Matthew McConaughey Is the Highest-Paid ‘Creative Director’ in the Ad Industry

By Patrick Coffee Comment

Matthew McConaughey makes a lot more money than you do … for his advertising work.

Remember when Gruppo Campari turned heads around the industry and scored some coverage in Ye Olde Mainstream Media by hiring a certain actor to help sell alcohol?

The deal was notable at the time because, unlike his relationship with Lincoln, McConaughey would assume the title of “Creative Director” for Wild Turkey bourbon. Not only would he appear in ads promoting the liquor, he would also write them, direct them and maybe even compose the background music.

JWT New York officially got the business, but that part of the story was completely buried beneath the star power of Mr. Alright, Alright, Alright. In fact, the initial press release didn’t even include the phrase “J. Walter Thompson” but did feature a link to the JK Livin’ Foundation. After much back and forth over the summer, a PR rep told us that JWT had won the account in a review.

Since that news first broke, however, we’ve spoken to multiple reliable sources who tell a very different story.

Seems that Austin native McConaughey happens to know a few people who work at area Omnicom shop GSD&M by way of Texas Longhorns coach Mack Brown. Earlier this year, he made a hobby of visiting the agency between movie shoots, because he had a legitimate interest in the ad industry and wanted to get a better sense of how it worked.

Around the same time, an unnamed executive at Campari happened to be on a flight with the actor’s commercial agent, who also represents Brad Pitt and other stars. This party pitched McConaughey and the company was immediately sold. Or so we hear.

There was a problem, though. Wild Turkey had signed Vitro as its lead creative shop for a rebranding effort that launched in late 2013, and the MDC Partners agency was still working on the business at the time.

The McConaughey deal threw a big wrench into that relationship. The precise timeline of subsequent events isn’t 100 percent clear, but Campari ended up junking a full campaign created by Vitro because it wanted to focus on its new spokesperson/CD. This despite the fact that, according to at least one source who is not connected to Vitro, their ads scored better among test audiences than the work directed by Mr. McConaughey.

There was also some debate as to whether McConaughey would work with an established agency or assemble his own team of producers and whether he would appear in domestic campaigns or stick to global ads. Initially, he developed a partnership of sorts with GSD&M, according to our sources. He visited the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky to familiarize himself with the brand, and the plan was that GSD&M would oversee the work while McConaughey got all the attention, because despite being a talented guy he had never directed an ad campaign before and didn’t really know how to do so.

That setup didn’t work out, either.

We hear that GSD&M entered into negotiations with Campari but couldn’t reach an agreement on rates. In the meantime, McConaughey signed a 3-4 year contract that pays him somewhere between $3.5 and $4.5 million dollars annually for services provided to the Wild Turkey brand. (That approximately $12-18 million total doesn’t include the additional fees he will earn based on the fact that he serves as producer and director on the ads.) The company had also agreed to let McConaughey come up with the creative concepts behind all future campaigns. GSD&M allegedly decided not to work with Campari at all after learning about some of the details of its contract with McConaughey, though its executives remain friendly with the star.

Our sources claim that Campari effectively led two different creative agencies to spend a lot of time and money on separate, ultimately fruitless attempts to help advertise Wild Turkey … and JWT later won the business without a review. The WPP network already had a relationship with the parent company, and we hear that McConaughey’s production company contacts also had ties to the agency.

For context, the Wild Turkey brand is not struggling; on the contrary, it’s been doing quite well. Campari reported a 6.2 percent increase in global sales for Q1 of 2016 driven, in part, by an 8.8 percent boost for Wild Turkey, which exceeded expectations in the key markets of Japan, Australia and the U.S. And this was all well before Mr. McConaughey came on board.

GSD&M, Vitro and JWT have all declined to comment on this story.

A Campari rep responded to an email regarding its relationship with McConaughey and JWT with the following statement:

“While we very much appreciate you giving us the opportunity to participate in your story, it is standard company policy to not comment on rumors and speculation. We are exceptionally proud of the advertising campaign we have created with Matthew and JWT, which has been very well received. The strength of the creative has already generated nearly 7 million views online alone since we started this campaign. We look forward to working with Matthew and JWT on the next chapter of this program.”

Specifics aside, the main point still stands: Matthew McConaughey makes way more money than you do for his creative advertising work.

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