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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > creatives >  John Boiler and Glenn Cole
John Boiler and Glenn Cole
jbgcinside John Boiler and Glenn ColeCo-Founders and Creative Directors

In another installment of our extremely popular “Wouldn’t it be great if we started our own agency?” interviews, we head down to beautiful California to catch up with John Boiler and Glenn Cole, co-founders and creative directors of El Segundo’s jalapeno hot shop 72andSunny.

After an illustrious (great-award-winning-culture-changing-many-million-views-on-YouTube-work-producing) tenure at Wieden+Kennedy’s Portland and Amsterdam offices, the pair decided to spice things up a notch and openned their own shop in 2004. Not being the sort to look back, they’ve been steadily building a most impressive client roster boasting brands such as Nike (they really like them), XBOX360, Bugaboo, 2kSports, or DC Shoes to name but a few.

And while their hectic schedule dictates you’re not very likely to find both hanging out in the same room at the same time, we still managed to catch up with them on mere day’s interval to look back on their careers and peak into their brains.

John, you go first…

ihaveanidea: How did you land at W+K so early?

John: At that time the agency was just beginning to take off. The Nike work was getting in traction – Just Do It had started in 1989. So they called me in 1991 from this little agency I had been working at in Portland after getting my work through a friend.

ihaveanidea: Was it a bit easier to get into there then than it is today?

John: No. (laughs)

Not from what I gather. They’ve always been very selective. There were only nine creative people at that time. They had a great and successful group, but they just needed more volume. It was actually one of the account directors on Nike who took it upon himself to bring in somebody to introduce to Dan (Wieden) and Dave (Kennedy) because they were getting overwhelmed with all the work. So he started recruiting on his own and that’s what got me in there.
I think I was a low risk kind of guy as I was pretty junior still. “I will be good steady hands for you. Put me to work!”

ihaveanidea: And is Portland as bad as some make it out for one’s social life?

John: For some people. If you come from a major market like New York or LA it’s going to a shock to the system, but I am a native Oregonian. I grew up in Bedford, which is a small town in the south, went to school in Eugene, which is a small town in the middle so Portland to me was a giant town in the north! I was overwhelmed with all the choices there.  Plus, coming up in Oregon, I was big into hiking, snowboarding and waterskiing on the river so most of my social life revolved around that.

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ihaveanidea: Let’s talk a bit about your time in the Amsterdam office. You and Glenn were separated when he went there. How did that affect the team dynamic between the pair of you?

John:  Amsterdam was co-founded in 92 but it wasn’t until 1995 that Glenn was sent over there. We’d been working together for a couple of years and they wanted him to go over there and be a writer on the Nike business.  So he took off but we kept on a sneaky partnership. I would be working on a campaign for the US and I’d send it to him to get his ideas on it. It was a lot of constant back and forthing in the middle of the night.

So that kept on going, and things were going well for me in Portland but I was “just an Art Director”. I’d actually had some success winning business, and I remember as we were coming back from having won Miller, Wieden who was with me on the plane asks:  “ So Boiler, wanna go over to Amsterdam?”

I didn’t realise at the time that he had me pegged to help run it, but it quickly became apparent. I wasn’t sure at first, but I guess if they thought I was ready, I was ready!

It was very small then. There were only 30 people, and over the next five years while I was there we grew it to 180.

ihaveanidea: A lot of  W+K Alumni seem to start their own agencies once they leave Wieden: you two, 180, La Comunidad, Anomaly,…Is this because there really is no going back after you’ve worked there?

John: It’s surprising you say that because I think very few people have done that. Obviously the guys at 180 had no choice (laughs). If they wanted to have a job it was the best way for them since they had to leave so suddenly.

But back to your point, It’s true that it’s difficult to go work for a giant network agency once you’ve had the autonomy that you do get at W+K.

Ultimately Glenn and I made the choice to go because we really wanted to create something different. Something better. We saw things change and we thought it’d be easier for us to take advantage of them on our own, and build a culture that’s different.

ihaveanidea: What kind of relationship have you kept with the W+K crew? Dan Wieden recently singled you guys out as the agency they’re always pitching against!

