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Tom Carroll says the Toronto office of TBWA has always had an independent streak and tends to punch above its weight. (Neville Elder For the Globe and Mail)
Tom Carroll says the Toronto office of TBWA has always had an independent streak and tends to punch above its weight. (Neville Elder For the Globe and Mail)

at the top

A veteran adman with no fear of digital Add to ...

So it’s a geographical divide then?

That’s still in development. It will play itself out for a while.

The Absolut bottle series you created – which for many people is the entire identity of the brand – how does that evolve?

That campaign was in a lot of people’s rooms. It didn’t mean it made them buy vodka. Every great idea loses the ability to recruit, or drive purchase. ... Ad campaigns, you get to the point sometimes where they just lose their traction. That’s the trap of a great campaign. ... It’s a tricky thing with iconic ad campaigns. And there aren’t that many out there. ... But your brand needs to be stronger than a tagline or an image, or one expression.

A lot of agency networks are looking toward business opportunities in Asia, South America. Where do your priorities lie?

We’re growing like crazy in Asia and Latin America. In the U.S., we have slow growth but we’re growing a little bit. In Europe, you’ve got tons of challenges. ... But then you have what we refer to as the risers, some call it the next 11, just exploding for us. Indonesia, South Africa, Mexico – a lot of the BRICs. So you go where the growth is. But you certainly can’t ignore the U.S. It’s still 50 per cent of the ad market. We’re strong in Asia, Mexico, Brazil, we’re coming out in Argentina, Colombia. I like how strong we are in the world. China … it’s amazing the change there in 15 years. It’s a very confident, competitive, aggressive culture.

A lot of the innovations in marketing are coming out of Asia – China, South Korea. Do you feel your presence there helps you in seeing where advertising is headed?

Absolutely. You’re right at the heart of why we think we’re in good shape. We did this thing where we said, we’re not going to buy a digital company, and find “digital Jesus” to save our lives. ... We just told every market in the world, “build your own digital capability.” Everybody said, “No, buy AKQA, buy Razorfish, buy a digital company.” We said “No, figure it out yourself.”

We have unbelievable capabilities around the world. In Finland, because of Nokia and Angry Birds, they’re wicked into gaming and mobile. In L.A., they know social media better than anybody. In South Africa, it was e-commerce. ... Digital is not one thing. It’s 10 things. And no one office can be good at 10 things. That’s where a network is valuable. China has McDonald’s, they needed a promotion. So this Finnish kid said to the account director in Paris: “Let’s do a promotion with Angry Birds.” So he called up China, and China and Finland started working together. We just did the most successful promotion ever in China, with Angry Birds and mobile. What we’re finding is, we were right to make people do it on their own. … We rewired the place, and it’s working. Then we stole the president from AKQA, Stuart Sproule. And he came and he said, “Not only do you have all this stuff, you have ideas. Your ideas are driving everything – it’s not the technology, or the coding, you can buy that – it’s the ideas.”

How does Canada contribute to your network?

The Toronto office of TBWA has always had an independent streak; it has always has a much bigger presence than its size in the network. For instance, this year they did this virtual showroom for Nissan. It was super cool ... and five countries are adopting it. That’s a big deal, to create a technology that a client adopts in five countries around the world. They tend to punch above their weight.

Why?

Canada punches above its weight in everything – music, entertainment. It’s not surprising. Canada can be as big as they want, just create it. … They’ve always had that mentality.

TOM CARROLL

Title

President and chief executive officer, TBWA Worldwide (part of Omnicom Group Inc.),

New York.

 

Personal

Born in Schenectady, N.Y.,

in 1955.

Education

Bachelor of arts and associate in arts, University of Hartford, Connecticut.

Career highlights

1989: After working in accounts at Chiat/Day in New York and Los Angeles since 1983, co-founded Carroll Raj Stagliano, which later merged with another agency and became Weiss Whitten Carroll Stagliano Inc. The agency won clients including Citibank, Rossignol, and Guinness Import Co.

1999: After beating TBWA/Chiat/Day for the Universal Studios account, returned to the agency as president and chief executive officer of the L.A. office.

2004: Named vice-chairman of TBWA Worldwide.

2006: Becomes president; CEO the following year.

2009: Advertising Age names him executive of the year, calling him “an account guy in the oldest sense of the word – boozy, schmoozy and suity,” but also “ fit to run a relevant-as-it-gets global network.”

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