For Halloween, Here’s How to Bring a Big Idea Back From the Dead

Pete VonDerLinn, ecd at Partners + Napier, writes in Muse by Clio

It’s pretty depressing how much great work ends up in the creative graveyard. So, with the season of ghosts and ghouls upon us, I thought I’d spread some Halloween cheer and share a story about how one of our best campaigns came back from the dead.

Back in 2016, our #TheVoteNeedsU campaign was the first runner-up to the ultimately award-winning voter registration work we did for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. Called “Labels,” the campaign that ran made the point that each of us is defined by labels put on us by others, but when it comes to election season, only one label counts — voter.

“Labels” was strong, no doubt, but there was something we just loved about #TheVoteNeedsU. Still, with a heavy heart, we laid it to rest and moved on.

Fast forward to spring 2018. I brought in ad guy extraordinaire turned creative presentation trainer extraordinaire Kerry Feuerman to teach some of our senior talent how to better sell creative. Now a consultant, Kerry had created a number of iconic campaigns we really respected at Martin, Burnett, Fallon and TBWA\Chiat\Day.

Little did we know he’d not only give us great training, he’d pull our beloved #TheVoteNeedsU out of the graveyard.

As part of the workshop, our folks had to present campaigns they’d worked on before. Matt Palmer, one of our creative directors, decided to dig up #TheVoteNeedsU, which he’d worked on with now creative director Gretchen Bye and digital art director Marco Fesyuk.

As Matt started to show the work, the audience literally started shifting in their seats, especially our group creative director Dan O’Donnell. Having joined us last year, Dan didn’t know the work — but he instantly loved it.

The graphically edgy campaign was designed to get people to vote by naming crucial issues in our country, but missing the letter U: G_n control. Eq_al rights. S_preme court. Simple, powerful work.

Kerry leaned over to Dan. “Have you made these ads?”

“I don’t think so.”

Matt showed another one.

Kerry leaned over again. “You really haven’t made this?”

“We really haven’t.”

As Matt showed more, it was evident this work could showcase any issue with a “u” in it. St_dent debt. Reprod_ctive rights. Police br_tality.

Kerry leaned over one more time and flatly declared: “You’ve got to make this. You don’t even need a client. It’s a cause.”

Dan agreed, and to his credit became the campaign’s champion. He walked into my office and asked, “Would the agency put resources behind resurrecting this work?” I told him I knew we would, but with the midterm elections just a few months away, we gotta move fast.

Senior leadership greenlighted it with one condition: keep the work nonpartisan. By adding a question mark after each issue, we would leave it up to the people viewing it to decide where they stood on it — and drive home the point that if the issue really means something to them, they owe it to themselves and their country to vote.

To this day, I’m continually fascinated by how many great things one simple idea can become. We made posters, buttons, T-shirts, stickers, video content — just like a political campaign.

We’re also producing social assets for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds when issues spring up in real time — e.g., “Confirm Kavana­_gh?”

And of course, there’s a website where people can share important issues and find a link to turbovote.org to register.

At Partners + Napier, our purpose is to “Leave a Mark” on business, people and culture by creating work with lasting impact. Thanks to our #TheVoteNeedsU team, we’re helping leave a mark on our democracy come Nov. 6.

And after all his cajoling, where do we stand on “Kerry Fe_erman?”

He gets our vote, too.