David Apicella

Apicella, 48, says he was seven or eight years into his career before he did anything really worthwhile. His latest project is among the work he’s most proud of: Jerry Seinfeld’s “Webisodes” for American Express (the second installment, a road trip with Superman, debuts later this spring). Apicella has spent his entire career at Ogilvy & Mather, rising to senior partner and creative head along with Chris Wall in November 2002. The Stamford, Conn., native has a passion for cars—he bought his Porsche from Seinfeld—but now spends most of his spare time with his 8-month-old son.

Q. What’s it like to collaborate with Seinfeld?

A. He’s a great guy to work with. He really loves advertising, and that makes it easier, because he finds advertising challenging. He loves the short form. It’s a small group of us—me and a couple of other guys working with him—and there’s been some changes, not that many. It’s a little bit like the way we write ads, and it’s a little bit like the way Jerry worked on the show. It’s a larger group than just an art director/copywriter team. But it’s a true work session. We sit around the table and come up with it. And we go back and back and back again, but we get it.

How did the Webisodes shoot go?

It was a tremendous amount of fun. We worked with Barry Levinson, which was a huge deal for us. He’s a tremendous talent. And an important collaborator in this. We are all fans of his work, starting with Diner, which is a cult favorite with a lot of people in advertising because it’s got such terrific subtle comic dialogue.

Do you think “Catfight” was misunderstood?

I’m not sure it’s clear what the final thought on that is. Here’s what people don’t realize: What “Catfight” did, which I think was a good thing, was it got “Tastes great, less filling” back in the vernacular. Which was a longtime equity of Miller’s that we hadn’t quite gotten back to people talking about. But it did that, and once you had that debate on the table, it made it easier to get into other stuff, some of the low-carb stuff we did over the summer and fall.

How would you describe your partnership with Chris?

We get along very well. On a count-by-count basis, we still look after the things we looked after before we got promoted. I’m the AmEx guy and the Miller guy and the Kraft guy. Chris has always been the IBM guy. We work together on all management issues, new-business things. We’re both loud; we both, I think, have a lot of personality; we’re both writers, which is one of the unusual things about us. So we never actually worked together before we got promoted. But it turned out that we were way more alike than we ever knew. We have the same values, sensibility about advertising. Which somebody knew, because somebody figured it out before we got the job.

How would you compare your management style to Rick Boyko’s?

I don’t really like to compare. What Chris and I are trying to do is make sure that the department, which is enormous, doesn’t divide into camps. Which is not to say that Rick didn’t do that. But that’s our day-to-day challenge here, which is hard to do with a 200-person creative department. You have a lot of people, a lot of points of view.

You started out at Ogilvy. Why did you decide to stay all this time?

My answer is a weird one. [I read] my father’s copy of [David Ogilvy’s] Confessions of an Advertising Man, which I stole from his library when I was a teenager. So I was aware of David Ogilvy long before I got anywhere near advertising. Then I went to law school, which was a sort of left turn. I never really wanted to do that. When I got out, the advertising agency I knew was Ogilvy. I got lucky to get a job here pretty quickly. Why haven’t I left? Partly because I really think the place is great. But also it’s evolved enough so that it’s not the same place it was 23 years ago. The big change was in 1989, when Bill Hamilton came here from Chiat New York. That really changed things and made it interesting in a way I responded to.

What was your first ad?

A TWA ad that ran in The New York Times, which was very exciting for me because I grew up in this area. The headline was, “TWA Chicago only $95.” Not my finest work, but it was my first.

What was your best business decision?

I got an assignment around the spring of 1992 that was a pretty tricky little American Express assignment. Something they called suppression—places that accepted American Express were requesting people to use something other than American Express. It was a complicated thing. I said, “Let’s try to make it simple.” The one thing Jerry [Seinfeld] does as well as anybody is bring clarity to things. His observational comedy is great. So I thought, “Let’s try Jerry Seinfeld.” His show was pretty low in the ratings. It hadn’t found its way to Thursday night yet. We shot three test commercials and, based on how they performed in market tests, signed him up for a couple of years—and there you go.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the business?

Be prepared to work hard. It takes a lot of hours and effort. Be open-minded and curious about all things. People who succeed in creative departments are fascinated by life and culture and movies and music and poetry and all things pop culture and otherwise. And you have to be tenacious. It took a long time for me. I didn’t do anything really any good for seven or eight years. But I stuck to it and learned along the way and got better.