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Lucky Luke - an interview with mr Sullivan

Luke Sullivan

It's Tuesday night and the creative circle in Denmark had arranged a lecture night with Luke Sullivan, chief creative cowboy at wild Westwayne, Atlanta. Luke is lucky, advertising is a "great job because you'll never get bored." apparently, when you're good at it you're never boring either. He bounces on to the floor and goes on a hilarious rant about "always use a lion in all of your ads." whilst flicking through a display of terrible ads containing lions on the screen behind him. "haha! look at this one!" he erupts with the audience in laughter.

"Always!" he repeats with excitement until he's good and ready to retire the lions, the eagles, the weddings, the bite and smiles, the drip shot, the pour shot, the dead old symbols we have all flogged to death whilst trying to make ads.


- "It's so easy to do, you meet and say, yeah sure, a pour shot, that makes sense, and before you know it, you wasted your 30 seconds doing exactly what the other guys are doing".

- "visually from across the room, with the sound off, it's going to look like, all those other ads out there. You have to look at what is the going 'icon' in your category, the bite and smile? Then don't do it."

-"...because it's the old zig-zag.

The idea should be different from the ground up."


He switches ad on the screen, Fred Spears 'Enlist' poster depicts a mother clasping her child as they sink together following the wreck of the Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915. Spears' illustration of their watery death was based upon a newspaper account of the pair still clinging together in death as they were brought to the harbor.


Today's Danish audience might not have known all that, but they still get the message loud and clear.

-" See - simplicity will never be a fad" Luke declares.

"To get things this simple is to keep paring away until you have the essence of the ad.

Be simple. Be simple, because simple is easier to remember."

Remove the headline, the tagline, the slogan, the pour shot, any part until you get the essence of the ad.


- "I once heard a designer say "elegance is the art of refusal". I think this is true."

- "an ad with a logo says: this message brought to you by.... - whilst an ad without a logo says: this message.

" Here's the catch to be this simple, you have to be relevant. - "I firmly believe that "Brand=adjective". Volvo=safe. Once someone has gotten their adjective, you can't topple it. Take another adjective."

- "What did Heinz do when they entered the market where "how many tomatoes can you get in a bottle*" ruled? They didn't say heinz=tomatoe-iest they said Heinz=slower . zig-zag! Which brand is the biggest ketchup brand in the states today?"

(* apparently, 1.5 million tomatoes )

Luke Sullivan photographed in Copenhagen

After the lecture, Luke hung around to sign books outside, warmly welcoming slightly star-struck adkids and ad-adults who want him to sign their own well-thumbed coffee stained copies.


To save Luke from talking to yet another trade-journalist who keeps asking "so did you invent that whipple character?" we take a stroll in the park pondering the art of portfolios.


- "Students coming out now, they go visual. Pretty pictures with a teeny logo at the bottom, just like in the One Show.

And I find myself wondering about the craft. I wonder how they would design their way out of a problem. simple doesn't mean visual, simple means simple.

I know, I'm preaching to the quire."


- you're coming out with a second book after "hey whipple..". How did this come about?

-"The publishing business is kinda like the music business, kinda like the art business, kinda like..'kinda' like, the ad business - in that it's a hit based business.

Hit based means, a publisher has to have one or two hits, to pay for everything else. You know, a John Grisham, a Stephen King... Once they get one of those guys, it pays all, and everything else is.. honey.

They lose money on a lot of titles, and on my title, they're making a little bit of money on."

"So, like with oil drilling, they'll take a chance on you. Now if the well goes dry, they won't drill again. I'm no oil gusher for them, but it's making a little money and so they asked for a second edition. It's really kinda cool."


- when will the second edition be out?


-"I'll have to deliver the manuscript in September, then it gets revised and printed out in the stores by April." (a flash from the photographer's camera distracts me, but Luke is completely cool and manages to synchronize a flashed smile back) 

-"I like it, the flattery doesn't wear off on me, I dig this so much." he laughs.

-is it a a little bit like ad people get treated like rock stars after a while?

-"Yes of course, I know where you get to feel like a rock star, the place where you get it the most, is the ad schools. Oh my god. If I wasn't happily married, I'd probably live at the ad schools." he laughs again.


-the only people who know who people in our business are, are people in our business. Ask a guy down the street who Joe Pytka is, or Paul Arden.. and they won't know.


Paul gave a speech here last year, didn't he? I heard he was really nervous."

-he always is, but delivers a great speech perhaps because he is so nervous. You get nervous?

-"I get nervous. A certain amount of nervousness is good. I used to be a stand-up comedian, for a short time a long time ago, and at the time, I thought it would be more creative, and more fun. I was never nervous before going on stage, and that's why I started to suck. I was pretty good there for a while, but then I got arrogant. The last time I was on stage.. (lowers voice to a whisper).. I died."

-Noo, did you get booed off stage?

-"Yeah!" he laughs. And I deserved it!" "the thing is audiences want to like you - I learned that doing stand up - they could have gone to a movie, they could have stayed home, yet they paid money to show up at your little club. They want to like you."

"Also learned from reading books on screen writing - which everyone does in this business - it said you can get away with almost anything in the first five minutes of a movie, and almost nothing in the last five. I think the two are somehow related. audiences are like: "bring it on, what have you got" they say, but after a while, you got to make sense, you got be relevant, you have to close... I didn't do that when I was a stand up comedian. and (rolls eyes at himself) I didn't practice."

-*gasp* you didn't practice?

-"No! And that was bad because you have to practice. Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno these guys would drive 40 minutes to get ten minutes at a microphone, played every club in America. Practice. You gotta practice. Like with everything. "


-when it comes to humor in advertising - good thing or bad thing?

-"It's no thing. It's an execution device. it's a detail."

-it's tone of voice...

- "yeah - it's tone. sometimes it's appropriate, but you saw the commercials, one of the best commercials up there for Publix grocery store with the old man and old woman cooking.. That's not funny at all. It was all this [gestures to his heart] - perfect for the brand. Perfect. It's our best case history."

-It is? it's very long.

-"Yeah, it's a sixty, and that's what they actually aired, that wasn't directors cut, they aired that. No short edit."

The lecture was a raging success for the creative circle, not in terms of profit but by the amount of smiling faces leaving the lecture hall. While being funny and irreverent Luke was relevant, reminding us all how to do great ads.

Good speech, well taught. Luke raised the bar so high, the next lecturer might want to do the limbo. ...because it's the old zig-zag, you know.


related links: Creativecircle where the lecture was held - members get a discount.

(flash site) Westwayne - where you can see the Publix commercial and other examples of Westwayne's work.

(also flash) Adland's book section - excerpt from "Hey Whipple squeeze this".
amazon.com where you can dig up the book "hey whipple" and have it delivered pronto.

People who read the book and what they thought about it: Bea Design Group Blog

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A.nony.mouse's picture

Great article - I feel as if I met and know the guy now. He's right about that Publix commercial - it's a great ad for the target.

anonymous's picture

once a creativ guy in my country gave me the book of luke,i read it i thought who the hell is this guy,i want to think like him,now i work
in a advertising agency,some day i hope people look up to me and say this guys knows what he s doining,thanks Luke