Andy Azula On The Spot

Andy Azula, svp and creative director at The Martin Agency, has moved in front of the camera for UPS’s “Whiteboard” campaign. A graduate of The Portfolio Center (where he met his wife, Sharon), Azula, 40, has worked at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, McCann Erickson, Fallon and Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy. Here, the California native explains the appeal of Richmond, Va., and what he’s had to do for Brown.

Q. What inspired you to get into advertising?

A. It was the guy dancing in the Fig Newton commercials. I’m not kidding. I’m that old. That was the first time I thought that a commercial was better than the show I was watching. Later, in college, I figured out you could actually make a career out of it.

Who has influenced you most creatively?

Jim Mountjoy was my first mentor. He was the perfect foundation builder. Of course, I was always looking at what Goodby, Fallon and Wieden were doing back then. Right now, I’m a big Gerry Graf fan [ecd at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York].

You’ve worked at Goodby, Fallon, McCann San Francisco. Was it hard for Martin to bring you to Richmond?

It was easy. I remember when I told Dante Lombardi [from Goodby and then McCann] that I was going to Richmond, he asked me what I was running from. The truth is, I was looking for balance. And as amazing as San Francisco is, I wasn’t finding it there. And I really liked Mike Hughes’ perspective on advertising and work.

Pre-Martin, what was your best work?

I think the original Buddy Lee campaign will always be something I look back at, because it was so rare. I got to work with Spike Jonze. We ended up with a six-minute documentary that aired on MTV and Comedy Central. We even ran TV Guide ads promoting it. I also like the Specialized Bike ads, even though I think we had an even better campaign they didn’t buy.

At Martin, you helped launch UPS’s “What can Brown do for you?” campaign. How did you go about doing that?

UPS is a massive and complex global company. They are also an extremely humble brand. I mean, they have thousands of engineers sitting around figuring out how to shave one second off each delivery. UPS by its nature is used to helping so many companies succeed by efficiently delivering packages and quietly running a lot of back-end supply chains. The challenge was to let the world know what they did beyond delivering a package from point A to point B. The truth is, even the stuff that happens in between A and B is pretty amazing.

You’re the creator and star of the “Whiteboard” ads. How did you end up on camera?

A funny thing happened on the way to the casting session. The intention never was to use me on camera. [Art director] Kevin Thoem and [copywriter] Joe Alexander and I decided to create these little videos to help sell the idea. UPS really liked the flexibility, honesty and simplicity of the “Whiteboard” idea. I think Errol [Morris] already had over 500 actors, teachers and comedians on tape when he asked me to step in front of the camera. He recommended that they consider me. So my tape went into focus groups. Honestly, we were all pretty surprised by the results, although I don’t think I ever want to sit behind the glass mirror again while people watch and talk about me. It’s one thing when they shred your work. But this was a little too personal.

The drawings you do are clever but don’t look that challenging. Why was it so difficult to find an actor who could do it?

That was the exact question we kept asking. I think it’s because the drawing represents a thought. And it helps to really know what you’re trying to say, beyond the words. Turning back and forth and reconnecting with your drawing is a little trickier than it looks.

What was it like being in front of the camera?

It started off just fine. Standing there, in front of a white wall with a marker in your hand. But then the clapper goes down and Errol yells, “Action, Andy!,” and your life flashes before your eyes. I got to watch a lot of my life flashing that week.

I hear that you’re being asked for your autograph these days.

It happens at airports. People will point and say, “Hey, you’re that guy on TV, with the whiteboard.” And then they’ll draw something in the air. I can’t tell what they’re drawing. I’ll usually air-draw something back at them.

What is your dream assignment?

I’d love to work on a car account again. Oh, and if I ever end up working on the Fig Newton account, I’d bring back that guy dancing in the fig suit.

Give me three words to describe yourself.

Sarcastic. Patient. Reflective.

How about three words that describe how others perceive you?

Sarcastic. A.D.D. Honest.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I love to play guitar. Read. Watch movies. Take long walks on the beach. Well, I don’t do that, but it does sound nice.

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