Moehlenkamp, the creative mind behind Microsoft's global branding work from McCann Erickson in San Francisco, might easily have ended up as a chicken farmer. Happily, he says, he realized at a young age that he was far better suited to advertising. The 40-year-old started out as an art director at J. Walter Thompson in New York, moved on to BBDO and went west four years ago to become evp, co-chief creative officer at McCann. Q. What would you be doing if you weren't in advertising?
A. I was born for this job. I don't know if there's another field that would have me, quite frankly.
When did you realize advertising was for you?
There was a guy named Frank Perdue. My father raised chickens for him, and he used to take us down to these big conventions. My mother and father would drop us off in the kids-watching area, and they always ran a loop of Frank Perdue commercials. They were award-winning commercials. And my mother said it was funny because the other kids would be fighting over the one or two beat-up toys and I would be sitting there watching the loop of these commercials. I think that had something to do with me wanting to get into advertising.
So are chickens really dumb?
I hate to dump on the poor guys, but they are God's dumbest creatures. You would go in the chicken houses, and they would scatter into the corner and kill themselves piling on top of each other. Sort of like advertising.
What was your first ad?
My first job was at J. Walter Thompson in New York, and my first ad was for Burger King's kids' meals. Two weeks after the ad went out there, we got put on notice that Burger King was putting the account into review. Three months later we lost the whole account, and I'm still in therapy. To this day I think it was my ad that caused the turmoil.
Why? What was the ad like?
It was awful. It was a dubious start. But I remember that being able to participate in the world of advertising was so exciting that to me it was nirvana. Having an ad out there, in the newspaper, I would run home and say, "Look at this!" Sort of like Steve Martin in The Jerk, where he finds his name in the telephone book and tells everyone, "I've made it!" I was running around to all my family going, "I've made it! Here's my kids' meal!"
Who most influenced your career?
My 100 or so relatives in Delaware. It's like having your own Nielsen ratings. While they are not in Middle America, they are sort of the quintessential Middle Americans. They are just good, honest people. I face that jury every Thanksgiving. They are too good to tell you when they don't like something, so they just don't talk about it. But they are the first ones to tell you when they like something. To this day, there's the great world out there, but in my mind, there's just this little road in Delaware that I'm advertising to, because if I can shoot at the heart of that, I'm going to catch 90 percent of America.
What got the best reception from them?
A George Foreman ad I did for HBO back at BBDO. I've worked with tons of great people, but the fact that I worked with George Foreman really made them proud.
Who has influenced you most creatively?
Phil Dusenberry. His philosophy on advertising is it's never done until it's great. We'd do 40 to 50 takes, and we would change concepts after commercials were shot until he said they were great.
What work are you most proud of?
The Microsoft brand campaign. When we first got it, it was such a daunting assignment. When we set out to change the perception of the brand, there was a lot of realm you could have gone into that would have had a lot of adverse effects. I think we found the heart of what Microsoft stands for. And we did it in a way that minimizes detractors. Microsoft is making a difference in people's lives. But we had to walk a very fine line. And either way of that line, we could come off the wrong way. If you're in advertising, you live on this stuff. You're out on the edge, and you like it.
What's the most disappointing creative trend you've seen lately?
This is actually an odd answer coming from a loudmouth like me, but I think there has been a taste-level issue over the last year and a half. It accumulated in the Super Bowl. I enjoy a tasteless joke as much as the next person, but it doesn't mean I'm going to stand up in the middle of Thanksgiving and tell it to my 92-year-old grandmother.
What's the smartest business decision you've ever made?
I have these vivid visions of standing in the chicken house after a long day's work and my stepfather with a big cigar in his mouth, saying, "Someday, one of you boys is going to take over these chickens." And my brothers looking at each other going, "Is he serious?" I never took him up on that. And that was the smartest business decision I ever made.
And what's the dumbest?
One of my first big jobs, we had a post- production party on the roof of a hotel. Somehow I ended up in the hot tub with a bunch of IBM clients. And champagne and hot tubs don't mix. I ended up running my mouth way too much in the spirit of camaraderie. And I learned you are never truly comrades. To this day I regret some of the things I said. And you'll never catch me in the hot tub with the Microsoft clients.
Give me three words to describe yourself.
Big, bold and brilliant.
And three words others might use?
Full of shit.