A Shared Legacy

From beneath the rim of a cowboy hat, Alex Bogusky scans the desert surroundings at the Pinal County Fairgrounds, about 45 minutes outside Phoenix. There are few spectators on hand for tonight’s carnival show, hosted by Miami’s Crispin Porter + Bogusky and its partner on the American Legacy Foundation account, Boston-based Arnold. It’s late March, and the team is spending four days shooting the second round of the “Crazyworld” campaign.

Like most of the ads that comprise the Arnold/Crispin alliance’s “Truth” work, the latest commercials rely on street theater and audience participation to hammer home the anti-smoking message. For this spot, “Dizzy or Dead,” one of about six to roll out this summer, people are strapped into an amusement-park ride that spins and circles and turns upside down.

By the time shooting starts, the scorching sun has set and the carnival lights are glowing. As a crowd gathers—teenagers on dates, an elderly couple holding hands, a young man with a stuffed dog on his shoulders—the teen star shouts, “Strap yourselves in and prepare to ride Dizzy or Dead.” It’s director Baker Smith’s third “Truth” campaign for Smith, and the night before, the agency team treated him to a surprise 40th birthday party.

Having teamed separately with both Havas’ Arnold and MDC’s CP+B, Baker says at first he wasn’t sure the agency pairing would work. “It’s obviously two great agencies with a point of view—it’s hard enough with one agency sometimes,” he says. It’s a situation with “great potential for the wheels to fall of the wagon.”

Plus, the two shops are relatively different animals. As Arnold managing partner/group creative director Pete Favat puts it, “Arnold’s culture is very creative, but it’s much more of a bigger entity. And until recently, Crispin was smaller, a lot more renegade, pushing the limits in all different ways through the work and through the way of getting to the work.”

Nonetheless, to Baker’s surprise, he found that working on “Truth” was, “in many ways, a lot more seamless than working with one agency. They are buttoned up with what they want and what they need.”

In four years, “Truth” has become one of advertising’s most effective and most lauded public service campaigns by functioning as “one body with two heads,” as Baker describes it. The rare collaboration of two shops has won almost every significant creative award, along with the 2003 Grand Effie from The New York American Marketing Association. Smoking among teens is at its lowest level in 20 years, says Legacy president and CEO Cheryl Healton. (The drop started in 1997, but the rate accelerated after “Truth” began, she says.) And the agencies have learned that in some cases at least, a duo can be greater than the sum of its parts.

“It’s a concept that should be practiced a little bit more, because it only makes everything better,” says Favat. ” ‘Truth’ is getting twice the brain power, twice the angles of views on things than they would have in one single agency.”

The agencies could have opted to go their separate ways in a mandatory review last year that included contenders such as Wieden + Kennedy and ended with the original team holding on to the business. “To the credit of the relationship, we said, ‘We’d rather do it with you guys,’ ” says Bogusky.

When Washington, D.C.-based Legacy starting contacting shops in 1999—the foundation is the result of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, which required major tobacco companies to contribute to an anti-smoking fund—CP+B “thought we were too small to pitch it ourselves,” says Bogusky, whose Miami agency housed about $100 million in billings at the time.”We called Arnold—we thought they would be the competition.”

A powwow in New York, coordinated by CP+B president Jeff Hicks, brought Bogusky and Favat together for the first time. “It was a funny meeting,” admits Bogusky. “Everybody was a little skeptical. But for whatever reason, Pete and I hit it off really well. We see things the same way.”

The collaboration seems to hinge on the bond that’s formed since that meeting. Bogusky and Favat spend a lot of time together outside of work: They’ve taken vacations with their families, gone snowboarding and even jointly had their cards read by a psychic (who got everything wrong, Bogusky notes). “We are the same person,” says Bogusky. Adds Favat: “We’re in lock step.”

The major difference between the Northeasterner and the Floridian seems to be, as Bogusky once told Favat, that one is a “winter guy,” the other a “water guy.”

“It’s the spirit and power of the partnership that works, and that power comes from the relationship that Alex and Pete have,” says Paul Nelson, group account director on Legacy at Arnold.

Bogusky notes that for the sake of that relationship, CP+B has opted to drop out of reviews when coming up against Arnold.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find people who are in the same agency who play as well in the sandbox as Alex and Pete,” adds Lisa Unsworth, a former account supervisor on the Legacy business at Arnold and now president of Boston’s Ad Club. “They have incredibly unselfish spirits—a great idea can come from anywhere. That’s so critical when you have two creative people with two creative departments from two agencies working together.”

