Face Time: Clark Chamberlin – copywriter working on everything from Progressive to Pepsi
Clark Chamberlin, from Auburn, was recognized earlier this year as one of Adweek’s 100 Creative 100, billed as “an annual celebration of today’s most fascinating creative professionals.”
We asked about his career path and for a behind-the-scenes look. He shared the creative process, the occasional wee hours of the morning, and what it’s like to see your work in nature.
Name: Clark chamberlin
Lives: San Francisco
What career path led you to writing? I went to Babson College outside of Boston. It’s a school where the only specialty is business, so when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management the only advertising job I qualified for was in customer relations. And that’s what I did. I started out as an account manager at Mullen, helping to manage clients on greeting card brands and banks. I was pretty mediocre, but this first job allowed me to discover that I would like to be a copywriter: the person who comes up with ideas for advertisements.
Once I decided to make the switch, I spent about six months building a writing portfolio. I wrote fake ads for all kinds of brands and faked my best ones to look real. I ended up using those fake ads to land a job as a copywriter at Arnold. The Boston agency invented Flo, so I spent two years helping create ads for Progressive Insurance among other big national brands.
Then I got a call from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the San Francisco agency behind “Got Milk” and many iconic Super Bowl commercials. I spent almost three years at GS&P, working on big game ads for Doritos and Pepsi, an Oscar campaign for Adobe, and even did an ad with David Hasselhoff. It was awesome. Goodby and Silverstein (both in their 70s now) have led many of my projects, and I’ve learned a lot from them.
In October, I’m going to be working for Erich & Kallman, a new 25-person agency in San Francisco run by the guy who wrote âThe man your man could smell. You know the Old Spice ad with the handsome man on horseback? I’m pretty excited about it. And that means I’ll be in the Bay Area a bit longer, which makes me happy too.
Can you tell us how an ad comes to life? It’s actually quite fast. From ideation to production, the whole process takes around three months.
First, the customer comes to us with a business problem or challenge. I spend about two weeks designing ad campaigns that might help solve it, then pitch my ideas and solutions to the creative directors. After we feel good in a few directions, I write about 20 scripts, we present five of them to our clients, and they end up picking a winner.
Sometimes we test the winning storyline with focus groups, sometimes we don’t, but once we have the final green light, we find a director, hire actors, and then shoot the commercial. It’s usually cheaper to shoot overseas, so we could go somewhere like Mexico City or Kiev, Ukraine. Kiev is actually super popular right now.
During COVID times, we’ve filmed commercials remotely, so we just send the director to our location and then watch Zoom. Ukraine’s day is quite a distance from California’s (that’s a 10 hour difference) so most of my recent shoots have involved a lot of coffee.
After the shoot is finished, we assemble the ad with an editor, choose the music and sound effects with a sound designer, add visual effects with an animation studio, and then grade it with a colorist. Normally I’m in a different location for each of these stages (usually LA or NY), but again COVID restrictions have required us to do this part remotely as well.
And then the ad is over. The client approves and we put it on the air.
Heard you’ll get a Super Bowl commercial next year? Is this your first? I’ve worked on some Super Bowl campaigns before, but this one (if done) will be really great. I can’t speak to the details, but I’d be proud to have my name on it.
How do you feel when you watch TV and suddenly, âHey! I worked on it. When I first started seeing my ads in the world was an amazing feeling. Now it looks a bit more normal. In fact, when I see something I wrote on TV, I often find myself nitpicking. I should stop doing this, haha.
Should this give you a keen eye for details in other ads that most people might miss, like unexpected green screen use or unusual edits? Yes of course. One thing I notice a lot is the actors. There are about 200 people in LA who star in just about every commercial. You see them in most of your casting sessions, so you start to notice them in other commercials as well. I swear I saw the same guy in six different commercials this week. Good for him.
Have you been involved in pro bono work as well? Pro bono work is something that really excites me. I constantly come up with ideas to help social issues and then bring them to the relevant charities. So far, I have led campaigns for Gun Safety, COVID-19, Home Fire Awareness and am currently coming up with ideas for Pride 2022.
I loved that line in your bio: âWhen I’m not advertising I’m probably playing music, skiing, or biking in the Bay Area. Please don’t tell my mom. Let’s say your mom doesn’t read. If a reader ends up in the Bay Area on a bicycle, which stretch should he check? The Bay Area is an amazing place to have a motorcycle. You have fun hills to roam downtown, ocean roads along the Pacific Coast Highway, and mountains right next to the Golden Gate Bridge. But honestly the reason I have a bike is for parking. Parking spaces in downtown SF are hard to find, but parking motorcycles is always a snap. Fortunately, my new job has a parking lot.