Q’s & cocktails

Q's + cocktails with...

Q’s + cocktails with…

Lee Garfinkel, chairman and CCO, DDB NY

Lee Garfinkel is more subdued than your average creative. In fact, he’s so soft spoken, it’s hard to believe he was ever a stand-up comedian. But he was, for a few years anyway, before landing at Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver in 1978. ‘It was a good experience for pitching my ideas,’ he explains. ‘If you present your advertising and the client doesn’t like your work, for the most part, they don’t hate you. But if you’re a stand-up comedian, and they don’t like your jokes, they hate you. So I don’t mind much if the client doesn’t like the work.’

It appears that many clients have liked Garfinkel’s work – and so too have customers. So far the adman, who has held similar posts at D’Arcy Worldwide and Lowe Lintas & Partners, has nabbed Cannes Lions for Beneficial, Subaru, Pepsi and Heineken. He says standout advertising comes from ‘the big idea.’ Strategy caught up with Garfinkel when he was in Toronto late last month for Toronto-based Black Bag’s Diary of a Creative Director series.

How do you get to the big idea?

The toughest thing is coming up with an insight that’s unique not just for the product, but as an ad idea. The very best advertising you can do is to marry the great insight with a great execution. Unfortunately, in the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve found a lot of ideas are entertaining, but aren’t that insightful.

Why is that?

When I worked on Subaru in the ’80s, we had six to eight weeks for a big campaign. The first three would be the art director and the copywriter trying to come up with ‘what do we really want to say?’ Now you get two weeks.

Describe a time when you really nailed the insight?

With Heineken in the ’90s, I looked at what the competition was doing and said: ‘We have to do the opposite.’ Then we looked at the sales volumes. There were two issues – one, Heineken was looked at as a yuppy, pretentious beer and two, people would drink it at a bar, and spend $5, but they wouldn’t spend $7 to buy a six-pack at the supermarket. So we needed to make it cool out at the bar, and at home.

We focused on beer moments. One of the first spots was called ‘The Weasel’: a guy goes to a party, brings cheap beer, puts it in the fridge and takes a Heineken out. We tried to do a lot of moments where people could say ‘I’ve been there.’

Large agencies are accused of having a silo mentality. How do you counter that?

[Part of it is] staffing up with the best, most versatile people in the business. It’s what I call my X-men philosophy. I look for a solid ad person, but if they have some sort of expertise beyond the ordinary, whether urban or gay marketing or being an expert in music, I want to bring them into the agency to either help create or be a go-between for the agency and one of the sister companies.