Berlin Cameron & Partners Maintain the Fame

Since launching in 1997, Berlin Cameron & Partners’ consistent commercial output has put it amongst the busiest of independent New York agencies.

By: Sandy Hunter


ampaigns for Reebok or Coca-Cola brands Dasani, Mello Yello and Pibb Xtra produced in 2001 exemplify both art direction and writing craft, while work for Ralston Purina, Walnut Creek, New York Life and the Washington Post have successfully matched brands with seemingly incongruous executions.

Andy Berlin, Ewen Cameron and their partners launched Berlin Cameron & Partners (BC&P) after having worked together at New York shops like Fallon McElligott Berlin and DDB. Today the creative shop employs between 70 and 80; perhaps because of this lean approach (and careful management and a relative lack of bureacracy), BC&P has thus far avoided laying off any staff. And, despite New York’s recent trials, Cameron says the agency remains devoted to producing quality creative work.

New York is a very resilient place. People are nervous but in some ways there is a renewed sense of emotional commitment to the city. But, it’s too early to say how things will settle down. However, there’s an obvious and rather unsophisticated flight to patriotism with work that’s been done. My sense is consumers don’t want this. They want to be entertained and get on.

Cameron is now a CEO, far from his roots as a Scottish philosopher/rock manager in the mid-’80s. But, philosophy led Cameron to a job as planner at BMP, London. There he found himself working with the same strategy-meets-creative approach employed at BC&P today.

“Our creative department is not separate from the rest of the agency, the planning and creative function is pretty much seamless. This is one of the things we’ve tried to do here,” he says, referencing new female-centric work created for Reebok.

Michelle Novella Sassa, the lead creative on Reebok had the strategy in her head that as a woman, she was sick of the clichés of female empowerment advertising. This is more post feminist, like women are past all that. She calls it acceptance, such as let’s celebrate what women are about. Women can act like guys, flirt, be intelligent, they are not mutually exclusive. She thought about Reebok’s tradition in women’s athletics and contemporised. No planner came up with that insight.”

“It’s A Woman’s World,” resulted. Directed by Tony Kaye, two of the spots mock established gender roles and are set to James Browns’ “It’s A Man’s World.” “Time Out” is dramatically shot, cut and colored and shows female basketball players taking it to the hole, then the bench while a squad of all-male cheerleaders shake their groove thangs. “Weight Room” has a hapless, out of place man entering a gym populated by buff women (including Survivor alumni Alicia Calloway and Tina Wesson). Another spot stars Missy Elliott in a rap video-like extravaganza, with nearly naked dancing men, a Ferrari and other she-bling bling accessories cut with shots of Reebok sponsored Venus Williams and a what-if vignette of a jogging, woman president. The campaign features Missy’s remake of Brown’s song, with beats from top hip hop producer, da Rockwilder. Copywriter Novella Sassa and art director Matt Murphy created the campaign.

“It was born out of the Reebok Defy idea (see Boards, April 2001) and the brief was more specifically women defying convention. Women have gotten the empowerment message and are strong, acting, ruling and in control, so now we are reflecting it in the media and in commercials. Ten years ago in college I walked into a weight room and I felt like that guy in “Weight Room.” I don’t feel like that any more.” says Novella Sassa. Murphy comments on being a man in this woman’s world campaign.

“It’s fun to flip the scenario in a realistic way, and the whole thing was to take it from political to social to sports, building a world. Another thing is, a lot of spots use musical irony as a counterpoint. Here there is no reveal because the world exists as is. It’s shot in a style that doesn’t call attention to itself; there is no timeline with a buildup to a reveal.”

Murphy mentions another yet to air spot entitled “Bananas,” depicting a Bizarro world take on cleavage heavy restaurant Hooters. Nasty. These spots, produced by freelancer Jill Andresevic, are just part of BC&P’s recent TV work.

“It’s a fairly small agency and we run it off of a pretty small team on purpose, filling it in when we need to. I oversee everything and Blythe Barger and I split up the main work,” says agency executive producer Dane Johnson. “We do a pretty phenomenal amount of TV, it’s 70 – 80 per cent of the work we do. We’re fortunate, producing fairly inventive and creative stuff and we’ve been having a good run, doing a lot of quality work with good directors.”

A recent Mello Yello campaign directed by hungry man John O’Hagen shows some sketchy situations resolved with smooth Mello Yello decision making skills. A spot for Pibb Xtra, directed by Traktor compares the fortunes of a Pibbs drinker and a non-Pibbs drinker at the start of seemingly similar dates, while Ritts-Hayden director Enda McCallion continued Nestea Cool’s skeletal-snowman campaign with a Mexican twist. HSI’s Paul Hunter shot “Roller Skates” a recent Dasani spot featuring an extremely talented female roller skater moving to The Gap Bands “Outstanding,” and a recent campaign for organic food maker Walnut Creek was directed by Propaganda’s Jeffrey Fleissig.

Creative director/partner Izzy Debellis (who’s counterpart is creative director/partner Jason Peterson) explains some of the concepts and executions. A Canadian import to New York, Debellis has been with Berlin and Cameron at various agencies for nearly eight years (“it’s the same band of pirates, we just changed the names to protect the innocents”). He oversaw the Walnut Creek work, (working with writer Jean Rhode), which depict simple food centered tales while listing off the organic ingredients of both the food and it’s consumers.

“We wanted it to be 180 degrees from Kraft. The idea came from showing not just physical but emotional ingredients of the brand, showing a belief and a way of living. It was meant to be witty, with a certain charm, but not taking itself too seriously,” he says.

The campaign escapes New Age clichés oft-associated with organic food and its advocates, instead linking the brand with a mainstream yet wholesome lifestyle. Spots for Ralston Purina’s Tidy Cat brand manage to move beyond typical kitty litter advertising; working with director Rob Pritts, solid acting creates suspense as a nosy landlord searches for a feline in a no-pets apartment; however, the scent free stuff helps the tenant keep her cat from eviction. While solid creative work for the Washington Post was not enough to keep the client from seeking a DC agency, Debellis stands by the final comedic spots directed by David Kellogg and Chris Hooper for the agency. He also describes some work done for Nestea. “Spectre Federale” has the mean-looking skeletal snowman in a sweaty Mexican bar; when a lawman with a his bony face on a wanted poster makes his entrance, the sexy bartender hits him with the ice tea and he is soon disguised as a full snowman once again.

“We inherited the skeleton ice man with the brand and we’ve sort of evolved it because before the skeleton guy was just about getting the drink,” says Debellis. “Now, it’s not just about physical heat, but also psychological heat. There’s another one with him with two girls in a hot tub. The bones are starting to branch out.”

Another upcoming spot for the agency is a New York Life spot being directed by HSI/Gerard de Thame Films director Gerard de Thame.

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