True creatives do more than create great work. They define eras, advance new trends, dynamite the logjams holding back their industries and inspire a new generation along the way. Each year, Adweek identifies today’s advance guard of innovative professionals and honors them in the Creative 100, celebrating those who are energizing fields like advertising, digital innovation, art, literature and cinematography. Prepare to meet the icons, rising influencers and multitalented craftspeople behind some of today’s most inventive creations.
Check our Creative 100 by category (and individually below):
• 27 Senior Agency Leaders Who Are Charting a New Course for the Creative Industry
• 29 Rising Agency Stars Who Are Keeping Advertising Relevant, Fresh and Fascinating
• 13 Global Agency Leaders Whose Ideas Go Beyond Borders and Transcend Boundaries
• 13 Celebrities Who Are Making Pop Culture More Innovative, Inclusive and Interesting
• 15 Ad, Film and TV Directors Who Are Raising the Standard for Storytelling
• 11 Branded Content Masterminds Who Are Elevating the Art of Marketing
• 11 Visual Artists Who Enlighten, Inspire and Bring the Impossible to Life
• 10 Writers and Editors Who Are Changing the National Conversation
• Cover Story: Filmmaker Ava DuVernay on the Creative Process, and the Intersection of Art and Activism
On the “Our People” section of the Noah’s Ark website, the Nigerian agency’s staff was recently reimagined as characters from Marvel’s mythical futurist nation of Wakanda, and it’s no surprise who got picked to be Black Panther: Bolaji Alausa.
The executive creative director is, like the character of T’Challa, highly respected in his home nation despite having (for now) a relatively low international profile. In both 2015 and 2017, he received a Grand Prix from the Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival, and his team’s “Life Without Data” spot for Airtel won gold at the 2017 Epica Awards judged by international ad journalists.
A key to Noah’s Ark’s success has been its ability to create top-notch advertising that remains true to Nigeria’s modern culture rather than trying to emulate big-budget global ads.
A perfect example is “Prayer Warrior,” another spot for wireless provider Airtel, this time celebrating the way Nigerian mothers pray—sometimes at length—for the health and success of their children. The spot recently won the Grand Cristal at the African Cristal Festival in Morocco, where Noah’s Ark was named Agency of the Year.
“Naturally, people with more airtime talk longer, like our mothers when they get a hold of abundant credit and want to show their gratitude. That insight was then tied to the fact that African mothers love to pray for their wards,” he says. “What was most exciting for us was the reception of the campaign. Nigerians were for once happy that a local truth was being used to reach out to them.”
Alausa says the spot is emblematic of a change being seen across the Nigerian creative community.
“Nigeria’s creative industry has grown in terms of telling better locally relevant stories, case in point is the aforementioned Airtel ‘Prayer Warrior’ spot,” he says. “We are increasingly translating locally relevant, cultural insights into communications. Local stories are being told better these days, as we struggle to refine the craft.”
Paul Bichler and Daniel Lobaton
Most creative teams are lucky to even enter the Super Bowl. These two flat-out invaded it.
Paul Bichler and Daniel Lobatón were key creative leaders on Saatchi & Saatchi NY’s inescapable and enviable “It’s a Tide Ad” campaign for the Procter & Gamble laundry brand. The campaign included spots in every quarter, featuring David Harbour of Stranger Things and multiple red-herring ads that turned out to be, yep, Tide ads.
“Just seeing how the audience embraced it–how it turned from trending topic to internet meme–was amazing,” Lobatón said. “A team of very talented creatives from around the world all delivered the best work of their career. We were rewriting it up until the very last second on set, and it’s fun to see how lots of those last additions made it to the final cut.”
Expectations were high going into this year’s game, after Saatchi’s inventive and integrated 2017 Super Bowl campaign featuring Terry Bradshaw’s stained shirt.
“Together, with our clients, we’ve created some incredibly daring work for the last two Super Bowls,” Bichler says. “We have this great relationship where we challenge each other to think bigger than we ever thought possible—and somehow end up doing it.”
