art & commerce: Surprise endings

So what was it that won over the suits at Citibank? Those crazy Jukka brothers and their penchant for paddling? The magician’s assistant with hamsters in her armpits?
Perhaps the deal was done the moment the bank’s board witnessed the midget in a bodysuit labeled “shrimp basket” doing his dance for Long John Silver’s.
Fallon and Citibank. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
With a reel that often veers beyond wacky and an uneven record with high-profile, big-bucks clients, the wizards from Minneapolis still managed to pocket the financial institution’s $150 million account.
It was a move that prompted genuine surprise in advertising circles. “It’s one of the most conservative clients, and they’ve had problems with conservative clients in the past,” one executive said. But in the same breath, the source said, “Fallon has the creative firepower to do great work for any client.”
Those quotes sum up the paradox of Fallon–or at least people’s perceptions of the agency.
Despite some heroic swings and misses–McDonald’s and Miller Lite –the agency has the respect of its peers and is a player for blue-chip accounts. Citibank was looking for a big idea after failing to get results from Young & Rubicam, a shop that seemed more in step with the bluebloods of Wall Street. Instead, Fallon, competing against powerhouse TBWA\Chiat\Day, carried the day.
Details of what Fallon presented are not known. But bank on this: “They’re not going to put the Swedes [Linus Karisson and Paul Malmstrom] on it,” one insider said.
The truth is, while that team’s Miller Lite Dick commercials and Jukka ads captured attention, they don’t define Fallon.
The shop’s creative bench is deep and eclectic; it services a wide range of clients. The agency did solid work for Continental Bank years ago, and the recent Conseco work was offbeat without being off-base.
These ads came out of the same shop that had Ronald dancing for McDonald’s, a transvestite shilling for Holiday Inn and angry beavers attacking pioneers for Miller Lite.
Fallon’s poster-child status for over-the-edge ads may stem from the shop’s deep-rooted insecurities and defensiveness, its dogged determination to undo agencies from bigger cities or with larger reputations.
“I think what they tried to do is catch up with Goodby [Silverstein & Partners] and Wieden [+ Kennedy] creatively, and they went too far in a couple of cases,” one creative executive said.
Citibank wasn’t talking about its decision last week. When it does, it will no doubt have calm, rational reasons for its choice. One executive said he’s “excited” to be working with such a world-class agency.
And who knows, maybe he’s telling the truth. Even guys in pinstriped suits might get a kick out of Ping-Pong paddles now and then.
“It’s a gutsy maneuver on their part,” an agency CEO said of Citibank’s choice. “I hope they know what they got.”
With Fallon, that’s not always possible.