The Big Idea

By Yash Egami Posted on Mar 26, 2013

Up until a few years ago, when most people thought of the ad agency Deutsch, its namesake chairman Donny was usually the first thing that came to mind.

But all of that began to change in 2009 when Deutsch LA won the Volkswagen account. First came “The Force,” one of the top automobile commercials of the past 25 years and the spot that put the agency back on the map. Then came work for PlayStation as well as more big hits for VW.

Around the same time the agency landed VW, Greg DiNoto, who was an executive creative director at Deutsch in the mid-’90s, returned to head the creative department in the New York office. What began as a slow rebuilding process has quickly gathered steam, with key appointments and a new creative strategy that has won the agency a spate of new business. Deutsch unveiled a campaign last year for the Milk Processors Board featuring big-name stars like Salma Hayek that created buzz. Go Daddy, known for its overtly sexy, homegrown Super Bowl ads, hired the agency to help it finally grow up. PNC tapped Deutsch in an effort to rebrand itself as more modern and hip. Microsoft has also given the agency several assignments and looks to add even more.

All of this refocusing on creativity culminated at this year’s Super Bowl, where Deutsch made its mark with a total of five spots during the big game. From the LA office came the much-debated “Get Happy” spot and the hilarious octogenarian spoof for Taco Bell, “Viva Young.” The New York office was responsible for “Perfect Match” for Go Daddy featuring a kiss between supermodel Bar Refaeli and a computer nerd named Walter that reverberated around the world, and another spot for the same client called “Your Big Idea” that hinted at more sophisticated work to come. Also unveiled was “Morning Run,” a big, sweeping Hollywood spot for Milk with action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Is this the new Deutsch? With all the recent successes, the answer appears to be an emphatic yes. We spoke with Chief Creative Officer Greg DiNoto about the changes he’s implemented and how he’s managed to turn the ship around.

Deutsch has been on a tear lately. Talk about how the company has elevated its game and some of the changes that you’ve implemented.
Part of what we’ve tried to do over the past three years is to reassert the Deutsch mission, which is for us to do great work that leads to business results. I think that that real substantive push has made the work better and sharper and more high profile. Part of getting there has been hiring the right people. When I came in we made a lot of changes, and since then we’ve hired more senior, boots-on-the-ground creative directors who are practitioners as well as managers. And that is key—you have to invest in that level. Creative directors here do not sit on their duffs rendering judgment; they make stuff and they make it better in an active way.

Additionally, we really pushed integration. Integration is king at Deutsch—we’ve chosen to create an integrated production structure and capability. We’re doing the same thing with project management. Those roles are so critical to making sure the agency is looking at each and every assignment without any bias or preconceived notions.

Lastly, it’s just about making sure that the message is excellence. No client is left behind, no assignment is left behind. The expectations are clear for every project: We exceed the need and we really, really push. I wasn’t here before, but I would imagine now there’s a different tone in the creative and production departments. There’s a difference in how they work every day, and I think things are really happening around here.

What are some of the things that you’ve done to inspire your creative department?
First and foremost, that’s a hiring question. I believe you hire talent and motivation. We hire people who already come inspired. I don’t think you try to cook up interesting things for people to do—you show them where the interest lies in what might look like a glory-less effort. We say there is always something wonderful to be had. Whether it’s a big retail assignment, a big, juicy brand television assignment, or a pharma web property, we’re always trying to find opportunities. If you hire the right people, you don’t need to inspire them, you just need to make sure they see the possibilities in every assignment.

Some companies start experimental labs or encourage side projects to get the creative juices flowing. Are you doing any of that?
No, and I think that part of that feels a little like apologia to me. We’re in a business that demands professionalism at every turn, and I don’t want my people to feel like we need to create an “assignment rec center” to keep them inspired. They need to come to work every day ready to find gold wherever it may be.

We had a B2B assignment last year for Microsoft Cloud Server Tools that ended up being a really entertaining content play featuring a character we created named Tad. If I showed you that assignment on paper, that we’re going to do a competitive assignment for Microsoft server and tools for a B2B audience starting with virtualization, you might start getting apoplectic. But the right creative looks at that and goes, OK, I know how to defeat the inherent challenges here. I know how to find something that’s going to be great that the audience and my peers will love.

What’s the secret to winning new business?
We come at it as a team. We have an incredible planning leader, Brent Vartan. We have great new business people all around, and I think a lot of it is because clients see that we are not just about cherry picking and going after great assignments. We bring it to every channel and every touch point. In addition to all of the new business wins, you’ll see that there has been a lot of organic growth, and that’s because of consistent performance. [Existing] clients want to see that, and that’s the word that gets out to potential clients.

We see no conflict in doing great creative and being commercially effective. Those two things go hand in hand.

It’s interesting because on the one hand, you did a commercial for Go Daddy with Bar Refaeli that was basically a stunt, and then you did the Milk commercial with The Rock that was a big, sweeping cinematic piece. How do you decide which direction to go?
You surrender your own aspirations to the client’s need. For Milk, the client need was about creating an iconic moment for an iconic brand that had a very specific message about protein. To live in the Super Bowl in a kind of family moment, we thought The Rock was the perfect guy for that.

On the Go Daddy side, we had to flip several switches. We had to walk into a drive-to-web mandate, we had to finish a conversation we’d been having all year about the sexy side and smart side of Go Daddy, and we had to set ourselves up for next year’s work in a way that would be clean and complete. So we felt the need for a finalizing gesture, and that’s why we brought Bar and our geek together.

It sets us up beautifully for next year to either reinterpret and revisit some of the brand equities that they’ve come to depend on or change them altogether.

Critics are divided on the Go Daddy ad. Some say it was genius while others call it a cheap stunt. Did it work?
It’s a very easy rebuttal. What I would say to the critics is: 2 billion Twitter impressions, tens of millions of views on YouTube, over $100 million in earned impressions in broadcast media. People are obviously paying enough attention to it to render an opinion. We knew that it would not have the same kind of effect that The Rock would have for Milk, but we also understood that this is an elaboration of Go Daddy’s embrace of controversy. In the future we’ll probably make moves on those properties, but it’s important not to leave behind who you are. For Go Daddy to never explain why they use hot women would be disingenuous. So it’s very important for us to lead them through a conversation where we explain the role of the women while adding this new dimension of smart to it.


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