Boston: Passion Plays

At first glance, it might be difficult to tell what the Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos campaigns for John Hancock Financial Services, with its ambient music and soft-focus family imagery, and the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, which uses strongly worded copy and unsettling images, have in common.
But on closer inspection, both efforts make heartfelt, impassioned appeals. And both were created by the same men: Ernie Schenck and Jamie Mambro, creative directors who drew on their feelings as Roman Catholics.
“The key is empathy,” says copywriter Schenck. “You’ve got to connect with people emotionally.”
The driving force behind the duo’s style is their maturity and experience. The pair-teamed for the past two years at Hill, Holliday-brings many years of life and industry experience to each campaign they create. They always try to do something new-but speaking from the heart is more important than self-serving stabs at being hip, says art director Mambro, 40.
For Hancock, “we drew on our own hot buttons,” Schenck explains. At 51, the wordsmith says he is thinking a lot about his “mom and dad-what’s going to happen to them in the future. But I have kids, too.” Mambro, also a father, approached the assignment from a similar perspective. “We looked at our lives, at people we knew, our friends around us and their concerns” to come up with the branding campaign.
Themed “Insurance for the unexpected. Investments for the opportunities,” the haunting black-and-white commercials, which debuted last year and are still airing, have gone on to win numerous creative kudos, including the Grand Clio in television and cinema and a gold pencil at the One Show. The spots gain much of their power by focusing on people’s faces. Elderly people, young adults and children are shown in numerous close-ups conveying a wealth of emotions: sorrow, introspection, joy.
The Survivors Network assignment is no less evocative in its attempt to educate the faithful about child abuse perpetrated by priests. One ad spotlights an errant priest using the headline, “Thirty-seven years ago, the Church put a collar on him. Considering all the lives he’s ruined, it’s too bad they forgot the leash.” Subtly distorted visual elements-clasped hands dangling a rosary, set against inky blackness-convey a genuine sense of tension and unease.
The Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights in New York responded personally. “Schenck and Mambro have developed ads that attack the Church,” league president William Donohue has said. “Those who maintain a grudge out of animus are not deserving of our time.”
Schenck says he doesn’t mind taking heat for supporting a cause he believes in, but, even so, he’s looking forward to leaving advertising within five years to write novels and screenplays. “I’ve done the entrepreneurial thing,” he says, forming Pagano Schenck & Kay in the late ’80s before he left the shop and became one of New England’s most sought-after freelancers. Two years ago, what started as a part-time gig at Hill, Holliday, turned into full-time employment.
Mambro rejoined Hill, Holliday in 1990 after working at several New England agencies. “I’m happy here,” he says. “I love working on these accounts.” -David Gianatasio