Crispin Porter and Bogusky – The MINI / TRUTH campaign ad guys

January 21, 2007

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Subservient Chicken may seem goofy and haphazard — the random beneficiary of the kind of lightning stroke of good fortune that ignites popular frenzies on the Web. It is, in fact, anything but. This odd bird is the product of CP+B’s disciplined, ingenious blueprint for systematically producing work that is original, innovative, authentic, strategic, and most important, pretty damn effective. It’s a creativity that, ironically, is liberated by the marketing game’s strict limits on such things as media choices, budgets, and message content.

The question everyone in the ad business is asking now: How do they do what they do?

It ain’t pixie dust. And it’s not even, particularly, the brilliance of any of the agency’s four partners. (In addition to Bogusky, there’s chairman Chuck Porter, president Jeff Hicks, and account-services director Jeff Steinhour. Sam Crispin founded the agency in 1965; his name is still on the door even though he departed in 1991 and his son, Charles, sold out in 1993.) Instead, a set of simple but insightful operating principles guides the agency at every level. When the shop is at its best, as it was with Subservient Chicken, it represents the very model of how an intelligent creative business should run.

“We brought CP+B in without a review because we were, and still are, operating at a turnaround pace,” says Russ Klein, who was hired by Texas Pacific as Burger King’s chief marketing officer (its eighth in nine years). That’s a sanitized version of what others said at the time — namely that a radical campaign from CP+B was the company’s last hope.

For Virgin Atlantic, for example, the agency launched a controversial spot this past fall on LodgeNet, a pay-per-view movie service carried in hotels throughout the world. After CP+B’s media department discovered that business passengers gravitate to LodgeNet’s adult section, CP+B produced a nine-and-a-half-minute spoof of a soft-core video (no nudity) called “Suite and Innocent.” Next to Subservient Chicken, it has been one of CP+B’s most talked-about works this year, drawing within three months 800,000 hotel viewers, who watched on average for a full seven and a half minutes. (Read into that whatever you will.)

With plans in place to stage a couple of days’ worth of hot chicken Webcam action to go along with the Subservient Chicken spots, Benjamin wanted more. Then he got an idea (surprise!). If he were able to come up with an exhaustive list of commands that the film crew could shoot the chicken performing, maybe he could create a site where the chicken would simultaneously carry out millions of demands in real time. Burger King never pushed him or the agency to do this. He just thought it was cool. “Our approach has always been, ‘Follow the work,’ ” says account-services director and partner Jeff Steinhour, meaning if ever you’re in doubt about a decision, simply ask whether it’s going to make the work better.

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