Commercials director Joe Pytka and Wieden + Kennedy’s John C. Jay join ADC Hall of Fame

The Art Directors Club in the US has been electing Hall of Fame entrants since 1971 (past members include Saul Bass, Leo Burnett, Andy Warhol and Walt Disney, no less) and this year it’s chosen five new ones including celebrated commercials director Joe Pytka (pictured) and Wieden + Kennedy’s global ECD John C. Jay.

The others are editorial art director and designer Ruth Ansel of Harper’s, Vanity Fair and Vogue fame, the New York Museum of Modern Art curator of architecture and design Paola Antonelli and painter and illustrator Marshall Arisman.

Pytka has made over 5,000 commercials plus numerous documentaries and the hit film Space Jam.

He began his career at WRS Motion Picture and Video Lab in Pittsburgh, where he trained in editing, shooting, and recording techniques for the fledgling Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) in the 1960s and 70s. He then started shooting shows for WQED and working on documentaries including one on air pollution narrated by Orson Welles and a forerunner to music videos called High Flying Bird, featuring Steve McQueen in a four-wheel-drive truck traveling Mexican landscapes.  Soon, he began shooting commercials to finance the documentaries. 

Pytka says “I had done these documentaries that were fairly emotional, but which I had to manipulate to get my point across. I wanted to get to that point in my commercial work, working with real people in real situations. At the time, no one was doing it, other commercials were real theatrical.  For a few years in Pittsburgh, I was doing these commercials for a local brewery where we’d go somewhere with real people – and they were very successful.”

Pytka’s gritty style had a huge impact across the advertising world, rudely interrupting the dominance then enjoyed by British commercial directors with their approach based on either humour or extravagant film set-ups.
He has won numerous awards and nominations including three Directors Guild of America Commercial Direction Awards and 15 nominations, the most for that category. Over the past three decades his his commercials for clients such as Budweiser, Pepsi, McDonald’s and NFL have aired more than 30 times during the Super Bowl.

His work includes Madonna’s infamous Pepsi commercial, “Make a Wish,” which was subsequently pulled after a fuss over a Madonna music video, a frying egg demonstrating “This is your brain on drugs”; Ray Charles’ “Uh-huh” for Pepsi; an archaeology dig discovering a Coke bottle for Pepsi; Larry Bird and Michael Jordan doing “Nothing but Net” for McDonald’s; Bo Jackson’s “Bo knows” for Nike; chimpanzees yelling out famous movie lines, like, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” for HBO, and Ed and Frank of Bartles & James saying,  “thank you for your support.” 

There’s a husband and wife in bed whispering sweet nothings in Donald Duck voices for Disney, Cindy Crawford’s famous Pepsi commercial, a public service announcement promoting child hunger-awareness, “Ketchup Soup,” and following 9/11, his New York City Miracle spots featuring Woody Allen ice skating and Henry Kissinger sliding into home plate at Yankee Stadium.

Here’s Madonna for Pepsi.

She was paid $5m for this apparently but she was so good then she was almost worth it.

And Michael Jordan and Larry Bird for McDonald’s.

As a filmmaker, Pytka directed Let It Ride starring Richard Dreyfuss, and the hit Space Jam with Jordan and Bugs Bunny.  He’s also made music videos such as The Beatles “Free as a Bird”, John Lennon’s “Starting Over”, Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diane” and “The Way You Make Me Feel”.

Global executive creative director and a partner at Wieden+Kennedy John Jay works with agency founder Dan Wieden overseeing all global creative work with a particular focus in recent years on the agency’s Tokyo, Shanghai and New Delhi offices. Jay is of Asian descent and supports a number of initiatives aimed at bringing young Asians into creative industries.

He joined W+K in 1993, initially to use his design skills on foundation client Nike. In 2004, he founded W+K Tokyo Lab, the independent DVD music label that has launched more than a dozen albums and a mobile technology distribution product.

Jay also operates Studio J in Portland’s old Chinatown, a consultancy which creates new lifestyle products and concepts including a new restaurant Ping.

Prior to Wieden+Kennedy, he was both creative director and marketing director for Bloomingdale’s in New York. Here are his famous top ten tips for aspiring designers.

1: Be authentic. The most powerful asset you have is your individuality, what makes you unique. It’s time to stop listening to others on what you should do. 2: Work harder than anyone else and you will always benefit from the effort. 3: Get off the computer and connect with real people and culture. Life is visceral. 4: Constantly improve your craft. Make things with your hands. Innovation in thinking is not enough. 5: Travel as much as you can. It is a humbling and inspiring experience to learn just how much you don’t know. 6: Being original is still king, especially in this tech-driven, group-grope world. 7: Try not to work for stupid people or you’ll soon become one of them. 8: Instinct and intuition are all-powerful. Learn to trust them. 9: The Golden Rule actually works. Do good. 10: If all else fails, No. 2 is the greatest competitive advantage of any career.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.