All of our Online All Stars will be honored at a reception in New York on Sept. 25, the first day of OMMA Conference.
Digital Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi LA
Peter Kang has been known to walk into meetings at Saatchi & Saatchi LA with a video game player in his pocket. But Kang, the creative director of interactive and emerging technology, whose sole client is Toyota, isn't just playing--he's studying.
"Gaming is this thing that kind of takes over the tool that most advertisers want to use, which is the television," Kang says. "I think you at least need to nod your head and show the consumer that you speak their language."
The 33-year-old has a deep understanding of gamers and the way they want to be approached because he is one. This year, he helped design a multimedia campaign for the Toyota Yaris that incorporated gaming in almost every aspect, from "Yaris vs. Yaris" TV spots to Toyota's sponsorship of a major tournament. It included an industry first: an in-banner multiplayer game that Adobe now uses as a case study to demonstrate new ways to use Flash and other Macromedia applications.
In a New York City arcade where Kang spent hours playing (rather than attending his graduate school art classes), he met Gene Na, a fellow "Street Fighter" enthusiast. Around the same time, Kang saw the PBS documentary, "Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires."
"I called [Na] on the phone and said: 'Hey, do you know anything about this Internet thing?'" Kang recalls.
Kang ditched his M.F.A. program, and he and Na cofounded a small Internet design firm called Kioken. The boutique company quickly earned a reputation for innovation and a laid-back atmosphere. The shop gave all new employees video game consoles.
Kang and Na delved into Flash when it was still new, creating more useful, dynamic Web sites at a time when, Na says, most sites simply forced users to click from one page to another. The pair sold Kioken in 2001, but not before vowing to leverage their new skills to win positions at prestigious advertising agencies.
"[Peter] understands the creative and the development part as well as the high-level business," Na says. "It's very easy to work with someone who understands the full picture."
Kang and Na also produced a gaming documentary called "Bang the Machine." The contacts they made on that film turned into friends who today keep Kang up to date on gaming trends and developments.
Not that he's sitting around all day waiting for tips. Kang sleeps just a couple of hours a night, waking early to read the 100 or so e-mails that pour in between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. At the Saatchi offices, he meets daily with the head of media and representatives from the strategy and planning teams, in addition to providing leadership in his own department.
"Peter just blew us away when we first met him, and not just because of his digital marketing talent, but also due to his ability to come into this agency and inspire collaboration" across departments, says David Murphy, president of Saatchi & Saatchi LA.
At night, Kang is online, catching up on marketing and automotive news, talking with friends, and working on new ideas, often until 4 a.m. Weekends find Kang at a racetrack in a bright yellow Lotus Elise. His love for cars and media makes his work a blend of passions.
Toyota couldn't be happier. Gregg Benkendorfer, national manager of interactive communications, and Teri Hill, car advertising manager at Toyota, say Kang is brilliant but without a trace of ego. They value his drive to innovate.
Toyota "has consumed my entire life," Kang says, but he's quite happy about it. "They're pretty much the only ones that can incorporate the kind of innovative ideas" Saatchi develops, Kang says. "And they expect it."
Kang promises to unveil a "quantum leap" in Toyota advertising this winter. As for the future, he's thinking about teaching art. But don't expect him to be too hard on students who skip class.
Vice President of Creative and Innovation, T3
When Kirk Drummond takes a vacation, he isn't one to casually sightsee in Paris or lounge on a beach in the Bahamas. Instead you'll find Drummond adventure-racing, a sport that has had him kayaking through crocodile-infested waters, traversing terrain crawling with vipers, and mountain biking down frighteningly steep slopes.
"My joke is, when I come back from a vacation, I need a vacation," cracks Drummond, who is vice president of creative and innovation at T3 (The Think Tank), the Austin, Texas-based integrated marketing services agency.
Truth be told, Drummond is seemingly tireless, according to Gay Gaddis, T3's president and founder, who has employed him for nearly five years. "Kirk is a very driven person," she says. "I've seen him burn the midnight oil too many times, but he's striving for perfection, and he wants his work to be the best it can be."
A math major in college who once ran his own special-effects company, Drummond's efforts for T3 have lately included ExperienceMarriott, a Web site chock full of rich media applications designed to lure visitors to explore one of the hotel's newly redesigned rooms, and ChaseBlink, a Flash-rich Web site offering training in the on-the-go tap technique required to use Chase's next-generation credit cards.
Drummond formulates his ideas and approaches through T3 Labs, an internal research and development group he leads that explores emerging technologies and platforms, and finds creative ways to exploit them for the benefit of clients. The experimentation and out-of-the-box thinking in which Drummond and his staff specialize enable T3 to be proactive with clients--assessing their needs and then pitching ideas, as opposed to waiting for briefs, points out John McGarry, T3's vice president of client services.
