Agency Behind Doritos’ Viral Super Bowl Ad Thinks American Ad Industry Should ‘Loosen Up’

Cummins & Partners brings Australian sensibility to U.S.

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David Droga isn't the only Australian making headlines in the agency world. Sean Cummins has already left a memorable mark on American advertising, and he's ready to make an even bigger splash in the coming months. In short, he's coming for your business.

"I moved to the U.S. in order to back up what we've been doing [in Australia]," Cummins, the CEO of Cummins & Partners, told Adweek. "David Droga and I came from the same country so there will be obvious similarities, but we're very different people. We may be a bit more [Australian than Droga5], but that doesn't mean we don't know the U.S.—and we have a fresh take on things."

Cummins & Partners got a lot of attention earlier this year for "Ultrasound," which was one of the finalists in the Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" contest, becoming the Big Game's most-shared ad and sparking conversation around the always controversial topic of birth control.

Comparing the American and Australian advertising industries, Cummins said, "Advertising is a universal language, and there's great work that is passionate and fun. But I think that in this market that has been slightly squeezed out. The American ad industry is very serious with clients not having a good time, people fighting over things and everyone with a point of view pulling brands in multiple directions. Generally speaking, the U.S. is a little serious and needs to loosen up."

Sean Cummins

Many who work in the industry would agree. But the real news concerns Cummins & Partners' expanding stateside presence.

Last year Cummins opened offices in Toronto and New York before acquiring Brooklyn-based dc3 and naming its founder, Todd Irwin, as the U.S. network's chief creative officer. In recent weeks, his agency folded Manhattan's Agency212 into its New York operations and named evp, account manager Kristina Tucker as an owner and equity partner. The moves were made in the interest of offering North American clients a full-service shop including media buying, digital and production services, and creative.

"We are scaling up as we go along," Cummins said, adding, "Because the path is modeled around bringing the disciplines together under one roof, we're looking to acquire various shops that have their own specialties."

Cummins hinted to Adweek that there will be news of more acquisitions to come as his independent network brings what he sees as a unique sensibility to an unsteady industry. 

"We have resourcefulness because we don't have big budgets," Cummins said, though his agency's roster currently includes Jeep, Nike and Vodafone. 

Right now, his primary objective is to strengthen the agency's U.S. presence by winning what he called "that big foundation client." Cummins told Adweek the shop has been pitching accounts of various sizes. "These are clients who want a fresh perspective rather than the same pitches you get from agencies," he said.

He positioned the Canadian move as the equivalent of dipping his toes into the North American market and reiterated his focus on New York. "Toronto was not moving along at the pace we wanted, but now, we're primarily interested in getting New York City operations off the ground," he said. "We're all merged together working out of a semisecret location."

Regarding the political conversations stemming from his agency's Doritos ad, Cummins suggested commenters "need to take a chill pill."

"Anything that's kind of funny and a bit out there is going to be controversial these days," he said. "Pepsi felt happy enough to run it. It was totally fantastic … about as realistic as dogs buying Doritos."

He added, "We hoped and still hope that over time, people will know we were the agency behind it."

Cummins told Adweek to expect additional mergers, campaigns and new business announcements soon. We can only expect future work to be as colorful as the Doritos campaign, if not quite as politically fraught.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.