BBDO’s big-budget, showcase productions artfully capture popular culture

In this era of integration, when many are sounding the death knell for the big-budget, 30-second TV spot, the New York office of BBDO Worldwide remains blithely indifferent to the doomsayers.

“I’ve been hearing that for 20 years,” says co-CEO and chief creative officer Ted Sann. “I’m starting to lose faith in the prediction.”

President and co-CEO Bill Katz laughs in agreement. “The No. 1 channel of distribution is television,” he says. “It remains the best way to communicate a brand’s essence.”

With a client roster that includes M&M/Mars, Pizza Hut, Frito-Lay, Pepsi-Cola, HBO, Visa and Duracell, BBDO’s creative product is defined by—and defines—popular culture. Its celebrity-driven, thought-provoking approach continues to shape and impact the zeitgeist.

“What we do best are ads that people talk about and attract attention,” says Sann. “Clients have come to expect that from us.”

One of the best examples last year was a 30-second spot for Snickers that poked fun at the presidential election—without mentioning the candidates by name. A man in a voting booth, still undecided, gets advice from an animated donkey and elephant.

“Vote for me. My dad was president,” the elephant suggests. “I even look like my dad.”

“Big deal,” the donkey says. “My dad was a senator.”

“We have the same shoe size,” says the elephant.

“Well, I invented the Internet and lots of other stuff, too,” brags the donkey.

The man listens patiently but isn’t convinced. “Not going anywhere for a while?” asks the voiceover. “Grab a Snickers.” While taking advantage of the election frenzy, the spot remained true to the brand’s strategy, positioning the candy bar as a means to satisfy hunger and while away tedious moments.

Topical, pertinent and memorable executions continue to be the New York shop’s calling card. For Charles Schwab, BBDO’s “Smarter investors” campaign helped the client shine among its brokerage-house brethren. Featuring celebrities such as Ringo Starr, Sally Field and National Football League star Jason Sehorn as financial experts, it helped the company demystify the world of finance.

The “Joy of cola” campaign for Pepsi, meanwhile, has featured the ’70s glam-rock band Kiss, country music star Faith Hill and a likeness of Albert Einstein, who argues a scientific preference for Pepsi over Coke.

BBDO’s creative prowess helped land marquee accounts in 2000, including Cingular Wireless and KFC, and additional business from Pepsi, Mars and Gillette. Its smart strategies, constant drive to dazzle and entertain, and financial success in 2000 (including a 26 percent increase in revenue) earn BBDO New York Adweek’s Eastern Agency of the Year honor.

BBDO is gradually catching up with integration, bolstering the ranks of its interactive unit, @tmosphere, and forming an alliance with Bombo Sports & Entertainment that offers clients a first look at all Bombo original TV show projects.

“A lot of people are throwing away their money because their advertising doesn’t touch you,” says Sann. “We’re always looking to make some kind of emotional connection with the consumer about the brand. We’re going to be [involved] in topics, subjects and areas that are relevant and have meaning to get your attention.”

BBDO’s clients also continue to enjoy a proud march through the Super Bowl with ads that command next-day analysis in the media and at the watercooler. During last year’s game, a FedEx man delivered helium balloons to the Lollipop Guild to help it properly serenade Dorothy in Oz. Yesterday, spots from eight BBDO clients—Cingular Wireless, Pepsi, FedEx, Frito-Lay, M&M/Mars, Charles Schwab, Pizza Hut and Visa—aired before and during Super Bowl XXXV.

“Typically, we don’t advocate the client be in the Super Bowl,” Katz says. “They come to us and say, ‘We bought time on the Super Bowl.’ Then we do our darnedest to make sure the campaign works.”