When Pat Peduto, senior vp and group creative director at DMB&B/N.Y., was being interviewed for what was widely touted as the Job From Hell earlier this year, he gave DMB&B vice chairman John Nieman a convincing reason to employ him. "I'm probably the best creative director at the moment, on the verge of being famous," Peduto says he told him. "I have a pretty good record, but I want to try a big account."
Peduto got his wish. Last May, he moved from the comparative calm of McCann-Erickson and AT&T, into the fires of Burger King at DMB&B. He had just one month to come up with a distinctive campaign which had to boost sales, erase embarrassing memories of Herb and the "You Gotta Break the Rules" campaigns, differentiate BK from Wendy's and McDonald's and please Burger King-- franchisees et al. His answer? The BK Tee Vee "I Love This Place" campaign starring Don Cortese, the frenetic host of MTV Sports.
Nieman had no doubts that Peduto would thrive with the account. "He's got the energy and the brains and he's pretty good in front of a client," he says. (The clients--namely BK franchisees-are no small part of the equation, being a somewhat disgruntled bunch of late.) "What I loved about Peduto was that he had a good sense of breakthrough visuals and production."
What Peduto loved about BK was, simply, that he could try his hand at a tough, high-profile account. "It was the worst job and the best opportunity," he says. "My peers and I thought previous BK advertising wasn't what it should be, to put it politely."
Before landing at DMB&B, Peduto had spent the previous three years jumping from agency to agency; the 20 years before that were spent at just one--Dancer Fitzgerald Sample. "I'd adjusted my goals and I changed," he says. "I changed because the business changed. When I started 20 years earlier, people stayed at ad agencies forever. But what happened is that you have to keep yourself marketable. One day you can find yourself the highest-paid creative director in New York City, and the next you're out of a job. I wanted to get a high profile outside the company. So I started working on a book with Paige (St. John, then of Dancer).
Peduto met St. John when they were thrown together on the Northwest Airlines account in 1987 at Dancer. Later they both worked on Smirnoff at McCann, and on Kodak at J. Walter Thompson. Says St. John, "We have the reputation of liking accounts that are difficult. We like the challenge. When we worked on Smirnoff it was about to leave the agency. And Northwest had image problems similar to those of BK's. We're intense people and we understood that BK needs commitment. We're strong on things that need an identity. We like people who say, 'Give us something different.' We like working for underdogs."
Within weeks, the pair had assembled a 14-person Kamikaze-like team including ex-Lintas (and now ex-DMB&B) luminaries including Roger Mosconi and Neil Dearling, and work on BK became known as The Pat and Paige Show. "We're loud," says St. John. "We play music, we're obnoxious. We're erratic. We hug people in the corridors if they've done well."
Peduto's brief was to make BK the best fast-food restaurant in peoples' minds. "No one had been able to break the code," he says. "Rich Levenson (DMB&B chief creative officer) told me that if I did the same as everyone else, and spend $50 million on an image campaign and the rest on retail, I would fail. That tone was the clue. We had to go beyond the basic brief. We had to go with a retail campaign. And we had to deal with the problems creatives traditionally like to ignore, like costs. We realized we needed a lot of advertising out there and therefore we needed a medium that could support a lot of ideas."
It was Peduto who came up with the idea of BK Tee Vee and using Don Cortese. "We tried to make BK Tee Vee our own programming device, a formatable structure so it would work with a variety of devices, such as interviews and skits," explains St. John. "We wanted to let Cortese be free. He's a stand-up guy who goes off into left field and we needed someone with that ability."
Peduto and his team produced a two-and-a-half minute film that contained the essence of the BK Tee Vee idea. They created as they edited--no story boards, no scripts and no songs. "We would shoot for two days, edit for a week, then go out and shoot again for the missing backfill," says Peduto.
The result is a series of about 30 spots starring Cortese and assorted BK customers and employees. Word on the street is that it's the best stuff BK has done in years. The campaign has personality and identity; BK loves it; franchisees are thrilled. "It was an 'In-your-face' retail idea," says Peduto. "That's what made it hard to miss. Everyone was pleased with it, philosophically, practically, aesthetically and commercially."
The main pressure now, according to St. John, is to keep on keeping on. "It doesn't stop," she says. "We did 50 spots in the first six to eight weeks and I have to finish another 30 in the next month." Says Peduto: "These accounts are volatile. The market is constantly changing. This seems to be the answer now. I don't know if it'll be the answer in six months or six years from now. But it's the first time in a long time creativity is what Burger King is all about."
You don't have to have gone to McDonald's University to understand how fast food works," says John Doig, the Earle Palmer Brown creative director who works on the Roy Rogers campaign. "I mean, 'Where's the beef?.' had human insight, or even meat observations."
