We Love the Subs
I have a file, on my computer that's apparently been migrated over many different file systems called quiz knows dot S, W F, which is a flash format Jonas, Downey is one of my co workers here at base camp. He heads up the design group and this file he's talking about quiz knows dot S, W F dates back to two thousand and four for those of you who haven't heard of quiz knows it's an American fast food chain, that makes toasted sub sandwiches. And if you were to open Jonas file you'd be confronted with a truly bizarre. Thirty second television ad. It's these weird mutant bizarre horrific looking monkey animals. Singing intentionally off key to you about sandwiches that are supposed to be appetizing. But like juxtaposed with these things that are gross almost. Do. This is an actual commercial that ran on national television. It features to animate furry animals with bulging eyes and a mouthful of bared teeth. One is wearing a black bowler hat. The other is wearing the kind of hat that old timey sea captains used to wear and it's playing an acoustic guitar. They're singing about quiz. No sandwiches while bopping around over footage of the subs coming out of an oven. Quiz knows. It's like this memorable horrific advertising campaign. It's almost an assault like in a way, and I remember just to seeing and be like, what the hell was that just happen? And I like immediately loved it. Sometimes there's these flash points, where weird underground stuff finds its way to popular culture and the mainstream gets a little exposure to it. Like if you like the early days of MTV, we're like that. Whereas all these people doing weird artsy stuff happened to find a venue was a crossover between that sort of experimental early internet flash based design with, like traditional TV advertising, like somebody took a risk like somebody quiz knows was like, yeah. We want those mutant monkey things to be our spokesperson for our sandwiches. Oh, hello? And welcome to rework a podcast by base camp about the better way to work and run your business. I'm Whalen Wong. And I'm Shawn Hyllner. It's been fifteen years. Years since this ad campaign. Aired on national television prompting a huge response, people wrote letters and called quiz knows corporate about the commercials either because they love them or because they were totally repulsed the ads became a national news story. The news cycle, eventually moved on quiz. No switched ad agencies and later entered a period of decline where it closed, a huge number of locations and filed for bankruptcy, but the ads with the strange atonal singing, critters those remain Connick, and like Jonas points out, it seems improbable that these commercials made it onto TV at all today. On rework the people behind the campaign, tell the story of how it got made. Jovic I make city stuff. Joel is the guy to think for this whole thing. So the first thing I ever did that might any money was this ritual, which was walkout how to do interactive stuff in flash. It was agreed of my head knowing times. Oh, something on each one thought to different obscenity, and you run your mouse over it on. It just was a cacophonous swearing machine to my Mayes, man like people really like to asked if I would do another version for company for like a thousand pounds, which is. Oh, well, people pay to do this. The Lee flash stuff was very, very basic. Because that's what we could do. I mean, there's a lot of the stuff about the style of that stuff, which is very of its time, isn't it? But will people maybe don't realize now is that it had to look that way because we were working with very, very restrictive bandwidths people were still on dialup collections unite on. There was a real limit to the amount of information you could get down the point. So we had to do it in the most condominum away to get it to work on the internet. This was the heyday of flash animation, when creative people were making very simple but often hilarious cartoons in games and sharing them in online communities. Julia's friends also messed around a lot with Photoshop for one of his creations. He started with a picture of tar sear, which is a small primate. With big is that lives in southeast Asia? Then, like a digital Dr Frankenstein, he made a composite image by adding is teeth and accessories. From other pictures I was making on the most with by taste in hats. The tell she has a pretty good pretty. Good candidates for that. He called them, Spang monkeys, and a couple of days after my them I went for few drinks with my brother. He will do a lot of songs with we came back to my place and just put it as she recruited on video camera, put the video camera will end. He was playing the guitar unawed just improvise the woods by looking at things around the room, really. Mortensen. No in the morning, you'd look back at what you go, and it was pretty dire. But that one I was still really funny on usually. So I'd I put this spoke monkeys on animation to them. And that's say, I'm not put it out and it was done in a day. I wasn't released petites. Do anything. I was up late one night. It's one of the things where you're just like cruising, the internet looking around this is tight Harper in the early two thousands. He was an art director at the Martin agency and advertising firm in Richmond, Virginia. Tie had stumbled across gills music video. We like the moon, the spun monkeys wearing their signature old-timey hats were bouncing around in front of a still image of a garden with purple hydrangea bushes and a stone bench. And I was like, there's so much wrong with his video, but I can't stop laughing. So