Creative All Star: Jeff Benjamin, Interactive Creative Director, Crispin Porter + Bogusky

In 2003, when Jeff Benjamin joined Miami hot shop Crispin Porter + Bogusky to head the agency's interactive division, he believed that the still-young interactive medium had grown stale, even boring. To Benjamin, that was due in large part to the reluctance of clients to embrace online messages that went beyond the "brochure" phase. In addition, interactive designers were getting carried away with the technology, instead of integrating it and making it more seamless. The interactive scope has changed enormously since then, and Benjamin has been at the forefront of the revolution. "Clients are getting it," he says. "There was a time when they thought it meant putting all your company information on there. Now the space is open to different approaches."

When it comes to bending the rules of interactive, Benjamin has written the book. Charged with increasing the demand for Burger King's chicken sandwiches, Benjamin and CP+B created the outrageous "Subservient Chicken" last year. The site points to the actual product only through a link at the bottom of a Web page. The link -- as everyone now knows -- featured a guy dressed in a chicken suit who performed various stunts, on demand, after users entered commands.

Irreverent, funny, weird, oddly empowering, and deliciously pointless, the Subservient Chicken became an instant hit. "I sent it to a few friends at the agency, and they passed it on to their friends, and those people passed it on to theirs. Before we knew it, 16 million people had seen this thing," Benjamin says, laughing. What the campaign meant and why it came into being are questions that delight Benjamin. "Alex Bogusky always says, 'Is this something I would want to tell my friends about?'" he notes. "When I think about interactive, I think about that -- if it's something people will talk about around the watercooler. Is there a sense of magic? Will they ask, 'How did they do that?'"

This past summer, CP+B upped the ante by debuting "Coq Roq," a Web site for Burger King featuring a fictional rock band wearing, you guessed it, chicken masks. The name was enough to spur outraged blog posts, but those who could get beyond the hint of obscenity found another silly, enjoyable site with well-rendered interactivity and an edgy appeal. "It's a great time to be in interactive," Benjamin says. "People get excited about it now, and it makes working in the space even more fun."

For Benjamin, the leap into the interactive world was an unexpected one. He was studying economics with the intention of going to law school when he was asked to design an ad at his part-time job on campus. "I realized I had [talent] in me, and they gave me more and more ads to do," he says. "I always had a strong interest in computers, so interactive seemed like a natural fit. I also liked the idea of being persuasive." He eventually dropped out of college and realized his passion lay in advertising. Rising in the field during the dotcom boom, Benjamin went on to work at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, directing interactive for clients including Hewlett-Packard, Saturn, and Goodyear.

"He has been at the center of much of the talked-about work in the interactive space, which has been both differentiated and compelling," says Joe Jaffe, president of jaffe, LLC. "Ask any creative in the industry about Jeff, and they'll tell you the same thing: He's one of the best in the business."

Benjamin feels fortunate to have found his calling early. "If you're passionate about something, you can make up for any lack of knowledge and figure things out.... There's a new approach to creating fun, unexpected interactive experiences."

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