April 13, 2010

A Closer Look At David Lubars


By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor

One was delighted to read Susan Bratton's remarks yesterday on David Lubars, as he is one of the seminal figures whose work we currently study a lot in the "All About Advertising" course that's been rolling along at The New School for twenty-one years.

Along with Linda Kaplan Thayer, Lubars is the central mainstream Mad Ave creative leader charged with thinking-outside-the-box. In classes we've reviewed his conceptual Ultimate-Driving-Machine mini-movies for BMW that received so much acclaim and attention that various stations ran them as news/entertainment vignettes without charge. This coming Monday we're analyzing a reel of his award-winning Fallon work for PBS--the "Be Curious" series with that incredible :60 of a guy singing Caruso while lip-matching to a flipbook of himself shot in a photo booth. Then we'll get into the CitiBank Identity Theft campaign which took AICP's Best Campaign last year.


The jury is still out on whether BBDO's creative staff (and also its client roster) can meet and will support Lubar's raising of the bar of innovative excellence. As Susan notes, "taking old-school BBDO into the future" is no easy task, and the fact that Susan reports that "I could tell he always spoke the truth" is something of a novelty on Madison Avenue. Lubars in part replaced Ted Sann, a long-time BBDO creative director and a key creative architect on Pepsi. It's interesting that Phil Dusenberry, the agency's retired but defining creative presence through much of the second half of the 20th century, has been rather quiet about David's comings and goings, perhaps because Lubars may be pulling out the pins of the foundations built by Ted and Phil.


Dusenberry rose from a junior copywriter in 1962 to Vice Chairman, and did more than his share of thinking-outside-the-box in a pre-computer era. His "Morning in America" commercials powered Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign, and he adapted Bernard Malamud's novel into the sleek, glamorous Robert Redford baseball movie, "The Natural." These are not the kinds of things David Lubars is going to be spending his nights toiling over.

Lubars' mission has to be much harder to accomplish along Madison Avenue than, say, Alex Bogusky's star presence in Miami with Crispin, Porter, Bogusky, or Lee Clow's continuing leadership of TBWA/Chiat/Day out in Venice, California. Bogusky can hand-pick his expatriots, much as Clow does on the Coast. Lubars ran a similar, exclusive cadre of talent out in Minneapolis, but northern Minnesota, southern Florida, and the Venice beach aren't exactly where most big-city superstars want to build their careers.


Steller talents like John Ferrell and Helayne Spivak took their turn at running the huge creative department of Young & Rubicam here on Mad Ave, and both moved on to smaller pastures. Lubars has found that he's responsible for getting great advertising out of halls and halls of writers, art directors and producers, many of whom probably have trouble matching their socks and getting to work after a big night in the Big Apple. Creative talent in this town has always been cagey and grumpy and slothful and defiant, because if you get dumped out of a BBDO there's another couple of dozen shops not much different from it within walking distance. In Miami and Venice, about the only place you can walk is out to sea.


In a sense, David Lubars' pioneering journeys on Mad Ave are not unlike those of Bruce Barton back in 1925. Barton was a copywriter who wrote a best-selling book on the life of Jesus, "The Man Nobody Knows," which we examined in detail when Mel Gibson released his "Passion of the Christ" film Barton went on to become BBDO's first president and essentially thought Jesus would have made a great ad man, and privately he may have believed that ad men can walk on water, too. Dusenberry had something of that flavor. Lubars is the third generation of this distinguished agency's creative leadership, and you can sense he's going to walk a very different path. The fact that he immediately connected with Susan Bratton is probably a very good sign.

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