For EPB, it was such human insight--and meat observations that regained it Roy's business after Jordan McGrath, Case & Taylor had nabbed it earlier last year. Now that it's back at EPB, Doig has more time to do what he seems to do best: pontificate on the nature of the fast-food business. "The most important observation about fast food is the belief amongst people that there is a specific knowledge derived from years devoted to pitching the perfect hamburger," he says. "I love working on this category. When you bite into a hamburger, you also bite into its advertising. Roy's has a different personality from other burger chains. It has a modicum of respect for the intelligent consumer. We don't spend as much money, so we have to break the mold."
Breaking the mold, as far as Doig is concerned, means creating sassy, smart attitude in Roy's ads. In one spot, a boy arrives at school without lunch-turns out it was Dad's day to get him off in the morning. But just in the nick of time, Dad turns up with lunch from Roy Rogers, much to the envy of the kid's fellow lunchmates. Then comes the punchline: The days Dad fed him were the days he dressed him too. In the next scene, the little boy is shown trooping down the corridor dressed in an odd assortment of stripes and spots.
Before it returned to EPB, Roy's advertising was aimed at "the young, the urban and the single," says Tom Derbyshire, senior copywriter. Now the focus is on families.
"Pre-transference, Roy's was aimed at a hipper consumer," says Derbyshire. "But the thing that's stayed consistent is Roy's willingness to tell a joke, even at its own expense. It's not so much a different kind of campaign. Most of the spots are commercial mini-plays with punchlines. Before they were more irreverent; now they're warm chuckles."
Derbyshire says EPB has been adept at finding scenarios for Roy's where 99 cents can be touted as part of the deal. "It's like what Bernbach said, if you take the product away from the storyline, and the commercials still make sense, you don't have a commercial," he says. "Still, it's only fast food, it isn't brain surgery. It's fun. And you can grab people's attention with humor."
I got so tired of seeing plates of broiled chicken and rice pilaf," says Ron Scharbo of Atlanta's Scharbo & Company who, with wife Sarah, is creative director on the Longhorn Steaks account. "We wanted to do something that captured the total dining experience in something of a whimsical way."
Whimsy is definitely the key--and not only to the idiosyncratic radio and TV campaign for Longhorn Steaks, whose visual highlights include owner George McKerrow in ponytail, shades and major attitude tossing off lyric cards a la Bob Dylan in Don't Look Back. It is also the key to understanding Scharbo himself, a 30-year ad veteran who, after spending about 14 of those as principal and chairman of the less than idiosyncratic Burton-Campbell/ Atlanta, opened his own shop.
"I decided to go in for a reincarnation," he says. "Second time 'round I went for a small agency doing risky creative work."
Scharbo's conversion came after Burton-Campbell's 1987 sale to Earle Palmer Brown/Bethesda, Md. In 1989, he opened Scharbo-Lahr with then-partner Brian Lahr who introduced him to Longhorn Steaks' McKerrow.
McKerrow and Scharbo hit it off from the beginning. "I didn't want to get tied up with a big agency and go through all the layers and structures," says McKerrow. "I wanted someone who would get involved with us without becoming an employee."
Longhorn's is the kind of place that boasts 'cowboy cuisine' and has moose heads hanging on the wall. It needed advertising that reflected its personality. An initial billboard campaign, featuring 16-foot, 3-D steers, was an immediate hit, boosting both sales and awareness.
But it was radio that first brought the twangy offkey Longhorn ballad and the McKerrow pan-fried vocal chords to the notice of the masses. "(McKerrow) was relatively well known and a natural ham," says Scharbo. "And he did such a compelling job of explaining the strategy to us that we decided we had to use him. He had the kind of voice that cut through the clutter."
Although the campaign was primarily directed toward 25-54-year-old males with incomes over $40,000, it proved to have mass appeal. The Longhorn jingle became the No. 1 request on Atlanta radio for two weeks, says McKerrow. Customers have been known to enter Longhorn restaurants singing the jingle. They also request printed lyrics and ask waiters to sing it. And the Atlanta Braves adopted the tune as their good-luck song. So far, some 29 advertising awards (mostly Addys, MUFSO EAR Awards and Atlanta AD Club Awards) have been lavished on the campaign. McKerrow also credits the campaign with turning a 4% sales downturn into a 9% increase.
Cliff Freeman, principal of Cliff Freeman & Partners/N.Y., and one of the creative directors on the Little Ceasars pizza account, is fast food's favorite adman. He and his Little Caesars campaign earn high praise among creatives in the category. "Cliff is superb," says DMB&B's Pat Peduto, architect of the new Burger King campaign. "Everyone thinks they can do it, then they try and find they can't. But Cliff does it pure and instinctively." Says John Doig who works on Roy Rogers at Earle Palmer Brown: "He gets it noticed, it appeals and he entertains the hell out of you. He knows what people want and what turns people on. And that's what advertising is all about."