John: There’s a handful we always pitch against and they’re one of them. We also pitch against Crispin, Goodby, Butler…so it’s interesting that Dan singles us out. Maybe it’s because we’ve worked on Nike so much. I can’t speak for everyone, but I still have some of my best friends in this business at W+K. They understand that it’s a competitive business and that it’s nothing personal. (laughs)

To be honest I think we really enjoy competing against each other. At least I know we do. It raises everyone’s game, and ultimately, in that case, Nike wins because they have the opportunity to select from highly motivated people who are all competing for the business.

I remain very good friends to this day with people from Amsterdam and Portland so I guess it’s all good.

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ihaveanidea: On that point, what do you think of clients organising huge RFPs inviting dozens of agencies to compete for their business? A bit like Zappos did a little while back…

John: I don’t think any human being can remember more than three options on a menu at a restaurant, much less a hundred different two-hour presentations from agencies. It’s always been our point of view that if a client can’t edit it down to just a few choices that might be an indication that they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for. They’re using the pitch process as much to brief themselves on what they’re looking for as they’re briefing us.
And that’s a dangerous place to get into if you’re an agency because you stand to lose a lot of resources to help a client figure what they want.

ihaveanidea: You guys directed a few of your own commercials, how has it changed the way you come up with ideas in the first place?

John: At a point – a very brief point I might add – we were directing. Between our last job and starting this company. It was a great experience and changed the way we think about making stuff. But a couple of observations:

One thing that we had the luxury of being able to do is work on hundreds of different productions of various scales. And going into the directing you actually realise how hard it is. You need to keep creating in the moment, as you’re making something. Things are always going wrong or not as expected on a production shoot; so if you don’t carry an open and creative mind into that atmosphere, those things will either be limitations or opportunities. You learn to turn them into opportunities.

The very best directors are the ones who can do that consistently. They can turn unexpected things or adversity into a great opportunity to really push the idea. That’s why they’re great directors, and why we’re not doing that anymore. (laughs)
It’s a very specific talent; it would probably take us another 10 years to learn it.

The Other Season (website)

theotherseason John Boiler and Glenn Cole

ihaveanidea: When you started the agency, did you have a tough time adjusting to the whole “oh shit, I need to be a responsible business person now”?

John: I think the old archaic notion that business needs are at odds with creative needs is outdated and not in the least useful to a creative person or to a business person.

Doing business is a really rewarding creative pursuit. If you approach it with the same mind as you do to a communication problem or a piece of art work, all those things that are stereotypically mundane and boring like making pay-roll, finding the right staff and creating processes all of a sudden become a medium.

ihaveanidea: Does this mean you have a creative pay-roll system at 72andSunny?

John: Well obviously there’re sound business fundamentals that you want to follow. You need to be paid well, you need to be paid on time, that sort of thing.  It takes rigor and discipline just like it takes learning language to be a writer.

ihaveanidea: You started this social network for your Bugaboo client aimed at young parents who wanted to keep active despite having children. Could you tell us a bit more about how it came to that since it was a fair bit before social networks became the latest buzz word?

John: We noticed that Bugaboo customers were people who are really engaged with the world around them. They were engaged in travel, they read more than most, and were interested in art and design. At the same time we were seeing a lot of celebrity moms beginning to grace the covers of magazines like Vanity Fair. That just made us realise there was this emerging community we called “Modern Parents”. It became our catch phrase for pages of description about the behaviour of these guys.

Around the very beginning we wanted to activate that community, talk directly to them and ultimately serve them. We thought: “what could we do to serve these guys? What would get them fired up about the brand?”. Every time, instead of asking to just buy this really amazing and multi-functional stroller, we’d invite them to some sort of experience. It could be a social experience, or we would give them a piece of inspiration like a map to a destination and invite them to participate in something bigger without drilling down into the features and functions of the stroller.

Bugaboo Day Trips (website)

bugaboohk John Boiler and Glenn Cole

ihaveanidea: And How well is this community working? You hear a lot of people babble about how you need to build niche-micro-communities for 43 year old married men who like purple pens in Arkansas, but beside the obvious huge social networks out there, it’s rare to see communities that are really active.