I marked it is, like one of the things you drag deciding, like okay upkeeping that for something I have no clue what it is. But I'm gonna I'm just gonna make sure I have access to that tie would get his shot to use the spelling monkeys in two thousand and three when the Martin agency got the chance to compete for the quiz knows account Kerry. Fewer men was creative director at the Martin agency. They understood their target audience quite clearly in this case. And what made the work show. Interesting is their target audience, primarily was a guys eighteen to twenty four years old. And as an agency, and you love that target audience because their irreverent, I mean, they do stupid stuff, jump off balconies into swimming pools. I mean there guys at the Martin agency, different creative teams got to work tie was paired up with copywriter, Raymond McKinney, and immediately thought of the spun monkeys, and we like the moon, I pulled it back up, and I showed it to my partner to Raymond, and I was like, what about these guys, the other ugly, I get all that, but they're such unbridled joy in that song? We love the moon and he just kind of spells it out why they love it in just basic plain English, and it made them a door to us. So Raymond was like hell. Yeah, we're gonna we're gonna try that. So we, we wrote one, we the original, we love the subs. And we had our creative director, we said, hey. Do we want to have a meeting? We think we might have some and they handed me a laptop, and they said, we want you to take a look at Trump Tower and they pushed play. And there were these weirdest damn characters I've ever seen in my life. Singing a song called. We loved the moon. I like to think that I've got an open mind as a creative guy when I saw these things, I have to say my head started to explode thinking Tien Raymond what the hell are you guys thinking? He took his glasses off and he rubbed the bridge of his nose and he put his glasses back on. I was like, oh, we're dead. You know, basically said to them look ok. Well, put it on the wall. That's what we say in the business, put it on the wall. In other words, tended up there and then keep working as in keep working on new ideas while they tended on the wall. But when I came back to days later, they had kept working, but only on the spunk monkeys. We just sat in a little dark room and just kept writing more songs. They blew it out. They. Turned it into we loved the subs. And they did TV spots and outdoor boards and digital and they just believed in the idea so strongly that when I sat down and looked at the wall with everything that done. I was convinced that this stuff is, is frigging. Awesome Sydney were able to get carry on board. Now, the hard part was going to be convincing quiz knows, we're thinking you know how the hell do we sell this? It's one thing to sell your creative director, it's another thing to sell business people. But we did we took the video, we loaned the Mon and we went to the campus of Virginia. Commonwealth university, and we found our target audience guys walking across campus. And we said, hey, will you take a look at something? So we handed them a laptop, we handed them headphones and we pushed play and we simply video the guys watching this crazy characters. Singing, we loved them. Oh. And they started laughing their asses off and they started saying this is fucking awesome. I love these guys fast forward to the presentation. We're now there with the client, you know, our count guys miss strategy guys did all of their work, and I said, okay, actually before my show you the campaign. Let's take a look at something I hit the button, and on came the video, no explanation. Just the video of these guys back to back, I after guy after guy, laughing their asses off saying things are awesome. You know, I don't know what they aren't that I fucking labrum clients had no idea. What the guys were looking at you. Can't watch a whole bunch of people laugh and not have it affect you. So they started smiling, but they were curious, you know, at the end they were willing to see something that's what you do when you're a presenter, you have to get your audience to want to buy the work before you even show it to them. You need to create infestation. So when it ended, I turned to the clients in the room and I said, one of those guys looking at I said, oh, I know you're next campaign, and then I push play one more time. So the clients could see the characters singing we love the Mon, and then we showed them how we could turn those counters who clearly their audience loved into a campaign where they were now thinking we love to SOPs. They were shell shocked. I will say that to their credit though. They recognized they were not the people that needed to be persuaded that it was young guys, a couple of days later, we received a phone call saying, not only do we wanna hire you guys. But we want prove produce that entire campaign. I mean you could you could have just knocked us over evening. We had to swing for the. We had to take a big risk a big chance, but even by our standards. The spun monkeys were out there. I mean way out there Kerry came in said, they're gonna do they want to do this, and then it was the question was how, so I had hurry up and find, like, you know, Joel site rather good dot com and simply sent an Email, that was like, please read this, it's not from some crazy fan, or somebody who thinks you're sick or whatever. And I find who I was and what the idea was and begged him what you would you be interested, would you please interested? And he almost wrote back it was like almost immediately. He