Made man’s patriotic mission: Dave Schiff on advertising with a purpose

In 2012, Dave Schiff started ad agency Made in a coffee shop in Boulder, Colorado with two friends. They had no money, no clients and no idea how to run a business. Just three years later Made has more than 40 employees with a client list including a host of internationally recognised brands. And this week, Schiff is in Auckland to speak at Project15 on modern disruption and cause-based advertising. 

Schiff had an unconventional start in advertising. His writing talent was recognised at Schwinn Cycles where he went from answering phones to working in the marketing team. Despite his efforts to avoid all responsibility, Schiff then climbed the ranks at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, helping to drive sales for clients like Mini Cooper, Molson and IKEA and then becoming creative director on Coke Zero, Coca-Cola’s most successful new product launch in 25 years. As vice president/executive creative director, he also steered Under Armour’s most effective new category launch to date, helping the brand gain an instant following in basketball, a sport where it had been a virtual unknown. 

Schiff’s epiphany to create a unique agency came while he listened to a public radio broadcast roughly a year before starting Made.

“The radio show was about the importance of manufacturing to the American economy. That sector has the biggest influence on job creation. For every dollar that is spent on an American-made product, an additional $1.40 is generated in the broader economy. The only thing I had ever ‘manufactured’ were ads, but I recognised my skill set could be applied to support manufacturing and the creation of American jobs.”

This mission, to support domestic industry, is at the core of Made’s ethos but it will never appear in a campaign tagline. 

“In the 1970s, American brands were saying, ‘Buy our stuff because it’s the right thing to do.’ But consumers just want the best product out there, regardless of where it comes from. That means Made still faces the same marketing challenges of any advertising agency: how to help brands lead the conversation in their respective product categories.”

In the past three years, Made has worked on national campaigns for clients including Harley Davidson, EtsyTGI Fridays, Churches Chicken and even Wal Mart. Schiff readily accepts that it’s a global economy, and not everything needs to be made in the US. But remaining true to its mission, Made has turned down business from a host of lucrative overseas clients in favour of local clients that return value to the economy. 

As it says on its website: “An ad agency that turns down an automotive account, a shoe account and a tequila account must be crazy. Made was created in 2012 with a simple mission to help create more American jobs. So today, we work with clients that make things here, grow things here or are committed to supporting a resurgence in American job creation, even if it means saying no to the kind of clients other agencies drool over. Crazy? Maybe. But like most crazy things, it feels really good.” 

The fast growing start-up also attracted Alex Bogusky to the cause initially and he fronted a campaign supported by Made called The Million Jobs Project, which, as the name suggests, shows how one million extra jobs could be created if Americans bought just five percent more US-made products each year. He has now moved on from Made and is mostly involved in other start-ups. 

During his career Schiff has always promoted disruption. He says that in the past this could be achieved through manipulation of either the media or the message. However, these days with the advent of digital and social media the possibilities for disruption are infinite. 

“We hung furniture from billboards, placed a car on top of an SUV and attacked jogging on behalf of real runners, just to be incendiary. However, the message can now can be more subtle without losing any of its effectiveness.”

Schiff’s goal is to work for clients that contribute to local job creation but the path to that goal is simply about making great advertising. 

  • Project15 features one and a half days of speaker sessions and tailored seminars. The conference will also form part of an extended series of activities during 2015 which includes regular Project Connect networking events. It is a collaboration between founding partners AUT University, The US Embassy and Social Media New Zealand. For more information, to purchase tickets or for speaker bios, visit www.the-project.co.nz.

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