Elephant, Residence Inn

Giraffe, Residence Inn

Call me champion of the unappreciated or call me a chump but I genuinely enjoy praising advertising that is usually overlooked, often unfairly.

This new campaign for Residence Inn by mcgarrybowen (the agency the hipsters love to hate) is a perfect example. Both agency and client represent a brand of thinking that bucks trends and invites criticism. So be it. But this new advertising has a lot going for it…

First and foremost, we have a beauty of a tagline: It’s not a room. It’s a Residence. Genius. Not only does it take the ubiquitous hotel-word “room” and deposition it as a compromise but the line also makes the brand name a hero while working its double meaning. It shares many of the same qualities as my all-time favorite strap line: “Nothing runs like a Deere” for John Deere.

Then there’s the wonderfully old school “demo” featuring animals known for their bigness (a giraffe, an elephant) freely gallivanting about their “residences” with plenty of room to spare. As far as I can tell these demonstrations are totally legit, in other words no CGI or modified stage sets. Just big animals in big, beautiful hotel rooms… I mean residences. And I have to admit these residences do look pretty nice.

I’ve never been a fan of “animal commercials.” They ‘re typically too cheesy, predictable or even creepy. FYI: I never liked stupid pet tricks. It’s my opinion these spots work because the animals serve a ‘bigger’ concept and are not just there for laughs. One could argue animals and hotel rooms don’t mix and I don’t dispute this might be a turnoff for some. But I doubt it.

Finally, the film is pretty and the writing is surprisingly witty. What can I say: it ain’t bad.

McGarrybowen and Miracle Whip have concocted an epic-sized new campaign for the other white glop. It’s something all right. But let me back up for a sec…

Miracle Whip was one of mcgarrybowen’s early signature wins on their road to world domination. Much to the chagrin of several Chicago agencies, Kraft became mcgarrybowen’s new best friend. Miracle Whip was but one of several Kraft brands delivered to its doorstep.

Their first "Don't Be Mayo" campaign had its detractors but it was a quantum leap for Kraft’s oh-so American sandwich spread, positioning the brand as a hip alternative to Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. While that campaign was all about young hipsters getting their Whip on, this new work is even more ambitious. It takes us to olden times, playing off Miracle Whip’s controversial appearance in a provincial village. Miracle Whip is portrayed as a brazen, sinful treat, the well-known red label a scarlet letter. The townspeople want to burn the witches who enjoy it, approaching a rogue household with torches and vitriol.

Read that synopsis again. It’s so unlike the old Kraft or American package goods advertising in general. For that reason alone one can and should admire this spectacle.

Obviously, it’s a joke. And a big one at that. These commercials are large, costly productions, with a massive cast decked out in period wardrobe as well as an entire make-believe town for its location. In other words: big film. My understanding is the campaign debuted on the Academy Awards. I’m not surprised.

Say what you will about the agency and its client but they aren’t backing down.

Advertising Agency: mcgarrybown, Chicago, USA
Chief Creative Officer: Ned Crowley
Group Creative Directors: Dave Reger, Michael Straznikas
Copywriter: Tyler Campbell
Art Director: Brant Herzer
Production Company: Park Pictures
Owner/Executive Producer: Jackie Kelman Bisbee
Director: Joachim Back

Winning despite all the naysayers

In 2011, the advertising agency, Mcgarrybowen became the AOR on Burger King, Sears, United/Continental and just the other day, Bud Light. Hard to believe they could top last year, when the agency also won more than its share of big accounts. While most advertising agencies have struggled –with new media, with the recession, with themselves- Mcgarrybowen has thrived. And they’ve done so without employing creative superstars or the attention grabbing pyrotechnics so coveted by their peers. And now they are seemingly without peer, having beaten in pitches most every Madison Avenue juggernaut and the creative powerhouses alike.

They have their haters. The trade blogs and comment strings are dripping with malevolence. Mcgarrybowen’s people are “old.” They are “hacks.” They do the kind of “traditional” work that gives “advertising a bad name.” “Conservative to a fault,” they do only what “the client wants.” They suck.

