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Communication Arts has seen some insanely great work in the last 60 years. And yet, precious little of it has turned advertising upside down and, in some cases, influenced our culture and who we are as a society. I asked six prominent names in advertising, one for each decade in the years since CA started publishing, to pick the one. The mutant. The game changer that rocked everything.

’60s

What can you say about advertising in the ’60s. It was Mount St. Helens. It was the San Francisco earthquake. What happened at Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) forever upended the business and the world. And Ted Bell was there. Smack dab in the middle of it all. 

Ted Bell is a best-selling author. He was a junior copywriter at DDB, president and chief creative officer of Leo Burnett, and worldwide creative director of Young & Rubicam.

Ted Bell: Think small. (VW) Lemon. (VW) Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snowplow drives to the snowplow? (VW) You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s. (Levy’s Jewish Rye) We try harder. (Avis) It’s ugly, but it gets you there. (VW) I sometimes wonder if it pays to make beer this way. (Utica Club) Advertising is the art of persuasion. (Bill Bernbach) It lets me be me. (Clairol) The 60-second excitement. (Polaroid) We don’t take off until everything is kosher. (El Al) Sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do. (Bill Bernbach) Tsk, tsk. (Chivas) We have to sell a Nazi car in a Jewish town. (George Lois) The car was so utterly preposterous, we had to Americanize it as quickly as possible. (Helmut Krone) Starting Dec. 23, the Atlantic Ocean will be 20% smaller. (El Al) Will we ever kill the bug? (VW) An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it. (Bill Bernbach) We freed ourselves from the borrowed elegance of Detroit ads, the columned mansion, the beautifully gowned woman… (Helmut Krone) Don’t let the low price scare you off. (VW) It makes your house look bigger. (VW) The Chivas Regal of scotches. (Chivas) Mass transit. (VW Bus) It was all so desperately simple. (Sir Alan Parker) Ugly is only skin-deep. (VW)

’70s

There was more to the ’70s than Donna Summer, Apollo 13 and the Pentagon Papers. In advertising, Coca-Cola was teaching the world to sing, and a soon-to-be iconic brand was getting Americans to see fast food in a way they never had. Joey Cummings remembers.

Joey Cummings is chief executive officer at The Joey Company in New York. As a creative director, Cummings has held the creative reins at Bozell, TracyLocke, Ted Bates, Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB Chicago and Leo Burnett. 

Joey Cummings: In 1971, a small fast food chain and its Chicago agency, called Needham, Harper & Steers, were inspired to disrupt a price-driven category by talking about the “why” (the big buzzword of today) of the brand. Keith Reinhard, later to be my boss for many years, saw a gaping opportunity. The consumer insight was: moms get tired of preparing meals, kids get tired of “finish your peas, please” and dads get put off by the high cost of eating out.

“You Deserve a Break Today” was an idea with emotional bull’s-eye precision. It was brilliant in not only describing “why” McDonald’s existed, but also in putting “you” at the center of this great brand’s purpose. The campaign was grounded in creating “content” (another buzzword today) that instilled important and uplifting human values and behaviors.

Told in jingle, in dance and in poignant stories that tickled your funny bone or tugged at your heart, the campaign created what later became the “Chicago” school of advertising. It taught young creatives how to birth a big emotional idea based on a pivotal consumer insight, craft a story, write a lyric and even write the notes the lyric underscores.

’80s

The ’80s marked the rise of the outlier. The Davids who went toe to toe with the Goliaths. Fallon McElligott Rice. Wieden+Kennedy. Leonard Monahan Saabye. They proved great work could happen anywhere. If anyone knows the ’80s, it’s Tom Monahan. 

Tom Monahan was a cofounder of the highly acclaimed Leonard Monahan Saabye and a former advertising columnist for CA from 1990 to 2000. 

Tom Monahan: Arguably, the 1980s may be the greatest turning point in the history of creative advertising thanks to one ad. Apple’s “1984” not only influenced television advertising forever after; it upped the ante for creative in all media.

Prior to “1984,” we did commercials. After “1984,” we did films. Anthems. Events. And it wasn’t just because Chiat/Day hired big-time film director Ridley Scott. The concept was grander than grand. Production bigger than big. It turned buzz into the holy grail of communications.

After “1984,” commercials became less, well, commercial. “1984” showed no product. Yet, in extremely dramatic fashion, it made a hitherto niche brand into a category, not to mention an advertising industry leader, stealthily unveiling a product line with intelligence and ’tude that changed the world.


Yes, many advertisers still like to create commercials that sell, sell, sell. But “1984” separated visionary marketers from career ad hacks, proving that compelling brand building could happen through bold, elegant storytelling. The industry has not been the same since.

“1984” also substantially elevated the world’s biggest marketing stage, the Super Bowl. That “event” concept has permeated virtually all media ever since. It illustrated return on creative investment in inarguable fashion. It ran once. It got millions of “free” impressions before YouTube made such a thing child’s play. It turned creativity into a hard asset. Good will. Suddenly, even accountants could understand this hitherto esoteric thing, “The Concept” (well, kinda).

