My career in 5 executions: Circus Maximus' Ryan Kutscher

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From 'Whopper Freakout' to blue Skittles, the Circus Maximus founder makes work that makes mischief

Name: Ryan Kutscher
Title: Co-founder and Creative Director, Circus Maximus
Years in ad industry: 13
First job in ad industry: Copywriting intern, CP+B

Ryan Kutscher discovered advertising late in his college career, while pursuing a degree in economics. After developing his skills at Miami Ad School, he landed an unpaid internship at Crispin Porter + Bogusky that turned into a job offer.

Over nearly six years at CP+B, Kutscher helped create celebrated campaigns for brands like Burger King and Method. He left in 2009 to freelance, and put in a stint as a creative director at Victor & Spoils. In 2012, he accepted a "traditional" industry position, taking over as co-CCO at J. Walter Thompson New York.

The office job was a short-lived learning experience, and a year later, he co-founded Circus Maximus with Amalgamated’s Doug Cameron.

Kutscher says advertising is best when it doesn’t behave like advertising. "Anytime you can make mischief with the assumptions of how communication, idea diffusion and persuasion are supposed to work, you’re probably on the right track."

Here are the 5 executions Kutscher says define his career.

Client: Volkswagen
Brand: Mk5 Golf GTi
Agency: CP+B
Work: "UnPimp"
Year: 2006

From 2004 to 2007, Xzibit "pimped" dozens of cars on MTV, becoming a favorite target for meme generators. "People were making these silly modifications to lame cars, putting fish tanks in the tires of their Ford Fiesta and stuff," Kutscher says. He set out to comment on the phenomenon.

The director of the VW spots,  the acclaimed Jonas Åkerlund, kept trying to convince the crew to try Dr. Scholl’s inserts, and actor Peter Stormare had laryngitis during the shoot. Fortunately, the man has range. "It happened at just the right moment," Kutscher says of the campaign. "A year earlier or later and it wouldn't have made sense."

Client: Burger King
Brand: Whopper
Agency: CP+B
Work: "Whopper Freakout"
Year: 2008

"This campaign is proof that professional mischief can really work," Kutscher says. It grew out of a simple finding—that The Whopper was the most loved burger in America. "The expectation is that we need to be really reverential. Instead we said, ‘We’ll see about that.’"

The campaign was a variation on the old Folger’s switcheroo, except instead of Folger’s crystals, Burger King customers got nothing. Kutscher and the creative team didn’t know how people would react, so they were unprepared for some of the intensity. "The guy with the long hair and glasses became unhinged," he says. "He threatened a PA. We really had to walk him off a ledge." After he calmed down, though, the man treated the crew to a viewing of the paintings he kept in his trunk.

The Wall Street Journal said the "Whopper Freakout" campaign increased Burger King’s stock price, and it won multiple Cannes Lions. "This put my career on the map," Kutcher says.

Client: Skittles
Brand: Blue Skittles
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day London
Work: "Blue Skittles" road trip
Year: 2011

UK customers were clamoring for blue Skittles, so Kutscher gave them what they wanted. Eventually. "We basically said, oh you want them? Prove to us how badly you want them."

It’s the kind of campaign Kutscher says he prefers to make—a mix of product creation, multimedia and event rollout. The "driver" interacted with fans in real time, sometimes taunting, punishing or ridiculing them. "It kind of fucks with consumers," Kutscher says. The campaign’s success also demonstrated how social media could be used to launch new products and build brands.

Client: Jet.com
Agency: Circus Maximus
Work: "Jet.com introduction"
Year: 2015

Jet.com’s shopping platform had raised a billion dollars in funding, and they turned to Kutscher’s new agency to pull in users. Jet turned shopping into a kind of game, so "we wanted to gamify the buzz," he says.

The agency brought in "Silicon Valley" star Kumail Nanjiani in a bit of meta casting. Nanjiani’s character on the show is also trying to launch a digital platform, and Jet.com paid the real Nanjiani in stock. The next year, Walmart bought the company for $3 billion.

Kutscher didn’t get any stock, but he’s prepared for next time. "If you run a unicorn, call me."

Client: Justworks
Agency: Circus Maximus
Work: Justworks subway campaign
Year: 2014

As an entrepreneur himself, Kutscher understood what Justworks needed to say to its audience. "We showed up to the first meeting with a bunch of work, which is maybe not always a great idea, but they loved it, we loved them, the work ran, and we’ve been doing all kinds of stuff with them since," including display ads and direct mail, he says. (The NYC subway ads are ubiquitous.)

"There’s no reason that this brand should be fun, but the people have made it great," Kutscher says. "It’s probably my favorite campaign."