Steven Grasse

MTV thought a photo of Grasse sneering would make interesting art for The Real World: Philadelphia house, and many in the ad industry would agree that the Gyro CEO is a piece of work. In addition to doing ads for clients such as Puma, RJ Reynolds and Virgin Records, Grasse, 40, has turned his avocations into vocations. He has cashed in on the lad-mag appeal of rude clothing with his G*Mart and Sailor Jerry lines, and he directs the cult-film series Bikini Bandits. Gyro’s eclectic impulse has attracted mainstream clients like Mountain Dew, which hired the Philly shop to create hipster T-shirts. What inspired you to get into advertising?

I had a band in high school called Hair Club for Men, and we really sucked. But I did really good promotions and advertising for it, and our gigs were always packed. One of my teachers said, “You know, you should go into advertising,” and I thought, “Huh. Interesting.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t in advertising?

Movies. It’s no secret I’m a movie freak. I have my own style of filmmaking. Our production company is Fuck Hollywood. On one level, I’m frustrated with the Hollywood system and choose to work outside it. But that’s kind of true with everything we do.

Who has most influenced your career?

I had a job right out of school with Y&R in New York, in the creative department. And I met John Doig, who was the creative director at Ogilvy & Mather. And he said to me, “Boy, you’re gonna rot there. My advice is to go as far away as you can. Go to New Zealand, that’s where I’m from, ’cause you’ll get a good book together.” So I wrote letters to Saatchi & Saatchi, and I got a reply that said, “Come on down,” and I did. It was smart. It taught me not to be part of the system.

Who has influenced you most creatively?

I like people who turn themselves into brands—Quentin Tarantino or Karim Rashad, Kevin Smith. I like how they become the product themselves. People buy the product because of the cult of personality around the product. A lot of our clients work with us because they buy into the whole Gyro cult thing. They drink the Kool-Aid.

Describe the “Gyro cult thing.”

It’s got a certain funk to it. It’s like a party you feel cool that you were invited to. We make our clients feel like they’re one of us.

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

You know, it’s funny. Since I have TiVo, I don’t watch commercials anymore.

What do you think is the most overrated campaign?

iPod. What is it? A bunch of silhouettes standing around? What the fuck is that? It’s kind of like my experience with MTV, making videos. If you’ve got a hit song, it doesn’t matter what the video is. The iPod is a hit product; it didn’t matter what the ads were.

Who do you despise most in advertising?

What’s his name—Bogusky? I think he’s a hypocrite. What’s up the Burger King shit? You can’t do the “Truth” [anti-tobacco ads] and [handle a fast-food company like] Burger King at the same time.

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

To not get bought out.

Would you ever sell?

Obviously if it was the right situation. But the numbnuts I talked to before, which was just about everybody, no way. I’m impressed with MDC. But, I mean, we talked to Martin Sorrell. We talked to True North, which I guess has become Interpublic. And they just didn’t get what we were about. We’d sit down, and it was all about reporting numbers. Everything that makes it worthwhile to work hard, they wanted to take away. I think we make good money because we have a passion for the work. We don’t make money because we have a passion for money.

What would be the right situation to sell?

If it was a company that was maybe outside the advertising industry … a big-enough company where we virtually went in-house.

What was your dumbest business decision?

I’m incapable of dumb decisions.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in the business?

Start your own business. It’s the only way you’ll ever make any money. And stay away from Madison Avenue. They’re all stupid.

How do you sell big clients?

We’re very specific about what we do well. So we can specifically target brands we use in our life and say, “We’ve noticed this about you.” The bigger clients seem to understand the strategic role we can play. I can go in to Mountain Dew and say, “I know you’re not going to fire BBDO, but this is what I can do for you.”

What is your biggest fear?

That I wake up one day and this is boring. I am just so thankful and happy that I get to go to work every day and work with clients I like and come up with crazy shit that makes their business work. OK, so my biggest fear is that one day I’d have to work for a big ad agency. When I go running in the morning, I see everyone walking to work and they just seem so lifeless and bored. I have a lot of cool, young people who work around me, and it’s fun. It’s good to be the king.

Give me three words to describe yourself.

Angry white man.

And three words others would use?

Angry white man. Scary mother fucker.