was like, yeah, I'm really interested, a thing, if you making stuff yourself it has to be about making something that you, you'll still find funny. All if his comedy will ever made him, you're bidders, Blinn auto literature or any creative endeavor. It has to be something that you feel driven to Mike, right? Like it has to be for agents have one in that audience has to be yourself on that is the way you might truly interesting things. This massive difference between somebody citing a of this thing. You might can you do something like that for us, whether the creative powers with you. Pitching for job, people do, sometimes ask 'cause I've got an animation project, that needs doing, but it's a very sensible one, when that happens, a I'm trying to be quite honest, and say, on probably not the best person to do that, if he won't swish graphics. I've is something on just not the rowing going to do that. If I try and on Mike, terrible massive, it'll be horrible, of course, in this case, the Martin agency in quiz knows weren't remotely interested in slick graphics, or anything sensible. They wanted Joel's. Falsetto Spang monkeys with their bad teeth and old-fashioned. Hats to sing the praises of quiz. No subs. And joel. Meanwhile was in London working on other things, I was having annoyed mayor that, that point would wise because I was doing a TV show here, which was like, really quite a big deal to in into the amount of work ahead today. The production office was in a bison. And there was no fun reception on my fighting wasn't ringing, and they were trying to call me. In the end, I had to take some time off five at Christmas, and spend that time off doing this. The Martin agency, flew Joel his brother ale to Richmond Virginia to record the ads. He's just a great guy and he was seemed to me. He was thrilled to be here is we were to have him. It was really collaborative like we had to record sometimes like some of the song Feick eight nine ten times in a row just to get the speed up right? Yeah. Can you do it faster? Joel. He was so accommodating, he did not give up. There's one of the songs about with a says they have a paper and it was Joe with his voice basically beat as by the time he got to that his voice kind of gave out and bought him out. And I think that's what Raymond is just laughed. It was like most people would be like, all right. Let's try it again. And we were like now that one stays in. It's it's too funny. Yeah, it's a horrendous voice to recruiting 'cause it mode as you throw it like really to do it for few minutes. But to do it for luck. As is. But yeah, lots of fun. Wiz knows new Santa Fe trio selves with smoking, I defy LA for a couple of days because there was this one cinematographer, a DP director photography that quiz knows trusted with their food, and he had the oven in everything like to, to film, the subs. So we went out there. We're out there and shot that part of the subs coming out of the oven. I remember looking at a monitor and marking it up with a marker on the screen go on. Okay. One monkey here and one monkey will be here, and then composite altogether after it with Joel song, his animation, and the monkeys and stuff. And that was that it was really it was quick and fairly painless and in February of two thousand and four. The ads debuted in American television. There were a few different spots one where the spunky sang about we love the subs one where they sang about a coupon and one where they wore Viking hats and saying about how it would be barb barrack to eat a non toasted sub. Right now, we were told when it was going to run. So it's like may was on the right channel when I thought Ron. And I think that's when I finally believed that it was real. 'cause you keep waiting on something, especially like this, you keep waiting for some grownup somewhere to go. Okay. We're not running this who approved this, you're all fired. And but, you know, there was right there on my TV and my living room. So I was like, well shit. It worked within a j buzz was happening. I mean you know, there's still cliche in the industry. We want to create buzz, you can't mandate that we are getting calls from media outlets like you wouldn't believe this was covered by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, we were on VH one. We were on ESPN coal pizza. We flew to New York and Ron TV the interviewed us. This was covered by at age and weak. Creativity magazine which is a big industry magazine. Covered it in, in the in the creative director who, who, who reviewed. It said something very interesting on the surface. This just seems like a bunch of crazy, maybe gross creatures, you know, being funny, but he says you look at this work. This campaign is brilliant, retail advertising, the clients store name. The logo is ominous green the entire time characters. They're not just singing funny song. They're singing about the sub, and that they're toasted, and they then show the toaster, and the sandwiches going through the toaster. And then they're talking about the price of the sandwiches. This is brilliant a story in the Denver post from that time. So quiz knows got thirty thousand emails and phone calls in the first month of the campaign, launching the spun monkeys managed to spark a national conversation. Meanwhile, back in London were Jill. Have return to work. The ads were in airing at all. It was a really strange time because I was still in this basement, working crazy. I was on this on this show. An everyone around me was slightly know about me, having taken time off to go and do this thing. And I think everyone was kind of like, didn't