Interview: Advertising Industry Pro Jon Wyville

Remember the hilarious (and effective) “Zack Johnson” short film and blog for Tampax from a few years back? What about the “Dominoes” commercial for Miller Lite that got nominated for an Emmy? Both of these are representative of the great work coming out of the advertising industry in recent years, and we can thank Print’s Legends in Advertising Awards judge Jon Wyville for his part in those projects.

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Photograph by Mark Romanek

Wyville is executive creative director at Leo Burnett USA, where he’s worked on projects for Nintendo, Coca-Cola, Hallmark, General Motors, McDonalds, Norton Internet Security, Fifth Third Bank, Secret Deodorant, Tampax and more. His work has garnered hundreds of awards—from Cannes, One Show, Clio Awards, Radio Mercury Awards, Art Directors Club, D&AD, Communication Arts and more—and is in the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art—as well as TBS “World’s Funniest Commercials.”

I had the opportunity to interview Wyville to learn more about his advertising career and best advertisements, and find out what advice he has for those in the field.

You began your career as a television producer at Chiat/Day Los Angeles. What compelled you to go into advertising?
I went to college for filmmaking. Kent State for undergraduate and USC for graduate school. At the time I thought I wanted to make movies. But while I was going to USC I got a job at Chiat/Day in Venice as an assistant producer. The energy there was great. The people were fun. That was when the Frank Gehry–designed building was going up. And the office was full of art by the likes of Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg and Claus Oldenburg. It was an amazing environment. And I loved that I got to work on so many different types of projects. Once I started working there, I never looked back.Legends_600px-300x1941

Please tell me about the philosophy/driving force behind your career.
I just like the challenge of coming up with ideas, of solving problems. And I love the craft of trying to bring ideas to life. I’ve never really had a master plan for my career. I simply try to make something each year that I can be proud of. And I think if you can do that, year after year, suddenly you’ve got a career.

Is there any one project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge, and can you elaborate on why?
I can think of a couple, and for very different reasons. Last year we made the Coca-Cola “Small World Machines,” vending machines that connected the people of Pakistan and India for a few moments of happiness. That was a huge challenge. We had to create technology that didn’t exist, a vending machine that allowed them to look eye to eye, and touch hand to hand, interacting with each other on a video screen. And we had to do this in a very challenging political environment. This was a truly a collaborative effort between Leo Burnett offices in Chicago and Sydney.

And also last year for Norton Internet Security we created the “Enjoy Your Privacy” web/mobile experience that turned your phone into that of seven different characters. Your phone had their photos, texts, emails, notes, everything. And for the desktop experience we had to create over 70 different short films that reveled the details of each character’s story, as you interacted with their phones. It was an incredible amount of content to create for one project.

What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on, whether while with Leo Burnett or previously?
I don’t think I can narrow it down to one favorite project. The “Zack Johnson” short film and blog we did for Tampax a few years ago was one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on. It was an outrageous idea but also a very logical way to talk to girls about something they don’t want to talk about, through the eyes of a boy. Randy Krallman and Smuggler did an amazing job bringing it to life. I don’t think it could have been directed any better.

One of my favorite print campaigns I’ve worked on was shot by Dave Emmite for NASCAR. We spend a few days in Darlington, South Carolina and Dave shot beautiful, documentary-like photos of the NASCAR experience, the fans, the cars, the drivers. And Dave Loew wrote wonderful headlines to bring the pictures to life. My job was just to not screw it up. Those ads felt very honest to me.

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All Nascar photography by Dave Emmite

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And one of my favorite commercials that I’ve made would definitely be the “Dominoes”  commercial for Miller Lite. This was shot by Frederik Bond about ten years ago. I think we had just about every stunt person in Canada lined up around Toronto as human dominoes. Take after take they fell into each other. It was a great piece of film and got nominated for an Emmy.

Do you have any advice for those just getting started in advertising?
The best advice I could give is to just focus on coming up with great ideas. And stay focused on ideas. It’s easy to get distracted by the desire for promotions and titles or get caught up in agency politics. But if you consistently deliver great ideas, you won’t have to worry about that stuff. It will just naturally happen.

In general, are you impressed by the quality of creative work coming out of the advertising world?
It’s hard not to be impressed. Every year the work around the world keeps getting better and better. And you have to work a little harder to compete. Looking at the work that wins each year at Cannes, One Show, Andys, ADC, D&AD is always a healthy kick in the butt to try harder next year.

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
I’ve been very lucky to have some great bosses, and work with some tremendous creative talent. All who’ve made me better, and made me look better than I am.

Lee Clow and Richard O’Neill at Chiat/Day, just watching them work made me excited to be in advertising and made me want to learn how to be good at it. Tom McConnaughy convinced me to switch from producer to art director. Woody Kay, Mark Figliulo and Paul Silburn were role-model creative directors. I could only hope to be as inspiring to others as they have been to me. And my current bosses Mark Tutssel and Susan Credle, I can’t believe they’re still letting me do this. I am very thankful for their trust. And I’ve been very fortunate to work with and learn from one of the best writers out there, Dave Loew.

Additional works by Wyville:

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All Illinova photography by Garry Owens

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