The agency has won scores of awards, not only for the Little Caesars campaign, but for work on Philip's light bulbs and Wendy's infamous "Where's the Beef?." campaign. Last year, the 4A's chose Cliff Freeman as the best U.S. agency for creativity. And the Little Caesars campaign consistently ranks among viewers' favorites. "We're always reacting to the desire to do something different, something no one has done before" says Freeman. "We try to surprise the audience, that's one of the most powerful things advertising can do."
But Freeman and his agency have also found power in humor. "It's crazed here," says Arthur Bijur, another of the creative directors on Little Caesars (the third is Donna Weinheim). "Cliff is a riot to work with. We're very open. Cliffs rule is 'Make it entertaining.' He's very easy-going and he encourages a lot of collaboration. Everything we do is team work." Adds Weinheim, who has worked with Freeman since their days on Wendy's at DFS: "Humor overall gets bad-mouthed by the industry, but humor is just another kind of emotion. It's familiar and memorable. Fast food can be fun and uplifting. It's not complicated. Our thing is just to get noticed and very well liked. Find the common denominator. It has to have mass appeal."
Freeman's own sense of humor often borders on absurdity. In the Little Caesars campaign, each spot displays this quirkiness. There's the one with the senior citizen being rolled through a hospital corridor on a gurney. En route he picks up a slice of pizza whose cheesy strands snap him back through the hall and into the arms of a new mom expecting to be handed her baby. There's also the ad in which a chain of people--kids, grannies, moms--do the conga through a living room. The last link in the chain is a poodle on its hind legs.
Silly? Yes. But they work. Little Ceasars sales and outlets are forecast to be up 25% this year.
To know him is to love him," says Jill art director on Wendy's for Backer Spielvogel Bates, of Wendy's founder and spokesman Dave Thomas. "Dave is the solid Everyman in a mad world. Although he's a billionaire, success hasn't changed him."
With Wendy's profits up 31% over last year, McKennan is not the only one gushing over the company and its founder. Thomas' appearances in the last three years in Wendy's ads have been a terrific success for the campaign and the burger chain.
The success formula has its downside, however. "When we shoot over 35-40 spots a year, it's hard to keep coming up with new ideas," says Paul Basile, copywriter. "We try to find ways to see Dave as you've never seen him before."
Those efforts presumably account for some recent spots featuring out-of-body experiences, such as one in which Dave is transported back to the '50s. Or another in which he hears voices, a la Field of Dreams. "It makes it more difficult that he's not an actor," says McKennan. "He has to work harder to get it fight. And we have to write it a certain way."
On the other hand, using Thomas as spokesman and head cheerleader involves none of the hazards associated with big-name stars, such as big price tags, temper tantrums or holding up the production crew with whimsical schedules. "He has no ego when it comes to Wendy's," says McKennan.
So far, there's no end in sight to the Thomas-led commercials, and as McKennan says, the easiest mistake would be to pull the campaign too early. "As long as consumers like Dave, he can do it for as long as he likes it," he says. Steve Simpson is unnecessarily modest. It was his idea to shoot daily commercials to emphasize Chevys fresh food, but when asked about successful campaign, he immediately starts talking about every other Goodby Berlin & Silverstein staffer involved in the project, including former art director Tracy Wong, director of planning Jon Steel and producers Betsy Flynn and Ben Latimer.
Their efforts began almost two years ago, but the first attempts at a TV campaign bombed in focus groups. A re-think produced the "This is flesh ingredients, this is fresh TV" theme. Simpson, who writes the ads, and Wong roamed San Francisco each morning before 7 and interviewed people on the streets.
The look they achieved in the spots is a combination of MTV-style graphics, distressed home video and breaking news. And while it all had the appearance of spontaneity, the imperfections, says Simpson, were very much built in.
The campaign clicked from the beginning, with ads often getting covered on local newscasts and Chevys sales soaring. But after a year of 4 a.m. wakeup calls and 10 a.m. editing deadlines, Simpson was feeling the pressure. Now he and Jeremy Postaer, the new art director, shoot on a two-day schedule so Simpson car, keep up with other clients. This year's spots emphasize visuals, such as dogs playing frisbee with pack-. aged tortillas used by other restaurants.
"We wanted to prove the restaurant is a fun wacky place in its own right,' says Simpson, who has also worked at Hal Riney. The Chevys campaign has earned him a Gold Lion at Cannes, an Andy, a Bes of Show Andy, three Clios, a One Show Gold Pencil an Effie and an award from the British Design and Art Director's Association.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)