One fall morning back in 1999, during my second year at Ogilvy & Mather, I was asked by Rick Boyko, the agency’s co-president & CCO at the time, to come up with an idea for the giant lobby on 49th Street for the holidays. The previous year I had been impressed by the dazzling holiday displays many New York City businesses constructed in their offices. I was, however, simultaneously shocked to see how much money was spent on decorations that would be mindlessly tossed into the garbage after a few weeks.
I had been given a very tight budget, but I refused to spend any of it like that. Still, I had no idea what to do.
A few days later a friend told me about a local charity that was seeking toys to give to the hundreds of poor and underprivileged city children who, because of illness or injury, have to stay in city hospitals over the holidays. Most of these kids go without real presents.
The hospitals all said they liked getting teddy bears as both young boys and girls enjoyed them. As I was figuring out how many bears I could afford to donate myself personally, I realized I had stumbled across the solution to my lobby problem.
Working with my design colleague Tuan Ching, we sketched up a massive tree made of 2000 bright red (Ogilvy’s color) teddy bears. We pitched the concept and presented our plan for disassembling the tree on December 23rd, packing up all the bears into boxes and sending them off to the local hospitals - where they were needed most on Christmas Day.
Almost every cent we would spend would go to these kids - and not to the trash. Boyko approved the idea instantly and the agency has built a new teddy bear tree in the lobby every year. (The attached tourist video I found on YouTube is not perfect, but it’ll give you a general idea about what the 2006 tree looked like.)
This year Ogilvy raised the giant bear tree once again. This time in their lobby on 11th Avenue.
Once the holidays are over that lobby will be empty again. But that means children will start to enjoy 2,017 teddy bears all year long.