Creative Stars Shine on Broadway

NEW YORK An Advertising Week event billed as a “once in a lifetime performance on Broadway” featuring creative directors Lee Clow, Alex Bogusky and David Lubars opened on Tuesday at the Gershwin Theater with a dance number about the “mysteries of marketing.”

But it was Megan Hinley, who plays Glenda in the musical Wicked, who kicked off the panel discussion moderated by journalist Warren Berger. She sang a song about “how to become popular” as she danced with an iPod around her neck and used posters of the iconic Apple campaign from TBWA\Chiat\Day as props.

The creative leaders, seated on gold-trimmed thrones from the theatrical production, said that despite all the talk about the death of the advertising industry, big ideas still hold great value in the marketplace, and creative thinkers will reign.

While CP+B has in recent years been noticed for its inventive work for brands like Burger King and BMW’s Mini, agency executive creative director Bogusky said the agency’s approach to creating culture-changing advertising traces back to its efforts on the “Truth” anti-smoking account, which it has worked on for five years.

“We needed to change youth culture, and what we realized is that it wasn’t that hard. Pop culture, all it wants to do is change. So we had to develop the catalyst for the changes to occur,” said Bogusky, who also pointed to CP+B’s work for Mini. The agency introduced the small car at a time when SUV sales were at its highest in America.

“One of the first things we did was say, ‘The SUV backlash begins now.’ We had no idea of an SUV backlash, we made that up,” he said. But in doing that, it became a reality. “The whole small car segment got momentum through the momentum this singular small car got.”

And while the agency often uses nontraditional communications to relay a brand message, “that’s more of a manifestation of what you are trying to do,” said Bogusky. “Because you are trying to inject yourself into pop culture, because what you are doing is you are culture jamming, you’re using the tools that the culture is using to communicate with itself.”

The media sophistication of today’s marketplace has only increased the value of smart, culturally relevant ideas, said Clow, CCO and chairman at TBWA\C\D. “Marketing communications has to have intelligence and a culture currency that allows it to be appreciated,” he said. “The stuff that doesn’t have the sensitivity is going to disappear or drown out.”

Lubars said a study by BBDO found that while there are 30 times more radio stations and “50,000 more TV stations” than there were 20 years ago, consumers are still spending the same amount of time with media. “There is so much crap out there, you have to make ads that consumers want to go out and get,” said Lubars, who is BBDO’s CCO and chairman. To succeed, you have to give the audience something back. “You have to give extra value, good vibes,” he said.

Brands are becoming the media, added Clow. “The smart brands that become something that people want to have a relationship with are going to win,” he said. “The ones that are stupid and boring and old-fashioned will fade to the back of the stage.”

While many brand managers say that “the consumer owns the brand, no one who says it means it,” said Bogusky. Internet communications “is like a live performance on stage” in which consumers can instantly react, interact and dissect a brand and its message, and is creating an entirely new challenge for marketers and their agencies.

“There’s tons of brand terrorism” on the Internet, he continued, pointing to the agency’s experience with the “Subservient Chicken” Burger King Web site, which was hacked by consumers. “It’s pretty exciting stuff if you have the guts to stick with it,” he said.

While the form brand communications is taking is changing, agreed the panelists, the value of strong ideas is the same as it has always been. “A big idea is timeless,” said Lubars.