Creative Marketers

By Published on .

Creativity presents its first annual account of client-side creativity, a rare and necessary condition from which meaningful relationships, awards show laurels and sales results flow. Beyond recognizing the biggest budgets or slickest commercials, our rundown takes into account creativity and innovation in all areas—product design, the cultivation of a creative culture, knowledge of the brand and the consumer—and singles out those marketers who have engaged consumers in new ways, those who have a real point of view, and those who put themselves out there in pursuit of a creative (and, therefore successful) brand.

Burger King

The once-fickle marketer now commits to putting risk-taking at the forefront.

Burger King "Fantasy Ranch"
Not long ago, Burger King was considered the client from hell. The executive suite was repopulated annually, and agencies were replaced just as fast. Four came and went in as many years. Today, BK projects a different image. While the company swapped CEOs last year—-exchanging Brad Blum for Continental Airlines' Greg Brenneman—-CMO Russ Klein, who was assigned to his post when the chain was purchased from Diageo by a group of private investors in 2003, has been on the job for almost three years. "We take being a good client seriously," Klein says. "It's important to us to be a good client, not only to be successful for our franchisees, but it's important for us to be a good partner for our agencies. We want people inside of our agencies to vie to work on the Burger King business, because in the end that means we'll attract the best people."

While that statement would have once been laughable, the work BK has done since partnering with Crispin Porter + Bogusky last year has made a lot of people reconsider. The chain has clocked same-store sales increases for six straight quarters; franchisees, with whom the company has had a rocky relationship, are voicing support; and, for once, it is not impossible to imagine ad school grads daydreaming about working on BK.

CP+B president Jeff Hicks says the change of attitude was palpable from the beginning. "We looked at the team that was running the company and the new ownership and we realized these people want to do things differently, and they're inspired to shake things up and to break the mold," he says. "They had a passion that was recognizable right when you met them."

And BK has been doing things differently. While the chain's marketing efforts used to feel like underfunded versions of campaigns waged by burger leader McDonald's, Burger King seems to have accepted that it is a challenger brand and is behaving accordingly. The chain's advertising now hard-targets what Klein calls "superfans" or "hardcore, fast-food hamburger restaurant patrons."

Dudes, in other words—-a demo that CP+B has always been good at attracting. "They've understood that not all consumers are equal," says Hicks. "There are certain consumers that are more important to you if you're trying to build a business. If I have a dollar and I'm going to speak to one consumer, who am I going to talk to? I want to talk to the guy who's eating six times, seven times, eight times a week in my category." Furthermore, the company has been willing to take on the irreverence—-and risk-—that comes with pursuing that audience. (Coq Roq, anyone?)

"We view ourselves as a brand with higher risk tolerance than our key competitors are willing to undertake, and we consider that a competitive advantage," Klein says. "Sometimes sparks fly and you have to have the stomach as a corporation and as a brand to do work that is provocative, and we're pretty comfortable with that."

It helps, of course, that Crispin's work—provocative though it may be—-is, by and large, product work that highlights BK's new menu offerings, food shots and all. "I think it's thoughtful risk-taking," Klein adds. "There are a lot of agencies out there that do work that grabs attention and turns heads, but when I look underneath it, I don't see the point. There's a point to what Crispin does." In turn, the agency has been rewarded with almost two years of continued employment, a recent record for BK. - Jim Hanas


Head of Global Marketing Uli Becker reflects on the finer points of relationships, creativity and selling shoes.

Adidas "Hello Tomorrow"
What have you learned about agency relationships in the past few years, from your experience with your creative partners 180 and TBWA?

UB A relationship that is driven by shared objectives, that is idea-driven and based on an understanding of each other, will ultimately be successful. Once successful, you have momentum and you need to make sure you stay on track and don't get complacent.

How would you describe your relationship with your agencies?

UB Next to a very good professional collaboration, there's also a good degree of friendship between the key players, which creates the right, open atmosphere. We challenge, compliment and criticize each other. Both agencies have great adidas brand understanding and bring specific competence for sport and sports categories to the table.

How do you build a great relationship with an agency?

