BY ALLEN DUNCAN

On April 21, the advertising department hosted an evening at the Student Center with Bob Thacker, senior vice president of marketing for OfficeMax. Thacker shared some of the wisdom that has garnered him numerous awards.

Thacker is famous for successfully implementing creative solutions to marketing problems. Prior to working for OfficeMax, Thacker was vice president of marketing for Target and senior vice president of marketing for Sears. Thacker typified his career as working with “challenger brands” – brands trying to compete with major industry leaders. One way he has done this is by using small budgets to leverage big results.

After an introduction by friend, former colleague and SCAD professor Art Novak, Thacker projected maxims onto the wall and detailed some of his career strategies. The lecture was punctuated by videos that showed his projects or illustrated his points.

The screen showed the first maxim: “If you don’t have big bucks, you’d better have big ideas!”

Thacker played videos from the cheap but successful “Power to the Penny” campaign. For the price of one commercial, the campaign included 12 viral videos and the world’s largest penny tray installed at the Mall of America, where crowds of kids emptied the tray to buy school supplies. Using just a $1 million budget, Thacker generated ads worth over $2.8 million in public relations.

“I also believe ‘look before you leap’,” Thacker said as the next maxim appeared, “but then leap.”

Thacker is perhaps best known for the 2006 Christmas season promotion for OfficeMax. Office supply stores are not normal destinations for holiday shoppers, but when a research agency told OfficeMax to put its entire season’s budget into viral advertising, Thacker took the risk.

The company launched 20 holiday-themed websites. The most successful was Elf Yourself, a seasonal site that allows users to upload photos of friends and family to make dancing digital cards.

“Don’t make ads, make news!” said Thacker.

In 2006, he learned that an employee had nothing planned for the opening of 14 stores in Chicago, where OfficeMax is headquartered, so Thacker and his team contacted a father and son that were attempting to make the world’s largest rubber band ball. Providing the materials for completing the project, OfficeMax celebrated the father-son team’s achievement in conjunction with the opening of their new stores. With just two week’s notice, Thacker averted disaster and made an international news story worth over $1.5 million, for only $40,000.

“I think brands are like people,” said Thacker, “if you think about the brands that you really love, they’re very human … I think it’s really important that brands have a heart in every aspect. And that means having a corporate conscious. It’s not just enough to make money and take money.”

Thacker showed OfficeMax has heart with the A Day Made Better campaign. On an average salary of $30,000 per year, a typical teacher pays over $1,000 for classroom materials, so OfficeMax raises awareness and surprises struggling teachers with supplies and support.

Thacker’s presentation on his success in advertising was a great lead-in to the presentation of future ad successes, SCAD’s award-winning student advertising competition team. The team practiced its pitch in front of a peer audience to help prepare for their competition in San Diego this June.