MasterCard Priceless

ON A SUNDAY MORNING, in front of two large coffees and some hot fresh bagels, Joyce Thomas and I started the day by talking about a baseball game my two sons and I went to the night before. We were both deep into the pitch for this account. We continued talking about how expensive going to a ballgame can be. How the tickets, the popcorn, the peanuts and perhaps a souvenir can add up to quite a bill. But during this game, something special happened that was more important than the game itself; I had my first real conversation with my 12-year old son. Joyce and I knew that you can’t buy those moments. We called it ‘Priceless’ and we felt we were on to something that might stick. By the time we left that day, we had ideas for about seven spots written up. The baseball spot was the first to run. Tony Kaye directed the first spot. The idea has been proven to be universal. It’s now running in well over 100 countries and has been translated into 48 languages.

Some of the very first sketches of the graphic endings. To our client at the time, Nick Utton, these branded mnemonics were almost as important as the spots themselves.

Liberty Mutual

Responsibility. What’s your policy? – A daring statement to be made by an insurance company; After all, they have to stand by these words. We pointed this out during the pitch; People will hold you to this. People will repeat this over the phone when calling in a claim. We also knew that Liberty Mutual already had a long history living up to this higher standard. Just enter the Liberty Mutual building in Boston and look up at their mantra chiseled into their wall since 1928. It clearly states their duty in fulfilling the commitment of ‘responsibility’ to their customers. The campaign launched with an idea that Ernie Schenck and I wrote down in one brainstorm. It was originally conceived to be a series of international incidents, whereby different people would pass on responsibility, but, we ended up doing it throughout the States. Since the anthem spot ran, clergy, doctors and others have requested a copy of this spot to be shown to congregations and students.

OPEN American Express

American Express and small business go together like cash and flow, though nobody knew it. Historically, the American Express Corporate Card was the Card for business, large or small. Quite ironic given the fact that many small business owners had run away from big corporations to start their own businesses. But in the end the corporate card stayed just that: a card. Meanwhile we knew that American Express had plenty to offer small business. For one, it is uniquely positioned to be more nimble and faster, responding to the needs of this tough consumer group. Compared to banks, American Express is quicker and uncomplicated in supplying a credit line. For another, it acts like a small business. It runs 24/7/365, just like a small business. It has a website that shows spending tracking on a daily basis. And so on. When we were asked to pitch the business, we started by not just looking at the card as a piece of plastic, but more at how we could position American Express against small businesses biggest partner: the banks. I remember sitting in my office on a Sunday afternoon calling the banks. They were all closed. In fact some of them hung up on us electronically, so you couldn’t even leave a message. This led to OPEN. This led to wanting to be bigger and more important in the small business owners’ life. This led to giving the card the product structure it deserved.

BP beyond petroleum

BP, means British Petroleum. Common knowledge today, thanks to the Gulf Coast disaster caused mainly by BP. But a few years before the disaster, few people knew what BP stood for, nor did anyone care. So we persuaded the client to change the meaning to beyond petroleum. We came up with that idea by listening to the speeches of their managing director: Lord John Browne. At various Universities around the world, his subject of contention was: Investing in alternative energies. All we had to do was putting it together in a presentable package. This campaign sparked Exxon Mobil, Shell and Chevron to respond with a green message as well.


Don Kurn and I wondered why no one has ever made a connection between an insurance company and heroism. That’s not necessarily far fetched. Not if you’re willing to follow the following thought. An insurance company as large as AIG often sticks its neck out by risking coverage for a certain risk-taking client. We’re talking big risks here. Big projects, big thinking, big ideas. And therefore -Risk- shouldn’t be considered a dirty word, it should be a word that can be celebrated. The world wouldn’t turn without taking risks. Risk is necessary. Risk is rewarding. Of course we’re talking calculated risk here. That’s what AIG is good at. We translated this into one sentence: The Greatest Risk Is Not Taking One. Think about this, radio stations did not want to play Elvis. NASA’s first rockets all crashed. Jackie Robinson was ignored by his own team mates. And just how many airplanes did the Wright Brothers screw up to finally get one flying? Can a experienced insurance company, dedicated to taking risks, glorify this? Yes, I think so. (When this campaign started running, emails were sent to AIG, asking the company for a shedule. People wanted to tape these commercials as if they were movies.) With Steve Biegel, Ron Rosen and Don Kurn.

