Bill Bruce

Now executive creative director at BBDO in New York, Bruce, 43, grew up in Detroit playing hockey and idolizing Bobby Orr. He began his career writing car ads in Detroit, first at J. Walter Thompson on Ford, then at BBDO on Dodge. He moved to New York in 1987 after an idea for a Dodge spot became a better idea for Pepsi. Bruce has run creative on Mountain Dew for more than 10 years—from “Do the Dew” to “Spy vs. Spy.” He also leads Sierra Mist and has contributed to Campbell’s soup, General Electric, Stainmaster, Frito-Lay and, most recently, Aquafina. Q: How did you get into advertising?

A: When I was in high school, I was very much into graphic arts. My father was an illustrator [for General Motors], and film was a big part of my life. On Saturdays in Detroit, there was a guy named Bill Kennedy, a B actor who had a TV show called Bill Kennedy at the Movies. No matter what I was doing, I would run home to see what movie Bill Kennedy was playing. Looking back, I think I didn’t have enough self- confidence to go to film school, so I thought advertising seemed like a good thing.

How did you get your first job?

I sent out a Western Union telegram to J. Walter Thompson that said, “If you don’t hire me, I’m going to kill myself.” They called up and said, “We got a real chuckle out of this. Can you come in?” So I did. I had an interview the next day and a job that night.

Who had the greatest influence on you?

My mom. From the time I was 11, she raised three kids on her own, worked two jobs and really just took care of the house after my dad left. It was a very hard time. It taught me how important it is to work hard and stay focused and take care of what you need to take care of.

What work are you most proud of?

I don’t look back. When I’m in the process, that’s all that matters.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on the job?

Some of them are memorable because I almost died—like being in the Swiss Alps in a helicopter in 1998, and the tail rotar is a foot away from a cliff, and people are screaming in German and French. There were a few of those hairy moments. And most recently, the “Spy vs. Spy” work [for Mountain Dew].

How were you able to execute the “Spy vs. Spy” idea to get what you wanted?

It was hard to explain how we wanted to do it. We said, “Well, it’s not animated, so put that out of your mind. We want it to be in black and white except for the can.” We also wanted to use [Hollywood special-effects studio] Stan Winston. They’ve done everything from Alien to Predator to Jurassic Park. We went to very select people to shoot this, because it was a fragile idea. We got on the phone with Traktor, and it was a great rapport. They understood what we wanted. Then we filmed on three stages at once. We kept calling it “analog,” because “digital” seemed like a dirty word. We did use some digital effects in postproduction. These characters came out in the ’60s [in Mad magazine], and we wanted to make it feel like it was of that time.

Were you concerned that “Spy vs. Spy” might be recognized only by an older target?

No. We have a wide group that we’re talking to, everybody from 15 to 45. But our theory is that when something’s cool, it doesn’t matter what era it came from. It’ll be cool because there’s something that came out of it that was honest and truthful and tapped into some part of a human emotion.

You started out writing car ads. How did you find you had a talent for soft-drink spots?

The approval process [for Dodge] was in New York. The creative director came back, and I said, “What’d we sell?” and he said, “Nothing. But Phil Dusenberry really likes these two ideas. You should take them and turn them into Pepsi ads.” Then I asked if they needed help on other Pepsi stuff, and they said, “Sure.” It was a Top Gun takeoff where a plane flipped over and poured a Diet Pepsi into [a cup]. If not for that spot, I’d still be in Detroit.

You’re a hockey fan. Any similarities between the ad business and the sport?

They’re both great contact sports. You’ve got to keep your head up and do many things at once.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?

Not leaving BBDO. You’ve got great clients who want to do great work. It’s always been run as “The work is first.” That’s the only reason to be interested.

The dumbest?

Staying at this place. Because all of those things become kind of an addiction.

How do you get past a creative block?

I think you just keep working and don’t be afraid to sound stupid, at least in a room with your partner.

What was your most recent creative coup?

Meeting Eric Silver. I got a hug. And by that he inspired a spot—an Aquafina commercial that will run next year.

How do you feel about David Lubars coming to BBDO?

I have great expectations.

What’s your personal motto?

Give a shit.

What is your biggest fear?

Botulism. It sounds scary.