My career in 5 executions: Eric Springer

From relaunching Volkswagen to redefining Levi's, Innocean's first CCO goes beyond the ask

Name: Eric Springer
Title: Chief Creative Officer, INNOCEAN USA
Years in ad industry: More than 25
First job in ad industry: Creative/copywriter at Salvati Montgomery Sakoda in Orange County, working on accounts like Time Warner Cable, IHOP and Yamaha

Eric Springer is best known for one particular VW spot, and he’s made a name for himself as a car guy. But he doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed: The self-described environmentalist rides his bike to work these days. One time, he even left the industry altogether, though he couldn’t stay away for long. He helped lead Deutsch LA for 14 years, growing the agency from 15 to 450 people, and in early 2016, he became the first chief creative officer at the Hyundai-backed Innocean USA (an "ocean of innovation," or didn’t you know?)

He views advertising as a calling, not just a career, and prides himself on going "beyond the client’s ask."

"Often, a client doesn’t know exactly what to ask for to solve their business or marketing challenge," Springer says. "Doing just a little digging and asking ‘why’ a few times can result in amazing ideas."

Here are the 5 executions Springer says have meant the most to him and his career.

Brand: Fred Arbogast Fishing Lures
Client: Fred Arbogast
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day
Year: 1990-1991

The original line in this ad was "To a fish, this is Kim Basinger." Springer and his partner on the account were trying to "make fishing lures sexy," he says, and Basinger was the It Girl of the moment. When Springer contacted her to ask permission to use her name, she politely declined, saying "she was very flattered, but that she didn’t eat meat." Springer still has that letter.

The campaign was well-received, and CD Uli Wiesendanger (TBWA’s "W") thanked him personally. "He went above and beyond, and it’s stuck with me to this day," Springer says. "Giving praise for creative work where praise is due is one of the most important traits you can carry as a creative leader. What we do is hard."

Brand: Apple, Levi’s, Taco Bell
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day LA
Year: 1995-1996

One of the most important moments in Springer’s career is not a particular ad, he said. It happened while he was outside of the industry, looking in at work he was near, but not responsible for creating. After the birth of his first child, Springer was burned out from 80-hour weeks. He quit the industry and took a job as a commodities broker selling metals like aluminum and zinc.

He didn't stay away entirely for long. Soon, he was trading in the early morning, taking freelance gigs in the afternoon at LA agencies. One of those was TBWA\Chiat\Day LA. "The agency was on fire with amazing work," he says. He watched the full-timers and their projects with envy. "Everyone else was secretly working on Apple’s ‘Think Different’ in one corner of the binocular building, winning the Levi’s account in another and launching Taco Bell in another." Being around all that amazing work but missing out on its production gave him the perspective he had been lacking.

"It was the best thing I could have done," he says. It made me realize that advertising, while a grind at times, was my calling."

Brand: Volkswagen
Client: Volkswagen
Agency: Deutsch LA
Work: "Punch Dub"
Year: 2010

After winning the VW account, Deutsch LA had to relaunch the brand. Springer’s team revived the old, violent children’s game and repackaged it as a Super Bowl spot. "VW is one of those rare brands that has an emotional connection with everyone that has owned, grown up or been a passenger in one," Springer says. Rather than limiting it to Beetles, the ad covered all 13 VW models.

The ad also paved the way for "The Force," the better-known Super Bowl spot that came out the following year. "VW has built many a creative career," Springer says. "I’m lucky to have touched it". 

Brand: Levi’s
Client: Levi’s
Agency: FCB
Work: "Live in Levi’s"
Year: 2014

There’s such a thing as being too cool. Levi’s had become "just a bit too hip," Springer says, and mainstream stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom were becoming wary of the brand.

To shake the hipster cachet and improve mass appeal, Springer created a simple directive: "Don’t be so exclusive; be inclusive." The resulting spot was so popular, it became the global launch spot, and Springer got the opportunity to lead a brand he’d worked on as a freelancer at TBWA. "It was rewarding to relaunch an iconic brand and see the company and the agency get back to their roots."

Brand: Hyundai
Client: Hyundai
Agency: Innocean
Work: "Draft Day 2031"
Year: 2016

Hyundai is the official automotive sponsor for the NFL, and Springer wanted that to be a meaningful partnership. "More than having shared logos at the end of a commercial, you must have shared values," he says. The interactive site allowed families to become more involved with the brands by creating their own NFL Draft videos of their children.

"As a father of a football player," Springer says, "it’s fun to work on a campaign that celebrates future football fans."

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