe) unsanctioned online incarnations, on TV shows, and in the physical world via a Halloween mask that would sell out and appear on eBay for more than ten times its original price. For the launch of BK's Chicken Fries, CPB created Coq Roq and all the live shows, videos, and carrying on that go along with a masked thrash metal band. Highlights include the superb Paul Hunter video "Cross the Road," what may or may not have been a decency scuffle regarding the group's web site and references to what groupies may or may not love, appearances on Myspace.com, a DVD and text messages from lead singer Fowl Mouth. And then, there's "Fantasy Ranch." Enough from us; here's what some of the many, many blog commentators said about the epic ad:
"Yes, I think this is pretty much the epitome of art in the human species."
"It is the most wonderful short piece I've seen since the whacked out video for the song 'Frontier Psychiatrist,' by Australian electronica band The Avalanches."
"'The Breasts, They Grow On Trees.'" Greatest quote ever. I want it on my tombstone when I die."
Behind the Work>Part One?The King. Why? Andrew Keller: Because the name of the place is Burger King and they didn't have one. Also because we are not the category leader and we need symbols that reinforce the fact that the commercial you are watching is not for McDonald's or Wendys. Also it proves our point of difference in a simple iconic comparison. Do you want to hang out with Ronald, Dave or the King? That's a pretty easy one. And the King is a great symbol of "Have it your way." Clearly he lives the lifestyle and has the ability to bestow the lifestyle onto others. Doesn't everyone wish they had an omnipotent friend?
Rob Reilly: He's become part of pop culture. The advertising was step one. Now he's on ESPN and The Tonight Show. Soon he will be President of the United States.
Part Two > Coq Roq Andrew Keller: It started with Chicken Fries. And "Subservient Chicken." Chicken Fries are not nuggets. Nuggets are for kids. And chicken strips are for moms. Chicken Fries were designed for our core target. 18-34 year old guys. The notion "rebel chicken" became the strategy statement to position the product. Because it was chicken, the question became "Should we leverage what we've created with 'Subservient Chicken'?" and if so, "How?" But we didn't want to do the Subservient Chicken the same way every time. So instead we worked off of the cultural impact the Subservient Chicken has had. The notion that the Subservient Chicken website had inspired a down and out musician to take ownership of his situation and make something happen for himself. So he dressed himself in the image of his inspiration and created the band Coq Roq.
Coq Roq consists of Seattle musicians frustrated with the current music business, who jumped at the opportunity to get production dollars and exposure from the King himself. Four songs. Two full length videos. A web site, a DVD and commercial appearances with big media weight that gave them a big head start and created a signing frenzy. All for singing about their favorite product. The fabled win, win.
The client > Mini
What They Did: Among the agency's efforts for (now retired) client Mini was the Titanium Lion finalist "Counterfeit Mini" campaign. The effort centered on a fictitious watchdog body, Counter Counterfeit Commission and ads (including TV spots and real and fake ads in Auto Trader) that alerted consumers to the underground fake Mini industry and drove consumers to site where they could order a DVD documenting this nefarious activity. The agency also created a range of Mini Motormate products designed to reflect the Mini ethic, like the Hey Horn and the Moto-Go Grip.
Behind the Work: According to Andrew Keller: "It's the story of an idea finding a medium and vice versa. We wanted to take Mini to a larger audience. That meant TV. But we had to do it in typical Mini non-traditional fashion and in keeping with our use of media as creative content distribution device. Direct response TV was a great option for getting on TV at much lower rates. It was our only chance. But direct response comes with rules. You have to sell something and you have to display a website or phone number for a large portion of the spot. At the same time conceptually we've always been trying to make Mini an icon. Mini has such a distinct look that we thought it would be believable and consequently funny if people were actually making fake Minis. Proof of our iconic state. People copy icons like Elvis and Rolex. Obviously there would have to be a watchdog group to deal with such a situation. The Counter Counterfeit Commission. So now what do we sell? Or what do they sell? We were gonna just sell a brochure or pamphlet and do some web extras but we thought hey we've got cameras and stuff, lets make a DVD and sell that along with some CCC stickers. The target will like it a lot more. So we surprised Brian Buckley with a thick script for a DVD. He didn't even flinch."
The Client>Slim Jim
What they Did: To reinvigorate the skinny meat treat, CPB resurrected a newly meaningful tag, added a character, the Fairy Snapmother, and aimed both squarely at teenage boys. Looking like a somewhat ropier Henry Rollins, the Snapmother motivates self-doubters with a Snap! and a wack of the meat wand. The scenarios are dudecentric but the Snapmother's advice is somehow universal.
Behind the Work: CD Tom Adams explains: "It's one of those taglines that everyone recalls, and we didn't want to walk away from it. So we had to give snap some relevance to the target other than biting into a Slim Jim. 'Snap' is also a quick decision. A gut response that says go for it. And the Fairy Snapmother came out of that. It's that split decision personified. Teens really dig the Fairy, but more importantly they identify with the situations the fairy shows up in."
The Client >The Gap
What They Did: As the everyman togs chain undertook a redesign of its stores, the company called on CPB to trumpet the change. The agency's integrated campaign says "Change. It Feels Good" and conveys the idea that any change can be meaningful. The campaign included the Book of Change, a tiny tome which offers some surprisingly motivational thoughts on the subject, a Spike Jonze-directed brand film that showed the retailer literally tearing down the walls, and an online experience, watchmechange.com that allows users to create another self, transformed in body and garb to desired specifications.
Behind the Work: Andrew Keller: "The stores were being completely redesigned. There seemed to be a couple cultural ways in to this. There are a lot of people who don't love what Gap symbolizes. And fantasize about tearing it down. We thought we could leverage that tension to tell everybody about the store redesign. We felt the self-deprecation and new look would give us a second chance with a lot of consumers. Also ultimately we wanted to make the brand stand for change. Gap changes its styles quite a bit but no one is aware of this. So Gap is changing. You are changing. And changing rooms are as sexy as an airplane bathroom. So what if I could tell my girlfriend or boyfriend about my new openness to change. What if I could make a person just like me and make them dance for a friend. Well, I'd do it, of course.
The Client>Virgin Atlantic
What They Did: After creating the Jetrosexuals concept and linking the airline to a general sexy superiority in travel, with award winning efforts (like the "Haircut" viral banner ad ) CPB created ticket look-alike print inserts as well as new identities for each of VA's flights to London. Harking back to an era when air travel was an exercise in glamour rather than anger management, the agency gave flights names like the Miami-to-London TranceAtlantic and the L.A.-departing LoPro with each trip's personality detailed on the airline's web site.
Not To Mention
Miami Ad School
The Best Fucking Ad Ever and the Most Fucking Letters to Creativity Ever.
American Legacy "Truth"
The "Series" Fair Enough
The Mantropy campaign to save men from the neutering effects of modern metrosexuality, including a site, a DVD with films by J.J. Sedelmaier, stickers and a petition.
Bell, Molson, Shimano, Coke, Victoria's Secret