Steve Simpson Interview

Steve Simpson is chair of ADC’s 90th Annual Awards Jury. He is one of the advertising industry’s most awarded and respected creative leaders. Prior to joining Ogilvy in June 2010 to serve as chief creative officer for North America, he was one of just seven partners heading Goodby, Silverstein & Partners as it has experienced unprecedented financial and creative growth. He has won every major industry award many times over, and served on the boards of many industry award organizations.

Last year our chair asked the judges to look for work that made them jealous. Will you have any advice for this year’s team?

I think if work makes you jealous, then that is a pretty good, pretty pure test. I think that is a pretty fair way to gauge your instant response to the work. The second consideration I would advise is this: is there any kind of innovation in the work that represents any kind of advance in media or technique, or any particularly daring new way of solving a problem?

As a creative, are there any projects (awarded or not) that galvanized you into action, or changed the way you work?

I love ideas like the Gatorade Replay because of their sheer ambition and the sweep of the storytelling. It began with something true–not concocted–and none of the participants (I want to believe) felt manipulated in the process. It was a big, bold, powerful idea that was began in a true story, and was carried out in the real world. Is it sponsorship? Is it advertising? Is it content? Should we care?

What are you working on right now – any fun projects?

Watson, the IBM computer, that is challenging the two human champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, on the TV quiz show, Jeopardy! The Ogilvy team has been doing a brilliant job for about the last two years: documenting hundreds of hours of meetings in the labs, early sparring matches (in which Watson didn’t fare well against lesser humans than Ken Jennings); the team even designed an avatar for Watson, since a stack of computers couldn’t exactly appear at the podium next to Jennings and Rutter. The Jeopardy! challenge is both a very serious research project (in open-domain question answering) and the most audacious kind of bid for publicity. It’s another one of those projects that creates its own genre.

What will be different about copywriting in 5 years?

It’s kind of fashionable to say in a dyspeptic way that the quality of writing is declining in marketing communications now. I actually think the case is quite the reverse.

Perhaps we’re not seeing much long copy print nowadays, but I have seen (and heard) better TV copywriting in the last two years than I have in the last twenty.

Is there a piece from last year’s show that stands out for you?

Nike Chalkbot. A bold endeavor, a brilliant deploying of new technology and a highly moving execution.