For Lobatón, who’s also done recent work for Wendy’s and Olay, not to mention being credited with helping bring Spanish accents to major-league sports uniforms through the “Ponle Acento” effort, the lesson from his team’s success is simple: “Focus on the craft, so when the right opportunity shows up you can hit a home run.”
It was one of the boldest, most ridiculous, completely counterintuitive campaigns of the past year. And it was absolutely brilliant.
“Deisel” was a knockoff store, one of many along NYC’s Canal Street, and it purported to sell retail fashion at discount prices. True enough. But the hook was that the clothes truly were Diesel apparel, with the only changes being the misspelled label and the slashed prices.
The spot-on installation was the work of Publicis New York, led by creative chief Andy Bird. A veteran of Publicis London, Ogilvy and BBH, Bird has racked up countless awards over his lengthy and successful career—though, barring the client covering entry fees, the Diesel work is likely to go unheralded at the Cannes Lions due to Publicis’ one-year hiatus from award shows.
In addition to Diesel, Bird has also overseen recent work for Cadillac, Heineken, Walmart and more. For the disability nonprofit CoorDown, his team has created multiple campaigns that challenge the ways society refers and relates to people with Down Syndrome.
He’s worked especially closely with Citi, helping integrate storytelling and music into its marketing while also developing a new platform for measuring effectiveness all the way from awareness to CRM.
Bird says he doesn’t have any one consistent source of creative inspiration or mental recharging, but that any experience can generate an idea. “Everything is creative inspiration, everything you hear, see, read, watch,” he says. “You don’t need to be a creative person to be touched by the world. It’s what makes you.”
Danilo Boer and Marcos Kotlhar
Bacardi and Macy’s may be very different brands, but they’ve faced a similar challenge: They’re iconic, but not always seen as the most fresh and exciting options in their rapidly evolving categories.
Luckily, the same team is working with both to change that. Danilo Boer and Marcos Kotlhar—a duo that traces its roots to their early years together at Brazil’s AlmapBBDO—have been behind BBDO New York’s upbeat and invigorating work for these two clients.
For Bacardi, that’s meant everything from millennial-resonant ads like “Break Free,” poking fun at the inescapable loops of Instagram’s popular Boomerang feature, to cutting-edge collaborative integrations like Music Liberates Music, through which Bacardi donated studio time to new Caribbean musicians every time someone streamed a Major Lazer track on Spotify.
“We have been very proud of how in the last three years we and the BBDO team have turned Bacardi into a brand that is constantly innovating, delivering entertainment and making ads that don’t even feel like ads,” Boer says, “and how that led Bacardi to be praised by award shows and, most importantly, helped their business leave a difficult moment and move into a currently, extremely healthy place.”
For Macy’s, the duo recently completed “Spotlight,” a lovely ad that used seamless digital effects to show the sunlight melting away drab winter clothes in favor of bare skin and bright, light fabrics.
If you’re looking to have your own moment in the sun, whether as a brand or as a creative professional, Kotlhar has this advice: “When you start to get comfortable and you feel like you finally have things under control, change.”
Jeph Burton and Hunter Hampton
Few marketers live up to their brand name as well as Adidas Originals, which has remained hyper-relevant on both the product and advertising fronts. The two creatives behind much of the brand’s ad artistry are Jeph Burton and Hunter Hampton, who scored a coveted Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes Lions for their integration of music in 2017’s “Original Is Never Finished.”
The spot was a celebration of how creativity is often built and rebuilt in layers—such as via sampling, remixing or covers, including the ad’s interpreation of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
True to form, the ad was itself rebooted and reimagined for 2018.
