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Above tweet says it all (plus love from Stu!)

After 15 years, Johnnie Walker (Diageo) is leaving its incumbent agency, the much-heralded BBH, for Anomaly. That’s a big deal for two reasons. First off, fifteen years is a long-ass time for any client to stay with an agency. The other reason is over those years, Johnnie Walker & BBH mined plenty of marketing gold together; its theme, “Keep Walking,” reached a zenith with The Man Who Walked Around the World, featured below…

Clearly, it’s a great piece of work, the resounding bag pipes indicative of the beautiful music these two companies made together.

But, you know, I have a special perspective.

Fifteen years ago, I was copywriter and fledgling creative director at Leo Burnett in Chicago, on the Johnnie Walker business. During that time I produced two campaigns for the portfolio: “Seeing Red” for Red Label and “Welcome to Civilization” for Black Label.

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While we were proud of those efforts, Diageo ultimatel put the global account in review. In an epic cluster f-ck we lost the business to a most-worthy opponent, BBH. Sir John Hegarty (is he a Knight?) lead his agency’s efforts and, being a UK run pitch, it’s safe to say we had no chance.

Still, we fought like hell. And, without bitterness, I like to think we came up with a campaign as good as anything BBH did. Their idea, as I mentioned above, and everybody in advertising knows, was “Keep Walking.” Our line: “Walk the Walk.”

Obviously, we were working from essentially the same strategy. If you’re taking notes the tip of our strategic spear was “masculine progress.” The wordplay with Walker was impossible to resist.

Regrettably, I didn’t save our spec work. But like BBH, a key part of the launch campaign featured JW’s iconic walking man logo. Which line do you like better? My opinion, one could make a case for either. Alas, our case would not be heard.

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“Keep Walking” vs “Walk the Walk”

And now Johnnie is walking… away…again

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When I first posted this commercial for Axe on Facebook my friend, Thom Cordner commented, “Axe has finally grown up.” A great review, actually. Axe has indeed grown up. “Fear No Susan Glenn” not only captures the turn-on of being young and horny and surrounded by beautiful girls (a genre Axe has beat until bloody) but, unbelievably, something akin to pathos as well.

In the film, an older man recollects a girl from high school. We hear his gravelly voice as the camera takes us down memory lane. The man tells us Susan Glenn was not just another girl. She was the girl. “In her presence all that was beautiful before she arrived turned grotesque.” In drama class, we see cheerleaders, malevolent harpies, flailing before Ms. Glenn. It’s a stunning scene underscored by a brilliant line. One of many. The man’s recollection is poetry, literally and visually –macabre at times but lovely and desperately true.

Here is longing. Unrequited love. If only the man had the courage, charisma and wisdom of age. He pines: “If I could do it again, I’d do it differently.” And finally we see the man, and it’s Keifer Sutherland! Wistfully. Shaving before a mirror. And then gone. Fade to black as we hear the final keys of a melancholy piano. Super: Axe. Fear No Susan Glenn.

This film took my breath away. I’m not sure if it was entered into Cannes (if not why not?) but I like it better than most of what won there. According to this website the spot heralds the beginning of a campaign “marking a different direction for the ‘get laid’ brand.

Bravo.

As fun as some of the porny Axe work once was this trumps all of it. Respect to BBH New York and Unilever. As for copywriter (Peter Rosch) and art director (Nate Able); Guys, this is your masterpiece.

The best marketing in 2009 did not arrive via new media. It wasn’t a so-called “viral.” Nor was it “consumer driven.” It was an ad and it came in the form of a TV commercial –you remember those?

The best advertising in 2009 wasn’t edgy or ironic. Frankly, it was anything but. Our deserving winner was old-fashioned, easy going and pleasant. Driven by classical music. Sedate.

Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Droga 5, Mother or BBH didn’t produce the best advertising in 2009. While those shops made lots of fine work they did not create the finest. Nope. The best ad in 2009 was made by one of the biggest, oldest advertising agencies in the world: Ogilvy & Mather.

Appropriately, this terrific TV commercial wasn’t for a hip technology brand or the latest new, new thing. As a matter of fact, the best advertising in 2009 was for something more associated with last century than this one.

Without further ado, the best advertising in 2009 was the “Smiles” campaign for the American Express card.

Shot by Kevin Thomas for O&M in New York, I can think of no piece of creative I admired more in 2009. Two months ago I wrote about the campaign in detail. Fittingly, that post (Amex review) continues to be one of the more popular stories on my blog. The comments it received are universally praiseful.

Likewise, my young daughters shriek with delight whenever the commercials appear in our living room. In this respect the spots are more popular than even Spongebob Squarepants.

It gives me great pleasure to close by stating the most shocking thing about this campaign is how utterly un-shocking it is. Will it win gold in Cannes? Probably not. And that wouldn’t shock me either.

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