Webby-Nominated IE ‘Child of the 90s’ Ad Creator Ross Crooks Talks Pogs & Super Soakers With NMR [INTERVIEW]

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Ross Crooks is living my dream life. I went to school for advertising, and ended up stoking YouTuber egos — Ross went to school for advertising and ended up in advertising. And not just any advertising, his company Column Five is responsible for the gum-swallowingly viral “Child of the 90’s” ad for Microsoft’s formerly-maligned Internet Explorer. It’s such a hip commercial, they’re now nominated for a “People’s Choice” Webby! Go here to vote for them, pronto!

The ad pitch is simple: rounding up a bunch of cool 90s gadgets (SUPER SOAKER!), Ross’ company then makes the visual appeal that Internet Explorer, like a bowl haircut, is something that needed to be left in the past. Of course, I’m kidding! Mostly. IE is a smarter, wiser company now, much like those of us who grew up in the 90s. IE’s actual tagline reads “You grew up, so did we” (Jeff, taking sip of warm chamomile tea, “That’s nice, I like that.”). As such, members of Generation Y and beyond, I think it’s time we all give them another chance!

So I decided that it would be good to sit down with Ross (electronically) and find out just where this brilliantly nostalgic feel-good commercial came from, and how they succeeded in making Internet Explorer cool again.

For context, what was your age range in the 90s and which of the referenced images from the commercial really resonated with you?

Ross Crooks: I was born in ‘81 — so I was 8-18 years old in the 90’s. Definitely the prime of my life.

The Reebok pumps were certainly an object of desire — and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a yo-yo phase in junior high.

What has been the best decade so far, by your estimation?

Any decade in which the careers of both Kurt Cobain and Gloria Estefan can thrive. Which one was that?

What was the spark that put this commercial into motion?

Microsoft approached us looking to change the tone of their communication in order to reconnect with the younger generation. We saw a great opportunity to reminisce about our shared past — a time when Internet Explorer was the face of our early experience on the web.

How did your company get the herculean task of making Internet Explorer sound “fun and accessible”?

We worked with Microsoft to create a Tumblr blog at browseryoulovedtohate.com, which focused on changing the tone in order to laugh with the audience a bit. This shift led the audience to rethink their previous perceptions of IE. From there, we looked for opportunities to evolve the conversation around the new product and appeal to the audience in a new way.

The ad has done amazing numbers — what is it people love so much about it?

The nostalgia of childhood (especially one in the 90s) is at once comforting and embarrassing. People can look back and laugh, realizing that their life was simpler, but they also did some ridiculous shit in the process of growing up. I think that the video brought back some memories that people had forgotten about.

Has Microsoft recruited you for further spots? Featuring different eras perhaps?

We are talking about some new ideas with their team currently. Stay tuned!

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The kid who gets a bowl cut in the commercial seems genuinely unenthused about his haircut — was that a script direction or was he really upset?

He was not that stoked. I am sure he was looking at us thinking, “Why the hell did you guys do this to yourself?”

You’ve gotten the Webby nomination already, but have other awards shows (i.e. the Clio’s) looked your way?

We have been approached by a few other shows and have submitted the video, including the Clio’s, One Show and Cannes Lions. We are hoping to bring a few home.

What is your number one rule of thumb for creating a smart ad?

The concept should involve something that is on the edge of everyone’s consciousness, but hasn’t quite been put into words yet. I am sure there are some recipes that work over and over, but the impact of a piece that is truly clever and original is much greater.

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