What lies behind an iconic moment in advertising? Adversity, persistence and regularly hearing the word 'no' throughout the creative process.
We asked luminiaries Bonin Bough, Chris Macdonald, Lisa Topol and Nick Miartis to reveal the untold stories behind moments of advertising genius for Lockheed Martin, Honey Maid, Kotex and Tide.
Chris Macdonald, global president of advertising and allied agencies at McCann Worldgroup, remembers developing a VR school bus for Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin was the first account I won when I moved to the US. I’m a resident alien and they originally said: ‘We’re not sure you can come to the pitch.’ Why? ‘You’re a foreigner. It’s not that we dislike you, but you’re not allowed on our facilities.’ They let me in eventually. I remember there being about 57 of them in the room on the day.
We were on the train on the way back from Washington to New York, slightly drunk, when they phoned us to say we’d won the business. When I told the agency they said: ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ And I had no idea. I didn’t know what the brief was, and I didn’t know if they had any money. It was going great.
Marilyn Hewson, Lockheed’s chief executive, had a thing about Stem, so we had to get children into science. ‘Well what are you going to do?’ everyone asked. I still didn’t know.
The team said we should take journalists from New York to Washington in a special train car and make it seem like they were going on an exhibition to Mars. So we phoned up Amtrak and said: ‘We want to turn a carriage on a train into something amazing... can we do it?’
Then we said: ‘We’re going to rent a plane and make the windows interactive – it’s going to be great.’
The client said ‘no’. It couldn’t be a plane.
So we finally said: ‘OK, it’s going to be a bus.’ And the client said: ‘Oh, a school bus?’ And, instead of being the agency that rolls their eyes at the client we thought it was genius. It would be a school bus.
We didn’t know it was going to work, but when it did we realized we had created a group VR experience. In the first version of the film the kids were screaming so loud it was distorting the audio. It was only when we saw them enjoying this amazing experience that we knew it was a really good idea.
Bonin Bough, the founder and chief growth officer of Bonin Ventures, remembers working on Honey Maid’s ‘This Is Wholesome’ campaign when he was chief media and e-commerce officer at Mondelez. The hero ad broke the graham cracker marketing mold by portraying gay couples and interracial spouses.
When I first came on board Dana Anderson, the chief marketing officer at Mondelez at the time, said: “I want to do something different.” We were going to be fearless marketers and do the things other marketers wouldn’t do. We wanted to push the industry as far as humanly possible. We did an Oreo pride cookie and saw loads of homophobic reactions on social. I got a phone call asking, ‘What are you doing, Bonin?’
But by the end of the week everyone was telling us: ‘We knew that Oreo cookie campaign was great!’ And I said: ‘Well that’s weird because the phone call I got on Monday had a vastly different tone of voice, but OK...’
Gary Osifchin, Honey Maid’s brand director, led on the ‘This Is Wholesome’ campaign. When he walked into the room and showed the idea, people were like, ‘Woah, way too far! Let’s just have the people eating the graham crackers. We don’t need all of this to stand for something...’
He said: ‘Look, we’ve done the research and it turns out that more than 50% of people in the US come from what is ‘not a wholesome family’. This is a message that I believe we, as an organization, should stand behind.’
To the credit of the senior leadership they went for it. So, oddly, this piece of work means the most to me because it meant we were truly going to be fearless and stand behind our people. The brief here was to do something that’s never been done for graham crackers. Most agencies would say: ‘Ah I hate this client! Graham crackers?!’ But Droga5 was like, ‘boom, drop the mic, wholesome’. And it was like, ‘wow’. More than that, it was the people that stood behind what was the right message: just be good people in society and realize that brands have an opportunity – and potentially an obligation – to make statements and messages and move history forward.
Nick Miaritis, the senior vice-president of VaynerMedia, remembers poking fun at advertising with the multi-spot ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ for the 2018 Super Bowl while at Saatchi & Saatchi.
The original Tide idea – the one you all almost saw during Super Bowl in 2018 – was to buy [American footballer] Tom Brady’s underwear and auction it off afterwards. We were all pumped up about it, but we always tried to be courageous. So we thought, ‘this is great, but could it be better?’
There was one guy in the room who had this weird thought. He was kind of a quiet guy and he started riffing on the question ‘What if everything was a Tide ad?’ It was a brainstorm moment and everyone kind of moved on from it initially. If it hadn’t been for some other people in the room saying ‘That’s kind of cool’, it would have died and we would’ve sold Tom Brady’s underwear.
We heard a fuck-ton of ‘nos’ after that meeting – from the NFL, from Fox, from lawyers. The more we heard ‘no’ though, the more we thought it was actually going to work. But we hadn’t really even put the idea into the system until the end of October. And unlike normal air dates, you can’t move the Super Bowl.
We quickly realized we didn’t have an actor for the spot. Kevin Bacon was supposed to be the guy but he wouldn’t shave his mustache. So we moved on to Jeff Goldblum but he basically rewrote the entire concept, so he quickly fell out. Our chief creative officer Javier Campopiano has a young daughter and she said we should get David Harbour. So we did.
We were able to do something that was really contrary to what Tide had done and not show a stain. There was something so simple and kind of beautiful about that thought.
Lisa Topol, chief creative officer at DDB New York, remembers creating the U by Kotex campaign while at J Walter Thompson.
Throughout my entire career I’ve worked so hard to never work on women’s products. It used to pigeonhole you – if you did haircare or you did beauty products, that’s all you’d do for the rest of your career. And then this Kotex project came in. Suddenly I was like, ‘God dammit, why can’t we do something good for women’s products?’ I decided to work on it.
Kotex didn’t really have a share of the sanitary products market, so we said: ‘Why can’t we just be honest with women?’
Nobody is honest with women. Everything is blue liquid, everything is spinning, everything is happiness. But nobody is fucking happy when they have their period. We decided we were going to attack and to go after what it really feels like. We were going to make fun of all of the tropes and all of the ridiculous euphemisms that people use to talk about tampons but not vaginas.
In the early 2010s you still weren’t allowed to say the word ‘vagina’ on US TV. Penis’? All good. ‘Dick’? Pretty fine. But you couldn’t say ‘vagina’, and that was shocking to us. So we decided to base the whole campaign on that fact.
Kimberly Clark [Kotex’s parent company] was amazing. Not only did it let us do this advertising, but it repackaged everything as well. We told it to get rid of the baby pink and the happy, pretty blue and all the flowers. How about it actually looks good? How about I don’t have to hide it in my pocket or put it up my wrist sleeve when I’m going to the bathroom?
Second super big props to it: the major networks wouldn’t run these spots because they were offensive. One agreed to run the first two, but none of them would run the third. Advertising has changed since this campaign and I think a lot of people copied this campaign. But I’m kind of down and OK with that. I think it got people thinking in a way that I’m really proud of.
This feature appears in The Drum's December issue, which focuses on how advertising has become a 'dirty word' even among those in the advertising industry. We look at the plight of ad schools in a changing industry context, discover the stories behind brilliant ad campaigns past and present, and find out how some of the business' greatest luminaries plan to restore the image of the industry. Get your copy here.