Innocean USA’s first Chief Creative Officer on the agency’s global push
A wave of change and ever-growing ambition is washing over Innocean at the moment. Worldwide creative advisor Bob Isherwood and global CCO Jeremy Craigen have been setting about upping the network’s creative profile, with a series of big new hires. In the USA, who better to take the creative reigns than the man who created one of the most popular American car ads ever? Eric Springer is the man behind VW Force (the most shared Superbowl spot ever) and now he’s got a big creative task ahead of him with a huge Hyundai rebrand, elevating the Genesis luxury car in the US market, and overseeing the remodel of the Huntington Beach office. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Eric to find out about the big plans for Innocean and Hyundai, the LA ad scene and working on Warren Buffet’s favourite candies…
LBB> You joined Innocean back in January. What was it about the challenges and what it presented to you personally that made it an attractive place to go to?
ES> I think there were two things. A car account is always a big stage, which I love. I’ve been really fortunate to work on some fun brands, big stages like Volkswagen and Saturn, and it’s much like the beer category or, now, the gaming category. So that was huge. I like the brand, and I also love to work on a car that I would actually drive.
Another plus is that with Innocean, not many people know an awful lot about it, what it stands for, because it’s so young. When I started talking with Jeremy Craigen (Global CCO) and Bob Isherwood and the rest of the team, I realised they have a real vision of what they want Innocean to be. It’s nice to be able to be on that stage too.
It’s a global network of folks that are likeminded and want great creative. We’re very fortunate that the vice chairman of Hyundai wants a Gold Lion so badly. You don’t get the owner of a billion dollar company saying that too often!
LBB> So you’re going to be working on Hyundai and you’re so well known for your work on VW - outside of work are quite a petrolhead?
ES> I shouldn’t admit to this, but no! I admire older cars but I ride my bike to work when I can, I walk to work to stay, god forbid, somewhat healthy, but I’m not a guy who has to have the newest or the latest or the fastest. I’d take an old VW or Datsun truck. I love the nostalgia of it.
For me, what I find interesting about working on car brands is that consumer empathy part of it, the experience. Because I hate buying cars. It kills me. So, how do you fix that? How do you make that easier? Hyundai thrives in that area, and that’s what I’m interested in, more than the actual car itself.
I had a reality TV show idea about reuniting people with their first car. In America, when you’re 16 you get a hand-me-down from your Mom or Dad. An old Toyota Corolla or a Ford or a Chevvy and then you wonder ‘where is that car today? Who has it?’ And there are all those memories associated with it: high school, college, first boyfriends… Family trips, all that stuff. That’s what cars mean to me, versus just driving one. I’m not a gear head by any means.
LBB> What are your big goals for the agency?
ES> When I came in, I sat down with my partners, COO Tim Blett and CEO Steve Jun, to set out our key goals. We all agreed with the three things: we wanted to bring in in a certain amount of new business and grow (whether that’s new business or Hyundai); we want to bring in more global talent – we’re a global agency so let’s act like that and we’re on Huntington Beach California, who doesn’t want to work on the beach? – then, and this is really near and dear to my heart, to be voted one of the best places to work.
LBB> Why is attracting global talent to the US office so important to you?
ES> I love the pool of thinking. Sometimes, I think that the problem with American advertising is that it gets too ‘in the weeds’ of the writing, stuck in the nuances. It’s fine if you know the joke, if you get the punchline but how does that work for a brand? You can still be outlandishly funny with a more visual approach but you’re not relying so much on ‘gags’. Some of my favourite ads are the old Stella Artois films, which are funny but they have a human truth to them. It’s a more diverse, less Anglo-centric gag-y… I love that.
LBB> Innocean is owned by Hyundai, but how important is pursuing other clients outside of that?
ES> We’re very fortunate. There were so many reasons that I came to Innocean and one of them was the opportunity to work with Chad Saul, the former Head of New Business at Deutsch, who I worked with for many years.
It takes a little bit to get that momentum. When I walked in the door we were in the middle of two pitches, one of which we won. It’s a shoe store called Finish Line, the biggest competitor to Footlocker. We’ve also picked up Champion, formerly Champion Spark Plugs; it was recently acquired by a venture capitalist who is turning it into a bigger parts company so we’re rebranding it.
Then there are a couple of others we need to put in the mix to round out our folks. If you eat filet mignon every single night, eventually you go ‘oh my god I want a piece of pizza!’
Another account we have that is small but huge in the minds of Americans is See’s Candies. It’s a little old chocolatier and it’s Warren Buffet’s favourite candy… which is why he bought the company. We’d love to get on his radar by making See’s next year’s Titanium winner!
So there are lots of accounts that they have that need some light shined on them. But our number one goal is to make Hyundai loved.
LBB> And what are the big projects that you’re working on now?
ES> We’re rebranding Hyundai, so there’s a lot of work that hasn’t launched yet. At the same time, we’re working on separating Hyundai from the Genesis brand. Abroad it’s seen as a luxury car but in the States there was confusion. That’s a global launch.
