It's not easy to make stationery funny. But when Domtar Papers came calling, agency Hunt Adkins eschewed product talk, rewriting history and the classics to humorously illustrate how "Everything turns out better on Domtar Paper." In one print ad, a picture of a
golden retriever is overlaid with faux text changing the sad ending of Old Yeller. "[He] had just been eating some soap. So I hugged that big Yeller dog and he licked my face and we ran off into the sunset together," the ad reads.
Using humor where it is least expected is typical of art director Steve Mitchell, copywriter Doug Adkins and the small Hunt Adkins shop. As the agency's main creative team, "we look at what's going on out there and look at where we can make a difference," Mitchell says. "A lot of [our accounts] don't have a big budget. We try to make them different and eye-catching so we don't have to spend the money on media."
The focus on creativity has led to significant notice from Adkins and Mitchell's peers in the Minneapolis advertising community. This year, Hunt Adkins, an agency of 20 people and $19 million in billings, won 36 awards at the Ad Federation of Minnesota's The Show. In 1995, the team won Best of Show accolades with a wry, intelligent print campaign for Dublin Productions.
Impressed with the agency's sense of humor and storytelling ability, VH-1 hired Hunt Adkins to create its Johnny Amsterdamn campaign earlier this year, says Mike Benson, the channel's vice president of promotions and planning. The cable network was looking for a fresh, irreverent way to define music television for adults. "Their wit and style were speaking in a way that wasn't trying to hard-sell me," Benson says.
"We try to do advertising that doesn't remind you of advertising," Adkins says, explaining the agency's consistent use of humor in its work. "Everyone today is so bombarded by ads, they've learned the way it works. One of the best tools we still have to get around that is humor, when done right."
Mitchell and Adkins met eight years ago in the creative department of the University of Minnesota's daily newspaper. From there, they went to Bozell, Minneapolis, first as interns, then as employees. After two years, Adkins left for the creative shop then known as Hunt Murray. Adkins quickly made a name for himself with ads for Mystic Lake Casino and became a partner in September 1995. Mitchell joined the firm shortly thereafter, and the two began collaborating on a majority of the agency's work.
When working on a campaign, they aim for tone first and content second. But in a world where new ideas count for everything, they are always looking for any interesting tidbits that can later be incorporated into their work. "It's all about having a well that isn't too shallow," Adkins says.
While working for several clients at a boutique can be rewarding, both admit it can also be stressful. They're pleased about recent additions to the creative department. But as the shop grows, Mitchell and Adkins say they don't want to lose sight of their goal--to make advertising that's interesting, amusing and clever.
"We want to stay on the cutting edge, to do work that people haven't seen or done before," Adkins says. "It's a hell of a challenge. I think we've been successful so far, but we're still small." --Aaron Baar
STAR POWER The Johnny Amsterdamn campaign may have only run for a few weeks in June, but it will be back, says VH-1's Mike Benson. In fact, Johnny--the cartoon creation of Steve Mitchell and Doug Adkins--will be part of a new VH-1 television series in 1998.