David T. Jones is a Chicagoan. He makes ads, he draws cartoons, and he started his own ad agency with two friends from Indiana University. Many of us already have an inkling about his perspective on the business thanks to his Ad Land cartoons. In this interview, we learn more about the man and the maker, and how he became Chief Creative Officer at Third Street.
Q. When did you begin drawing advertising comics? Is your comic strip syndicated?
A. I’d drawn a cartoon strip in high school and college, featuring a rascally rabbit named Emerson. Those terrible little cartoons were even a part of my spec ad portfolio I was pitching to get my first advertising job. Many years later, I got back into doodling and created Ad Land in 2003 that ran in Adweek magazine for 5 years. Then I drew it for the Yahoo! Ad Blog for another 2 years. Since then, it pops up from time to time, including, right here on Adpulp. It’s not syndicated – heck, it’s barely tolerated.
Q. Are you a collector of comic books? If so, what’s the best work in your collection?
A. I’m not one of those comic book connoisseurs and I can’t hold a candle to anything even close to what the amazing graphic novel artists do. But I do appreciate the art form. I’ve got a lot of 1st issue comics books piled away likely not increasing in value. I loved Mad Magazine, Krazy Kat, and of course, Peanuts. Of contemporary work, I adore my fellow Ad cartoonist Tom Fishburne and there is nobody on earth better than Chris Ware, I have some signed work of his.
Q. What factors led you to join the ad business originally? What was the main impetus?
A. It’s amazing – or possibly pathetic – but I wanted to be in advertising since I was a kid. At age 10 after a trip to King’s Island Amusement Park, I drew up little ads for the rides complete with ad copy (“If you only ride one roller coaster this year…”) I have always liked the idea of art for commerce sake.
Q. Why and how did you start your own agency?
A. I’d been at FCB Chicago for 15 years and was by all accounts happy and treated incredibly well. But for the first time during all those years, I had started to feel the very first tinge of burnout and worse boredom. And that’s no good for me or the agency. So, I did the thing that injected excitement back into my veins. I left a lucrative position at a huge agency and started making no money at all while working out of my basement. That’ll put some pep in your step!
But I also had two friends since college in different fields having the same epiphanies. So, we hung our shingle as Third Street (named after where we lived in college) and figured out what our business was going to be.
Q. Tell me about Chicago as a creative place? The city has a long history of innovative thinkers and doers. Who is driving or making culture in Chicago today?
A. Chicago’s creative spirit has always been about getting things done – and not listening to naysayers. Chicago may not always be the most cutting edge place in the world, but don’t ever tell the people of this city that they CAN’T do something. It is always innovation and creativity out of necessity. Out of opportunity. It’s a city of hustlers.
Q. When you hire someone new, what’s the one thing that you need to see in them?
A. Four things. Hunger, honesty, creativity, and humor. Third Street has been lucky to make some great hires right out of school who have stayed with us and grown into true leaders. We made our first hire, Phil Robinson before we had any clients. Not sure who was crazier, us to hire someone without any clients or him to take a job at an agency without any clients. But Phil has grown into a leader in the digital space and this year we are proud to have made Phil a Partner.
Q. Cubs or Sox?
A. Cubs. I have a set of retired Wrigley Field chairs in my back yard. To give you an idea of the era in which they served, someone had carved into the seat “Guns & Roses Rule”.
Q. What elements make for a great client?
A. A great client has respect for, and at the very least an understanding of, what good advertising can be. If they don’t know the difference between good and bad, then they’ll never appreciate what you do for them. A great client sees ideas as opportunities, not hassles.
Q. If you’re visiting Chicago and can only make it to one museum, which is one is the must-see museum?
A. There is a great Museum of Baseball at 1060 West Addison.
Q. What’s wrong with advertising today? Have we lost a lot of ground and respect?
A. There is nothing wrong with Advertising that Advertising can’t fix.
Q. You made a new typeface! Tell us more about Times Uncertain.
A. It was a fun and very cathartic little project. After hearing endless brands talk about “uncertain times” on repeat, it just started to sound like a font to me. So, I made it one. I just took Times New Roman and distressed it and made the kerning extra wide for social distancing. To match the feeling in the world we now live in, I only gave it exclamation points and question marks. We offer it for a free download on our site and while I originally expected it to be downloaded by approximately nobody, it’s actually gotten hundreds.
Q. What is an “Attention Agency”?
A. When we launched our shop, we knew for certain that the world certainly didn’t need another Ad Agency, so we called ourselves an “Attention Agency”. It goes back to the definition of advertising, which is “to call attention to something”. Sometimes it is something you recognize as an “ad” but other times, not. We handle social, influencers, naming, design, events, websites, internal communications, sales materials – we’ve even worked on a client’s hold music.
Q. For the benefit of our younger readers, what was it like before the Internet?
A. I’m far too young to know.
Q. What’s the best advertising-related film ever made?
Q. Is it important for an ad maker to have a side-project that they take seriously?
A. Well, I don’t believe in all this Hustle Porn going on, that if you aren’t ALSO doing seven other things besides your day job that you are somehow failing. But most people I know have a passion project or two. It’s good to keep your brain fresh and firing in a lot of different directions. It’s also nice to have an idea that you can take from notion to execution without all the layers. Things like the font and the cartoon are nice because they act as the antidote to all of the noise and hassle one might deal with all day.
Q. Will we ever need to make print advertising again?
A. I still love magazines. I subscribe to at least a dozen. And that is where I learn about a lot of new brands, products, artists, fashion, music, and content that I might then seek out digitally.
I almost habitually make a print ad for every single new campaign I create, whether it is in the brief or media plan or not because it is such an essential exercise to get everything you want to say on one page. A good print ad is a thing of beauty.
Q. Do you ever give an interview where you do not mention your incredibly lovely and successful wife, the Talent Agent Dawn Rao?
A. No, I do not. And yes, she is quite lovely.