“‘Original Is Never Finished,’ in its totality, is easily the work we’re most proud to be a part of,” Burton says. “The three unique films launched in 2017—each a remake of the last—made the year feel incredibly creatively charged, while bucking a real tension all creative people feel every now and then, that you have to have done something first for it to be called ‘original.’ If it’s possible for something to be both cathartic, enjoyable, and wildly painful all at once, this is the campaign that did it.”
Prior to their meeting, Hampton was a designer at Droga5, and Burton a writer for Ogilvy. They became a team at short-lived agency The Bull-White House before moving to their current home base, Johannes Leonardo.
Their work there on the Adidas Originals account has gone far beyond advertising, with the duo leading up an activation called “The Last Encore” that resurrected NYC’s legendary hip hop venue The Tunnel for one night only, along with a streetsmart zine that mocked the fashion media’s September Issue institution. The name? The September Non-Issue.
Caroline Cappelli and Ryan Tovani
Most ads that feature two completely different products, which happen to be owned by the same parent company, come across as a creative jumble in the name of pinching pennies on paid media.
So why was PepsiCo’s lip-sync battle of a Super Bowl ad featuring Doritos and Mountain Dew so incredibly, flawlessly good?
While there’s plenty of credit to go around (including to actors Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman for pulling off their performances), one team whose contributions can’t be overlooked is Caroline Cappelli and Ryan Tovani of agency GS&P.
Cappelli is relatively fresh to the industry, with Goodby being her first and only employer since graduating ad school five years ago, while Tovani joined the agency two years ago after a nearly decade-long stint as an art director at Venables Bell.
Together they’ve been a creative powerhouse, not only orchestrating the brand-combo Super Bowl alongside director (and fellow 2018 Creative 100 honoree) Nabil Elderkin, but also winning the agency’s pitch to Stacy’s Pita Chips, for which they created the empowering “Stacy Stands With You” campaign.
“This was our first big push for the brand,” Cappelli says. “Stacy’s Pita Chips was originally founded by a female entrepreneur named Stacy Madison, and in the wake of the historic 2017 Women’s March, we felt it was our responsibility to help women take action during this critical time. After witnessing the power of the march first hand, we came up with the idea to take those vibrant, powerful, handwritten signs and transform them into packaging. We then worked with Snapchat to create custom Snapcodes that used geotargeting technology to let people call their local congressional representatives just by snapping a photo of any bag.”
“You know what makes a good outfit? A good, poppin’-ass shoe,” says Cardi B, the multitalent hyphenate in her campaign for Steve Madden. The rapper, who released her first full album, the chart-topping Invasion of Privacy, in April, starred in several 15-second vignettes for the fashion brand back in December. In those spots she offers fans “daily tips” on shoe styling in a way that only Cardi B can (wearing a pair of bedazzled boots in one and proclaiming: “Why her shoes so shiny, she thinks she’s in da club”).
No matter what the rapper is doing—from starring in brand campaigns for Madden, to sharing very candid updates with her 24 million-plus Instagram followers, or announcing her pregnancy during a Saturday Night Live performance—Cardi stays true to the persona fans know and love: based on her “no-filter attitude.”
The 25-year-old (born Belcalis Almanzar) got her start as a dancer and then quickly became a household name through her famed Instagram account. 2017 (and it seems 2018, too) was truly the year of Cardi. She gained massive attention when her track “Bodak Yellow” unseated Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” on the Billboard Hot 100 chart last September, making her the second female rapper ever to reach the top of the charts as a solo artist.
She also had a scene-stealing role in Amazon’s Super Bowl ad this year, in which Cardi offered her services as a replacement voice for Alexa.
Cardi has another major collaboration in the works with an influencer favorite, Fashion Nova. The clothing line, Cardi B x Fashion Nova, is slated to drop in October.
What do you do when you have a great idea for a client project, except you don’t have the client? If you’re Ben Casey, CEO of creative and production agency Spinifex, you pitch it anyway.
Casey’s concept for a VR retrospective of Elton John’s career, timed with the announcement of the singer’s retirement from touring, began as just such an unsolicited project.