Case in point: After conducting research earlier this year into how hotel chains were showcasing their rooms online, Drummond and his team saw that the Internet was overrun with humdrum virtual tours and lame photo galleries. Seeing an opportunity for Marriott, which is in the process of upgrading and modernizing its rooms, Drummond proposed and sold the hotel chain on the aforementioned ExperienceMarriott, a vibrant interactive site that enables visitors to tour a room and actually hone in on details that are important to them. For example, visitors can close blackout curtains, set an alarm clock, and turn on a shower, among other features--ultimately getting a real feel for the space.
The investment in the Web site has paid off for Marriott. According to Tom Previ, Marriott's director of marketing communications, users are spending a significant amount of time--an average of eight or nine minutes--during visits, and their interests can be tracked. In addition, 74 percent of the visitors are potential new customers.
While ExperienceMarriott is dazzling on a visual and technical level, Drummond is not one to flaunt whiz-bang technology just for the sake of it. "We definitely try to live by the rule that just because you can doesn't mean you should," Drummond observes.
Nick Bomersbach, vice president and director of JC Penney direct technology and e-commerce. Internet marketing and direct for JC Penney, appreciates Drummond's restraint and his ability to gauge the multichannel retailer's needs. "The ideas he brings to the table for us are typically practical, and they have residual benefit to them. They're not one-shot wonders," Bomersbach says, citing JCPGifts.com. The holiday shopping-themed Web site Drummond produced for the retailer last holiday season was not only successful in converting browsers into paying customers, Bornersbach says, but remains active and can easily be redeployed for major shopping periods.
Drummond is proud that he and his team find and implement approaches that truly meet each client's respective goals. As for upcoming projects, he teases that T3 "has some really interesting things in the queue."
What about his planned exploits outside of work? "I'm getting into mountaineering," Drummond enthuses. "Mount Rainier and Kilimanjaro are on the short list."
Creative Director-Digital, Brand Buzz/Y&R Brands
Hillary Evans was still in college when she landed a freelance gig designing Jolt Cola's first Web site in the early 1990s. "That was the soda that was popular with programmers because it has twice the caffeine of other sodas," she recalls with a laugh.
While Evans labels the early effort, which featured rudimentary animation, "very dorky," she now produces much more sophisticated work for clients such as LG, Microsoft, and Sony in her position as creative director at BrandBuzz, a unit of Y&R where she has thrived for the last four years.
One of the keys to Evans' success is her ability to generate ideas from consumers' point of view, according to BrandBuzz senior program manager Gwynne Gauntlett, who also worked with Evans at Razorfish. "She understands inherently that to effectively engage the target, you have to provide them with a meaningful interaction with the brand, ideally in a space where they are open to receiving the communication in the first place," Gauntlett says.
When it came time to market the slim new clamshell CU500 phone to college students, LG had simply planned to seed the Internet with some cool videos that would get people talking about the phone, says Niels Aillaud, LG's electronic marketing manager. But Aillaud was ultimately sold on Evans' more ambitious desire to launch a CU500 page on MySpace this summer.
While leveraging MySpace isn't a groundbreaking idea in itself, Evans was clever, devising a page that had two fictional college students--Lucy and Gavin--assigned to market the LG phone as a school project. The target demographic flocked to the page, which consisted mainly of videos created using the phone. According to Evans, Lucy and Gavin drew 20,000 friends in the first couple of weeks of the tie-in.
And, notably, there wasn't any backlash--always a concern when marketers launch a program on MySpace. "There were comments on the board where one person would say, 'I hope you get an A on your marketing project,' and someone else would write, 'This is below-the-fold marketing. This isn't real!'" Evans shares. "Then after that someone would write, 'Obviously this isn't real, but it's really cool.'"
The success of the initiative only confirmed Aillaud's faith in Evans. "I've had the pleasure of working with her for the last two years, and I don't even need to supervise her," Aillaud observes, adding: "She understands my vision."
It comes as no surprise to BrandBuzz Executive Creative Director Graham Turner that clients such as Aillaud enjoy working with Evans, who combines technical know-how and creativity with an engaging personality. "Her demeanor is not what you tend to find in this space," Turner says. "She's less of a wired person; she's more normal and down-to-earth, not floating around in the ether."
Lately this down-to-earth creative director had her feet firmly planted on the ground while working in concert with Y & R divisions on projects for Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger. These included the creation of "Big Monster Battle," which Evans hails as the first two-person fighting game in Messenger, and Mimic, a text filter through which Messenger users can adopt different text personas. So if you're typing a message and you switch on the Pirate filter, your text will be translated into Pirate-speak. Other Mimic offerings include Corporate Babble, Enlightened One, Pig Latin, and Izzle.
Originally designed for the U.S., Mimic has been picked up in more than a dozen other markets and is fully localized--there are Mimic text filters available in Southeast Asia that are wildly different than what one might find in the U.K. or Australia.
"Ideally, in the future, we would make some kind of toolkit that would allow programmers to make their own voices and submit them and put them up," Evans says. "More and more people are participating and creating things in the digital space if you give them the tools."
Liz Tascio and Christine Champagne contributed to this report.