UB Time is of the essence. It's like getting married quickly—you do that because you like each other, but then you get to know the other person better, learn and accept the things you didn't know on both sides. This is a process that takes a while and the faster great work is created, the faster you build the bond for a lasting relationship. Of course, with time and success, trust is built. Sport is emotional, fun and tough at the same time. The same applies to the sporting goods industry. At adidas, we feel very passionate about what we do and how we do it. A great agency has the same approach. Believe me, that causes hefty discussions at times, but good ones.

What is your favorite adidas advertising/marketing effort?

UB My most favorite ones we are out making right now. Watch our basketball effort in fall and spring and, being a football nut, I would watch our football approach to the World Cup.

What recent advertising/marketing project do you think has represented your brand well?

UB Our brand effort in launching the world's first intelligent shoe, the adidas_1, last spring was a great way of showcasing adidas' confidence about the future. Intelligence is a new territory for sport, and we communicated in a refreshing way to our brand target. I wish I'd have had more media dollars.

From your recent experiences on adidas, what have you learned about global marketing and reaching a broader and increasingly fragmented audience?

UB A good strategy for a global brand needs to be built on global and local relevant insights, and executed consistently. Consumer know-how is key for success and from a global POV. It's evident that kids around the globe have moved closer together, a result of the electronic age and a good one for global brands. Being on the very top of new media is mandatory to be successful in the future. Media is a master key. The best idea is meaningless if you don't find the right way to bring it to the target. We are spending more time than ever with our media partner, Carat. To create multiple touchpoints with consumers we must maximize the output, so we need to have client, creative and media agency work hand in hand, not at separate points during the process. It's really challenging at times, but it's worthwhile .

What are some of the keys to successful marketing today?

UB Know who you are and where you want to go; know who you talk and sell to; be idea driven; execute consistently and excellently; deliver qualitative results—and be commercially relevant, be willing to take risks and, of course, don't underestimate luck.

How important is creativity as part of your business practices, and as part of what adidas the brand stands for?

UB I don't think we have been perceived as a creative company in the past—and rightfully so. I believe we're on the way to change that. Look at the brand communications work in the last two years, look at product concepts like adidas_1, look at the cooperation between Stella McCartney and adidas, or our very successful heritage division. It is the result of meaningful ideas and great execution. This will continue.

What are some of the challenges you face in building your brand, especially in light of your recent acquisition of Reebok?

UB No comment on Reebok. For adidas, the brand-building is ongoing. Clearly, depending on region or market, we have a long way to go. Surely, business-wise we need to get adidas on the map in the U.S., and that takes time. The fun region is actually Asia/Pacific because market growth can be such a motivating factor and you can achieve results much quicker. - Ann-Christine Diaz


The classic shoemaker makes a brand democracy decree.

Converse "Charles"
Not every client would be prepared to accept a marketing strategy like "brand democracy," which—-as implemented by Converse last year—-opened the door to let consumers create ads for the legendary brand. "The instinct of companies is to control all aspects of their brand and their messaging, and once you step away from that, it's a little scary," admits Converse director of brand development Erick Soderstrom. "I think we had a little bit of fear, until we saw what happened." What happened, he says, was an enormous response from consumers, "strong year-on-year sales" and an enthusiastic reception from retailers. "When we started to see the value of what we were getting back and the actual response of people saying, 'Wow, this is truly different and fresh and something that I relate to,' we were like, boom, we hit it."

The idea of brand democracy grew out of a comment Soderstrom made at a meeting with agency Butler Shine Stern & Partners, according to creative director John Butler. "At one point Erick said to us, just kind of as a flip comment on the way out the door, 'You know, guys, we don't even really own this brand anymore, the consumer does.' " Taking him at his word, BSSP solicited friends and acquaintances to compose short films, which—-they were instructed—-could specifically reference Converse or not, although "everyone to a man used the shoe in some way," Butler says. "That was kind of interesting to us because it showed that people were passionate about the brand."

