It was, for those who take a broader view of things, a bittersweet moment in Chicago advertising annals. Yes, we’re talking about the debut this week of BMO Harris’s new advertising campaign — a TV print, digital and out-of-home effort from Young & Rubicam/Chicago.
It is, to our knowledge, the first full-blown campaign to emerge from Y&R since the agency picked up the account early in 2012 from Element 79/Chicago.
Element 79, you say? Has everyone forgotten already?
Only a couple of months ago, the shop was subsumed into DDB/Chicago — a development that seemingly had grown more inevitable ever since Element 79 lost the BMO Harris account and was unable to promptly replace it with another piece of business of similar heft.
Of all the accounts left in the Element 79 portfolio (and there weren’t many) near the tortured end of its useful life, we can say with certainty BMO Harris meant the most to Element 79 leader and founder Brian Williams.
By all accounts a genuine rapport had developed between him and Justine Fedak, the BMO Harris senior vice president for brand, advertising and sponsorship, over the years that Element 79 had the bank advertising account.
But what was most pleasing about that agency-client relationship was the work that flowed from Element 79 while the marriage was flourishing. The BMO Harris work that Element 79 produced will never be remembered for being flashy or groundbreaking.
But it had a certain low-key style — a decidedly Midwestern sensibility and smarts about it — that definitely went a long way toward establishing a BMO Harris personality that, we suspect, many Chicagoans could relate to quite easily.
And that’s no mean feat.
It was also an imperative feat, because as the bank’s brand name now rather brazenly indicates, BMO Harris isn’t — in all honesty — a purely Chicago institution. It is part of a Canadian financial behemoth, the Bank of Montreal (BMO).
When BMO went so far as to insert its initials into the Harris brand name, it was readily apparent the powers-that-be in Canada wanted to be sure that connection was crystal clear.
Williams stayed with account until the end
But back to our story about the end of the relationship between BMO Harris and Element 79. When rumors that the account was in review first surfaced a year, most observers presumed pretty quickly that it signaled the end of the road for Element 79 and BMO Harris.
But Williams, unable to turn his back on the business. opted to participate in the agency review. It would prove to be a decision that ultimately led to a painful, protracted end to the relationship as BMO Harris waited months to officially break its ties with Element 79.
So now we have the debut of the first campaign from Y&R. It comes just weeks after Y&R chief creative officer Bob Winter abruptly resigned his post to take on the same role in the Miami, Fla. office of Crispin Porter + Bogusky.
Winter told us he simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with an agency that had — to some degree — gained legendary status in a relatively short period of time, thanks mainly to a body of eye-catching work mostly produced during the Alex Bogusky era.
Now, without Bogusky, Crispin is a crippled shadow of its former self. So we shall see how Winter fares in balmy Miami.
Though Winter is gone from Y&R, we must presume he played a significant role in shaping the BMO Harris campaign just debuting. And judging from what we can now see of that new campaign (only one of four completed TV spots has been released), it would appear Y&R has not veered far from the tone or style of advertising Element 79 so clearly established for the BMO Harris brand.
And that certainly is the best kind of tribute we could imagine to the now defunct Chicago agency.
“Paycheck” continues bank’s earlier positioning
Called “Paycheck,” the first new BMO Harris commercial introduces us to a young man named Simmons, just as he is getting his first paycheck. That rite of passage prompts a daydream in which we see him imagining himself as a well-heeled man around town — dining on lobster tail, flying the corporate jet and having his suits tailor-made.
Only when a BMO Harris memo urging common sense arrives at his workstation in the form of a paper airplane does our young daydreamer come crashing — gently — back down to earth.
Each fleeting scenario is nicely realized in “Paycheck.”
But, more importantly, it’s all presented in a style that never goes overboard — even at moments when Simmons’s flights of fancy are at their wildest.
This “Paycheck” is all about positioning BMO Harris as a bastion of sensible financial planning. Indeed, this is the same BMO Harris we had come to know and respect from the years Element 79 spent helping build the brand.
Y&R’s CCO Bill Cimino heads bank creative
But we will shed no more tears. What’s done is done. Now Y&R’s new chief creative officer Bill Cimino will take up the reins on the account.
He has done good work at DDB/Chicago previously.
But like Winter, Cimino is likely to show a lot of respect for what came before Y&R took over the BMO Harris account. Like Winter, Cimino must see this is a style that makes sense for the bank.
So thanks Element 79 for your legacy — for giving BMO Harris and Y&R something that makes sense. Something to continue to build on to as Y&R goes on helping build an important brand here in Chicago.
Y&R credits: CDs, Jeremy Smallwood, Pam Mufson; copywriter, James Wood; AD, Laura Fallon; content producer, Cary Potterfield.
Production credits: Production company, Moxie Films, L.A., director, Sean Meehan, producer, Sam McGarry. Post: Optimus; editor, Deb Shimmel.
Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com