Award-winning shop creates ads for the world’s largest brands
In the early 2000s, advertising agency DDB Chicago turned the expression “Whassup?” into an everyday salutation by shamelessly repeating it in a series of award-winning Budweiser television commercials that were conceived in the New Eastside’s Aon Center.
Since then, the company has continued to influence popular culture from the same location; but a lot of its work doesn’t look anything like a commercial or even play on a TV. Here’s how the mid-sized agency keeps its wits.
“Creativity is at the heart of everything,” says Chief Executive Officer Paul Gunning. “I love the creative process.”
Gunning, who has been at the helm of DDB Chicago since 2013, is frequently hailed as a “successful new breed” of CEO. The description generally implies two things: First, he has worked for a company with an interesting name (in this case, “Tribal Worldwide,” the digital unit of DDB); Second, the company with the interesting name is still in business (in Tribal’s case, excessively so: it consistently ranks among the world’s best digital agencies).
To create effective advertising, DDB Chicago sizes up the tastes of millions of people who might be tempted to buy a product the agency wants to sell. In order to accomplish this, the agency must obtain solid data from the slippery social mediascape of modern America. The task comes naturally to the successful new breed of CEOs.
“We look at the average U.S. shopper all the time,” Gunning says. “They’re willing to forego a lot of things in their life to have a sizable mobile phone contract.”
Gunning understands that people are not only willing to make a “serious trade-off” to enjoy the luxury of their smart phones — “the average bill is $110 per month,” he continues — but they also might fund their phones by paying for and watching less TV.
“It’s changed everything,” he says. “Where they spend their time, how they find things. Advertising has to change with it.”
Fortunately, DDB Chicago works with McDonald’s, a restaurant that offers an affordable product and, as it turns out, shares his commitment to deal with customers on their own digital terms.
One of the early programs to emerge from their relationship was a French fry box that could transform a smart phone into an interactive digital soccer game when diners scanned a QVC code on the package’s design. It was a campaign called “Gol” that ran in conjunction with the World Cup and won praise for technical innovation and creativity.
But that was just the beginning.
DDB Chicago dialed it up even more for last year’s Super Bowl. Their idea was for McDonald’s to award a prize corresponding to every commercial that aired during the game on a contest run through the restaurant’s Twitter account. They called it “McDonald’s ‘Lovin’ the Super Bowl.’”
By channeling the hype of the traditionally famous ads through the newfangled portal of social media, they could potentially connect their client’s brand with an audience that exceeded the record-breaking numbers normally associated with the event. It would require the expertise of several vendors in addition to DDB.
“It was a totally new and unheard of way to go to the Super Bowl,” says Gunning.
It also made quite an exciting game for the team behind the scenes, which, according to Gunning, “involved well over a hundred people from four or five different agencies.”
Their greatest challenge was to create and deliver Tweets from a downtown Chicago office while the action was happening live. Since the NFL often does not identify all of the commercials scheduled to run during a Super Bowl, some of them were constructed in real time.
“We had everything from producers to creative,” Gunning says. “We had account folks who were checking off on legal.”
As the commercials ran, a chief production officer would contact an associate in New York and California to ensure that the ad was, indeed, playing all over the country. Then the team back in Chicago would Tweet a message offering the chance to win a prize for anyone who re-tweeted it.
There was also a blizzard, which complicated the commute for some of the people who needed to join the crew on the back end, but Gunning says that only “added to the level of excitement.”
“The trickiest parts were to make it exciting,” he remembers. “For the Mexican Avocado Growers Association, we gave away one avocado. But you got a trip to Mexico to pick it up.”
In March, DDB Chicago won the 2016 Shorty Award for Mid-Size Agency of the Year, an honor that Fast Company magazine describes as “The Oscars of Social Media.” The company earned that recognition partly due to the success of “McDonald’s ‘Lovin’ the Super Bowl’” campaign, which won three Shorties.
— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer