Can C/K, DDB’s foreign creative approach work?

Derek Green, C/K’s new executive creative director

Does foreign really work in Chicago?  That’s the burning question that is likely to be answered in the not too distant future as we watch how things fare for two high-profile creative leaders in Chicago.

The most recent arrival to whom we refer is Derek Green, the charming 37-year-old ad man now ensconced as the new executive creative director at Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago, an agency that has churned through several top creatives in recent times.

The other foreigner we’ve been keeping our eye on is Ewan Paterson, a Scotsman and longtime habitue of the London ad scene. Paterson made his first United States landfall when he took the job of chief creative officer at DDB/Chicago a couple of years ago.

Let’s deal with Green first though.  He hails from Australia, and it’s impossible not to note that fact when he talks. There’s something about the way he dispenses those elongated Aussie vowels that makes him seem at once quite folksy, yet utterly exotic.

Though he has worked and traveled all over the globe for his job, Green had never been to Chicago until recently. Only when Green found himself in contention for the Cramer-Krasselt job did he make his way to the Windy City — twice — before deciding to accept the offer to take over the creative department at Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago.

Green spent the past six-and-a-half years based on the picturesque shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where he worked for Saatchi & Saatchi and rose to become chief creative officer in charge of the agency’s Geneva and Zurich offices.

Green called a “different kind of thinker”

In talking about why he chose to accept the C-K offer, Green said he was interested in taking a break from working for agencies that are part of large, bureaucratic holding companies.  The fact that C-K was an independent shop made it an attractive option for Green.

But what is C-K getting in the bargain?  To hear C-K’s chief creative officer Marshall Ross tell it, the Chicago office is getting “a different type of thinker, someone who can take a complex business problem and devise an elegant, engaging and really memorable solution.”

Ross’s words sent a jolt through our system:  “Elegant, engaging and really memorable.”   We can’t think of a single ad agency in America — with the possible exception of Wieden + Kennedy — that is regularly producing advertising of that sort. Could that be because the clients at most agencies simply aren’t interested in and don’t demand that kind of advertising?

Yes, we have seen plenty of elegant and engaging work coming out of Europe when Green spent a recent chunk of time. And that includes some of Green’s work for Ariel laundry detergent, which he said he considers some of his best to date.

But can Green make American advertisers that seem far more interested in screaming at consumers — when they aren’t insulting their intelligence — warm to his more European sensibilities? We suspect it’s going to be more than a bit of a hard slog to make that happen.

DDB’s creative style, execution appears unchanged

Ewan PatersonCertainly, Ewan Paterson over at DDB has been finding out how tough it is to change the mindset and the advertising proclivities of American advertisers.  Paterson has brought in a slew of new creative talent from the four corners of the earth to give the DDB creative department a fresh, more worldly spark.

Yet Paterson doesn’t appear to have sparked a massive change in style or execution in much of the work coming from DDB now. The State Farm work still goes for yucks, but as with “here we go” for former client Bud Light, State Farm’s “discount double-check” line is slowly but surely becoming part of the American lexicon. The Capital One work with Jimmy Fallon and Alec Baldwin isn’t markedly changed either.

Paterson’s own European advertising sensibilities also don’t appear to have helped the agency in its search for new business — a priority for his partner at the top, CEO Peter McGuinness.  DDB has been in thick of several major pitches, including HP, since Paterson’s arrival, but so far that big client catch hasn’t happened.

Which brings us back to the question we started this column by asking: Does foreign work in Chicago?  The simple answer is that it can — for as long as those brave foreign souls such as Green and Paterson want to keep working to change the way the ad business works in America and in that most American of advertising hubs — Chicago.

But at some point — perhaps sooner rather than later — both Green and Paterson undoubtedly will recognize significant change is out of the question and begin to rethink their options.

That could mean leaving Chicago, and leaving us, for better or for worse, to go on being that most American of advertising hubs — a place where elegant and engaging advertising is more dream than reality.

Contact Lewis Lazare at