When Jim Noble joined TM Advertising as creative director in February 2005, the shop was in hot pursuit of Mitsubishi's $200 million account and eager to brag about its new employee, who once helped introduce Kia to the North American market. His father, John Noble, the late executive creative director at what was then Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York, had five commercials enshrined in the Museum of Modern Art, including the famous 1969 "Funeral" spot he wrote for Volkswagen.
Over more than 20 years in advertising, Jim, 45, has earned a few of his own awards from the One Show, Cannes, D&AD, Clio Awards and more. But he keeps his late father's celebrated reel close at hand for inspiration. "You look at it and you just drool," he says. "It's been fun trying to live up to his name."
Growing up in the affluent suburb of Westport, Conn., Jim and his brothers John Jr. and Scott were already experimenting with creative media as boys. Their father, who authored more than 200 award-winning ads at DDB, was creative director at the time the agency was winning acclaim for the famous Avis campaign that boasted, "We're No. 2."
"We would actually make our own movies," Jim recalls. "My brother John would produce, and Scott would act." Today, John Jr., 42, is head of broadcast for Element 79 Partners in Chicago, and Scott, 34, is senior copywriter at Hill Holliday in Boston.
To the kids, advertising looked more like recess than classroom, Jim says. Ad legend Bill Bernbach was a guy who liked to play with Matchbox Racer cars and wasn't above cheating, he recalls. "He was always goofing around," says Jim. "I never got to see the shrewd, brilliant side of him."
In Madison Avenue's glory days, it was not uncommon to see creatives get loaded on martinis at lunch and come back to work a full day, a lifestyle that Jim thinks might have hastened his father's death in 1999. That aspect of the business and the fashions are among the biggest cultural changes, he notes, though workaholism remains an occupational hazard.
Jim has ventured far from his father's New York haunts, with stops in Atlanta and Vancouver, British Columbia. At San Francisco's Goldberg Moser O'Neill, he developed Cisco Systems' first TV effort in 1998, "Empowering the Internet Generation," and wrote Kia ads, such as a 1999 spot that fed off the Y2K mania by claiming the acronym stood for "Yes 2 Kia."
While Jim gains inspiration from his father's work, he recognizes that no spot he makes today will ever get the kind of attention his dad's work enjoyed. At TM, Noble missed the chance to work on another car account when Mitsubishi went to BBDO instead. But he's kept busy on other accounts, including Discovery Channel and ExxonMobil. And despite his accomplishments and DNA, Noble says he never rests on his laurels. "I am totally fearful," he says. "I doubt myself every day. I always think there's going to be some guy out there who's just going to kick my butt."