For Soderstrom, the idea seemed a perfect solution for a brand that was all about "originality," which can be a difficult value to communicate. So, rather than communicate it, the strategy let the brand embody it by becoming a platform for consumers' own creativity. "The whole idea is that the brand is about inspiring originality," he says. "Our goal is to be able to continue to inspire that creativity, whether it be in sports, music, film or whatever." As for creating an environment that can yield such ideas, Soderstrom says, "We've tried to include the agency as much as possible in our thought processes early on, and we also try to break down the barriers between the traditional client/agency relationship protocol. Converse is built on a very creative environment. Our mindset and that of our agencies are very similar."

Butler, meanwhile, credits the success of the partnership to a lengthy pitch process, which allowed agency and client to work together over time. "A lot of pitches are kind of artificial situations, because they don't really replicate how agencies and clients work together," he says. "I really believe that when it works and it works well, it's just a bunch of like-minded people who are smart, sitting down and rolling up their sleeves around a table and figuring it out. But pitches don't usually allow you to do that. By the time we were working with them, we knew them pretty well. I think that's why that pitch worked out for everybody concerned." - Jim Hanas


Know Thyself (And Thine Audience)

ESPN "Keepsake"
Every ESPN employee is given a baseball covered with writing, illustrations and logos. It's not some sort of autographed souvenir however, but the brand essence in a package you can wrap your hands around in more ways than one. The ball, part of an internal branding exercise, features images of sports heroes, trophies and SportsCenter anchors, but, most importantly, it offers inspiring quotes that repeat the company's brand mantras. "The ESPN brand isn't kept in a box, or a safe, or owned by some crazy sports collector," it says in block letters. "Like this ball, it's owned by you and is in your hands. This is a big responsibility, so here are a couple of things to keep in mind when communicating with and serving the"—here we see four people in red T-shirts that spell out F-A-N-S.

"It's really empowering," says Wieden + Kennedy/New York executive creative director Kevin Proudfoot, whose agency has been with ESPN for more than 10 years as the brand has expanded to three cable channels, a high-traffic website, a magazine (and to millions of mobile phones across the country). This and other W+K-created internal marketing programs "put the emphasis on every employee, whether you work in production or you're the EVP of a department. It's not an accidental metaphor. When you have it on your desk, you move it around in your hands and that's how we want them to think about the brand—it's in their hands and it's their responsibility, but it's also at their disposal."

The ball is a perfect strike indicating the client's rock-solid identity and internal culture, which has led to a series of fruitful agency relationships. Marketing EVP Lee Ann Daly, who has worked for ESPN for eight years, has built alliances not only with W+K/N.Y. but The Concept Farm and Ground Zero. Recent creative highlights include the long-running "Without Sports" branding campaign from W+K, The Concept Farm's "Season of the Fan" and Ground Zero's branded serial with Miller called "The Squeeze."

"We make it a practice with our partners to work only with groups composed of sports fans themselves," says Daly. "So we have a double whammy of credibility when we do something creative. There's a standard whereby we take sports seriously, but we don't take ourselves too seriously. We all drive creativity. The notion of risk taking and courage are considered qualities of competency in leadership, both internally and externally."

In recent months, ESPN has experienced an interesting shift—its brand positioning has been adopted as the company's mission statement. "Our company mission statement, which was written in 1993, was about risk taking, creativity and integrity when being the worldwide leader in sports," says Daly. "But our brand positioning was that we're not an entertainment company, we're the world's biggest sports fan. And that's really driven where we've extended the brand over time. We chose that position because a human position is more accessible than the 'worldwide leader in sports.' We wanted a conversational role with the fans."

ESPN knows its audience well, and creatives know this is essential to creating effective campaign ideas. "If you really understand who the fans are and what motivates them," says Concept Farm creative director Gregg Wasiak, "and it takes a lot of work and diligence to know that—then you can trust your gut because you haven't second guessed and you can say what is right and wrong. It's a great way to work, but you have to have a keen understanding of what drives the brand."

Daly says that there is a certain point where a client should let go and let good work happen. "Good work is like a baby chick on Easter morning. If you handle it too much, it's going to die by Easter afternoon." - Melanie Shortman

Virgin Mobile

The cellphone marketer lives without a plan when making creative magic.

