The “comfortable” agency? More like comfortably ahead.

You’ve got to hand it to agency McGarry Bowen. They just keep winning business. After reeling in a big piece of the Sears account a couple weeks ago they followed it up this week by catching all of Burger King.

Not to kill the fishing metaphor but this monstrous haul is no fluke. McGarry Bowen has been on a winning streak for years. Maybe even since their inception in 2002. According to Wikipedia, in 2008 MB was the largest independent advertising agency in New York. Clearly, those numbers will have to be revised.

The paint was hardly dry in its Chicago office (2007), when they began pulling in account after account, namely from Kraft Foods and often at the expense neighboring agencies, including mine. It seemed they were winning new business every week, and this during the height of the recession.

What gives? Was this seemingly innocuous babe born of the devil? Not likely. Lord knows there’s nothing naughty about their work. Even their relatively edgy “Don’t be Mayo” campaign for Miracle Whip was pretty straightforward when you got right down to it: vignettes, music, supers. Old school.

And indeed principals, John McGarry (Chief Executive Officer), Gordon Bowen, (Chief Creative Officer) and Stewart Owen (Chief Strategic Officer) are as old school as they come: Y & R guys from New York. In addition, many on the management team in Chicago grew up where I did, at Leo Burnett. All these guys are old enough to remember The Brady Bunch and the ads than ran on it. Who said advertising is a young man’s game?

John McGarry: “Dag Nabbit, I’m good!”

So, what’s their secret? I know CEO’s from every agency in America are dying to find out. I’ve heard some theories, one being that the founders are totally committed to relationship and brand building, notions that most every other firm considers antiquated and even trite. Are they? Here’s what the inimitable George Parker had to say about it on his controversial and popular blog, Adscam/The Horror:

“Perhaps all the fucktards out there (aka Big Dumb Agencies) pontificating about how they are social douchnozzeling and friending, tweeting, liking, whatever, should wake up and realize that having gone around the track a few times on all this communicator – conversationnozzle – shit… What they (clients) really need is a fucking ADVERTISING AGENCY!”

For the entire new century the hippest agency on earth has been Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. And rightly so. Their winning streak of both business and creative awards was unsurpassed. (I even called them the Doyle Dane Bernbach of our time.) Until now. Whether I was right or wrong, CP&B lost the Burger King account to McGarry Bowen.

Does this signify a changing of the guard? If ever two agencies were polar opposites it’s these two. Avi Dan, in a piece for Forbes, stated,

“maybe post-recession clients are not in a gambling mood. McGarryBowen is the ultimate safe choice. Sort of the advertising version of “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.”

I’m not going to editorialize; I admire both agencies. But I’m pretty sure only one of them is hiring right now. My take: MB and CP&B balance each other out. Like yin and yang. Maybe shops versed in both schools are where it’s at, places like Goodby and Wieden.

51ql5e43vul_sl500_aa240_A line so good they put it on a book.

Given the grim climate in Chicago (the weather, the economy, the government), I’m thinking it might be high time we celebrate the unheralded but quality work coming out of our city’s many agencies.

We hear a lot about what’s wrong with the people, places and things as it relates to the Chicago advertising community. I want to go another way. Hold to the good, as our pastor likes to say.

In this spirit, every day this week, I’m going to feature a campaign from a local shop that deserves praise… not punishment.

Chicago sports teams are a passion for our city often beyond reason. The Cubs seem to attract fans without even playing good baseball. Currently in a freefall, the Chicago Bulls still manage full houses. Bears fans are a frustrated lot but, come hell or low temperatures, they’re there, freezing ass in Soldier’s Field.

Chicago’s other teams need help filling seats. And for that, they turn to Chicago’s ‘very own’ advertising agencies.

Right now the resurging Blackhawks are riding high behind Oglivy & Mather’s “One Goal” campaign. In stark TV spots, the team’s young stars skate up to a lone microphone and state their goals for the season. Low budget but effective, I admire these commercials for what they’re not. File footage of players scoring goals is better suited for Sports Center. These moving portraits bring the players to life, making them user-friendly. Not “lovable” like the Cubbies, rather they come across as ambitious, unwilling to lose. It’s a fresh face for a team (if not a sport) that needs it.

I also like the tag line: “One Goal.” You don’t have to see Lord Stanley’s Cup to know what that goal is. It reminds me of the Raider’s “Just win, baby!” Only more understated. As a copywriter, the obvious wordplay makes me smile.

Though no longer the theme for the Chicago White Sox, I am still a huge fan of the popular “Grinder Rules” from local agency, Two by Four.


I remember going to the World Series in 2005. Seeing these grinder posters along the stadium walls really captured that team and its winning season. Fans were stopping to have their picture taken in front of them, kudos for any ad campaign. I believe the term grinder was pulled from comments made by irascible coach, Ozzie Guillen. This tells me the agency did their homework and got it right.

In 2006, having won it all, the White Sox went “back to the grind.” And it was a perfect sentiment. Unfortunately, the team did poorly and, as is the case in advertising as well as sports, changes were made. Energy BBDO now has the account. But “Grinder Rules” is still the best campaign I’ve seen for a Chicago sports team in a long, long time.

Score two for the home team of Chicago.


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