Lisa Topol On The Spot

Lisa Topol, a copywriter at Wieden + Kennedy in New York, spent the beginning of the year hanging out with members of U2, who voiced the words she and art director Eric Stevens wrote for ESPN’s World Cup campaign. An English literature major who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Topol found herself writing promotional copy for Bon Appétit magazine in the mid-1990s before joining Ogilvy & Mather in 1999 to work on IBM, Sprite, Motorola and Miller. At Wieden since 2004, the 34-year-old has helped create ads for Nike, Jordan, Sharp, ESPN and U.S. Trust.

Q: How did the agency get U2 to do the voiceovers for the ESPN World Cup spots?

A: ESPN was approached by U2 originally. They said they loved soccer and were interested in doing something for the World Cup. Our initial reaction was, “What the heck do we do with that?” Just having music from a big band could almost be a detriment because it can ruin the feeling of a spot if you just throw a big song or a band against it. Unless we could think of a way to have it make sense, to be able to explain U2 and the World Cup together, it doesn’t mean much.

So how did you get to the approach?

The idea came to us pretty quickly, actually. When you think of U2, you think of their music, but also of them as a group with a social conscience that cares about what’s going on in the world, that has this notion of bringing the world together. When we thought about that and what the World Cup is, it started to be a very natural fit.

Did you write each spot with a particular band member in mind?

Yeah, to some extent. We did a spot on the Ivory Coast. The games have at least temporarily brought this country to a level of peace that it hasn’t seen. Sort of a truce. When we wrote that spot, it felt obvious that it should be [voiced by] Bono because of his interest and work in Africa. We knew from talking to the band that The Edge was the one with sort of a cheeky sense of humor, so when we wrote “Sick Days,” he [was] the right band member for that.

Are you a sports fan?

I’m a huge sports fan. Especially tennis, which I play all the time. And I love football. My stepfather and I go to Giants games all the time. We’ve got season tickets. But I didn’t know too much about soccer, like most of America. We started [to watch] games in some of the local bars, and we were sucked in so fast. Because you realize this passion that people have for it is like nothing else compared to any other sport in America. You start to see that soccer is much more than a sport, that it has the ability to change the political landscape of countries—the economy of countries. It’s amazing.

What inspired you to get into advertising?

I thought about being a professor, but then I thought I’d end up in the middle of nowhere teaching something that probably no one is interested in. Then I realized I love writing and pop culture, so it made sense that I should go into advertising.

What’s the biggest difference between working at Ogilvy and working at Wieden?

Control. No matter how much experience you have, at Wieden, it’s, “This is your work, go do it.” From concepts to editing to finding music, everything is yours. If it sucks, it’s your fault. If it’s great, that’s your reward. At Ogilvy and some of the bigger agencies, there are more layers and maybe more protection. But you’re not as involved as maybe you’d want to be. I think you learn faster at a place like Wieden. It builds your confidence, too, to take such responsibility.

Who has influenced you most creatively?

My grandmother. She was an entertainer for bar mitzvahs and weddings. She would write songs with an accordionist. The two of them would get information about the person of honor and custom-write songs. Growing up, we used to hear all of these demented songs. She wrote one about the beauty of being a proctologist. She also played the electric ukulele. When you grow up with that, you start to do silly things right away. My first song was called “Jesus Is My Neighbor.” I’m Jewish. I don’t know where it came from. I was 6 years old. It went, “Jesus is my neighbor. His name is Fred. I’ll bring the peanut butter. He’ll bring the bread.” I somehow knew I’d end up in advertising.

You taught “Ad Concepts” at the Fashion Institute of Technology. How are the challenges for students different today compared to when you were getting into the business?

We used to be told that if you were a copywriter and wrote an idea on a napkin that was great, it would get seen, and you could get a job anywhere. That was never totally the case, but it’s even much less so now. Books have to look more polished, and you get that from ad school. Finding a way to keep your originality is another challenge. The way things look and sound has become more standardized.

Name the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that.”

A Wieden spot [“Choir”] from the London office for Honda. It was, “This is what it feels like to drive a Honda,” using a choir.

Name one person you’re dying to work with.

Jonathan Glazer, who directed Sexy Beast.

How do you get past a creative block?

I have no idea why this works, but I watch the Home Shopping Network and infomercials. To see someone stand there and talk for 30 minutes about a fake diamond ring and do it with such enthusiasm makes me laugh and relax a bit.