Virgin Mobile "Ben"
It's not easy to be edgy in an office park in Warren, N.J., but Virgin Mobile does its best, according to VP-brand and communications Bob Stohrer. The company has a "jeans and T-shirt" culture that is strictly enforced. There's even a rack by the elevator banks where visiting suits are asked to deposit their ties. "From a creative director's perspective, there's something really wrong when a client dresses cooler than you do," quips Ari Merkin, who created ads for Virgin while ECD at Fallon/N.Y. "Bob is way cooler than I am. There's no competition."

Stohrer, who joined Virgin in 2003, had previously been VP-creative director at NFL Properties, where he first worked with Virgin Mobile CMO Howard Handler. His first responsibility at Virgin was launching an account review, in which storyboards were banned from the room. "We decided that we weren't going to make a decision based on a great TV commercial," he says.

Previous work for the brand—Dadaist scenarios created by Leagas-Delaney/S.F. and directed by Smuggler's Brian Beletic—had turned some heads (and inspired more than a little envy among creatives and directors alike) but "did not get the business off to the start that it wanted," according to Stohrer. Ultimately, Virgin chose Fallon/N.Y., then headed by Kevin Roddy and the team of Linus Karlsson and Paul Malmstrom (now of Mother/N.Y.), who presented "Live Without a Plan" as a positioning line for introducing the concept of "pay as you go" cellphone service. "I think what we wanted was some parameters for the sandbox that we were going to let all the creative people play in and let directors play in and 'Live Without a Plan' gave us that sandbox," Stohrer says.

"Bob and Howard like to be very straightforward with whatever message they want to get across," says Merkin, who took over the reins at Fallon/N.Y. in 2003. "You've got to be pretty crystal clear about your message when you're being outspent 90 to 1." The result has been a series of provocative ads—including a campaign in which people stood naked with their Virgin Mobile gift phones; a set that took on censorship; and a musical tribute to Chrismahanukwanzakah—which nonetheless remained tightly focused on Virgin's "pay as you go" gospel. "Our media spend is only 2 percent of the entire wireless category, so we need our work to punch above its weight," says Stohrer. "We need to create an emotional alignment with consumers."

To get that alignment, Stohrer says he believes in pushing his agencies to innovate without micromanaging the process, which risks losing "the magic that people respond to. We have the benefit of being a challenger brand by nature," he adds. "That demands that we think about things differently. That demands innovation. That demands defying convention. If you don't give people permission to challenge the category, it would be hard for us to be successful."

As for managing creative talent, Merkin says Stohrer runs his in-house team like a "creativity machine" and is open to welcoming agencies in as true partners. "The best thing about Fallon/N.Y. and Virgin Mobile was how seamlessly the teams came together," he says. "There really wasn't a client side and an agency side. There were just teams. I give Bob a lot of credit for blurring those lines. He brought us in and made us feel like we were all doing this together. I think it takes a special client to be able to do that."

Adds José Mollá, creative director at Miami's La Comunidad, which recently created a series of offbeat Virgin Mobile ads for the Hispanic market: "Bob is a person who gets excited about ideas, and he understands that the most expensive thing that could happen to a brand is to go by unnoticed. They're one of those few clients that understands that one of the most important values that an agency has is its motivation. They feed your motivation a lot. Bob is very good at encouraging people and keeping everybody on the team excited about the brand and what we do." - Jim Hanas


The U.K.-based beverage company finds passion in purity.

"Purity, health, humor and conscience" is the mantra at Fruit Towers, the humble headquarters of Innocent Drinks, a U.K. fruit smoothies manufacturer that has captured both the nation's imagination and a 63 percent market share. The six-year-old brand is pure in every way—-hence its name. The drinks contain no additives, preservatives or concentrates, and Innocent is equally uncompromising in its determination to be a social force for good as well as a profit-making business.

From the lighting in the office to the delivery vans and the labels on the bottles, everything is green, recycled, carbon-neutral and as kind to the environment as possible. If this all sounds too good to be interesting, a sense of humor stops Innocent from being too earnest and gives it the fun, youthful edge that Ben & Jerry exuded in its early days. In their marketing efforts, the three friends and co-founders—Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright—are just as unconventional. Every winter they hire a team of senior citizens to knit bobble hats for their bottles, to keep them warm. A dollar of the sale of each hat-clad smoothie goes to a charity helping seniors to pay their heating bills.

