If there were a rule book for becoming a successful commercial director, Dick Sittig would most likely have thrown it out, lit it on fire, or run it over with his car.
“I’m a contrarian,” says the creator and director of the long-running Jack in the Box campaign featuring the CEO with the giant, smiley Ping-Pong ball head.
Sittig never set out to direct, but when he was executive director at the ad agency Chiat/Day, he proposed the campaign and was encouraged by a producer to do it. “The first day of the shoot, there were probably 50 people from the agency there to make sure I didn’t screw up,” he says. “That was 11 years ago.” The Jack commercials became the impetus and cornerstone campaign for his independent ad agency, Secret Weapon.
Shooting an average of 22 Jack spots a year has given rise to infinite variations. In one, “The Visitor,” Jack pays a call to a scruffy young man who’s refused to try Jack in the Box. The action, captured in gritty cop-show style on a handheld video camera, shows Jack chasing him across the grass and wrestling him to the ground to force-feed him fries and a shake.
“Anytime you can have your company mascot go to someone’s house and beat the crap out of them, you know you’re not copying McDonald's,” says Sittig with satisfaction.
When it comes to directing, he focuses on storytelling and delegates much of the rest. “My approach is that if you can see the finished spot in your head and you share that vision with the DP, set designer, casting and wardrobe and let them do their jobs, it all comes together.
“The part I trust about myself is whether it’s funny or not,” says Sittig. In the end, it’s about the audience’s affection for Jack, who faces challenges with a buoyant, imperturbable je ne sais quois that is a dead ringer for Sittig’s own voice and demeanor. “I can’t really say if I’m the voice or not, but I’ve been told that it sounds like me,” he says with a Sphinx-like smile.
Raised in a small town in Illinois, Sittig came west to study finance at USC, but realized it wasn’t his calling. “I was a smart aleck and there’s no room in the financial world for that.” He started out offering his services for free to a small ad agency before getting a job at Chiat/Day where he advanced quickly from copywriter to creative director to executive director, eventually going solo with the Jack in the Box campaign. He’s won many ad industry awards—his original spot for the Energizer Bunny campaign was recently inducted into the Clio Hall of Fame.
Briefly, after the Jack campaign launched, Sittig entertained offers to work in long-form entertainment and dabbled in writing features, but found it “kind of depressing—I went from having lots of autonomy to having none.” He ultimately decided that the life he was living was a better one. “I’m having more fun in advertising. I’m not spending six months in Toronto shooting a feature; I’m having dinner at home with my family. And I still think I’m doing funny work, so I’m happy.”