Risks and Rewards of Defying Tradition

SAN FRANCISCO The creative talent behind some of the most innovative ideas in marketing today, from Burger King’s Subservient Chicken to BMW’s series of short films, discussed the difficulties and rewards of taking the nontraditional route at the Adweek Creative Seminar on Tuesday.

Jeff Benjamin, interactive creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami, revealed that the Subservient Chicken, a Web site that showed a chicken that would do almost anything typed in as a command, was sold to the client with just a conversation and a paragraph-long brief.

Though some might complain that the site made scant reference to Burger King and its TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich, “within a one-month period more news articles mentioned Burger King than ever had before,” Benjamin said. “That’s the power of interactive.”

But taking the nontraditional route has its risks. Bruce Bildsten, creative director at Fallon in Minneapolis, discussed the agency’s 1997 “Cyber drive” effort for BMW, which allowed customers to take virtual Web-based rides in BMW vehicles. “It was a miserable failure,” he admitted, because broadband wasn’t commonplace yet. But that failure led the group to re-think its ideas and come up with the later success of BMW Films, he said.

Bill Davenport, executive producer and director at Wieden + Kennedy Entertainment in Portland, Ore., also discussed the importance of failure.

Davenport, who has worked in the branded entertainment division of W+K for eight years, said that while in advertising “the client is king,” in branded context, “there are two or more kings,” including TV networks that make it difficult to get projects approved. He discussed several potential projects, such as a Marion Jones documentary made in collaboration with Nike and NBC that ultimately didn’t pan out.

But a documentary about a street basketball player tournament, Battleground: King of the World, did end up airing because MTV2 wanted to rebrand itself as a network for young men, and thought the program fit the target. “Planets have to align,” he said, when it comes to crafting successful creating branded content.

Other panelists included Chelsea Pictures partner Steve Wax, who discussed his company’s Beta-7 project created with Wieden + Kennedy in New York for a Sega football game title, and Sam Huxley, chief strategic officer of Bounce Interactive Gaming in New York, who talked about organic ways of inserting brands into video games.

Adweek senior creative editor Ellie Parpis moderated the panel.