Innocent's biggest marketing spend of the year goes to Fruitstock, a free music festival in a central London park that was attended by 80,000 people this year. As well as live bands, festival-goers can enjoy yoga, champagne and a flirting area. You can also create your own smoothie using a machine that runs on pedal power. "We always used to organize music festivals anyway, so Fruitstock takes us back to our heritage and is a way to say thank you to everyone who supports our business," Reed says. "If I could invite them all round to my house for a cheese and wine party I would. But there's not room. Fruitstock brings the spirit of the brand alive. It's open, eclectic, multicultural and raises money for charity. The biggest sell you'll get is from the homemade bread stall in the farmer's market."

The Innocent brand works in subtle ways. It has two types of delivery vans—-one covered in grass and daisies and the other dressed as a cow, complete with a horn that says "moo." Spare stock is either delivered to the homeless or taken to the office of someone on the company database. Television advertising also become part of the mix for the first time this year. The simple spot is based around a carton, some fruit and a chicken, and took an hour to film one sunny Saturday morning by a film student friend in the local park. "We wanted to talk to people like we'd just popped in for a cup of tea and a biscuit," Reed says of the low-key commercial.

Innocent doesn't retain an ad agency but puts out briefs as they come up. "We're massive fans of getting the creative expression right," Reed explains. "We relentlessly suck up talent and ideas and relish the collaborative process. We're forever changing and evolving, but we always keep to our core truths." - Emma Hall


The Dutch-based wunderkind takes a worldwide stroll.

Dutch designer Max Barenbrug was a student at the Netherlands' Design Academy in Eindhoven when he came up with an eye-catching but functional stroller design that looked something like the love child of a mountain bike and a traditional pram. Besides its sturdy appearance, the stroller focused on the mobility of parents, whether they were cruising through the city or sauntering around the park. In 1994, after approaching various baby goods manufacturers only to get doors repeatedly slammed in his face, Barenbrug decided to do things himself and hooked up with his brother-in-law, physician Eduard Zanen, who had been his consultant on the project. Five years later, the pair launched what today is known as the Bugaboo brand. The company's flagship stroller, the Frog, has a market share of 25 percent in Amsterdam and 15 percent in the Netherlands, with its buzz getting louder around the rest of the globe. And although it's just a baby-mobile, it may be rolling down a cult-inspiring path similar to that of beloved consumer icons like the iPod or Mini.

The growth of the Netherlands-based Bugaboo brand, like many fan-inspiring products, can be attributed foremost to its groundbreaking design, but also to the convergence of creative forces backing its product development and marketing. Global marketing director Madeleen Klaasen had just come off a nine-year run working at Nike Europe when a friend at Bugaboo called her up. "I can still remember the moment I walked into their very small office," she says. "There were only seven people there, but I saw the product and fell in love with it. I don't know how to explain it, but you really could see the innovative design." Soon after, a call coincidentally came into the office from Kari Boiler, a former account planner at W+K/Amsterdam. Boiler and her husband, John, both U.S. natives, had just become parents and had fallen for the stroller as well. Planning a move back home, Boiler had seen the potential for marketing the product in the States and wanted to spread the love there. Turns out, Klassen had known her from the Nike days and immediately invited her on board as head of North American marketing. That quickly led to Bugaboo's appearance on an episode of Sex and the City, which Boiler had arranged through product placement contacts she'd developed at Wieden. Meanwhile, her husband John, a former Wieden/Amsterdam CD, had also worked with Klaasen on some of Nike's European campaigns and was about to launch his own shop in the States with former Wieden colleague Glenn Cole and other established players, so Bugaboo didn't even need to bother searching for an agency partner, which developed into the El Segundo, Calif.-based 72andSunny. "From the start it was a right fit," says Klaasen. "Of course, knowing each other over the years helps, but they knew how to build a brand in a very emotional way."

