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Ray Mithun marketing ideas now more true than ever

Ray Mithun is a legend in the Minneapolis ad business, but it took the Internet to show just how far-seeing he was — and to point the agency he founded in a new direction.

Ray Mithun is a legend in the Minneapolis ad business, but it took the Internet to show just how far-seeing he was — and to point the agency he founded in a new direction.

Ray Mithun
Ray Mithun

Mithun, who co-founded Campbell-Mithun in 1933, coined the phrase “Everything Talks.” Mithun’s insight was that advertising alone couldn’t move consumers. The price, the display, the packaging — everything about a product sends a message. He urged his staff to work with clients on all aspects of their products, not just on ads.

Campbell-Mithun has taken its founder’s advice and adapted it for the digital age. Its newly redesigned website uses “Everything Talks” as the unifying theme for all aspects of its business.

Long the Twin Cities’ largest agency, C-M has been hit hard recently by the loss of several large clients and a drop in revenue — reported by the trade magazine Advertising Age as being down about 25 percent in 2009, although agency officials say it’s less than that.

Owned by the giant holding company Interpublic Group, C-M also was hampered over the last decade by a corporate strategy dictated from above that split traditional and digital advertising into separate shops, effectively keeping Campbell-Mithun in a box defined by print and broadcast.

Now freed from those shackles, the agency is moving aggressively into digital marketing with several high-profile campaigns and a new leader from the hottest agency in the advertising business.

Chris Wexler joined Campbell-Mithun last year from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, widely acclaimed as the top creative shop in the industry. Wexler acknowledged that he wasn’t eager at first to join the Minneapolis giant.

“My first thought was, why would I go there? They don’t do digital,” he said. “Then, as I talked to them, I realized that they want to do digital. They have the hunger — they’ve just been held back.”

Campaign for Chipotle
Wexler’s digital crew has launched several notable efforts, including an attention-getting campaign for Chipotle restaurants. Earlier this year, Chipotle bought out every ad spot over the lunch hour on more than 30 websites, ranging from to newspapers in Texas. The idea: enjoy a junk-free hour of browsing courtesy of Chipotle, which serves junk-free food. Research showed the campaign increased awareness of Chipotle’s “food with integrity” messaging by 20 percent.

Chris Wexler
Chris Wexler

For the Freschetta brand of Minnesota-based Schwan’s, Campbell-Mithun linked messaging to the weather. If rain or snow was predicted, or the weather was going to be 10 degrees colder than usual, consumers on entertainment websites saw a message urging them to stay home with a Freschetta pizza and a movie. Web tools sniffed out where the browsers lived and placed the message accordingly.

“It worked great, except we did it during the East Coast ‘snownami’ — there was so much snow that people couldn’t get to the grocery store,” Wexler said with a laugh. “So we realized we had to put a cap on the amount of snow.”

Even referring to “digital” is misleading, Wexler said, since digital is increasingly part of everything we do.

“Media is getting more connected. Television is getting more interactive; there are links between digital and print,” he said. “So a digital breakdown is a little false in that sense. Everything is going to be a little bit digital.”

Everything Talks — true in Ray Mithun’s day, now more true than ever.