Hail, “1984”!

’90s

The ’90s. Oh mama. What a decade. If you loved long copy, this was your time. High concept was the coin of the realm. Design was an obsession. Craft mattered. And few creatives lived every moment of it like John Doyle.

One of the most awarded creatives in advertising, John Doyle is a freelance art director and creative director. 

John Doyle: When I first saw the Nike Women’s Fitness campaign, I was the father of two little girls and a toddler son. It made me feel that my daughters not only had permission, but also the right to dream and to realize their dreams; that my son could witness that in his sisters and his mother; and that I could learn from them as well and be inspired by their lives.

It was a campaign from a company that needed to establish a dialogue with women, to reach women who were not athletes, but who had the physical, inherent capacity and desire to participate in sports. Many women heard it and felt it.

More than any other advertising of the decade, the Nike women’s campaign had the greatest cultural and ad industry impact by far. Although few came close to the truth and authenticity in the Nike women’s campaign, the work was subsequently emulated for the entire decade.

Nike was the messenger that enabled a voice to be expressed at a time it needed to be heard the most. It was a collaborative effort. Nike recognizing the importance of reaching women, and Wieden+Kennedy looking within itself and assigning writer Janet Champ and art director Charlotte Moore to the task. The culture and the intensity of client and agency had to be of one accord and one conviction in order to produce a campaign like this. They were. And they did.

1998–2008 There aren’t enough numbers on the Richter scale to measure the earthquake that was branded entertainment in the early 2000s. By now, we all know how Fallon and BMW turned the ultimate driving machine into the ultimate turn-the-industry-upside-down machine. Greg Hahn explains.

Greg Hahn is chief creative officer of BBDO New York.

Greg Hahn: The decade ushered in monumental changes in technology and media. Seated directly behind all that change was Advertising.

In terms of the above, BMW Films stands as the poster child for the shift that took place. (Full disclosure, I worked at BMW’s agency, Fallon, during the launch, but did not work on the groundbreaking first round and the work I’m referring to. All interest is nonvested.)

BMW Films changed the entire model of Advertising. Starting with the math and the media. In the early days of the internet, even before broadband became broadly adopted, BMW Films placed a bet on online content. Reversing the traditional model, it put all the money on the production and very little on the media. Betting that if the content was of great quality, people would seek it out.

It also changed many God/David Ogilvy–given rules of the traditional commercial. Gone were the normal time constraints and typical product shots and proof points. This was Movieplex-style entertainment that showed, not told, how badass BMWs were. At that time, very few car clients wanted you to put bullet holes and kidnap victims in their cars. But BMW and Fallon understood that in order for this to work, it had to feel vastly different than Advertising.

BMW Films launched in 2001, and suddenly after its unprecedented success, a lot more Advertising began to look and feel a lot less like Advertising.

2009–2018

These last ten years have been as wild and wooly a ride as any we’ve ever known, both as an industry and as a society. It’s been up. It’s been down. And it’s been chock-full of surprises. Including Rob Schwartz’s pick for game changer of the decade.

Rob Schwartz is the chief executive officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day NY.

Rob Schwartz: The decade begins with Obama and ends with Trump. The end of civility and sanity, and the beginning of sheer WTF?

2009–2018 sees a rise in our obsession with technology. From next-generation iPhones to the launches of iPad and the Square payment system. It’s also the beginning of platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest. And the thorough dismantling of traditional TV. In advertising, we see the thorough digital transformation of damn-near everything.

So what’s the game-changer idea of the decade? The one idea we never saw coming that suddenly altered the way we think about everything?

Before I unveil the Game Changer, here are some runner-ups: Dove’s Sketches, Prudential’s Day One and Nike’s FuelBand. I also can’t ignore Bing’s Decode Jay-Z, Gatorade’s Replay and State Street’s Fearless Girl.

But the idea that changed the way we think about ideas was Small Business Saturday, from American Express.

The idea was so simple yet so powerful: inspire shopping at small businesses right when America does its holiday shopping. It was a stunt that became a movement that became an official resolution passed by the US Senate. Unanimously.

Today, it’s on the national calendar. Thursday is Thanksgiving. Then Black Friday. Then Small Business Saturday. The idea changed our lives. It also spawned other behavioral changing ideas, like REI’s #OptOutside.

In a decade of incredible ideas, Small Business Saturday stands out as the game changer. It changed business. It changed consumer behavior. It changed the game for anyone thinking about how to create on behalf of a brand.

What about you? What would your six have been? Email me at ernie.schenck@gmail.com, and I’ll include your list on Facebook, Twitter
and LinkedIn. ca

 

Ernie Schenck (ernieschenckcreative.prosite.com) is a freelance writer, a creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. An Emmy finalist, three-time Kelley nominee and a perennial award winner—the One Show, Clios, D&AD, Emmys and Cannes—Schenck worked on campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands in the world in his roles at Hill Holliday/Boston, Leonard Monahan Saabye and Pagano Schenck & Kay. He lives with his wife and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island.
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