Ari Merkin On The Spot

Creative director Ari Merkin created waves in New York when he absconded Fallon New York with president Ann Bologna in July. The office subsequently closed. The duo founded Toy and are working with Oxygen Media as well as several undisclosed clients. Before Fallon, Merkin held creative posts at Cliff Freeman and Partners in New York and Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami— where he created Cannes Grand Prix Film winner “Lamp” for Ikea—among other shops. When not pondering the next great idea, Merkin, 35, spends time with his four children, all under the age of seven. Q: How did you come up with the name of your agency?

A: I would say people have their toys whether you’re 3 or you’re 33. They interact with them. They talk about them, they share them with friends. The point of our company is to make brands as engaging as a new toy. I’ve also got four kids and the oldest one is 6, so I never underestimate the persuasive power of a toy.

What has the transition from Fallon to Toy been like?

Building an agency is hard work. A lot of people warned us about that. And it’s clearly not for everyone. But what they don’t tell you is the joy of starting an agency. And it’s a little bit like having a child.

Why didn’t Fallon in New York succeed?

We realized that Fallon New York was becoming more and more of a product of my partnership with Ann, and we knew it was time to do our own thing. Leaving was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I miss the people.

What are you working on now?

We’ve got a few projects that we can’t talk about. But primarily, Oxygen.

What is the philosophy of your shop?

We’re passionate about what we do. We love inspired ideas. We take our work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we believe advertising can be anything and advertising can be anywhere. Toy to us is a metaphor for the kind of work we want to do and a standard for the kind of ideas we want to create.

Who has influenced you the most creatively?

The list is long, but I have to point to graphic designers like Herb Lubalin, Lou Dorfsman. They were a couple of early pioneers of graphic design, highly conceptual. A teacher at Parsons turned me on to them. Once those two things came together, design and concept, I found my place. Also Diane Rothschild and Roy Grace; they taught me the craft of advertising. And Alex Bogusky gave me the opportunity in a completely different context.

What’s the last ad that made you think, “I wish I’d done that”?

I wish I’d invented the iPod. I wish I started Napster. I wish I’d thought out the idea for Target where you give out a beeper to people at the pharmacy so you can shop while you wait. Nike iD was a great big idea, too. The Geico caveman spot really makes me laugh.

What’s your vote for best agency out there?

I’m rooting for the startups. I like the Brooklyn Brothers Web site. I’m a fan of Deacon Webster over at Walrus. He’s got a smart way of approaching advertising. Anomaly has great potential. Its good to see strawberryfrog getting so much business. Startups seems like a strange name for a group of companies that are setting out to redefine our business for the next generation. Maybe we should just call startups advertising agencies for the year 2005.

What’s the most overrated campaign?

I liked the Dove campaign when I first saw it. Then it started to upset me. I’m not sure why; maybe it was because I hope people were more evolved than that. The idea of showing real women in ads shouldn’t come as a surprise in 2005.

Name one person you’re dying to work with.

I’m a huge fan of [screenwriter] Joss Whedon. I think he’d be a brilliant ad guy, actually. He gets his audience, he delivers every time. He never tells you a story, he tells you the story. It feels inevitable. Serenity. Buffy. I think the great brands feel like that, too. They’re stories that feel inevitable. They occupy a space that nothing else can fill.

What are three words you would use to describe yourself?

Not a cynic.

What about three words other people would use to describe you?

Pain in the …

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Traffic. I don’t wait very well.

What’s the most important thing you learned from your parents?


What do you like to do when you’re not working?

There are only two ways I spend my time these days. I’m either working or with my family; there’s not much time for anything else. I’m either the creative director of Toy or an average suburban schmuck.

What’s your biggest fear in life?

I’d say pretty much everything. Fortunately for me, I like fear. I’d say any emotion that warns your body to jump out of the way of an oncoming bus is a healthy one.