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Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin (Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)

Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin

(Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)

The Lunch

Motherhood or career? A dynamic duo’s case that women can do both Add to ...

Darling, they did do both: moments from Vonk and Kestin’s career

They received a scolding from David Ogilvy himself.

The legendary ad man and founder of the eponymous agency got wind of Ms. Vonk and Ms. Kestin’s idea for their client, Dove. And he was not impressed. It was the early ‘90s and the pair had been inspired by a visit to the parent company’s labs, where they had learned that the soap was milder because it was pH neutral. Others had high alkalinity and were harsher, they were told. If you do an experiment – just like in high school science class – with litmus paper, all the other soaps would turn it blue and the Dove bar wouldn’t do a thing. It was a totally different idea for the brand: no shots of women with perfect skin, no emphasis on the soap being “one-quarter moisturizing cream.” Just a reminder to intelligent women that they might not want to use the same rough ingredients on their faces that they use on their kitchen counters.

Mr. Ogilvy conveyed his disdain in a letter: “Science won’t sell.”

He was wrong, and Dove’s competitors took a major beating.

Ms. Vonk and Ms. Kestin would also later oversee the creation of Dove’s ad, “Evolution,” which showed the manipulation of beauty perceptions through a time-lapse video of a model being made up, photographed and Photoshopped beyond recognition.

Their awards toppled a table – literally.

At Marketing magazine’s awards in 1997, they won a bundle for their campaign for Timex’s Indiglo watches. The ads had run during the Summer Olympics in Atlanta the previous year. They showed only the blue dot from the watch’s light-up screen, shining through total darkness. The dot moved in little swings like it would on a runner’s wrist, or in an arc capped off with a twirl like it would if worn by a diver. The sound effects told the tale. (The concept was also used in print with a time-lapse design for the movement of the dot.)

The highly creative campaign would go on to win at shows around the world as well, including the advertising awards in Cannes. At this show in Canada, theirs were piled on one side of a table and were heavy enough to throw off its balance.

But it’s not just a good anecdote: This was also a big career moment for the team. After years of saying no to promotions, they decided to say yes. Ogilvy creative director Steve Landsberg was leaving and told them to “take his job, please.”

“Our kids were young. We were really, really happy in our jobs. We didn’t feel like we needed anything to change,” Ms. Kestin says.

They helped create and vigorously advertise a fake product.

Their client, Kraft, was desperate. Sales of its Shreddies cereal were in decline. An intern had an idea he almost did not show them because he thought it was too stupid: Diamond Shreddies. It was a joke about reinvigorating the brand, which showed that Kraft had a sense of humour and ended up reinvigorating the brand.

Some people didn’t get that it was a joke, and were infuriated that Kraft was trying to pull a fast one. Others complained that they had bought the product but the squares and diamonds were mixed up in the box. (Shreddies launched another ad airing these complaints and offering, in compensation, the chance to try a “combo pack.”)

“Of many favourites, it’s probably my favourite campaign I was ever part of,” Ms. Vonk says. “... It literally rocked Kraft’s world. It was so successful.”

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Ms. Vonk and Ms. Kestin are out of the advertising game now. Their company, Swim, consults with individuals and businesses to teach them leadership skills. But they still judge ad competitions, and keep an eye on interesting work. Here’s what has caught their attention lately.

New Zealand Transport Agency: “Mistakes”

This ad targets an unusual group for a safety campaign: people who are good drivers, but who tend to go a little too fast.

On a quiet country road, a father pulls out to make a turn, cutting it too close with an oncoming car. The other car is going too fast and does not have time to stop. The action freezes at the moment when the two men realize what’s happening. In shock, they open their doors to meet each other on the road. The father apologizes for his mistake; the other man regretfully tells him that if he were going slower he could change things. The father begs for help, for himself and his son in the back seat. The stricken driver says he’s sorry and they both return to their vehicles to meet their fate.

Ms. Kestin is a little emotional just describing the ad.

“Just when you think you couldn’t find a new idea to talk about speeding,” she says. “It’s a totally new way of thinking about it. It just blew my mind.”

La société de l’assurance automobile du Québec: “Texto 2013”

Another road safety message, this one from the consistently creative Quebec agency lg2, tackled texting and driving. Unlike other campaigns showing graphic crashes, however, the agency decided to communicate a simple idea: get people used to waiting for your response. In conversation, people are shown greeting others’ questions with uncomfortable silence before giving an answer. Awkward in person, sure, but totally acceptable over text message – and necessary when driving.

“They take an angle I’ve never heard before,” Ms. Vonk says. “The simple insight is, ‘Is it going to kill you to wait 10 minutes?’”

Watch the videos: Texto 2013 television campaign

Google+: “Hangouts - same sex marriage”

Both Ms. Vonk and Ms. Kestin are happy to see a trend toward more emotional storytelling in ads; a welcome break from the constant battle to have the most clever one-liner, they say.

Google did an exemplary job with a video about gay couples in France, where at the time same-sex marriage was not legal. It showed couples using Google’s video-messaging “hangouts” to reach a mayor in Belgium who agreed to officiate their marriages, and had the power to do so where he was.

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