John: I think it’s a very good point that we take very seriously too. When we started building this thing for Bugaboo it was very much pre-Facebook. I think now the basic observation is that those communities already exist and if you’re a brand you just need to go to where your consumers already are.

So creating a micro-community in a micro-website is not ultimately going to have the impact you want because these places already exist. So the question going forward is how do we go to them and where?  Where should the center of the Bugaboo community be? We thought we could start that on the website, but now it also has Facebook entities that we’re watching very carefully to see how the parents behave and where they’re aggregating from so that we can widen our influence around this group.

ihaveanidea: I hear you’re starting your own publishing empire called John Boiler Publishing. Tell us what this whole “The Ghost of Bobby” project is about?

John: A friend of mine, David Miller who’s the managing director of W+K in Amsterdam wanted to publish a children’s book and we wanted to help him. So we set up a publishing arm just to do that. It’s the only thing that’s come out of it so far. It was never intended to be an empire but if anybody else has any ideas we’ll build this capability up to connect them and to launch them. It was a great learning experience just seeding it to the audiences out there. A fun little side project.


Glenn now!

ihaveanidea: What about you, how did you land at W+K?

Glenn: I made them aware of me by writing a letter to Dan Wieden every two days for four months. I was studying at the University of Oregon where he was a graduate and I discovered that W+K had no internship program, so I proposed they would start one, and that I would be the first intern. He ended up doing a seminar at the university and announced that the person who performed best during the seminar would get an internship. I was that guy I guess.

ihaveanidea: What are the major drawbacks of having your own agency? We’re familiar with the perks (or at least we can imagine), but is there something you like a bit less?

Glenn: There’s nothing I hate or even dislike. We have freedom to make our own decisions and as a result we’re able to address what our clients needs are in a way we think they should be answered. Not in a way that a parent company or a holding company tells us to. The hardest part is that in tougher times – like this year – you have to make some decisions in areas like staffing for example.

Of course you’d rather have more people around and you’d rather reward people more and if you can’t, even if it’s out of your control, you have to be the one who delivers the news. We have adults here so everyone understands it, but it’s tough.

Everybody works hard in this business, whether you’re at 72andSunny or elsewhere, and everybody should probably be rewarded a little more than they are. So that’s the hardest part, wanting to do better for people and not always feeling like you can. But there’re other rewards. We have a great culture here. It’s very much a family sort of place…

ihaveanidea: And how many are you now?

Glenn: We have 78 people, with most of them over in LA.  Amsterdam is not staffed as heavily, so a lot of the production capabilities end up being through freelance over there or through our LA office.

Bugaboo is a global client for us and they’re based out of Amsterdam. We also do a lot of business with Nike out of Hilversum so we staff as much as we need to for what they need. When we were doing The Next Level last year we had 25 people over there for six to nine months. If it’s a slow time we’ll adapt, either by moving a few people to the States to service business here or let people over there if they need to take a bit more time off. The way that office works is that it scales on need.

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ihaveanidea: Your work with Nike had you involved with some pretty big name athletes. Were they as hard to deal with, as some celebrities tend to be?  Was it a case of  “Oh no, not him. Here he comes again with his crazy ad ideas…”

Glenn: I couldn’t tell you what they thought of me. But I think I had a pretty good relationship with most the athletes, and if anybody thought “oh no here he comes again” I never heard about it! (laughs)

But no, nobody was unreasonable. All those guys have their own needs and everybody is always asking things of them. So if anybody couldn’t give us time, I usually understood why. Our job is just to make it work, so that’s what we did.

ihaveanidea: Did it ever get to the point where the brand had accepted an idea but the athletes simply wouldn’t go for it?

Glenn: There are always times when an athlete has sensibilities about a request. It can be personal, it can be professional, but there’s nothing specific I can remember where the client got behind some multi-million dollar idea and the athlete just couldn’t get their head around it, or simply said no. Nike Sports Marketing is a fairly sophisticated group and by the time we’re dealing with the athletes, the road is usually pretty well paved.

ihaveanidea: Let’s talk about your recent The Next Level spot. How involved was Guy Ritchie in the whole creative process? From coming up with the initial concept to the actual shoot.

