MOXIE MEETS AMAZON
By Emily Hancock
Sound like art? Classical music? Couture clothing? A gourmet meal?
In a way it's all those things.
It's AMAZON, a San Francisco ad agency that capitalizes on women's strengths. It's the lost art of business as self-expression.
Meet Millie Olson and Lynda Person. Both tall. Both Amazons. Moved here from Chicago 15 years ago. Gathered steam at Ketchum Advertising where they were creative directors. Began to feel like hand-maidens to their bosses, burying their expertise in teamwork. Realized they could power their own agency -- better than the legion ad agencies run by men. Because "women know things."
Among other things Lynda and Millie know is how to design ads that connect with women -- who make 70 - 80% of the purchasing decisions in this country. They think of them as more than "targets." And they think they want something other than "bulls-eye" marketing.
"We do not go to war against consumers, assailing them with 'strategies,' 'tactics,' 'launches' and 'executions,' " they tell me, their voices in concert. "We find our ideas through 'emotional archeology,' digging through layers of stereotypes, assumptions, rationalizations and hip conceits until we see the bones of real emotions. Real truths. The secrets no one talks about out loud, but Amazons understand."
One secret these amazons understand is the power of women's sensuality. Take their brilliant bus-shelter ad for Harley Davidson bikes. The image, blurred with speed. The text, simply "It vibrates."
"It implies a little danger," Lynda beams. "There is something about getting on a Harley that makes women choose their men. Certain things say 'You're in control.'"
Yet these renegades have no feminist axe to grind. Both have husbands. (And both drive Mazdas). They just think there's more to advertising than information. When the two of them cook up an ad, they serve the whole enchilada, and throw in a garnish to boot. "Every ad should give people something for free," Lynda muses. "Something extra they can take with them, a message that isn't about whether or not to buy shampoo."
Lynda and Millie are mindful about the impact media messages have on women. They learned from a conference on gender and marketing that girls identify with air-brushed commercial images, striving to be like them. "Boys see them as something different from themselves," Millie reports. "They utterly dismiss them."
AMAZON's angle? Treat women as subjects rather than objects of advertising. Obliterate the male gaze. Seize the chance to show the many different aspects of female beauty. Trumpet women's strengths.
"Before we started AMAZON, we muted our voices and trained ourselves to write and think like men -- to our own detriment," Lynda reflects, as she pushes up an arm bracelet that looks like a shield.
"In writing, in art, personal expression is what people want. Women are taught to hide that, to fit the mold, to be chameleons. But people want to see who you are, what you're about. This agency is our personal vision. That's what really excites them. That's what we can give them -- who we are!"
Spurred on by such female sensibilities, Millie and Lynda conspire to get the point across with unique images. As in a concerto, the subordinate elements in their work play against the more dominant themes.
A spot they did on earthquake preparedness for the Red Cross, for example, features a rather large transvestite in a blue chiffon dress, putting his earthquake supplies in a closet. They did not choose him for shock value but rather to touch on the essence of the agency. "It's really about Bay Area diversity," explains Millie. "The doors of the Red Cross are open to everyone. That's their message. The character comes out of an approach that is new in the world. A conventional ad shop run by guys would be so threatened by the idea, the image wouldn't even cross their radar screen.
"But we say, Let's go out and do something wild!" she laughs. Indeed, after hours, AMAZON's answering machine reports that they are "out hunting."
Imbued with adventure, this duo has made of their business a fine art.
Welcome AMAZON. The world of commerce needs you. Businesses need you. Magazines
need you. MOXIE's readers need you. We are glad that you have arrived.
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