Bugaboo and 72andSunny have forged a global direction centered around "excitement and bringing everything back to the essence," says Klaasen. "Bugaboo starts with being functional and performance-driven, but then you need to go a step further. People don't just want functionality in their life, they also want a story about smart solutions and modern parenting. That's why I think working with agencies like 72andSunny is crucial, because the agency can achieve the right balance between functionality and telling the emotional story clearly." That was recently manifested in Bugaboo's worldwide "Go" campaign, which has concentrated primarily on in-store displays, collateral and a design-minded website that provides parents with gorgeously designed walking maps of major metropolitan cities. The company also just launched outdoor and print efforts to promote the most recent additions to its family, the Gecko and the Cameleon, and has plans to move the brand beyond the stroller market. Klaasen won't say where exactly, but "our mission is to bring smart solutions that excite every person on the move. That could be transporting luggage or bikes, things like that."

"It's unlike any other client relationship," says 72's John Boiler. "It feels like the partnership is a very tight family, and we work with them very closely as a business partner to help focus their business objectives." Adds 72 partner Greg Perlot, a former Microsoft brand manager, "What struck me right away is how there's such a clear product vision," but at the same time "they don't have a lot of already established ways of marketing globally and were open to new approaches." - Ann-Christine Diaz


The marketing giant lights up with imagination

GE "Model Miners"
Under the leadership of Jack Welch, General Electric was famed for rigorous financial control, first-rate engineering and disciplined management process. Beth Comstock's job is to change all that by transforming the company into one known less as a manufacturer and more as a creative powerhouse—fewer light bulbs, more ideas.

Of course no one wants the 44-year-old CMO to tear up the GE playbook—efficient management and purse-string parsimony remain a hallmark of the company's culture—but GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt, who may end up atop even the great Welch in the pantheon of management, has charged Comstock with adding to it by ingraining innovation in GE's culture and processes.

That doesn't mean Comstock can ignore the traditional duties of a marketing chief. She oversees the work from GE's corporate ad agency, BBDO, and, in that role, had the confidence to retire the 24-year-old tagline, "We bring good things to life," and replace it with "Imagination at work."

Those who work with her have nothing but praise for her instincts. Andrew Robertson, CEO of BBDO says, "She's always looking for the potential in an idea, and when she sees it she imagines ways it can be added to. It's infectious. She thinks big, is decisive, demanding and inquisitive. Being able to ask really smart questions is a good catalyst for creativity."

Comstock sees the advertising not only as a branding tool, but as a way to change how GE's 300,000 employees think about their company. "We needed the advertising to explain what's happening, to articulate the vision," she says. "It's a springboard, a mission statement to build awareness." To go beyond the mission statement, Comstock built an internal program called Imagination Breakthrough, which mandates that each of GE's 11 business units come up with at least five big ideas capable of generating $100 million of new revenue within three to seven years. Comstock and the company's many-thousand strong marketing team are held accountable for implementing the program—they have to identify and filter the new ideas coming out of each division, match them to customer needs and turn them into money makers.

"Jeff said, 'I need an initiative that can show the power of what marketing can do," says Comstock of Imagination Breakthrough. "He wanted something that gets us as comfortable with ideas as we are with process."

Comstock not only built a framework of questions to help the company's thousands of marketers identify and channel those ideas, she also embarked on an ambitious program to retrain them to expand their definitions of creativity. Every year 60 senior marketers are sent on what she calls "a three-week creative odyssey." They spend time at GE's leadership center, but they also go to places such as the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich, and Root Learning in Ohio, a company full of artists, educators, writers, designers and businesspeople "dedicated to dispelling the myth that the right and left hemispheres of the brain are an either/or proposition."

She has also brought in a host of outside agencies to unlock creativity beyond the marketing department. Change consultant Stone Yamashita, for example, took GE Consumer Finance executives on a tour of San Francisco, watching how people use their money, and helped GE Healthcare research neo-natal equipment by interviewing everyone who worked in such a unit, from a brain researcher to the janitor. San Mateo-based Jump Associates, which calls itself an opportunity identifier, has been working with top executives from GE's jet engine business by taking them out to meet pilots, mechanics and even Larry Flynt's private jet team—all in the name of increasing their empathy and strengthening their ability to make innovative decisions.

"Our role isn't just to bring discipline to the innovation process," says Comstock. "It's to get people unstuck, to identify themes and innovation across the company, to play matchmaker in bringing together the right people to inspire ideas."