really won't be to bang on about two months. They just wanted me to get when we was used to be doing that on my fine wasn't ringing, because we're in the basement and this production kept having to nip upstairs and they'd be like, because it caused a real Rory. Everybody wanting to talk to me. I killed my website is well, my website immediately exploded. I was discount of underground Wade's divisive celebrity briefly. Yeah. No, I loved every moment of it is wonderful. However, not everyone was as excited about the ads as Joel on the folks at the Martin agency. We were given a heads up that that some people were complaining, and we kind of laughed about it and said, they'll get over it. But I guess they didn't. Look, it's a polarizing campaign, and it's very edgy campaign. I would say if we made a mistake with the campaign, it was we ran it on general media at the time. You know, there were spike TV MTV VH one. All of those, it should have probably been exclusively on those channels. But I do think that some of the, the notoriety was because it ran in mainstream media that it horrified whole bunch of people who were middle aged. And that's what got tournaments gauze. I think all young people like the notion of rebellion and these characters were rebellious characters in the fact that we are willing to take it out, and put it right out in the middle of middle America landscape was part of the rebellion was fun is so nice like a consent tissue. Right. If you're doing something completely mental and you're putting it on the internet people in that medium have control over what they say. And so if someone shows you that because they usually they think you'll like it will you've gone there because you such doubt this kind of nonsense. But if you put something mental, the talian beaming into everyone's homes, especially an ad because it's not even the thing that they're there to watch. Everyone's like, yeah, you'll, you'll fool senior on in a slightly consent. You why? Not hadn't thought about until until that point. Quiz knows eventually dropped the Martin agency, but his carry explains it wasn't all because of the blowback from the spring monkeys campaign. The company was becoming more corporate. They had hired someone who came in from the more Nain stream fast food sectors. And they were much more conservative people in the people who actually bought the original work. So. No, we weren't. We weren't fired a. We did another campaign. It was a typical show, the sandwiches the entire time nothing. Interesting. It was all beauty shots of food classic category advertising, which was remarkably uninteresting. And I'm sorry. They just sorta got what they deserved the conservative people didn't realize the DNA of this company. Quiz knows and quiz knows has. Well, certainly not, not not not doing a brand that it wants was. Let's, let's say that quiz news is really interesting story. This is Mark Lohman chief brand officer for the Rigo restaurant group groom airport volume includes quiz knows and talk with Omar. We love working with brands that maybe aren't having their best day right now. But we love working with them to bring them back into help, turn them around based on what consumers want Mike Lohman started his job in February. His company, Rigo is backed by a private equity firm that specializes in turnarounds of consumer brands that should give you an idea of how quiz knows has fared in the period, since the spun monkeys add ownership changed hands from one private equity firm to another the company got sued by its own franchisees, it filed for bankruptcy. And in went from forty seven hundred US locations to four hundred and ten years. If you look at what made quiz. No successful. It really comes down to a few things. We built our foundation on having. Fantastic, high quality food that tastes great. We also build our foundation originally on innovation and coming out with new products and new ideas that other brands didn't have and at the time that they weren't willing to try. And then if you look at history, I what happened to quiz knows has happened to a number of brands, and that is we lost our way we started to stray from that north star. And a lot of that happened during the economic downturn. And when you stray from north star, and you move away from who you are, and what consumers want from you. It's no surprise when challenges head your way. Krizner's is still going after a young male demographic. But the media landscape is much different than it was in two thousand and four windchill Vitas spun monkeys were introduced to the world. It was before you to before Instagram before Netflix streaming and cord cutting before Twitter and brands getting into fights on Twitter. Mark Lohman says quiz knows is considering opportunities like twitch, the live streaming platform for gamers. National television campaigns in the near term probably aren't the best fit for us. But there are new tactics new channels coming out like twitch and other ways that, that really do seem to be reaching guests and reaching them in a way that we haven't been able to reach them before twitch has incredibly high engagement within certain demographics and psycho graphics. And I would say that, that many of those many of those consumers are a good fit for what we're designing for everybody talks about it, and the terms of wealth, social media's taken older, everything. But I can promise you, when you go to pitch a client, these days, still the first words out of their mouth are basically show me the TV, and you can call a TV or not TV, but at the end of the day, it's still a commercial