The fresh-obsessed faces behind falling fish

You don't see much about them in the press, but they're there. Killer combinations of raw talent, enthusiasm and, yes, even sophistication. Strategy did a cross-country poll of agency creatives and commercial production execs, asking which new teams were doing drop-dead clever work. Despite the reluctance of some agency brass to name their brightest ('they'll get stolen') and even to name the top up-and-comers elsewhere ('I'm trying to steal them'), ultimately, after much wheedling, it was a long list.
The following teams are the ones whose names cropped up the most.

You don’t see much about them in the press, but they’re there. Killer combinations of raw talent, enthusiasm and, yes, even sophistication. Strategy did a cross-country poll of agency creatives and commercial production execs, asking which new teams were doing drop-dead clever work. Despite the reluctance of some agency brass to name their brightest (‘they’ll get stolen’) and even to name the top up-and-comers elsewhere (‘I’m trying to steal them’), ultimately, after much wheedling, it was a long list.

The following teams are the ones whose names cropped up the most.

Want to make it in the ad world? You can accomplish anything if you have the right attitude. Rob Tarry, the copywriter half of one of the brightest young teams at Vancouver’s Rethink, knows that better than most.

‘I really didn’t know anything about advertising,’ he recalls of his early days, freelancing for Ogilvy & Mather in Calgary. ‘I just knew that I didn’t particularly like it. I really thought that most ads are a blight on our culture and have plagued our fragile planet for too many years.’

Not the right attitude? It is if you set out to change that perceived reality, which Tarry did. Besides, while his words are cynical, his actions speak volumes. How many people do you know who would have the guts (or ‘foolishness’ as he calls it) to start their own agency with absolutely no experience?

Tarry did, creating his own little ‘one-man circus.’ It didn’t last long, and he didn’t make much money, but it was a pretty ambitious start for a career that’s already landed him at one of the hottest shops in Canada – with little more than an English degree under his belt for training.

But sometimes having the right attitude isn’t enough, sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. In that regard the gods were smiling on Mark Hesse, the art director half of Tarry’s team.

Starting out at Toronto’s Ontario College of Art & Design, who did Hesse immediately run into? Ad greats Terry Iles and Alan Kazmer, now passing on their craft to students. Then, in the program’s final year, he won a scholarship to work for Roche Macaulay & Partners – and ended up in the midst of many of today’s top creatives.

‘Basically everybody who’s at Grip right now was there,’ remembers Hesse. ‘Scott Dube, Graham Lee, Dave Crichton . . . It was a really positive first work experience because I was around so many talented people.’

The right place/right time gods visited yet again, shortly after the much-publicized defection of current Rethink partners Chris Staples and Ian Grais from Palmer Jarvis. Hesse had been working with both at PJ before they left, and was devastated that he was losing his mentors.

‘Then, about a week and a half after they left, Chris and I were talking, because we happen to work out at the same gym, and he said, ‘You know what, we’d really like you to come over to Rethink,’ so I was one of the very first employees.’

With such fortuitous backgrounds, perhaps it’s not surprising that one of Canada’s largest supermarket chains – Dominion/A&P – would put its entire advertising and branding account in the hands of such tender young creatives (Hesse is 30 and Tarry’s 29).

Hesse was first to work on the account, along with then partner Heather Vincent, back at Palmer Jarvis. Tarry joined soon after the account moved to Rethink and the two have been ‘Fresh Obsessed’ ever since.

The art director:

Mark Hesse

Portfolio: Earls restaurants, Coast Capital Savings, AIDS Vancouver (will launch in a few weeks)

On humour: I love simplicity and subtlety. A lot of the humour that’s coming out of North America is just so, well, North American. I think if you can do humour in a totally different way, well that’s the ultimate for me. And for me it’s not the laugh-out-loud, it’s the ‘Oh, that’s clever.’

Fave TV show:

Absolutely Fabulous

Fave campaign (by someone else): I really like the VW campaign that won in Cannes two years ago, the ‘Surprisingly Low Prices’ campaign. In one spot there was a woman sitting reading the paper, and she’s got the hiccups, and then she turns the page, sees the VW ad and suddenly stops hiccuping. There’s another one where someone’s walking along the street and suddenly faints, and you don’t know why. And then you see the transit shelter with the price of a Volkswagen.

The best thing about Rob: We’re similar in our work ethic, but we’re very different in terms of our creativity and our ways of thinking.

The worst thing: See above.

On the future: I just want to keep doing what I’m doing now. I think our overall objective here at Rethink is to become one of the better-known international hot shops.

The copywriter:

Rob Tarry

Portfolio: Dominion, Coast Capital Savings, Playland

Signature campaign: Dominion

On coming up with the ‘big idea’: We spent days and days talking about what it means to be obsessed, whether we’re talking about someone who’s stalking Jennifer Lopez, or whether it’s someone who’s an obsessive-compulsive and can’t leave his house.

For example, the spot with the falling fish came out of the idea that when you’re obsessed, you have blinders on, and you don’t know how what you’re doing might be affecting others. From that we got to Dominion employees who are actually causing trouble, they’re hitting people in the head, they’re setting off car alarms, they’re knocking over tables.

Best thing about Mark: I love how he’s a little bit crazy, and he’ll come up with this stuff – I don’t know where it comes from – and he’ll do it on a regular basis. I don’t think you can train for that.

Best thing about the ad biz: No heavy lifting

On changing attitudes: I’m a fan now. I started off hating advertising, but now when I see it done well, I’m just in awe of it. Now when I see a Communication Arts reel I can appreciate every spot.

On Rob and Mark:

‘As a writer, Rob has a unique voice, a real off-kilter sensibility, and it really shows through in the work he does. Mark is a great complement, one of the strongest pure art directors I’ve worked with. The final product always ends up looking amazing.’

- Chris Staples, partner, Rethink