With more than 100 Imagination Breakthrough ideas already in the pipeline, it seems Comstock's already switched on a light or two at GE. - Jonah Bloom


Microsoft Xbox's Don Hall does a 360.

Even months before Microsoft officially unveiled the latest evolution of its Xbox console in May at the E3 Gaming Conference and in a super-hyped 30-minute MTV special, gamers' thumbs had been twitching wildly with anticipation. And for good reason. The Xbox 360, set to land on store shelves on November 22, aspires not just to lead the next generation of gaming devices, but it purports to revolutionize home entertainment on a broader, all-encompassing scale. While it will ramp up the gaming experience to HD, it will also act as a command center that hooks up with every other techno-pleasure provider in a consumer's living room. Oddly enough, the same thing seems to be happening with Xbox's entire communications strategy behind the launch of the new product. Don Hall, the Redmond, Wash.-based Xbox global brand marketing director, has done quite a 360 himself, assembling creative talent from multiple shops and syncing them together to produce what promises to be a massive global launch, set to break later this month.

Nearly two years ago, Hall started to draft his dream team, having been given virtually free reign by Peter Moore, Xbox corporate VP/worldwide marketing and publishing, and J Allard, corporate VP and chief XNA architect and the key driver behind Xbox's revolution-minded strategy. Early on, Hall brought on Vermont-based JDK Design, best known for building the Burton snowboard brand. Led by co-founder Michael Jager, the JDK team started out on package design, but ended up staying on for overall branding and identity strategy, working in concert with Xbox's in-house industrial and package designers as well as a boutique Hall had enlisted to work on global brand strategy, El Segundo, Calif.-based 72andSunny, founded by John Boiler and Glenn Cole, former creatives at W+K/Amsterdam, celebrated designer Robert Nakata and former Microsoft colleague Greg Perlot. Meanwhile, they were joined by interactive shop AKQA, itself home to a crew of interactive talents whose CVs include work for Nike and the massive web launch of Halo II. In addition, there's Xbox's agency of record McCann-Erickson, which last spring shifted its Xbox account from New York to its San Francisco office, now designated as a global creative center and home to newly arrived SVPs/group creative directors Scott Duchon and Geoff Edwards, the talents behind much of the recent award-winning adidas basketball work out of TBWA/Chiat/Day/S.F., as well as former Chiat stategy director Mike Harris, who became SVP/group strategy director.

While a major marketer having multiple agencies at its disposal is not unusual, it is when that marketer makes it a mandate for all of them to truly work in concert. "I think pitting one partner against each other to win a project is not the right way to go," says Hall. "One of the expectations I set is that the partners are going to have a checkpoint with each other and then bring me in." That kind of interplay is necessary, he believes, given the nature of the campaign. Hall and company won't disclose specific details about the effort except that it will involve intertwining and interacting components of TV, web, print and packaging, directed toward both a broad audience and diehard gamers. Production insiders also say that the creative bar has been set high, involving directorial talents like Frank Budgen and Rupert Sanders. "If I go to any one of the parties," continues Hall, "they've contributed to the idea, they've had a chance to think about how might this extend to what we're doing on the web or in retail and packaging. It's a lot easier to achieve integration when you have a team that has a shared vision. It's not as if I'm the air traffic controller bringing it all together. It's a multipoint collaborative model as opposed to one that's centrally directed."

Such creative collaborations aren't new to 360 and have proven successful, says Hall. For example, when it came time to design the console, the company approached both Astro Design in San Francisco and Hers Design from Osaka, Japan. "We sort of threw them into the room together and said, 'Both of you have done really interesting things from a design perspective, and we want you to collaborate and come up with an integrated proposal,'" Hall explains. "If you have a really clear brand idea and strategic platform, I think it's really healthy to bring experts together. It's a little bit more chaotic, and it has to be managed somewhat diplomatically at times, but so far I really buy in deeply to this collaborative roundtable approach. It's really about getting the right people who have extraordinary talent in their areas but who also have to believe that the collaborative approach is really the right way to do it." McCann's Duchon explains, "If we needed to be 'managed' this would never work. We knew from the beginning that we had to manage all the different relationships ourselves. Otherwise Don and Xbox would never get a single point of view on how to do a big global launch and begin to transform Xbox from a video game machine into a cultural icon."