Glenn: I don’t think it’s possible to give a clear answer to that question. It was a team effort, as it’s always the case with anything that’s successful. He was a big part of it, I was a big part of it, and the Nike clients were a very big part of it. The Athletes involved actually had some really creative ideas and were also a huge part of it.

Guy did his part. It looks to me like a Guy Ritchie film. It looks like something I usually have my hands on and it looks like something Nike has their hands on. Co-Authorship is what our business is about and when you have good authors who know how to work together great things happen.

I have to say Guy is a very collaborative artist despite what you may hear. He’s definitely not an “everybody get away and let me do my thing kind of guy”. He has strong opinions and he sticks to them. I think a lot of the way it looks and the reason it’s tough and gritty is because of him. That’s why we choose him, and he delivered.

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ihaveanidea: Being CD on some of the most coveted accounts in the world, you’ve probably seen some pretty dumb stunts to try and catch your attention in your time. Any memorable ones spring to mind?

Glenn:  In fairness, I saw more when I was at W+K than I do now. People seem to use less dumb stunts than they used to. When W+K had Subaru somebody sent a car wheel with a note that said “I am happy to be your fifth wheel”. I thought it was a really bad idea.  First of all we had a dirty tire in the office and second of all who wants to have a fifth wheel?

And then somebody topped that off by sending a coffin with a note in it that said “I would die to work for you”

Ugh. Desperate messages. I never understand why people do that. It feels like they just have an idea and they don’t stop to evaluate. They just do it and don’t realise until it’s too late that they sent a coffin into an agency.

Hardee’s French Dip – Parisian Pick-up (iPhone app)

hardees french dip John Boiler and Glenn Cole

Here’s a bit of advice if you’re looking for the best way to reach guys like John and I. First, I’ll admit it’s hard. People who work in this building have trouble getting to us, my wife has trouble reaching me, so you’re not to blame. I get a lot of emails from people saying “hey here’s my stuff” or “I really like what you do” and I am always shocked that it’s not about what they’re going to do for us or for our clients. What value are they going to add?

I appreciate that they’re saying they love our work, and like how we solve problems but our clients want people on their businesses that have a different perspective. People that are going to help move their sales. So if somebody has my attention for a short span, it really has to provoke me and give me the impression that it’s new. Unfortunately I don’t see that that much, but the opposite I see quite often. Having said that, I am sure if I found myself in a situation where I needed to get a job I would fail miserably, but that’s my advice anyway! (laughs)

ihaveanidea: You guys seem to be pretty ahead of the curve in what you’re doing, so what do you think the future has in store for the industry? Who do you think the biggest winners are going to be in ten years time?

Glenn: I don’t think I have a revolutionary answer for that. I think it’s the people who are paying attention to how relationships are changing between companies and the people who buy their products and who are focusing their energy on how to create value in those relationships. I know that’s a very broad answer, but I think it’s the right one. There are some people who are still checking boxes on an ad campaign and it feels to me like missing the point. We’re supposed to enhance the value of relationships between companies and their consumers.

I can only speak about how we try to solve that, but we go in very open, we’re definitely big on listening and we’re trying to find what are the right places to engage on any given product or brand. It’s not always an ad, and it’s not always an interactive thing. It can be finding a need for sales people to speak differently, and that’s our job. It’s understanding the user experience on the consumer’s end and add value in a way that a client can’t see or can’t do on their own.

ihaveanidea: Your infamous Grand Theft Golf Cart incident in Portland is well documented. Were you able to go one step further during your time in Amsterdam or LA?

Glenn: Well obviously if I had any really crazy stories I would not put them out to be published!

But, if there is something I am sure it involved Tequila, really good Dutch beer and…an assortment of other things. A pretty big deal was made out of the golf cart story. I really just drove a golf cart across the street. I was prouder of having fucked up Jim Riswold’s front lawn than stealing the golf cart. I’m happy for him to read this, I also planted a hundred cactuses in his front yard once, which he wasn’t too happy about.

Interview by:

Rafik Belmesk
Operations, AKOS

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