Jamie King of Camp + King on Brand Control and the Art of Advertising [POV]

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



jamie-kingJamie King is the partner and CEO of Camp + King, an agency based in San Francisco.

Tell us a little about yourself. Describe your job, how long you've been doing it, and how you got into it.

I am the son of a nurse and salesman, so I care and I sell. I have been in advertising for 20 years — since I left college. My first job was at Leo Burnett (I fooled them into hiring me), where I served a 10-year stint. I began in the research department and left as EVP, Group Director. I was CEO of Hal Riney and President at Euro RSCG’s Chicago office, which is now Havas Worldwide Chicago. My job at Camp + King is to create an environment where interesting ideas can thrive: I try to foster and enable.

What differentiates Camp + King from other advertising firms?

Every agency has a unique model, a proprietary approach, or one-of-a-kind data source — including us. But regardless of what anyone says, this is a talent-driven business. At the end of the day, ideas come from people, and we have some of the best in the business and a culture that accommodates them. We have two women at our agency in senior-level jobs who have 15-plus years of experience. As moms, they wanted to spend more time at home, so we devised a way for them to share a job. This allows each to work part-time and Camp + King to retain key talent. Also, we play musical chairs to foster creativity. Employees aren’t seated by departments — they work in cross-functional pods: We’ll marry a digital strategist with a designer as a way to leverage various talents within our structure.


Why do brands need to invest more in cultivating conversations, not controlling them?

Because you can't control conversations. Brands can no longer interrupt their way into a conversation and expect a positive outcome — they must earn their way in by creating things that make people smile, laugh, and want to share with others. I think Samsung’s done a brilliant job of this. The campaign pokes Apple in the chest and follows up with a credible product offering. It’s funny and culturally resonant and creates a conversation. Sure, brands can bribe their way into a conversation with a killer offer, but that won’t have a lasting effect.

How does Camp + King define a successful campaign?

Multiple studies have proven that brands that create the most positive conversation grow faster than others in their category. We define a campaign's success by the amount of positive conversation it creates. If you look at Camp + King’s work for the dating site Zoosk, it’s generated a significant amount of conversation and "likes," particularly on YouTube, where more than one-third of total impressions (35%) were the result of others having shared a video. YouTube cold-called us after watching it blow up on their channel. They’re now a client.

Is advertising now more science than art?

When something is scientific, it suggests that a specific input will result in a predictable output, and advertising today — I should say successful, groundbreaking advertising — is nothing like that. It is true that we have more data and information than ever, but “predictable” and “interesting” make strange bedfellows. The brands succeeding today are more artful and smart than scientific.

What is one of you favorite campaigns your agency has worked on?

One of the campaigns coming out of Camp + King that I am really excited about is for a Hershey brand we handle: Scharffen-Berger.


The campaign is being launched in San Francisco, the home of Scharffen-Berger, on 50 digital outdoor boards across the city. The boards celebrate the "wonderfully complicated" makeup of the chocolate and the personalities of the people who love it with lines like “I am dark, spicy and mysterious.” It’s an homage to both the taste profile of the bars and the personalities of the people who eat them. The idea goes deeper by inviting people to take a selfie via Instagram and then upload their picture so it can be featured in the digital outdoor boards. It’s a fun idea that allows consumers to turn selfies into a starring role in an advertising campaign.

What trend in advertising are you most interested in?

I am fascinated by the amount of conversation, and editorial coverage, around the topic of earned impressions, while actual marketer behavior continues to demonstrate an overinvestment in paid impressions. At some point — and soon — marketers will spend more money on the creation of interesting content than on the paid distribution of it. That tipping point is what fascinates me.

Many brands still follow that classic 80/20 rule: 80% of your budget is dedicated to media and 20% to content. No one could argue today with the idea that an earned impression is more valuable than a paid impression, but brands need to create content that is interesting and relevant enough to get significant earned impressions. Clients need to invest more in the type, amount, and quality of the content, not just the distribution of it.

altoids-ad-madMust-read book:

I am a history buff, and the last book that I couldn't put down was "Empire of the Summer Moon" by S.C. Gwynne. It chronicles the rise and fall of the Comanche Indians. Currently, I am absorbed by the "Game of Thrones" tomes. I love Tyrion Lannister — he is such a complex and interesting character. You can’t help but pull for Tyrion.

Favorite ad:

I read Mad Magazine growing up, and now my 10-year-old son does. I showed him this Spy vs. Spy-themed Altoids ad that I worked on back when I was at Leo Burnett, and he loved it. It ran exclusively in Mad, and I think it’s timeless. It could, and should, run today. Mad Magazine is acceptably naughty, and the ad works because it’s simple: It references pop culture, but the product is still the hero. The ad winks at readers and respects their imagination for the action that’s about to happen.

Follow Camp + King on LinkedIn or Twitter @CampKingSF.

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