of sorts. And so it runs as a pre roll, you know, where, you know, the parts of when you go to a website, and they said, you know, you can skip this ad. Well, that's still a commercial playing in if it's not interesting is just. Beauty shots of food. They are going to skip it. But when those characters come on, and sing we love the sobs, you know, I'm sorry in this day and age people would continue watching it. I, I still believe so you know if ever there was a time for creativity and film content that looks like commercials or or whatever it's now because since consumers are in control of not only wear when in how they'll interact with your advertising. They're in control of F L even be bothered to interact with your advertising, which means it better be damn interesting and entertaining. So to me, the spun monkeys would explode in today's a social media age. So if that's how the media landscape looks for people in marketing and advertising. What does it look like for people like Jovic who are still making weird stuff for themselves? It was. Bit the world west back in the Nevada thousands, the internet was very open. An it really just depended on. We'll people sending it to each other. And that was all matted and then Google cleverer than YouTube came along, and then Facebook, it will become beholden to. These huge multinational corporations on their invisible, algorithms all of which were designed to maximize revenue full said corporations on it changed the game enormously, a lot of the people from Mike coho who make animations. Have really struggled over the last few years, because if you if you will dependent on YouTube, which is will a loss of creative than animation is a real problem because animation is hard time conceiving inexpensive to Mike. It is a medium, which if you will spending ages in a fourteen on Mike, two minutes of ready, high quality stuff. But the algorithm is rewarding somebody who's sitting looking camera to king about full Naito Mike up a half an hour, which they can just do in real time this, there's no way of really making that viable when that sustain, but is a shame. I have a different outlook on life. Now in a number of ways unsought, always spent my early years bouncing from chill thing thing on. That's great. When you're younger on you don't have to worry about United feeding kids and stuff. But you know, I'm a bit older now and not have to leave a little bit more responsible anew. So at spent years doing very useful things I wanted to concentrate more on bigger moa, losting stuff. It seems fitting them in the afterlife, of the super weird commercial. That a couple of animated singing creatures that Joel in his brother created on a whim would end up burrowing so far into the American cultural consciousness. I look at is one of the mini successful brand campaigns over the last ten or twenty years and really helped drive consumers to the quiz knows brand. It was something that wanna came on TV you noticed because it was a little bit different. Is it was a little bit odd in a very, very good way. And because of that people remembered it and took action, visit quiz knows they wanted to see what, what all the buzz was about. And when we talked to guests and consumers today, we get a lot of feedback about the, the campaign, still my wife's family owned a quiz knows before that predating the ads. So we were like familiar cuisines. Anyway, in kind liked it. I'm like very into sandwiches again. This is Jonas at basecamp. So, yeah, we would go and get the sandwiches, and I remember. Yeah, I was like, more into quiz, those after that thinking like, oh, this is a company that something's going on there, like, I don't know what's going on. But I like what they're up to my wife and I kind of had. A running gag about it. And we would go around sort of quoting the song in the like offensive off key voice, and be like I got pepper like we go around and do that. Now train creative people and recount, people strategy people around the country of agencies on how to present himself creative work in the workshops that I do the only piece of creative work that I show because people want to know how I sold it while we sold it as an agency is the quiz knows work. And now many of the people that I'm doing my workshop or now twenty five twenty seven years old. You know, thirty years old, and, you know, they were fifteen twelve fourteen years old when the quiz knows campaign came out. And when I play it, they all start laughing. They start reminiscent of remembering seeing these characters, and it's the campaign that keeps on giving. When you're able to do that, it never leaves them, and they remember to this day. I mean they're still on my website, and they're that old format. It was before, like TV's got, like everybody had wide screen or whatever. So they're in that old format, but I'll be damned. I'm not giving them up. I love those little fuckers. Rework is produced by Sean hill, Nour, n me Waylon Wong theme music is broken by design by clip bar special. Thanks to Jim burns and Meredith Turk for their help with this episode. You can find jill's work at rather. Good dot com. We'll link to his site and all the videos mentioned in this episode in the show notes, which you can always find at rework dot FM. Quiz knows had been very good. Advertiser, they hadn agency cliff, Freman, importers, which still is in my opinion. One of the greatest agencies of all time, particularly in the area of retail food advertising. I mean I mean, they did all the Little Caesars stuff back in the nineties in two thousand which was excellent. But pizza pizza, exactly.