And yet…

Without big names in the corners or big trophies in the lobby, Mcgarrybowen wins every pitch they are in. And it’s not like they’re going after small fry. Blue chippers are as hard to come by as Blue Marlin, but their hulls are full of them.

Haters point at their creative product, saying “meh.” But this can only be construed as jealousy, or elitist scorn. Sort of like when film students deride Hollywood for making mass-appeal films instead of art. True, I can’t think of anything sensational they’ve done from a purely creative perspective but since when has advertising ever been made from a purely creative perspective? Besides, Burger King had “sensational” work. The kind of work that put them in the so-called “conversation.” Maybe the client just wanted good advertising.

Mcgarrybowen understands that this is a business, and like any business these days, budgets are shrinking and people are scared. Whether creative purists like it or not, big marketers want big ideas that are safe. That usually means showing the product and people enjoying it. Push the envelope a little but not off the table. It seems the agency will gladly forsake Gold Lions at Cannes for fat coiffers in New York and Chicago. And because of this they are the comfortable choice for CMO’s, over and over again.

John Mcgarry. Dinosaurs rule!

Theirs is an old school approach and one in which I wrote about when the agency’s winning streak began. Since that post they’ve won United/Continental and Bud Light. Those are the two biggest brands in two of the biggest categories on earth.

Tebow-like isn’t it? Against relentless criticism, all they do is win. I know several men and women at Mcgarrybowen here in Chicago. I “came up” with some of them at Leo Burnett. They will tell you there’s nothing magical behind their success. Just hard work, due diligence and a knack for listening. Whatever it is, it’s a great story. More power to them.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal began a new multimedia advertising campaign, courtesy of their agency of record, McgarryBowen. The theme line reads, “Live in the know.”

This interests me on many levels:

1) It’s a new ad campaign
2) It’s for a famous media entity
3) It’s another salvo by newspapers to try and stave off irrelevancy
4) My father was a subject in “Creative Leaders,” the WSJ’s famous trade campaign!
5) I’ve always wanted to create a campaign for a magazine or newspaper

But first here’s the newspaper ad featuring my Pops.
I’ve also included the Advertising Educational Foundation’s site containing all of the creative leaders in this long-running trade campaign. Everyone who is anyone in our business is in it. Most, if not all, hail from the creative department of their respective agencies. The subjects wrote the copy themselves. Pretty cool considering what kind of copywriters many were. If you’re not familiar with “Creative Leaders,” have a look in the above website. It is a small but fascinating piece of our industry’s fun history.

Okay, but what about Live in the Know?

Well, I like the strategy, which suggests some news –a lot of news- is just too important to get via sound bites and tweets. This to me is the best argument periodicals have against the relentless jaws of the Internet. I won’t belabor the obvious. Vanity Fair’s editor, Graydon Carter argues the point beautifully in Adweek: Carter story

As for the creative executions, they certainly are in keeping with the WSJ’s no-nonsense, classical approach to, well, everything. In print, we get frank, mildly clever headlines up top with key argument and supporting data below. However, the photos feel like stock. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se, but I would have liked a wittier visual solution.

The TV commercial –if it is a commercial- troubles me more. I question it’s veracity because it plays like a “brand essence video,” which is, as most of you know, a short film made by ad agencies to sell an idea to their clients. By definition these films are not for air. If that’s what this is, fine. I get the strategy and, like I said, I like the strategy. But if it’s a TV spot, an anthem, it feels pedantic. Too much show and tell for my tastes. Have a look: TV Spot or simply a rip?

For years, I’ve coveted a top tier magazine as a client. Like my peers, I envied the beautiful work Fallon had done for Time magazine. And all copywriters are fans of the erudite work being done for the Economist. Both these remarkable campaigns are coffee table book quality.

Brilliant copy for the Economist

At Leo Burnett, my partner and I pitched Glamour magazine. We had a lot of fun doing it. And won…sort of. Within days, publishing magnate, Sy Newhouse put the kybosh on our campaign. And that was the end of that. Jerk. I still remember one of the headlines, for a billboard: “Read and repeat.”

Final note: Not too long ago it was considered a conflict of interest for agencies to create advertising for media providers. With all the issues surrounding mass media, it’s almost a non-issue now.

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