Mark Monteiro On The Spot

DDB’s executive creative director is coming off two silver Lions at Cannes for his Ameriquest work. The 49-year-old came to California at a perilously fun time for youth, in the late ’70s, and after two years of partying and freelancing, Monteiro experienced an epiphany on Venice Beach. As he was writing about a wino sleeping on a bench, he caught himself stoned and tugging on a Miller High Life in a brown paper bag, and resolved to reform his life. He’s shaped up enough for four tours at DDB and Chiat\Day, but still has many Super Bowls and Cannes beach parties to come. Q: I see the Emmy for Ameriquest’s “Concert” on your desk. Why is it positioned that way?

A: There is an art to displaying all awards, including how you casually toss them aside. Much to my surprise, the Emmy actually came with instructions on how best to display it. Yes, it is “profile left.”

How did you turn the shop around?

I’m frustrated by the attitude of “if I could only work on that account at that agency.” I think the people who are really good, wherever they happen to be, look for the opportunity in front of them. There’s no better example than this agency. Three years ago, I looked at the last nine months of the work and determined that in the 15 years on and off at DDB, it was the worst pile of crap we’d ever produced. So we started on small accounts we’d found on our own: the Manzanar War Museum, the L.A. Film Festival. Let’s find something to get excited about. It will create momentum.

How did Ameriquest fit into that?

When Ameriquest comes to us and says, “We want to be in the Super Bowl,” at first we’re like, “Sure you do.” This is not the kind of company, or category, that wins awards. And when we asked people for Super Bowl research, “What would you think of seeing a sub-prime mortgage lender on the Super Bowl?” it was pretty much unanimous: “Are you out of your mind? It’s a party! I don’t want to see it. You suck. Go away. I hate you …”

So was that the turning point?

Ameriquest, and the fact that my wife gave me that Chinese ornament you see on my door three years ago when I was depressed about how things were going here. It represents creativity. We’ve had nothing but great creative success since I put it there.

What’s happening now, post Cannes?

We’re going back to finding interesting projects on our own. One that I really love is a magazine called Performance, in theaters. We’re doing a campaign on the emotion of theater. I had a physical reaction to an image for a print ad, a heart nailed to a wall with a rusty nail. There was something so raw. I thought, “Yes, that’s one of the emotions I have when I go to the theater. Let’s come up with the other 20.” We’re selling Ameriquest on the Super Bowl again.

What about in the network?

DDB is in transition right now. Keith [Reinhard] is transitioning away. I think he is an amazing guy because he can balance a passion for creative and running one of the largest agencies in the world. Bob Scarpelli, one of the nicest guys, the prototypical DDB employee: talented, great guy, priorities right. Dick Rogers, interesting, different, a little harder edge, the Tony Soprano of the group—but you need that. By an irritating grain of sand you get a pearl—I think of Dick that way. I wish I had more of that quality.

How did you get started in advertising?

My dad was a plumbing and heating contractor in Danbury, Conn. So was my grandfather, who was also a moonshiner in the Depression and a blacksmith. I can find no advertising influence in my life. But in certain times in history, opportunities are presented to blue-collar kids for white-collar professions. All you needed to be is smart and ambitious, and you could succeed.

What was Chiat\Day like, circa 1984?

They were the best agency in the world at that point. It wasn’t so much a person as the place. You would turn over a scrap of paper on the bathroom floor and there would be some brilliant idea on it. And you’d go, “Oh, crap, I stink!” It was so motivating. Anyway, I worked there with Jerry Gentile on Eveready.

How did you get a rep as a prima donna?

Years ago I was on this shoot in the Mojave Desert somewhere, the middle of nowhere. I’m with the production-company producer walking along the catering table. She asks if everything is to my liking, and I say, “I don’t see any peanut M&Ms.” For me it’s like, “Ha, ha.” Well, two days later, I find out I’ve become some kind of asshole. They’ve sent a P.A. from the middle of Inyo County all the way to find some M&Ms because this bastard creative director has to have them!

What is your least favorite word in copy?

That would be “pus.”

What book is on your nightstand now?

Lolita. I laugh because I bought it when I was with my wife and her niece. So here I am going up to the Costco checkout with an 11-year-old blonde and a copy of Lolita. I’m lucky I wasn’t arrested right there.

What’s your best business decision?

I bought a piece of land in Sisters, Ore. There’s only a thousand people in Sisters. I thought, I’m bound to be the best ad guy there.

What’s your worst business decision?

I found out later that on the other side of the mountain, 10 miles away, Dan Wieden has a house.

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