“We look for complex projects that will enable us to stretch our legs creatively and test our technical limits,” Casey says. “In the event one doesn’t come our way, we have to create one. From our first meeting with Elton’s team we knew we were going to have the opportunity to create something very special.”
It became “Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Legacy,” a 360 video experience that travels through time back to digital reenactments of performances like John’s two-night, sold-out takeover of Dodgers Stadium in 1975. (You can try it out here.)
Casey is no stranger to ambitious projects, such as his team’s full-sensory, immersive VR “Mood Roads” activation for Acura at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. But everyone knew the stakes were even higher with a client like Elton John.
“Along the journey, there were many people who doubted that the project was even achievable, and there was a lot of pressure to simplify the idea,” Casey says. “But Elton’s team had a higher level of expectation and trusted our absolute confidence. Creating something that is genuinely new is really difficult and requires a team that has an impenetrable belief in what we set out to do. When you take risks and get results, there’s nothing more rewarding.”
Francisco “Pancho” Cassis
“Scary Clown Night” might sound like the kind of event most of us would want to avoid, but for Burger King, it was an international PR coup. The stunt, created by LOLA MullenLowe Madrid, promised free Whoppers to anyone dressed as a clown for Halloween—a not-too-subtle dig at rival mascot Ronald McDonald that came on the heels of the cinematic horror hit It.
The executive creative director behind the campaign, Francisco “Pancho” Cassis, says the campaign was a triumph of flexibility and faith from the client.
“Scary Clown Night for Burger King is the most rewarding project I’ve done in the last few years and probably the most thrilling so far in my career,” Cassis says. “It’s a campaign that didn’t exist on Oct. 3, but ended up going live on the 22nd across 35 markets. This happened without any calls, or any meetings, or any PowerPoint presentations—just a 24/7 chat conversation between (Burger King Global CMO) Fernando Machado and myself. We managed to make it happen in record time, to make it global and to produce every asset in its best possible form.”
Cassis even kept a souvenir from the effort: “Incidentally, I have the WhatsApp conversation with Fernando framed on the wall in our creative department, just as a reminder to the team that nothing is impossible.”
Born in Chile, Cassis has lived in Spain for 15 years and has won more than 280 major industry awards, including 26 Cannes Lions. His team’s work has run the gamut from the hilarious to the truly touching, like 2017’s “The Ceremony” about a lesbian wedding, part of the brand’s #PleasureIsDiverse campaign. And Cassis has continued to push Burger King’s experimental approach to technology by using Instagram polls to create (and get coupons for) your ideal Whopper.
Cassis, like all Spanish creatives, has been troubled by the nation’s economic crisis and “brain drain” of talent over the past decade, but he also sees a bright side in the arrival of creatives from other countries, which “have helped Spain to be more diverse, to create bigger ideas and collectively think more internationally.“
Karen X. Cheng
The force behind San Francisco-based viral video agency Butterbar (now known as Wafffle), Cheng has a habit of creating fun and irresistible clips optimized for social media—like this year’s ad featuring a tiny rundown kitchen being beautifully remodeled, a promotion for home renovation loans from financial startup SoFi.
Previously a program manager for Microsoft, a Silicon Valley designer and a startup founder, Cheng stumbled onto her current career path in 2014 when a marketing exec at Beats by Dre contacted her about a “donut selfie” video she had created for fun—and ultimately hired her to help turn the clever roundabout camera technique she invented into a sizzling ad for the headphone brand, in which she also starred alongside celebrities like Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Serena Williams, and Nicki Minaj.
After landing that gig, Cheng incorporated her agency—rebranded Butterbar this January—in 2015. Her other credits include spearheading a clip last year about the dearth of strong female leads in traditional children’s books as a way to promote real-life role model anthology Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.
Describing the agency’s process, Cheng cites a blend that includes focused brainstorming around client goals, keeping up with viral video trends and rapidly changing social-media algorithms, and employing a methodical, analytics-driven approach to distribution.