Amtrak Acela

When Amtrak asked Ken Shuldman and I at DDB to start thinking about how to introduce their new high-speed -acela- train, it took us only a few days to land the thought – life on acela. We didn’t set out to fight the car –the American sacred cow, nor did we want to take on the airlines directly. Instead we wanted to find our own space. Whatever we would do, we would not only have to cut through the clutter of travel ads, but right through the cynicism among travelers towards public transportation. So we began by interviewing city hoppers at La Guardia Airport and train riders at stations in New York, Philly, Boston and DC. When asked what a new faster train would mean to them, the frequent flyers were ready for a better experience in travelling. Amtrak riders were skeptical, after all, we were toying with their train. Days after the campaign was launched, Amtrak announced a delay in the arrival of the new train which ended up arriving almost a year later. Even though the train is frequented by over 3 million passengers today, politics keep it from becoming a real success. Presently the train runs on a hundred year-old track. No one wants to build a dedicated track so that the train can start running top speed; 165 mph. After all, that would really worry the airlines.


A new business model focusing on advertising revenue and allowing free access to everyone, led AOL to go back to its roots of innovation. People simply forgot that it was AOL who brought them the internet in an easy to understand way in the early nineties. This campaign focussed on some new breakthroughs; an all in one four-panel browser, a multi-media search engine in partnership with Google and the most complete free video collection on the web, from viral videos to full-length TV. We launched one of the largest online campaigns ever. Using every route to reach people. AOL’s audience is large; it’s basically all ages. We used every form of media including postings on YouTube, Google and TiVo. One campaign that launched just before the announcement of AOL’s new business model, was the Potato campaign. Designed to tell people about In2TV, a sub-brand from AOL and Warner Bros. A service that makes it possible to watch full-time TV on your computer. Now the couch potato can be a potato anywhere it wants to be. With Kurt Jaskowiak. Photographer: Sue Parkhill.

Above banner is only one of the eighty online advertising efforts we launched in just three months time, including regular banners, YouTube postings and online films.

AT&T mLife

Click to see how we positioned this sub-brand for AT&T Wireless. With Anil Bathwal and Bobby Pawar.


Bayer is another word for Aspirin. Period. The fact that such a large chemical and pharmaceutical company also makes other things, is just not well known at all. Here’s how we highlighted the benefits of each product. With Ken Shuldman. Photographed and directed by Tony Kaye.

Asian Community Project

I was asked to find a way to invite various students, faculty members and people in the neighborhood to come and discuss the growing problem of discrimination against the local Asian population. These discussions took place at NYU and Colombia University. In order to stand out in an already cluttered environment like the campus and surroundings of both Universities, I choose for dark humor. Both nights filled up and caused the organizers to continue the program in other cities.

American Express Blue Button

How do you solve the fact that Amex’ customers do not know the many benefits and services that are open to them? With the push of a button! This campaign, called the ‘push’ campaign showed how Amex in various ways could be of help to anyone online and offline. It re-introduced banking, online bill payment, business services and even investing options, all connected to each other. With Frank Guzzone. Photography by Nadav Kander.

American Red Cross

There are over 175,000 American Red Cross volunteers in America organized in 500 chapters. They’re in many cities, villages and far away places. But more was needed. More volunteers, more money, more blood. And more donated media was needed to get the message out. For that, we created a multi-language ad kit with interactive, print ads and tv spots included. These were send out all over the country. Within three months a whole year’s worth of free media was donated. The campaign continues to run throughout the US. With Lauren Herman. Photographers Brad Harris, top, and John Offenbach, below.

Graphic Design Department

I created the identity and website idea for IPG with Simon Grendene. By letting all agencies from allover the world participate, IPG instantly changed its reputation from an aloof holding company to a more understanding one.

I began as a store designer at the age of 16 in my town in Holland with my own after-school projects. I made a bet once with the owner of a Chinese store. This was a messy place selling everything, from soup bowls to silk scarves to Buddha statues. I simply challenged the owner to let me do his two large storefront windows and for that he’d have to give me 25 Guilders. If traffic wouldn’t increase, I’d give him his money back the next week. I designed a graphic system for his windows. I used his furniture as a base, placing the littlest items on top of draws etc. The window became a detail of a far away room. A glimpse of someone’s life. People who had passed this store a thousand times, stopped and looked at things they had seen before but not in a design context. Design did the job. Needles to say I didn’t have to give him the money back; traffic had quadrupled. I continued as a graphic designer in Israel at the age of 22. Moved on to art direction in New York at the age of 26. So this ‘department’ is a way to stay true to the core of design. It’s a big part of my brain so to speak. It’s where I can win from a writer. It’s where I can speak the language of a feeling and a mood. To me design is the true universal language.

Billboard for Miller Light. During the development of campaign ideas, this visual approach solved having to commit to an advertising concept and could do its job in the meantime.

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