John Boiler On The Spot

After 11 years at Wieden + Kennedy—including five at its shop in Amsterdam, which he co-founded—creative director John Boiler swapped his wooden shoes for a surfboard and headed to California in 2004 to launch 72andSunny. Now, he oversees the El Segundo-based independent, which also has an Amsterdam office. Clients include Quiksilver sports, the Portland Trail Blazers and Bugaboo strollers, and the shop recently wrapped some Xbox 360 spots with lead agency McCann Erickson, San Francisco. When he’s not working, the 40-year-old enjoys spending time at home with his wife and daughter.

Q: What inspired you to get into advertising?

A: Art. But I wasn’t good enough to get my retrospective right out of college, and I had to pay the bills.

Who has influenced you most, creatively?

I’m inspired by Andy Warhol-esque people. Look at Madonna and all she’s done. I’m not a big fan of her music—but creatively, as a visual artist, performance artist, as a creative businessperson. David Bowie—he keeps reinventing himself. And Neil Young—that guy’s reinvented himself more times than Madonna, and that’s saying something. I think it’s great when people get three-dimensional about their creativity.

Were you influenced by anyone at Wieden?

Dan [Wieden] influenced me, just as a good person. But his agency definitely influenced me creatively. There was a culture there that really fostered open sharing and healthy competition, collaborating without any egos getting bruised.

Do you see any similarities in the work you do with 72andSunny and your work with Wieden? Are there any styles or concepts that have remained consistent throughout?

Actually, the contrary is true. I see an almost random diversity of executional styles in our work. We don’t always do narrative, vignettes, comedy or serious. … Recently we’ve been deconstructing commercials a little bit, in our work with DC [Shoes] and Quiksilver, to make them feel a little more unscripted. Like the James Lipton stuff [for DC Shoes], and the Danny and Todd stuff [for Quiksilver]. Then the Xbox stuff has a very tight narrative and crafted visual story. I can’t maintain a style. Maybe that makes me a very poor artist, but it definitely makes me have more fun.

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

The Audi films—I understand those. There was the one, the cross-country travel documentary … I know who those people are, I really deeply understand what they’re talking about: how to create a new career and be a family. That really resonates on a broad cultural level … I thought it was appropriate to the product; it makes sense, and it checked all the boxes for me.

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

Starting 72andSunny. After Wieden, I couldn’t join an agency as cd—I thought I’d stop growing. But it felt too early to fade away, and somewhat irresponsible.

When did you know it was time to leave Wieden?

I started to think our agency couldn’t just go “make” things. Our business wasn’t predicated on it. I didn’t think our clients would understand that we wanted to go make a series of short films and that we only wanted to run them on the Internet. All these things we’re being asked to do now—or we’re telling clients we want to do—and they’re saying, “Yeah, go make it!”

So with 72andSunny, you have the flexibility to “make” things—and clients who understand the value of that.

Right. But even on a good day, what we make is transitory. We make ice-cream cakes. It might be really great and earth-shattering as an advertisement or a design, but it will fade with time. I think the greatest legacy you can probably have is to build a creative environment that fosters human potential and creative growth and happiness, you know—even family.

But your work does affect people, right? Isn’t that the point?

When you start to see people blogging about your company, not just talking about your ad, but talking about your brand or writing thesis papers about your brand’s influence, that’s the stuff I’m hooked on now. Look at Bugaboo—it’s changing the way people think about parenting. You can be cool and be a parent. Bugaboo is a brand, a tiny voice with this big cultural idea: sharing the world with your children. People aren’t exposing their kids to other cultures; there’s a global pandemic of fear. But this tiny voice is saying it’s important to share the world with your kids, introduce them to other cultures. It resonates.

How do you get past a creative block?

I do something irresponsible: go surfing instead of work, have a night of drinking with my friends exactly at the wrong time, maybe hop on a freight train.

Name one person you’re dying to work with.

There are filmmakers I’d like to work with, like Robert Rodriguez and Sam Raimi, the director of my favorite films ever, [the] Evil Dead [series]. And celebrities … Jack Black and Kyle Gass. They’re just so damn funny; their music is awesome. But they don’t do ads—we tried.

Give me three words to describe yourself.

Pretty optimistic guy.

How about how others perceive you?

It’s angry guy.