My career in 5 executions: Mike McKay

From rap odes to minivans to a 5-hour pre-roll video, Eleven's CCO helps brands get honest and emotional with consumers

Name: Mike McKay
Title: CCO of Eleven, San Francisco
Years in ad industry: 25
First job in ad industry: Junior Copywriter at TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles. We had just won Nissan and moved into an office designed by Frank Gehry. Lee Clow, Dick Sittig, Rick Boyko and David Lubars were all in the same building at the time. Being surrounded by that level of talent was incredibly inspiring.

Mike McKay spent his career working his way through most of the big name shops on the West Coast, working on clients like Bic, Apple and Toyota. In 2011, he left the holding company track to join independent agency Eleven as its first chief creative officer.

There, he uses his experience on social and viral marketing campaigns to "create honest, emotional connections between brands and consumers." Audience insights can be served "in an entertaining way so consumers will feel something," he says. When they recognize themselves in the content, they share it.

Here are the executions McKay says mean the most to him and his career.

Brand: Nissan Frontier Trucks
Client: Nissan
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles
Work: "Chair"
Year: 1998

Nissan Frontier - "Chair" from Sterntag Film on Vimeo.

This spot was directed by Spike Jonze, who at this point was known mostly for his work on music videos for artists like Weezer and The Beastie Boys. "He’s an incredible filmmaker," McKay says, and working with him was an opportunity to learn tricks of the trade.

For example, the haphazard action sequence was shot almost entirely in live action, not in front of a green screen. "Then we used computers to remove the rigging, rather than creating the whole action sequence in CGI," McKay says. His time on that team taught McKay how to use production and film techniques to inform and support his storytelling.

Brand: Comcast High-Speed Internet
Client: Comcast
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Work: "Rabbit"
Year: 2008

As GCD and copywriter on this project, McKay had to think of ways to describe speed with ever-increasing absurdity. Each iteration also needed to offer a clear image for the effects team to animate. "’Rabbit’ was a writer’s puzzle," McKay says. In the end, he relied on plenty of trial and error to find "analogies that could be woven together visually for this spot."

"Rabbit" ended up as one of the most awarded spots of the year, taking home accolades including a Gold ANDY and a Bronze Lion.

Brand: Toyota Sienna Minivan
Client: Toyota
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles
Work: "Swagger Wagon"
Year: 2010

McKay learned a singular lesson from this spot – "The truth is funny." Viewers agreed, and the "Swagger Wagon" music video went viral, racking up more than 13 million views to date.

He took a "deep dive" into the attitudes of modern parents to find material for the mother and father, played by respected improv actors Rachael Drummond and Brian Huskey, to spit. "No, minivans aren’t very interesting, but authentic consumer insights certainly can be," McKay says.

Client: Pima Air & Space Museum
Agency: BBDO
Work: "Airplane"
Year: 2012

The Pima Air & Space Museum is known as the "graveyard of planes," so attracting a younger crowd was a challenge that required offering something more accessible than World War II era aircraft. "We wanted to do what had never been done before," McKay says, "and dropping a 40-foot-paper airplane from a helicopter in the middle of a desert was what we landed on."

The project took  10 months from competition to inaugural flight, and taught McKay not to be afraid of complex productions, no matter how daunting. "If everyone on the job is into an idea, the sheer will of the group can overcome almost any obstacle," he says. It drew the attention of children worldwide and won a Gold Lion for Branded Content.

Brand: Virgin America Main Cabin
Client: Virgin America
Agency: Eleven Inc.
Work: "Blah Airlines"
Year: 2015

Eleven garnered both confused looks and congratulations for this five-and-a-half hour YouTube pre-roll video – the same length as a nonstop flight from New York to San Francisco. "There were so many rational reasons to not make this one," McKay says. "This content wasn’t exactly snackable."

The toughest sell for the strange film wasn’t the client, but the team. "The hardest part was getting all of the teams comfortable with such a risky and border-line creepy endeavor," McKay says. But they successfully pinpointed the frustrations and boredom inherent in most airline travel, packing the entire film with Easter eggs for attentive viewers. "When Sir Richard Branson claimed it as his own in a Fortune magazine article, we knew we did something right."

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