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Meet the Creatives Behind the Award-Winning ‘Van Gogh BnB’

Pete Lefebvre and Mike Costello brought home 14 Cannes Lions and picked up an Adweek Creative 100 nod, too

It’s your first time at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, and you’re there because a local campaign you did for your city’s art museum that put on a little show — just a few paintings — has woken up the world.

Then what happens? You have to figure out how to schlep 14 Lions from the South of France to Chicago.

And that’s the story for Leo Burnett Chicago Associate Creative Directors Pete Lefebrve and Mike Costello, who worked on “Van Gogh BnB,” the agency’s campaign for the Art Institute of Chicago. The campaign was the talk of Cannes, while winning awards on each of the first three days it was shortlisted: Direct, Promo & Activation, Design, Outdoor, Public Relations, Cyber and Media. It was also shortlisted in Entertainment, a new category that debuted later in the week. In all, “Van Gogh BnB” took home 7 Gold and 7 Silver Lions.

The accolades keep coming for the duo, who today made the Adweek Creative 100. We caught up with Pete and Mike for a little Q&A (which they answered jointly, natch) and some video we shot back in Cannes.


“Van Gogh BnB” was a hit at Cannes. How does it feel to win 14 Lions?
It’s pretty unreal. Everyone on the team was hopeful beforehand but you never know.

Take us back—what was the brief like? What was the business problem you needed to solve?
The Art Institute of Chicago was putting on one the most immersive Van Gogh exhibit of all time, all centered on his well-known “Bedrooms” paintings. The brief, like the exhibit’s intent, was to find a way to let people inside Van Gogh’s life.

The experience had a few subtle touches like a personal note from Van Gogh. What else did people experience in the room that others might not know about?
Guests each got two tickets to the exhibit, so after a night in the room they could see the work from inspiration to execution. We wanted to add a functioning chamber pot to add to the authenticity of the time period but legal recommend against that.

What was it like to experience everyone’s reaction to “Van Gogh BnB”?
We always knew it was a strong marketing idea, but you never know how the world will react to an idea until you put it out there, like pushing a bird out of the nest and hoping it flies.

The entire team and our agency partners put everything they had into this project so to watch the first news story spread through the internet like it did and see the overwhelmingly positive response was everything you could ever hope for.

Looking through the filer that is “Van Gogh BnB,” how do you describe the nexus of old-school creativity, technology and of-the-moment media platforms, like AirBnB?
We’re seeing a trend in advertising where thinking is moving beyond using technology for technology’s sake and trying to make tech more relevant and meaningful in people’s lives. Technology itself can’t be the idea. The idea needs to come from insights, emotion and humanity, with tech allowing us to connect and amplify those things in new ways.

People who stayed in the room shared their experience using #VanGoghBnb. Did you have any favorite stories or posts from the guests?
Those who were lucky enough to get in really reveled in the experience. One guest made himself look like Van Gogh, even dying his hair and beard. Another posed in a gorilla suit for some reason. There were also some amazing photographers who took beautiful portraits inside. It was fun just watching everyone take the night in the room and make it their own. Check them out on Instagram and Facebook using #VanGoghBnb.

What does it mean to be on the Adweek Creative 100? What’s your creative philosophy?
It’s great to represent the team and the agency among such great company. Not sure there is one single creative philosophy we as a team adhere to. Every marketing problem requires a different approach. And that’s really what makes this job fun every day. Beer helps, too.

July 25, 2016