“It’s actually not about being the most creative,” she says. “It’s about making something that could be disguised as something people would see in their Facebook feed anyway. Our goal is to make ads that don’t look like ads.”
Joaquin Cubria and Ignacio Ferioli
“Oh our beautiful Argentina! So stressful and so talented.”
That’s how Joaquin Cubria concisely describes a nation increasingly becoming known as a global hotspot for creative advertising, while also dealing with ongoing challenges like currency fluctuation.
Cubria and Ignacio Ferioli, as co-CCOs for agency David’s acclaimed Buenos Aires office, have certainly done their part to boost Argentina’s international reputation in the ad industry. The two helmed high-profile projects for clients like Burger King, Novartis and Coca-Cola.
Clever, counterintuitive and disruptive, their work often raises eyebrows by going in completely unexpected directions. For example, during “Day Without a Whopper,” local Burger King locations refused to sell their signature burger and actually directed customers to McDonald’s, where all Big Mac sale proceeds that day were going to support a childhood cancer charity.
“We are lucky to have a client brave enough to send guests away from their restaurants to their competitors, even if it’s for a noble cause. But people reacted wonderfully,” Cubria says. “Some got angry, others were happy to help, and we were happy to be there and capture it all.”
As the creators of the “Man Boobs for Boobs” campaign that perfectly mocked social media companies’ puritanical fear of showing women’s breasts, both say they are glad to see the world marketing scene shifting toward a tone of inclusivity and gender balance.
“The world is trying to become a more equal place, in gender, diversity, inclusion,” Cubria says. Only good things can come out of that, and it was about time.”
“I believe that communication evolved in that sense,” adds Ferioli, “because the consumer’s head evolved. A brand today cannot not be aware of what happens in society. It is no longer just selling—it is selling, empathizing and doing.”
In describing a career in advertising, Sinan Dagli likens it to a nonstop roller-coaster ride: “Whenever you think the ride slows down, it always picks back up again. And to me, that’s fun. I think understanding that aspect of our industry is important. When you start enjoying the ride, you don’t want to get off.”
He joined BSSP in 2009 as a junior interactive designer, climbing the ranks to creative director on NBA2K and Mitsubishi Motors. His recent work includes an NBA2K campaign starring Kevin Garnett and Michael Rapaport; a Super Bowl spot for mobile game Evony with Aaron Eckhart; and a campaign with Ryan Lochte for PowerBar.
It’s Dagli’s 2016 Super Bowl ad for automaker Mini that he’s most proud to look back on. “I take pride in the Defy Labels platform BSSP created for Mini,” he says. “We created multiple executions that shared a common goal and started a conversation about equality while confronting stereotypes, LGBTQ issues, and labels in general. The insight not only applied to the Mini brand, but with anyone who was dealing with being labeled.”
One experience that helped shape Dagli’s mindset was his decision in 2010 to step away for a few months to launch “Momento,” a gift and reward platform in Turkey.
“Being your own client is illuminating. Sometimes creatives can work in silos without taking the business side of things into account, so the entire process made me much more aware,” he says. “It helped me see the bigger picture and establish trust with my clients. In the end, that trust leads to better work.”
While transferring files might not seem like the most inspiring or creative part of making a song or a film, Jamal Dauda has spent the last year demonstrating the important role it plays on the file-sharing platform.
Earlier this year, his team debuted a documentary starring musicians Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, discussing their friendship and their creative process that resulted in their 2017 album, Lotta Sea Lice. Dauda describes the documentary video as a “time capsule.” After that came a video series starring Björk and others exploring the many parts of creative collaboration.
So why sponsor all this creative content rather than focus on showcasing the cloud-based business’s services? It often goes hand-in-hand.
“I think the series is to show that creativity is much more than this big bang,” he says.
WeTransfer, located in L.A.’s Venice neighborhood, resides at the intersection of tech and culture. Last fall, the company debuted a new mobile app to complement the desktop website’s tools for sharing projects. Currently, Dauda is working on a podcast that will debut this month, featuring conversations about the “nuts and bolts of creativity.”
“What does creativity really look like?” he says. “A lot of other brands and makers of content are talking about creativity in a very general sense. … It’s not always as simple as hopping in the studio and saying, ‘We made magic.’”
Autumn de Wilde
Acclaimed American photographer and filmmaker Autumn de Wilde is known for blurring the line between art and advertising. Her contemporary pop style, with a distinctly cinematic essence, can be found in such work as the movie poster she shot for I, Tonya, the Italian dreamscape she created for Martini and her campaigns for Prada.
In her whimsical short movies for the fashion label, The Postman’s Gifts and “The Postman Dreams 2” (a sequel to her 2015 campaign), de Wilde showcased the iconic Prada Galleria bag, in various encounters with Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, Sasha Frolova, Amber Valletta and Natalia Dyer as they explore their “personal obsessions and desires.”
De Wilde describes her work creating portraits, music videos, commercials, books and films with influencers—including Busy Phillips, Beck and the late Elliott Smith—as an intimate collaboration between her and her subjects. But dreams are her primary influence. “There’s no logic, but you don’t question it,” she says, “whereas when you’re awake you’re questioning everything. So, when I mix reality and surrealism, my characters don’t question things, however bizarre the situation, and I think life is truly bizarre and colorful.”
At the start of the Netflix documentary Abstract: The Art of Design, Es Devlin, speaking about her art, says: “Over the last two decades of working, one of the things I’ve discovered is often, things are made to fill voids.” Indeed, Devlin, known for her kinetic sculptures, has filled just about every space put in front of her.
Devlin has designed for a number of England’s major theater companies including the Royal Shakespeare Co. as well as for TV, films, operas, fashion shows and rock stars. Her elaborate stage sets have graced the concert tours of Beyoncé, Kanye West, U2, Lady Gaga and Adele. For The Weeknd’s Starboy: Legend of the Fall tour, Devlin created a giant, luminous paper plane-type structure to hover above the stage. In 2012, she designed the Closing Ceremony of the London Olympics and the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics, four years later.
British-born Devlin, who originally studied music at the Royal Academy of Music as a child, has had her works exhibited in a number of solo gallery shows and installations, including the recent Mask at Somerset House in 2018, The Singing Tree (described as an audio-visual Christmas tree) at The Victoria and Albert Museum in 2017 and Room 2022 at Art Basel Miami in 2017.
Hailed by the New Yorker as “the world’s foremost stage designer,” Devlin has received three Olivier Awards for set and costume design. In 2017, she was awarded the London Design Medal and in 2015 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Over the past decade, Ava DuVernay has become one of the most in-demand filmmakers in the world.
Impossibly busy, DuVernay, the cover star of Adweek’s Creative 100, is currently working on the third season of her show on OWN (Queen Sugar), is in preproduction for her upcoming Netflix series (Central Park Five) and is slated to direct a superhero movie for DC (New Gods). Plus, she’s got a few other TV shows cooking—a pilot, Red Line, at CBS, and a comedy based on Colin Kaepernick’s high school years.
There’s also an HBO movie, Battle of Versailles. She’s somehow also found time to work on another documentary (though she’s not ready to talk about it yet). All that after debuting her first foray into sci-fi fantasy, the big-hearted, visually stunning A Wrinkle in Time, this past March.
“I’m a black girl from Compton. I picked up a camera for the first time when I was 32 years old. I didn’t go to film school. I’d been a publicist for all of my 20s, I’d been working to amplify other people’s films,” says DuVernay. “In no world could I imagine doing what I’m doing now.”
Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ epic lip-sync battle between Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman for Doritos and Mountain Dew was truly lit, and not just because Dinklage was surrounded by fire in the much-buzzed-about Super Bowl LII spot.
