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Bunny, Fantasy Ads May End Chiat/Day/Mojo's Creative Drought

November 09, 1989|BRUCE HOROVITZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When baseball players have hitting slumps they take batting practice. When car makers suffer sales slumps they lower prices. But what happens when an advertising agency has a creative slump?

Well, at the Venice ad agency Chiat/Day/Mojo, they went back to the drawing boards.

There, they came up with a funny bunny that won't sit still--and a car that makes sonic booms. That might not sound like much. But quicker than you can say Clio, the apparent slump at the agency's headquarters office may be over.

The bunny is that pink Eveready Energizer rabbit that unexpectedly hops its way into commercial sets for products like coffee and nasal spray. Although another ad agency actually created the pink rabbit, it was Chiat/Day/Mojo that set it loose.

Meanwhile, the car that appears to break the sound barrier in a yet-to-be-aired commercial is a Nissan 300ZX Turbo. That Nissan ad--which will premiere during the Super Bowl--is part of a new "fantasy" campaign for Nissan that features dream-like dramatizations of the fantasies of Nissan drivers.

"Sure, we were in a slump," said Bob Kuperman, executive vice president and creative director at the agency. "But we're out of it now."

What shook them out? "We got tired of our New York office doing better work than us," said agency President Lee Clow.

But the ad firm's New York office isn't sitting back. Today, it is expected to name a new creative head, Tom McElligott, the outspoken adman who recently left the red-hot Minnesota ad firm, Fallon McElligott.

Chiat/Day/Mojo's New York office has won national acclaim over the past two years for a series of NYNEX ads filled with hilarious visual puns. But during that time, about the only laughs the headquarters office in Venice generated was from critics who panned the ad firm's first Nissan ads. Those commercials featured yuppies who sat around a conference table gibbering about "human engineering."

That laughter was extremely difficult for top Chiat/Day/Mojo executives to take. The Venice office of the ad agency takes great pride in its creative work. In fact, on Wednesday a panel of New York judges selected the "10 Best Ads of the 1980s," and the agency's Venice office outpaced every other agency in the country, with three of its campaigns listed in the Top 10.

But there was something even more telling about the selections. Every winning ad from Chiat/Day/Mojo's Venice office was created at least four years ago.

Winners were selected from among 12,000 entries by the One Club, an organization of art directors and copywriters. The Orwellian "1984" commercial for Apple Computers--that looked something like a set from a science fiction film--placed No. 2 in the competition. The ad aired only once--during the 1984 Super Bowl. The ad that took top prize in the contest was the familiar Federal Express ad from 1982 that featured the ultra-fast-talking businessman. That ad was created by the New York agency Ally and Gargano.

Two of Chiat/Day/Mojo's campaigns for Nike placed among the One Club's Top 10 ads of the decade. One prize was for Nike's striking billboard campaign during the 1984 Olympics. The other was Nike's 1985 "I Love L.A." TV commercial that featured the hit song by Randy Newman.

But that is the agency's past. More recently, the Venice office has not only been upstaged by the firm's New York office, but it has also been beat up at home. For years, Chiat/Day/Mojo kept winning the top prize in the West Coast's best-known ad competition, the Belding Awards. Some even jokingly began to refer to the competition as the "Chiat/Day" awards. But for the past two years Chiat/Day/Mojo has been bested by other local agencies.

Some speculate that Chiat/Day/Mojo's Venice office grew so big so fast that it took its eye off the creative ball. By taking on Nissan, it more than doubled its annual billings. And it added dozens of new employees. Then the agency virtually doubled its size last year to more than $1 billion in annual billings when it purchased the Australian ad firm Mojo MDA.

Now--even as the ad firm continues to search for a European partner--its growth seems to have a least temporarily settled. And top executives at the Venice office say it is back on track.

Of course, it is consumers who will ultimately decide that.

Next week, the agency will unleash its commercials that focus on the fantasies of Nissan drivers. In one, a man driving a Nissan 240SX wishes he were sitting next to model Christie Brinkley and-- voila --she appears. In another ad, a woman driver wishes for Ken Wahl, star of the TV show "Wiseguy" and--presto--he appears. These ads are scheduled to air on ABC next week during Monday Night Football.

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