Another reason Hall has set up his dream team is because he recognizes the risks of brand dilution in the quagmire of a big-agency network. "It's very difficult for publicly traded communications conglomerates who have different arms that do different parts of the media and communications mix to deliver an integrated solution," he says. "They each have their own profit and loss responsibilities; they're large global organizations which can be sometimes unwieldy. We have our own challenges as a company on that as well, so we know that first hand. On some level, we've taken sort of the roll your own approach to an integrated model, as opposed to saying to any big multinational agency holding company, bring this all together for us, because I think that's really, really hard to do. On some level, I think the client is better suited to doing that than they are."

This might sound like he's pointing a finger at the only multinational on his roster, but Hall says, not really. "What McCann has done is remove the obstacles to have the kind of room to maneuver and have a very dedicated Xbox team, with the support network and the infrastructure and resources of a big agency. I don't want to characterize it as the prototypical big agency, because in this case they've recruited the resources we needed—Scott, Geoff and Mike—and created an environment in which they can exist fairly autonomously. So far, it's a case study for success. I think it's unusual at many other agencies to be able to do that."

Having several all-stars playing on the same turf might sound like heavy-duty fertilizer for ego-clashes, and industry insiders privy to some of the early interactions between the partnering agencies believe that this multishop formula is a recipe for disaster. But the teammates say that over time, Hall has nurtured the dynamic in a more fruitful direction. "We had experience with the partnership between TBWA and 180, so we have first hand knowledge of how things can work if everyone's on the same page with the same agenda," explains Duchon about his previous work on adidas. "Don was very curious about our experience and asked us a lot about what works and doesn't work in a creative partnership." It helps that the talents Hall has assembled all have enviable credentials. "Being with people whose work you respect is great because everybody's ideas need to rise," notes 72's Boiler. "It's like sitting around a table getting drunk and there are a couple funny guys—you don't want to be the lame guy. The opportunity here is for us to do this together. Don's tried to do this so that it never gets to questions of ownership." Adds AKQA CD Mauro Alencar, "We're all the brain cells, but we're acting as one brain that's creating the entire campaign; I really believe it's a great example of how different agencies will work together to deliver a concise and compelling communications story."

And it doesn't hurt that the forces at the senior level have proven to be just as inspiring as Hall. "It's one thing to set up collaborative networks and have all these really sharp people and a level of respect," notes JDK's Michael Jager. "But it's really magical when you also have a sense of a cause. Building a brand, having sales objectives—yes, that's part of it—but when it kicks over that the cultures internally and externally are blurring together with this energy that's more cause-related, it's amazing what happens. I truly feel we've crossed into that place. I was lucky to experience that with Burton, where it was cool to be building a brand, but there was also the cause of the snowboard culture. I really feel that's one of the big differences here. J Allard and Peter Moore are really inspiring. They have got a vision of the future of technology, entertainment and the convergence of people's lives with it. It wasn't just launching the next version of Xbox, it was about helping to deliver an important thing that would change how people relate with technology in their homes and in a social context. It's dramatic and incredibly exciting. I truly feel that that made a difference."

Hall admits his marketing approach has been unconventional, but baby steps are not an option, given the task at hand. "We're the up-and-comer brand in the category," he says. "If we're going to make serious inroads on PlayStation, we have to take risks. We have to push the limits on breaking through with consumers. It's not an option to play it safe because that's not going to create the shift in the market that we need." - Ann-Christine Diaz


Ten reasons to love Nike, from Wieden + Kennedy/Portland's Hal Curtis and Mike Byrne, Nike creative directors, and Rebecca Van Dyck, Nike account director.

1. Nike listens. Always the key ingredient to a great relationship.

2. Nike is never satisfied--they push us.

3. Reliance on instinct.

4. Trust that goes both ways.

5. They are passionate about their brand, the history of their brand, the future of their brand.

6. Willingness to embrace risk.

7. There is inherent drama in the category, in sport.

8. History of great work.

9. Innovation is valued

10. Willingness to evolve.

Most Popular
In this article: