Story Selling

White basketball fans appropriate hip-hop culture, body parts twist into gut-wrenching positions and friendly neighbors turn into cold-hearted creeps. How did agencies get their clients to buy these concepts?

A look at the pitches of some of the award-winning campaigns from the last year shows that it helps when creatives are bosom buddies with the people who sign the checks. A trusting relationship gives license to dare. In the case of these campaigns—for Fox Sports Net, John West Foods, Pac Bell, Levi’s and the Los Angeles Dodgers—clients were willing to consider the offbeat. Some creatives even had the luxury of encountering virtually no roadblocks during production. For others, the process was not as simple, but, in the end, worth the effort.

Fox Sports Net/Cliff Freeman

Alan and Jerome would never have been born if Neal Tiles, executive vice president of marketing for Fox Sports Net, had even remotely liked the Cliff Freeman team’s initial idea for promoting the channel’s NBA broadcasts.

“We wanted to have graphic art ists interpreting the game of basketball,” says creative director Eric Silver, who presented the idea verbally along with art director Reed Collins, as is his habit with Tiles. “It was a little too artsy for him. It was an idea that you could only see upon execution.”

Tiles and Silver first worked to gether in 1995 when Tiles was at ESPN and Silver at Wieden + Ken nedy, and the two have become close friends. “We don’t treat each other with kid gloves,” says Silver. “We’ve even had yelling matches.” But they work out their differences. “Tiles is a very creative client,” adds Silver.

Tiles had immediately liked the New York agency’s pitch for the Fox Regional Sports Report campaign (which went on to win the Grand Prix at Cannes this year). But he admits the NBA brief was particularly challenging—he needed a single campaign that could be modified to appeal to fans in each of the 11 re gions that the games are broadcast.

Silver and Collins came up with the two white teens—they could be from any suburban neighborhood—who are trash-talking, hip-hop NBA wannabes. They would be digitally inserted into actual game footage, as if they were up against NBA stars.

The problem was that footage of a Knicks vs. Lakers game, say, would be useless in Chi cago. “We went back and forth on how to crack this regional thing,” says Silver. “For a long time the campaign was on life support.”

Finally they hit upon the idea of Alan and Jerome facing off against just one team. That way, footage of the wannabes playing the Knicks could be used in any region whose home team was facing the Knicks. The other team’s players would have to be digitally deleted, a costly and labor-intensive process. But it could be done—and it revived the campaign.

Still, Tiles had one reservation. “I thought [Alan and Jerome] were a little too over the top,” he says. “It was heavy on the street lingo, and that made it less approachable.”

The dialogue was toned down, but the duo maintain their own particular street cred in the final spots. In one, after Alan scores over Sha quille O’Neal, he raps, “I’m fresh like a can of Picante. And I’m deeper than Dante in the circles of hell. …”

Directed by Kuntz & Maguire of Propaganda/Satellite Films, with digital effects by Quiet Man, New York, the campaign scored major points at awards shows. It won Best of Show and two gold pencils at the One Show, Best of Show at the national Addys, an Andy, a silver pencil at D&AD, an AICP honor and a bronze Clio.

The accolades surprised Silver. “I didn’t expect it to do that well,” he says. “You can never tell—at least I can never tell. A lot of work went into it, so it’s nice that it was recognized.”

John West salmon/

Leo Burnett

It was a tense moment in a conference room at Leo Burnett London. The clients were disappointed with executions the creative team had presented for a series of John West tuna radio spots, and they were about to hear an idea for red salmon. “The mood in the room wasn’t great,” says executive creative director Nick Bell.

For John West, a division of Heinz European Seafoods, it was to be the first spot for red salmon in 10 years. Burnett had won the John West business in 1997 partly for its emphasis on humor, and John West wanted to maintain that. “We wanted to inject humor and comedy into the brand’s values,” says Jane Hilton, marketing manager at John West.

Leo Burnett’s idea was to show a John West fisherman fighting off a man in a bear suit, illustrating the tag, “John West endure the worst to bring you the best.” The bear dances in a boxing stance and delivers a roundhouse kick, but the fisherman takes him out with a kick to the groin.

“I knew I was asking them to go further afield than they had before. There was a stunned silence and a bit of looking at shoes and so on,” says Bell. “Then after what seemed like an eternity, [John West Foods managing director] Ian Meadows looked up and said, ‘I think that’s brilliant.’ “

The Burnett team, which included executive creative director Mark Tut ssel and copywriter/art director Paul Silburn, had already presented an other concept, showing a salmon’s-eye view of a fish’s fight upstream and its ultimate capture by John West fishermen. The spot would have come in too long and overbudget, says Bell.

Though the bear idea was an instant hit, there were two concerns. “We didn’t want it to be too slapstick, and we wanted the bear to look realistic,” Hilton says, adding, “The humor was about how the bear moved.”

To make the spot feel like a nature program, the voiceover was kept mono tone and serious. To further the illusion, director Danny Kleinman of Spectre, London, made the spot appear to be one shot, taken from the other side of the stream.

When the John West sales team praised the final spot, Hilton felt confident it would get the hoped-for reaction. “They can be a cynical group,” she says. “If there’s a chink in your armor, they’ll find it.”

The spot earned a gold Lion at Cannes and was a runner-up for the Grand Prix. It also won a silver pencil at D&AD and a bronze pencil at the One Show. And although Hilton is careful to clarify that she can’t pinpoint the reasons behind it, John West salmon “did see a sales increase.”

Pacific Bell/

Goodby, Silverstein

The concept for “Laurel Lane,” a quaint suburban neighborhood transformed into a battle zone because of poor computer connections, could have been a tough sell. But, like many of the ads Goodby, Silverstein & Partners presents to longtime client Pacific Bell, the campaign was on the air only a few weeks later.

