Agency Leo Burnett,

Agency Leo Burnett, Chicago

When creative director/art director Noel Haan came up with a concept for Altoid’s new younger-skewing line, the solution seemed obvious: Comic strips would introduce the client’s strips. “It’s almost like the execution is the strategy,” says creative director G. Andrew Meyer.

Altoids, which got the Grand Kelly in 1998, wanted to fine-tune the “Curiously strong and original” theme for “a younger bar crowd, people who are socially active,” says Meyer. “That category is more about social interaction than breath freshening.”

They hired comic-book illustrator Charles Burns, author of the graphic novel Black Hole, to illustrate the five executions. The creatives sent Burns rough sketches, and he fleshed out their ideas with his “dark and moody, tortured-artist aesthetic,” says Meyer, a copywriter.

In two executions, a goth teen embodies Altoids’ image of “pain and strength,” as Meyer says. Both carry the line, “This pain is always with me.”

“This is a different character type,” Meyer says, “a different interpretation of pain—pain is sort of her friend. It was an interesting subcultural vein that hadn’t really been tapped in advertising.” Burns, who worked on an accompanying Web short about the girl with animation studio Twinkle, returned illustrations that added details to highlight the teen’s alienation. In one, for instance, Burns played up the “leering sports-bar kind of crowd” in the background, Meyer says.

The other ads show a lonely teen in his room enjoying the Altoid strips, a comic strip in which a guy in a bar can’t pick up women because the Altoid strips alter his speech and a short man with a big smile who’s sandwiched between two women (the line is, “So small … so powerful”). “We’re allowed to poke fun at people,” says Meyer, “so we take advantage of it when we can.”