On the Spot: Chris Wall

Headshot of Adweek Staff

As a political science major at Northwestern, Wall toured Leo Burnett in Chi cago with a roommate who suggested he become a copywriter. “You have your feet up on the desk and you tell jokes all day,” he was told. An ecd at Ogilvy & Mather in New York since 1996, Wall, 46, heads up the IBM, Sprite and ONDCP teams—and tells jokes.

Q. What was your first ad?”
A. Lemonade, 5 cents.

Q. “Who had the greatest influence on your career?
A. David Ogilvy, Susan Westre, Steve Hayden, Joe Pytka, Phil Dusen berry, my mother. Each a genius in his or her own way.

Q. What work are you most proud of?
A. IBM. We took a brand that was written off for dead, that had no new products, and helped make it relevant and fresh—part of the future instead of part of the past. What more can you expect advertising to do? Also, I was able to put a lot of things I believe in into practice—people trusted their careers to me, and what we did seems to have worked.

Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced with IBM?
A. Convincing the client to let the creative people do what they’re hired to do. Convincing the creative people to accept responsibility for the results.

Q. Has working on IBM gotten easier or more difficult over time?
A. Both. In a way it’s easier, because the team at Ogilvy and IBM has worked together for so long, we’ve developed a kind of shorthand language in dealing with each other. And we have a template in place based on the past work. The difficult part is sometimes deciding how to fit all the new things in while keeping the continuity of the story going and ensuring that it remains fresh.

Q. Besides IBM, what has been your most significant work in advertising?
A. As late as 1994, Apple was the No. 1 computer manufacturer in the world. I think our work [at BBDO] for Power book and some other projects helped them achieve both creative success and market place success. I regret that Apple failed to focus on and celebrate their strengths and wasted a staggering sum of money trying to be what they were not. It is a great brand that began with a noble purpose. And I’m proud of the fact that, for a brief moment in time [at Wieden + Kennedy in 1995], I was able to help make Microsoft a culturally relevant brand—instead of a bunch of rich guys imposing their will on the world.

Q. Name the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that.”
A. Joe Sciarotta’s Sears campaign. Advertising award shows are filled with marginal ads for questionable clients. I admire the ability to find wit, style and substance in some thing that seems dull, old and pointless. It’s much more difficult.

Q. What three words describe you?
A. Handsome, suave, fashion-forward (this is what coeds would say, right?).

Q. What three words would others use to describe you?
A. Pain in ass.

Q. What’s your personal motto?
A. Last year I got my first car in nearly a decade. I’m not scheduled for a personal motto till 2008.

Q. What was your most recent creative coup?
A. I’ve never actually had one.

Q. Is there a product you would refuse to work on?
A. Dull things that appeal to mean people and harm children or small animals.

Q. Name one person you love working with.
A. Joe Pytka. I’ve worked with him for well over a decade—it’s always a thrill … and a test.

Q. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
A. A more comfortable chair.

Q. What about the industry as a whole?
A. I would make credit thievery a capital offense.

Q. What do you think is the most underrated agency?
A. Leo [Burnett].

Q. How have you changed since coming to Ogilvy?
A. I have gained wisdom and 30 pounds.