LOS ANGELES -- Those were heady days that Rob Siltanen spent at Chiat/Day Advertising in the 1990s.
The LA shop had a heap of star clients during that golden decade, including Apple, American Express, Microsoft and Reebok. A wacky cast of characters ran the show -- including creative director Lee Clow, who often arrived at meetings dripping and sandy from a morning surf. It was the first agency to invoke the "virtual workplace," where no one had an assigned desk.
The Economist once described the shop as equal parts cutting edge and self-indulgent. But it also was the place every creative genius wanted to work.
Chiat/Day had a big impact on the auto industry. The work Siltanen and the agency did for Nissan North America was outlandish, sometimes bizarre, but always memorable.
Maybe the most distinctive TV campaign had G.I. Joe rescuing Barbie from doll-home hell in a red 300ZX.
Not that Nissan was setting the world on fire in those days. It never really recovered from the Datsun-to-Nissan name change in 1981. The products were conservative and poorly placed in the market. When that happens, marketing has to save the day.
"Nissan was in serious trouble," said Siltanen. "People were saying Nissan could disappear. Turning that company around took a lot of figuring."
The advertising clearly helped. The campaign for the 1999 Xterra helped the vehicle become the first SUV to lure rock-stomping, surf-riding Gen X kids. The campaign used to launch the 1993 Altima parodied Lexus' quality attributes. The ads basically said, Why pay $50,000 for that when you can have this for $15,000?