If there’s been any discord between the agencies, it’s been over credit, an issue that initially caused some bruised egos.

“In the beginning, we were going to throw both the agencies’ names away and call it Sweden or Switzerland, where everything is neutral,” recalls Favat. There was a suggestion to credit the campaign simply as “Created by Truth,” but none of the creatives liked that idea.

When the work started winning awards and getting a lot of press, Favat says, “a lot of creatives started complaining: ‘How come they got credit? I did that; that was my idea. We did brainstorm it, but I was the one that threw it out there.’ That’s why you see a lot of names on these, because we work with such large groups.”

Favat, who has directed many of the guerrilla-style “Truth” spots himself, attributes the initial fuss to “growing pains.” Bogusky says that teaching creatives to put aside concerns about credit was “one of the biggest challenges” of the collaboration. “For this to work,” he notes, “we really had to say, ‘Nobody and everybody is going to get credit. If that’s too hard, work on something else.’ “

With Arnold’s Ron Lawner the chief creative officer on the business and Bogusky and Favat the ecds, the account is managed as if it were serviced by a single shop. Each business function is duplicated at each agency, and both shops have has equal opportunity to contribute creatively.

Assignments are opened up to both creative departments, with Roger Baldacci taking the lead under Favat at Arnold and Tom Adams doing likewise at CP+B. Two to three teams work on Legacy at each shop, and ideas are developed jointly. The teams take turns meeting in Boston and Miami, and each shop alternates as the lead during production.

Before joining forces to pitch Legacy together in the summer of 1999, both Bogusky and Favat had ample experience with anti-smoking messaging. Bogusky, a 40-year-old art director, first tested the “Truth” strategy on a local level, for the Florida Health Department’s Division of Health Awareness and Youth Tobacco Use program. Florida’s Chuck Wolfe, who worked with Crispin to develop the strategy, later joined Legacy.

For his part, 42-year-old Favat, also an art director, had produced award-winning anti-smoking ads for the Massachusetts Department of Health since 1993 via Houston Herstek Favat (which was acquired by Arnold in 1997).

Both creatives share a passionate connection to the cause. Bogusky’s father is a smoker who has emphysema; his mother also smokes and can’t quit; and his grandfather died from a smoking-related illness. Favat lost two uncles from smoking-related diseases.

They both characterize the campaign against big tobacco as a “war,” and the spots more often look like footage of street protests than ads. “If you look at the ads, they irritate the industry, and that’s what makes it effective,” says 19-year-old Jaime Fiorucci-Hughes, the teen representative on Legacy’s board of directors. “That’s why teenagers love it.”

(The tobacco companies naturally have been less than thrilled, and the foundation is in litigation in the state of Delaware with Lorillard, which claims that “Truth” has violated the Master Settlement Agreement by “vilifying” the tobacco companies in its messaging.)

To work on the account, says Bogusky, “you have to be part creative, part lawyer, part doctor, part health specialist, part PR person.”

Those skills helped the CP+B/Arnold team keep the business last year (Legacy also added GSD&M to its roster, to work on a separate cessation campaign). “[They] demonstrated not only an understanding of the brand but some really good insight on where we needed to go in the future,” says Beverly Kastens, vp of marketing at Legacy.

But that future is unclear. According to the MSA, the participating tobacco companies—Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson, Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds—are bound to contribute funds only as long as their market share remains at 99.05 percent. As of April 2003, that was no longer the case.

Former U.S. health officials banded together this spring to form The Citizen’s Commission to Protect the Truth to persuade the tobacco companies to continue their funding. But Legacy’s media spending already has dropped significantly: In 2000 the foundation spent $110 million on broadcast advertising, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR; last year that was down to $80 million, and this year, spending will be about half of that.

Bogusky is the first to admit the agencies still have a long way to go to stop kids from smoking. “I don’t even know if we’ve fought a battle yet,” he says, then changes his mind. “We’ve fought a battle and won a battle or two, but it’s so, so not over.”

To wage that war, the agencies have built a hybrid entity that’s produced some of the best work either shop has done. “The beauty of this is we can throw away all of those things that we work with every day and form a new culture using a little bit of both,” says Favat. “It’s a pretty cool thing. I love my job so much more knowing I have a creative department down in Miami thinking about stuff.”

The same goes for Bogusky, who says if he could, he’d consider expanding the partnership beyond “Truth.” “I would love to pitch Levi’s with Arnold and Pete,” he says with a laugh, noting that both agencies challenge each other and are better for it. “We battle constantly, and we both win. How brilliant is that?”