Mad Dogs & Englishmen Makes a Comeback on the West Coast

This time, the clients make wine and help communities raise funds

Mad Dogs & Englishmen came of age in the 1990s as part of a wave of creative boutiques in New York that included Kirshenbaum & Bond; Weiss, Whitten, Carroll, Stagliano; and Angotti, Thomas, Hedge. Led by scrappy entrepreneurs, the agencies created memorable ads for the likes of Snapple, Guinness, Foster's and Moviefone. 

With the exception of Kirshenbaum, however, they eventually disappeared. Mad Dogs closed its doors in 2005 after 14 years in business. But a decade later, Mad Dogs is making a comeback—this time on the West Coast.

The shop has reopened in Oakland under the leadership of longtime creative partners Jon Soto and Nick Cohen. This time around, instead of Moviefone and Yoo-hoo, they're working for a shopping complex designed by architect Renzo Piano (City Center at Bishop Ranch), a winery (Rock Creek Vineyard) and an app for raising money (Brickstr).

While the clients have changed, the goal has not: Soto and Cohen still just want to create ads that are playful, surprising and unpretentious. The partners aren't looking to take over the ad world, but clearly they're tickled to be running their own shop again after years of freelancing and working as creative directors at bigger agencies.

"In the end, it's about a bunch of people in a room, making things and having good conversation," said Cohen, whose post-Mad Dogs life in New York included stretches at Euro RSCG and Wieden + Kennedy. "I've always felt like it's a cottage industry at its best. And it's the relationships you make and the cross-pollination of different people that make us all of the different work we do."

Soto, who before freelancing worked at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Publicis & Hal Riney and BBDO, added: "The things that I learned from the way that we worked at Mad Dogs carried me through my whole career. … And it brought me lots of success and a lot of nods."

Anything in particular?

"Work with empathy," Soto said. "I think we always came at projects from a very honest and empathetic approach. And you didn't make claims. You could never say, 'We're the best this.' You had to prove it, and you had to win people over emotionally. [That] was kind of the way Mad Dogs worked. And it was always this really kind, sort of sweet place." 

The partners chose Oakland partly because it has a grittiness that reminds them of New York's Lower East Side in the early 1980s. Also, space is plentiful and rent is affordable, especially compared to the tonier tech magnet of San Francisco. Other Oakland shops include multicultural player Carol H. Williams Advertising, and digital agency EVP plans to shift its headquarters there soon.

"It feels like there's quite a lot of energy here," Cohen said. "So, I think our plan is, let's gather a group of people together and get back to—it's not even get back; it's more like just continue making."