My career in 5 executions: BBH's John Patroulis

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Whether it's Unilever, Xbox or Adidas, BBH NY's creative chairman sticks to one simple rule: No one cares what a company has to say.

Name: John Patroulis
Title: Creative Chairman, CCO, BBH New York
Years in ad industry: 18
First job in ad industry: Copywriter at N.W. Ayer, New York

John Patroulis began his career at the storied N.W. Ayer in New York. His work at TBWA\Chiat\Day led him to the agency’s San Francisco office, and he spent the next seven years on the West Coast.

During that time, he helped found T.A.G., which became AgencyTwoFifteen. When it merged with McCann’s San Francisco operations, Patroulis joined BBH back in New York, rising to the newly created Creative Chairman position four years later.

Good work, he says, elevates what is authentic over what is expedient. "There’s a natural pull in the industry to go to what I would call ‘ad truths’—a convenient truth for an advertiser to say—instead of a deeper human truth, which is harder to find, but is always going to resonate more and be much more universal."

Relying on those human truths makes a campaign more effective, as well. "No one wants to hear from a company. No one cares what a company has to say. They only care what people have to say," he adds. "You need to feel a human voice behind everything."

Here are the 5 executions Patroulis says best define his career.

Client: adidas
Brand: adidas basketball
Work: "Made To Perfection"
Agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day SF
Year: 2005


Patroulis had just left New York for the West Coast, and his creative output was experiencing a shift as well. "I had started moving away from dialogue and character-driven ideas, toward simpler, more emotion-based work," he says. "This is the first execution that fully expressed that for me."

The idea came from Greek mythology. "Yes, I’m Greek," he admits. "Sometimes getting an idea isn’t that hard." Initially, the creative team had wanted legendary musician Lee "Scratch" Perry to play God, but when he wasn’t available, they cast a look-alike. Making God a black man was also intentional, given the three NBA players in the spot. "God creates man in his image," Patroulis says.

This was one of the first spots in the "Impossible is Nothing" basketball campaign, and it was the first collaboration between Patroulis and Scott Duchon and Geoff Edwards, his eventual partners in founding T.A.G.

Client: Xbox
Brand: Halo 3
Work: "Believe" campaign
Agency: T.A.G.
Year: 2007

This was one of the first projects by T.A.G., which Patroulis had just helped found. It became one of the most awarded campaigns of the year, winning the Integrated Grand Prix, the Film Grand Prix and several Gold, Silver and Bronze lions. It was "that rare moment where everything aligned, even though we didn’t know it at the time," Patroulis says.

The campaign was a thorough homage to the heroes of the Human-Covenant War, the central conflict of "Halo 3." It’s "Museum of Humanity" featured a 1,200 sq. ft. diorama of a battlefield recreated in painstaking detail at 1/12 scale, as well as mockups of awards for bravery and service and postage stamps bearing the visage of video game heroes. The agency created four videos of "veterans" of the conflict, now old men, recounting tales of the accomplishments of Master Chief, the game’s protagonist.

"We got to flex every creative muscle we had," Patroulis says, "from big, emotional film to long-form dialogue and character-driven content."

Client: Unilever
Brand: Axe
Agency: BBH
Work: "Susan Glenn" campaign
Year: 2012

Soon after becoming CCO at BBH New York, Patroulis was tasked with revamping the long-running "Axe effect" campaign, which was becoming dated, even inappropriate. "We helped take a tired ad truth—‘spray this on and the girls come running!’—and tapped into human truths of melancholy, vulnerability and regret," he says. It was an elegant pivot that still stayed "true to what Axe is. It gives you confidence, makes you feel good about yourself." Something even Kiefer Sutherland understands.

The idea came directly from the personal history of one of the creatives on the team, right down to the name of the woman. "And even in the face of all the great Old Spice work happening, it worked," Patroulis says. The campaign won a Film Gold Lion and Integrated and Cyber Lions and set Axe down a path it continues on today.

Client: Netflix
Brand: House of Cards
Work: "FU16"
Agency: BBH NY
Year: 2015

This campaign grew out of a media insight, Patroulis says. Real political candidates are barred from airing ads during their own political debates. "So we went ahead and launched a presidential campaign for Frank Underwood during the most watched debate in history, knowing he could actually steal the show."

It was an idea made possible by an unusual zeitgeist. "Has there ever been a race to the presidency as noisy, controversial, as emotional, drawing as many viewers?" Patroulis says. "It set up something culturally that allowed this to resonate that much."

The spot was shot and produced quickly, on a slim budget. Ninety percent of the commercial that aired during the debate is stock footage, Patroulis admits. But it was "maybe the most timely and culturally impactful campaign this office had ever done," he adds. "We all hope to be able to make work that feels of its time and beyond. This idea allowed it to actually happen."

Client: Playstation
Brand: PS4
Work: "The King"
Agency: BBH NY
Year: 2016

"One thing about video game audiences, they’re very passionate," Patroulis says. "If you put content out, they devour it, they study it, they will literally go frame by frame and look for details." That understanding led BBH to create this campaign that didn’t need to change the audience’s behavior.

"We didn’t ask someone to act in a new way," he says. "We put the Easter eggs in it knowing the natural behavior would be for gamers to go through it. People want to be the first to find them."

Over a four-day period, entrenched in a war room at the agency, they rolled the campaign out. Other than the initial video and replies to comments on Facebook, there was no promotion—word spread organically. "What we did was gamify the content section," Patroulis says. "As soon as we started interacting the first time, and the King responded and gave them the item, it just exploded."

Playstation gave away more than 300 items, many delivered in person by "kingsmen" dressed in period armor. "We changed the way Playstation communicates with their audience," Patroulis says, "and raised the expectation of what an online film experience can be."