The Egotist Briefs: Scott Duchon

By Egotist / /

He’s created some of the most iconic and cinematic video game advertising ever. He recently broke off from McCann and started Agencytwofifteen. And if he wanted to, he’d be the Bay Area’s best chicken shack owner or your kid’s favorite teacher.

He’s Scott Duchon, ECD of the aforementioned Agencytwofifteen– and he talked to The San Francisco Egotist about his creative philosophy, the pressure of repeating his Halo successes and why it’s good to have a short memory.

So we just held a March Madness-style tourney to find America’s Best Ad City and San Francisco beat out NY for the title. Why do you think SF is such a great place for advertising?
Because the SF ad community is built for a single elimination tournament. We have that great year-round ad-weather to train in. We take all-comers and we play one game at a time. Also, we grow our talent locally but we’re not afraid to recruit from all over the world – and we will break all recruiting rules in order to get that talent here. Ultimately, the glory of winning that Championship is worth more to San Francisco than the morals we compromise to get it.

What did you want to accomplish by breaking out on your own and starting agencytwofifteen?
Ultimately we want the chance to fulfill our own dreams. Whether we do that or not is now up to the 40 people inside our office. Culturally it’s a very different thing. And we know that the people are the culture and the culture helps the people work. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of goodness.

Does your approach to creativity change at all when you’re a small, independent shop versus when you’re part of a larger agency like McCann?
The approach doesn’t change for the way John Patroulis and I work. It also doesn’t really change for us whether it’s a global launch for Xbox or grassroots program for Easton-Bell Sports. With Mike Harris and Mike Parsons we have complete support to go for broke. A lot of agencies come up with great ideas. Ambitious ideas. Things that have a high degree of difficulty in execution, both for them and for the client. But they don’t always recommend that idea. We can’t help ourselves. When a client asks “how are you going to do it?” and our first response is “we’re not entirely sure because we haven’t seen anyone do it,” that’s when we know it’s going to be something worthwhile for everyone.

The first two words of your agency philosophy are “Work fearlessly.” What are some of the other characteristics you want to see in great art directors or copywriters?
Great creatives are smart enough to know that they don’t know everything. They must have a strong point of view, but have enough perspective to be open to other people’s ideas. I also love to see people with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Their curiosity forces them to go deeper and deeper into the target, the client’s business and anything else that will help quench their unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Lastly, great creatives are usually personally invested in the work. It matters to them.

After the massive success of the Halo 3 campaign, how much pressure did you feel to top yourselves with Halo: Reach?
At some point the guys who invented the hot dog thought they nailed it. Dog on a bun. Done. Everyone loves it. Then someone asked if they could beat the hot dog. So, did they rest on their previous success? Did they cower in fear of failing? Did they fake an injury? No. They went back to work. Had fun and embraced the challenge. And guess what, they decided to build off the success of the hot dog by deep frying it in corn batter and putting it on a stick. That’s right, they invented the corn dog. Whether the corn dog is better than a hot dog is a debate that will rage on forever, but one thing’s for sure – they added to the legacy of the hot dog family and didn’t worry about the “pressure.” That’s exactly how we briefed our team on Halo: Reach.

You guys have obviously done a lot of work with Noam Murro. How does partnering with someone you know so well help the creative process?
There’s a trust that comes with having good collaborative experiences. It’s like that with coaches and players in sports and directors and actors in films. For us, the best days are when we can welcome in likeminded talented and enthusiastic collaborators like Noam. Everyone who comes in contact with making one of our ideas is someone we hope can make it better than it was before they were involved. Because it’s one thing to concept and sell a great idea. It’s an entirely different beast to bring it to life. And we know that in order to deliver, you need a lot of other people who care as much as you do.

Also, production of super ambitious ideas can be like going up the river in Apocalypse Now. It can get crazy real quick, so it makes a big difference to trust the people you’re working with when it gets hairy.

Name one advertising trend that drives you nuts and one that you really love.
I don’t like that advertising is based on trends. Buzz words. There is a large portion of this industry that follows trends because it’s the shiny object they know they can dangle in front of their clients’ faces. “Social media” “interactive” “integrated” “ugc” “media-agnostic” “transmedia.” They are trendy buzz words that can make people lots of money if they say them over and over again with conviction to their clients. But they are empty words if you don’t understand how normal people are digesting media and interacting with brands.

I don’t know if it’s a trend necessarily, but I love how great content can turn itself into free media. More clients are realizing that if they make good stuff and put it out there where their target can interact with it…they can take the money saved from spending on media that isn’t super focused and put it into making more good stuff that the target will evangelize and socialize themselves. I’ll call it “outeractive” and let’s see if it becomes a new buzzword.

What inspires you creatively?
I’m inspired by very basic things. Sight, smell, sound, touch. Keeping myself open to every little thing. I’m constantly surprised by what I saw, heard, smelled on my way to work that stuck with me and manifested itself into something creative. Another thing in the sound category is just listening to music. It clears everything else away and at the same time can put me in the right head space to find ideas.

If you weren’t working in advertising, what would you be doing instead?
I’d be a teacher/coach for young kids. I am still a kid at heart and one of the best parts of doing what I do is seeing when something clicks with someone for the first time or they find the joy or happiness from achieving something. With kids, it’s that times a thousand. Also I’d own the best grilled Chicken Shack the North Bay ever saw. The array of hot sauces alone will be worth the trip.

Give us three pieces of wisdom that every creative should hear.
Have a short memory. If you dream big and get emotionally invested in ideas that you know in your heart will solve the client’s issues and be creatively fulfilling, but they die for some horribly lame reason, mourn the death quickly, and then move on to solving it again.

Single-task. You can spend all day, every day lost in the endless sea of cool-hunting. And having 10 different windows open on your computer. Don’t. Turn it off. Walk away. And let some of that stuff sink in. Your production will go up. Your time outside the office will go up.

Have fun. It’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to complain. It’s also necessary a lot of times. But you also have to enjoy it. You get paid to use your imagination and collaborate with other talented people and actually make things. If you can’t enjoy that, you’re doing the wrong thing and should apply for a job at my Chicken Shack.