Mark Fitzloff On The Spot

When creative director Mark Fitzloff joined Wieden + Kennedy in 1999, he thought he’d be working on Microsoft. But the Portland, Ore., shop lost the account a month later. Instead of hopping on a flight back East, the Palo Alto, Calif., native stuck it out on his home coastline and has since overseen the shop’s work for Coke. Now the 34-year-old is applying lessons learned on that iconic brand for a 2007 relaunch of Old Spice, a drugstore staple whose image, and signature bottle, has been collecting dust. When not working, he enjoys playing with his son, 4, and daughter, 18 months. Q: How did you get into advertising?

A: I went to school at Boston College. My mom’s cousin was kind of the classic ’70s Madison Avenue creative director. So I asked him for a job, and he turned me down. He said, “Why don’t you go back to San Francisco and spend a year in account management and see if you’re still interested in advertising and being a creative? And if you still are, call me and I’ll give you a job.” So I spent a year as an account guy at JWT. And then I almost made the fatal mistake of giving up on it and going to law school. But then I called him, and he gave me a job. So my first job was at an agency in Boston that is now called Digitas.

What was the inspiration for the Coke “New Fritz” spot?

The overall brief was to get people to care and love Coke again. For “Fritz,” we were just putting a ton of work into the pitch. There were some that were more out of that nebulous strategy than others, but “Fritz” came to us almost completely cooked by [copywriter Tyler McKellar], who had started making this almost art piece on his own. He put it together and directed it. It’s a very low-budget, art school project-type spot. I think that’s what people love about it because before, Coke commercials had extremely slick, overproduced, perfect model-y looking teens from central casting. This spot was the opposite.

You’ve done several spots now for Coke. Have you learned from that experience?

Iconic brands are kind of like a niche specialty. You hear people saying they have experience with car brands or tech work. It dawned on me that classic American brands or iconic brands have their own special needs.

What kind of special needs?

You manage them; you remind people what makes them great. It kind of starts to touch on nostalgia, but in a way that avoids being retro, because that can have its own negative connotations. The ads can be about the brand itself rather than borrowing from culture or being about independence or freedom or some other aspirational thing. Coke can be about Coke. It can be about the sound or the bottle. Old Spice in the same way can be about Old Spice because everyone knows it.

Wait, Old Spice is iconic?

It’s iconic but forgotten. Most people think Old Spice is dusty. If you ignore that, you’re going to come off as being really fake. Everybody knows what Old Spice is: it’s their grandfather’s scent. You can’t just snap your fingers and make it young, like Axe. Coke’s biggest mistake in its history was coming up with New Coke. Imagine if Old Spice, to try to refresh the brand, started calling itself Spice. It would be the same as what Coke did, which made a lot of people angry. An iconic brand is when you accept who you are, and people will love you for that sort of honesty.

What classic brand do you think has recently made a successful comeback? Why?

I would say Adidas, even though I’m probably going to have my ass handed to me here. I think they did a really good job of recognizing a trend in the industry, which was towards heritage brands, and they capitalized on it in a big way. The whole three-stripe look and the simple shoes … they were the first ones to attack that.

What’s the most overrated campaign?

I’m almost always surprised at people’s positive response to Budweiser work. I like the radio campaigns they’ve done, but I just think the typical Bud Light Super Bowl fare is really formulaic. The way it portrays guys—not that guys have any reason to be insulted by their portrayal in the media compared to women—but it’s like we’re all a bunch of 5-year-olds. I’m not a big fan of that.

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

My creative director at Anderson & Lembke told me not to go to Wieden + Kennedy, and I ignored him. He said they would pigeonhole me as the Microsoft guy. And my wife telling me not to go to law school if I didn’t think it sounded fun.

What about the dumbest?

I don’t think I’ve made it yet. I’ve certainly written some ads that are regrettable.

What’s your dream assignment?

I would love to see somebody do provocative, interesting work for the Democratic Party, and I’d love it even more if it were me. But we’ve tried to work with them on a number of occasions and they’re, like, your worst nightmare of a client as far as researching everything to death. So I don’t know if that will happen in our lifetime.

Name one person you’re dying to work with.

During Judd Apatow’s second [TV] series, Undeclared, I tried to get scripts to him. I would love to work with him on that show.

Describe yourself using three words.

Optimistic, lucky, athletically challenged.

Three words others would use?

Pessimistic, grumpy, male.