Tuesday, November 30, 1999
Israel Diaz - Opening Up About Y&R, Ad Trends And Good Tequila.
“Let’s get out of here,” Israel Diaz says, after emerging from the south side of the bright, open agency, dressed impeccably and wearing dark shades he will take off when he begins to discuss his great enthusiasms.
It is a beautiful day: we walk to Zaza’s in Yorkville and talk about his loathing of being interviewed. It has taken a month to get this time with him, so over a quickly melting cup of lemon gelato, I jump right in
You all know the story of Diaz’s arrival---last February, via Y&R’s president and CEO, Chris Jordan, and the Global CCO Tony Granger who states of Diaz “His passion for creating brilliant work is infectious.”
That the EVP and CCO of Y&R came here from David and Goliath, and before that, Leo Burnett, Lowe Roche and Cossette: his ascent through the ranks, starting with Bozell Palmer Bonner,where he was the Art Director in 1995, has been fast and focused.
That he showed up, looked at all of the little teams or silos, sequestered in their warrens, and saw no cohesion or communication.
That he then started tearing down walls.
Diaz had been toying with the idea of starting up his own agency shortly before meeting with Jordan and Granger, whose offer was far more appealing.
Because it gave him a chance to make an already established, distinguished brand---lest we forget, “RESIST THE USUAL” is the original Y&R credo---a “humming,” creatively motivated hot shop.
When he arrived, he found the creatives on the 6th floor, segregated even there: in order to begin the all-too-critical balance (one of admirable parity) between business and creative, he pulled everyone up to the 7th floor, where, now, and on any given day, people gather, formally and informally, in the massive Creative Space, or in any number of the small, colorful offices.
He made some great hires (Creative Technology Director Rob Gee, Creative Curator Alexis Fay), and he started developing the Y&R culture, and uniting the formerly dispersed creative community.
The culture and community is evident to anyone who spends more than a half hour at the space; to anyone who reads the huge, bold creed on the main wall.
I AM ALLOWED, it declares, TO MAKE THE DECISION THAT I THINK IS RIGHT.
It goes on in this vein: a bold statement of personal liberty, conjoined with the collective purpose to ADVANCE THE CAUSE.
And the Y&R cause has never been clearer.
Backtracking however, I am curious how Diaz---an omnipresent figure thanks to a strange cardboard standy of him that routinely circulates the offices---began; or rather, conceived of, his business/philosophy.
I have seen his older ads, which are audacious, persuasive and subtly shocking: the ads where PETA’s or Morrissey’s Smith’s cri de coeur“ Meat Is Murder” is appended as follows “TASTY TASTY MURDER”; the Bolt detergent ad that involves an optical illusion in which a diapered baby is actually a hand-standing man, face-masked by his irresistibly fragrant underwear.
And I have seen the work he has been doing at Y&R, fresh, bold work that, absolutely, responds to the clients’ needs, desires and goals.
Fascinated, of late, by an idea shop that deals in “one word equity” (as in DISNEY=MAGIC, COKE=HAPPINESS], he has deemed Y&R to be FEARLESS. NOT RECKLESS. But not SAFE.
Where does someone like Diaz start?
You only need to look at his team. Brian Cruz, 22, for example has become, quickly, integral to the agency by way of his films and photographs: he fell into this job, wanting more, and he worked the brutal hours to get it.
In his 20s, Diaz wanted to be an architect, and he duly studied the art.
He went to the University of Toronto, and George Brown, and eventually joined the firm that was building the Skydome, a thrilling project.
Or so he thought.
They were such cranks, it turned out. There they were, he observed, changing the actual face of a huge city, and the energy was low and querulous.
After submitting his 30th plan for a washroom, he thought “This is horrible. This is too slow.”
Around the same time, he was flipping through Toronto Life and saw a profile of Charles Saatchi.
He loved the work that he was doing, the way he lived his life. “like a rock star,” Diaz says. But most of all he liked the idea of immediacy and art combining, in advertising.
So he made the book, and he used his lunch hours to show everyone what he could do.
And why did he want to be an architect in the first place?
He loved the idea, as a very young man, of seeing a huge edifice and thinking “Wow, I made that.”
When he is not working, which is rare, Diaz is spending time with his family, and has cultivated a taste for very rare, very aged tequila.
When I wince at my memories of foul shots, he says, “No, that’s when you’re just trying to get it over with!”
He recommends El Caballo Estrella (the horse star,) which he sips, on occasion, at Reposado.
He and I walk through the blazingly bright street toward the huge black tower that holds Y&R.
“Wow, I made that,” he could very well be thinking.