The original brief outlined the client’s desire to become the “status quo” for high-speed Internet lines. From the start, Goodby wanted to show people’s frustrations with slow Internet speed. One concept had a boy growing a snail shell while waiting to get online.

The agency presented three ideas, says former account executive Bob Molineaux, and the client immediately liked “Laurel Lane” because its twist on a suburban slice of life detailed the pitfalls of slow Internet connections. The only reservation was that Pacific Bell had never positioned itself as a competitive company.

“It took a while to convince them it was the right thing to do,” Molineaux says, “because they were going from a non-competitive mindset to an open market where they go directly after the competition.”‘

A strong relationship—including close ties to Beth Kachel lek, Pac Bell’s executive director of advertising—helped it sell. The work, by copywriter Colin Nissan and art director Sean Farrell, was presented by former creative director Paul Venables and Molineaux, who have since left to found their own shop, Venables, Bell & Partners.

Two of the three spots, “Neighborhood” and “Cops,” showing a community fighting over “Web hogs” who monopolize Internet service, won a gold Lion at Cannes this year. The campaign, which included the spot “Realtor,” also won a silver Effie. —Justin M. Norton

Levi’s/Bartle Bogle Hegarty

When European teens began to re ject denim en masse about four years ago, Levi’s responded with its Engineered Jeans line. The daunting task of introducing a new line and bringing the brand back in favor fell to its advertising partner of 18 years, Bartle Bogle Hegarty in London.

“It wasn’t so much a brief, really,” says BBH art director Tony McTear. “It was just [Levi’s saying to us], ‘These are the jeans, here’s the previous work, and it’s up to you to make this brand famous once again.’ Which is a dream brief in one way and ab so lutely fucking terrifying in another.”

Since the launch of Engineered Jeans two years ago, BBH had done a few ads to get the word out, but the spots were generally limited to 20 or 30 seconds, due to cutbacks in spending. “We realized that it just lost the impact,” says McTear. “Teenagers really want to be entertained.”

The creative team, which included copywriter Mark Hunter and creative director Russel Ramsey, set out to devise the simplest expression of the product. They settled on one feature: With wear, the seams of Levi’s jeans twist to fit the contours of the body; Engineered Jeans come pre-twisted. “Initially it was a one-sentence script: What if people, like the jeans, were twisted to fit?” says McTear.

In the spot, a group of teens on a road trip stop to stretch their limbs. They go to extremes, contorting into im possible shapes and, in one version, losing a limb in the process. The Levi’s team, led by Rob ert Hanson, president of the brand, liked it right off.

The decision to use a top-level director like Frank Budgen of Gorgeous Enterprises helped keep Levi’s from meddling. “I’d like to say that [Levi’s] were bastards and they forced us to do x, y and z, but they didn’t,” says McTear. “They agreed that if they were going to be working with that high-caliber a director, you don’t tie his hands behind his back before he starts.”

That’s not to say that Levi’s was silent. “While [BBH] wanted the best possible shots of limbs twisting for the greatest impact, inevitably [Levi’s] wanted the shots that also showed off their product,” says McTear. “That’s not unreasonable.”

In all, the process went smoothly, though the digital effects—done by The Mill, whose credits include Gladiator—involved a round-the-clock, two-month-long effort. The spot went on to win two gold Lions at Cannes, and it is included in D&AD’s Art Direction Book.

L.A. Dodgers/WongDoody

It’s hard to believe he could be loved, but somehow an odd, over zealous and somewhat delusional baseball fan captured hearts from the moment he was created.

The character at the center of an award-winning campaign for the Los Angeles Dodgers was created out of a fairly simple brief: get the casual fan to attend more games a season.

“They were trying to sell watching baseball live,” says Tracy Wong, creative director on what was WongDoody’s first campaign for the Dodgers, a client for two years. “They wanted to remind people how exciting and different it is to be at the stadium.”

WongDoody presented at least three concepts. A nostalgia-themed idea asked what would happen if stadium walls could talk, but the historical emphasis was off-strategy for the Dodgers. “They wanted to talk about the game experience,” Wong says.

A “Think blue” concept involved covering billboards and buses in the team color, with “Think” written in white. TV spots revolved around a blue theme. “We didn’t have the media budget to support it,” says Kris Rone, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Dodgers. “It needs to be omni present if you do it.”

Then there was the concept of the over-the-top fan who behaves as if he is in Dodger stadium whether he’s in a cafe, at the airport or on a park bench. He heckles a batter, dives for foul balls, waves foam fingers and performs a one-man wave at a bus stop. A hidden camera captures the reactions of unsuspecting citizens with grainy, documentary-style foot age. The tagline: “You have to be there.”

The Dodgers responded immediately. “It nailed everything from a strategic point of view,” Rone says. “We knew the minute they presented it that it was what we wanted.”

One concern, says Wong, was that showcasing the stadium as a place where fans “do things that you can’t do at home” presented certain risks. And there were no guarantees that bystanders would react humorously.

The client did not share these worries. “Those guys have a really good comedic sense,” Rone says. “That’s why we worked with them. They’ve nailed subtle comedy and the ability to not go over the edge.”

The client did have to be persuaded to scrap a scene in each spot showing the fan at the stadium. “WongDoody convinced us, correctly I think, that the spots worked better conceptually without the payoff,” Rone says. “We decided the concept and the tagline worked on their own.”

The campaign, directed by David Frankham, got a gold Lion at Cannes, as well as a silver Clio for Entertainment Promotion and two Distinction Awards at the Beldings, the local L.A. ad show.