Again, this is so fresh but there’s a new campaign coming up for Finish Line that we’ve just shot and it’s really fun.
LBB> Rebranding Hyundai is a fairly meaty project to get your head around!
ES> Oh huge! Especially coming off the back of Super Bowl, which were great spots, but now it’s like how do we make every day Super Bowl for Hyundai without having to spend tens of millions of dollars. How do you get that kind of love affair with your brand, beyond 30 seconds?
And we’ve been talking with Jeremy about rebranding Innocean itself.
Another huge creative project we have right now is redesigning our office with an architectural company. We have a beautiful office space but it’s not as collaborative as it could be.
Think about what the Ace Hotel did. I remember so early on, my first time walking in to the Ace Hotel in New York. The atmosphere made it so much easier to just start talking to people, whether they were an 18 year old on a laptop or an 80 year old with a newspaper. They were all of the same mind-set, they all chose the Ace Hotel and while they weren’t solving any world problems, there was a spirit of collaboration.
If you apply that same approach to your company, you’re raising people’s confidence because they can’t hide behind a cubicle or a door. How many bosses have you had when they come in and shut the door, then go for lunch and come back in. What are they doing in there? Probably hiding.
LBB> The LA ad scene feels like it’s still really growing – we’ve noticed over the past few years – and that transformation and growth is still there and it’s still attracting more and more and more people.
ES> It really is remarkable what’s happened in LA over the past 15 years. I was born and raised there and then lived in other cities. The LA ad scene is really interesting. We have great little pockets of agencies that are just start-ups, and then the transformation of the bigger ones like the Team Ones and the Chiats trying to reinvent themselves. It’s not just about trying to catch up with clients’ needs but I think they genuinely want a great LA ad scene.
What’s interesting about LA is that it’s not just agencies, you have tonnes of production companies and studios who have gotten into content. Look at what CAA have done over the last ten years! It’s their brands and their talent pool. The community is so much bigger. They embrace each other so much better than they used to too – there used to be so many firewalls but not any more. It’s really fun.
LBB> You’re from Los Angeles originally – was that where you started your career too?
LS> I started at a little agency, then went to TBWA. Actually, after college I ended up moving to St Louis, Missouri. I had never been out of LA and it was when TBWA and Chiat Day came together and that was a lot of fun. The ‘T’ in TBWA - Dick Tregos - was from St Louis and he wanted the Budweiser account, so that’s why he brought the talent there to do it.
I stumbled onto that then back to LA for DDB, where I envied all the old Volkswagen work and I couldn’t believe we didn’t get a chance to work on it then! I moved to San Francisco in the early ‘90s, which was interesting; it was when I first started working on a car account, we launched Kia there, worked with Hal Riney on Saturn.
Then I came back to LA… and met this guy called Donny Deutsch! And he wanted an agency in LA and I spent 14 years there building it from a shop of 12 to 500. It was crazy. It was 14 years of my life that felt like it went by in months. It was a great crew.
But like anything else people go places, start taking on other challenges and suddenly the family isn’t there anymore and you’re introducing yourself to who you think is a new employee and they’ve been there for three years and you feel like an asshole… And you realise you’re out of touch and it was time to move on. I founded a fun little agency in Culver City called Pitch that wanted to reinvent itself and then I was at FCB for a few years and got a real good taste for global networks. And I got a taste of what would lead me to Innocean.
LBB> And outside of advertising, what do you get up to?
ES> Well, I’m very fortunate to have three children - although they’re not children any more. I’ve got a 17, 19 and 21 year old and 25-year old marriage that’s managed to survive this crazy business. Without wanting to sound like a soppy family guy, we just have so many shared interests. We like to travel, we like to hang out on the beach. I like to surf every now and then (without killing myself!) but I’m just as happy sitting on a beach with a book and just watching people. Oh! And Golf. I’ve taken up golf. I’ve played for the last 30 years but I’ve started taking it seriously over the past three years because my daughter got me back into it. I enjoy the camaraderie.
LBB> And finally… I’m sure you’re asked about this so much, but the VW Force ad is one of those spots that will pop up all the time and people still share to this day!
ES> We couldn’t have tapped into a bigger piece of pop culture at a time when it was ready to re-energize itself. That human moment.
I have a son who is now 17, but at the time he was of that age and people would ask ‘is that something you and Chase did?’ Were you the Dad? Was he the boy? And I thought, ‘I wish I had had that moment’! When you see the script and get an idea like that you pinch yourself.
I think everyone related to it and it certainly helped to have the music and characters, which George Lucas kindly let us use. It was like catching lightening in a bottle. I’d gladly do that another 15 or 20 times if I could! It was quite the experience.
But that’s the goal, to inspire people to fall in love with you and your brand. There’s nothing that would make the vice chairman and everyone at Hyundai happier than making people say ‘I love Hyundai’.