Like the Miller High Life man he helped create, Jeff Kling takes a no-nonsense approach to creativity. "We're in a difficult business of asking people to pay for difficult work," says Kling, who spent seven years at Wieden + Kennedy's offices in Portland, Ore., and Amsterdam. In January, the 38-year-old copywriter was appointed executive creative director at Euro RSCG in New York, taking the helm of a 45-person creative department from Kevin Roddy, who left for Bartle Bogle Hegarty last year. The Baltimore native spends his spare time with his 2-year-old and playing "too much Xbox." Q: How did you get into advertising?
A: I was living in North Carolina, doing 50 different things. Ultimately I ended up mismanaging this mail-order soccer and lacrosse supply empire with some really young guys down there, and I wasn't happy. So I decided to ask my friends what there was to do with a life. [After deciding to try advertising,] I set up some informational interviews and threw together a book. I was told I had to have a book if I wanted to get into the creative side of advertising.
What was your book like?
It was called "My Book," and it was basically my take on how staggeringly uncreative and obvious advertising was. I made myself out to be exactly as naive as I was. [But] I got a job with David Shane and his partner, Lee Ann Daly, who are now at ESPN. They had a radio production company called Are These My Shoes. They closed up shop in 1996, so I decided I'd at least try an agency job. Just as I started looking, Beth Anderson got in touch with me and I lucked into a job at Wieden, owing mostly to their lack of scrutiny.
Why did you decide to move to Euro RSCG?
Kevin Roddy kept asking, and my wife and I weren't so in love with life in Amsterdam. We didn't know what our next move was going to be. The position I took here was little different than the one I took in Wieden Amsterdam. Same challenges, similar clients, a lot of unmotivated creatives blaming everybody but themselves for sub-par work. I just thought, "We'll see what we can do."
Now, as head creative, what do you see as your mission?
It's gotta be: make the work better. I think my goals are pretty modest. I'd like to have a couple, three creative hits per year. I'd like not to lose any business, and win a piece or two every year. It's also important to me that I see a lot of junior guys here who might otherwise have slipped through the cracks. I get weirdly loyal about that, and I want to help them out the way I was very generously helped and tolerated when I was a junior.
Who has influenced your career the most?
That's a tough one. I'll give you a list in no particular order: David Shane, Stacy Wall, Susan Hoffman, Dan Wieden. I mean, there were a lot of people who played critical roles.
Who has influenced you the most creatively?
I don't know. I like to think I've sort of been stealing from everyone I've ever encountered in my whole long life.
What work are you the most proud of?
Probably Miller High Life. I don't think of my work in terms of pride. Generally, I hate everything I do. But with that stuff I just feel like we were always stumbling forward and figuring it all out as we went along. Me and Jeff [Williams], once we finished the first round, we were pretty certain we were going to be drummed out of the agency. There was just so much we didn't understand back then and still don't. We were coming off a big campaign for Miller Genuine Draft, and that beer was allegedly supposed to appeal to a younger target, whatever that means. And in a weird way, the High Life shit, with all its grandpa values, seemed to resonate with younger guys.
What's the most overrated campaign?
All of them. It's ridiculous that we're even discussing advertising. I guess it's a necessary evil. But this conversation we're having, discussing what some ad guy thinks for a trade magazine. It's all so inwardly focused and off the point. It has nothing to do with what we do for a living. We're supposed to make brands famous among certain people out there in the world, and this is not that. This does not tend toward doing that at all.
So campaigns that are popular in the ad world often don't register in the real world?
There's honey bunches of that.
I'm going to stick with everything. I mean, who rates advertising? I guess people have water-cooler conversations about it. I just don't know who rates advertising. The High Life campaign is overrated.
What do you think is the most disappointing creative trend you've seen lately?
Oh my god, there are so many. The questioning tagline: "Not going anywhere for a while?" "Got milk?" Just watch TV. It's shocking. It's sort of like there's this presentation of a thing, a dramatization of a fake problem, and then a question that leads to the product or service that is the solution. Anything that's a trend is by its very nature wrong, for what we're trying to do.
Name the last ad that made you think,
"I wish I'd done that."
The new FedEx ad is hot, where the dude's all, "We don't get French benefits?" That made me actually chuckle. I also wish I had made the [White Stripes'] "Fell in Love With a Girl" video. Best Lego ad ever. And that ad for Sideways. It's a terrific commercial for Alexander Payne's talent.