Director Nabil Elderkin elevated what could have been a campy commercial—Dinklage lip syncs Busta Rhymes’ rap from Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” while Freeman takes on Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On”—into a truly enjoyable ad that had enough edge to be a hit with the hip kids. “The Weeknd texted me [after he saw it], and he was like, ‘Dammmmmmn,’” says Elderkin.
The veteran music video director and photographer—who also helmed Wieden + Kennedy’s new Maya Moore Jordan Brand “Wings” spot—had worked with fire before (see Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” video), but the Doritos/Mountain Dew ad was a next-level endeavor.
“It was pretty scary. [Dinklage] literally had flames blowing up behind him, and those flames are real,” he says. “He’s walking through an exploding set that we built on a stage. There’s marks he has to hit. I think even he was like, ‘What the what?’ But he killed it like a champ.”
Next up for Elderkin is his first narrative feature, Gully, starring Amber Heard, Charlie Plummer and Jacob Latimore as “three kids getting wild” in Southeast Los Angeles. What should audiences expect? “I didn’t fuck it up but i did FuKItUP,” Elderkin wrote on Instagram. Translation: It’s gonna be hot.
There’s no simple professional box in which you can put Bryan Espiritu. An artist whose work conveys pain and resilience, a streetwear entrepreneur, a mentor for at-risk youth, a charitable advocate—and, for Anomaly, a “creative catalyst” who sparks big ideas and creates bold visual identities for clients like UFC and Nike.
“Bryan is true creative superstar doing amazing work, prolific art, successful business and impacting young lives across North America,” says Franke Rodriguez, CEO of Anomaly NYC and Toronto.
It was Rodriguez who approached Espiritu, founder of TheLegendsLeague, about collaborating with Anomaly after the two met via the multi-talented artist’s extensive involvement in the Toronto creative scene.
In addition to his copious visual creations, Espiritu has also launched an effort to provide household essentials—such as basic silverware, cooking supplies and bed linens—to young people setting out on their own after stints in foster care or times of homelessness, an effort supported by his social audiences and Ikea.
Espiritu says one key to balancing all these roles and responsibilities has been making time for meditation.
“Much of my creative inspiration comes from reconciling pain from my past, depicting messages of mental health awareness, as well as leaving my emotions out in the open in my art and design,” he says. “In recent months, meditation has played the biggest role in my daily re-energizing, as it reminds me to immerse myself in my current space and not consider past or future. It’s allowed me to graduate my creative outputs to being depictions of my truths rather than forcing me to re-experience past pain just for the sake of creating.”
This is Ronan Farrow’s year. In May, he won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Magazine Award for his scorching series of New Yorker articles that helped fell one of Hollywood’s most powerful men: Harvey Weinstein. A month earlier, Farrow published his widely acclaimed first book, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence, an exploration of the “collapse of American diplomacy and the abdication of global leadership.”
The son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, Farrow demonstrated an intellectual precocity and “an extraordinary sense of public service” from an early age. At 11, he began taking classes at Bard College, graduating at 16. Farrow’s diverse resume includes interning on John Kerry’s presidential campaign and working for Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan at the State Department. While in the Sudan volunteering for Unicef, Farrow contracted a bone infection, necessitating multiple operations, leaving him either in a wheelchair or on crutches, and still he entered Yale law school at 18.
Next up for the unstoppable Farrow: a three-year development deal with HBO and another book, Catch and Kill, which will expand his investigations into sexual misconduct and “the machine deployed by powerful men to silence survivors of abuse and threaten reporters chasing those survivors’ stories.”
Says Farrow: “Journalism is the one explicitly constitutionally protected profession we have in this country, and I think there’s a good reason for that. If we want to hold the powerful accountable, and try to ensure that the most vulnerable people in this country have a voice, one of the best tools to do that is through reporting.”
Gabriel Ferrer and Gabriel Reyes
“We never eat at our desks.”
That, Gabriel Ferrer says, is one of the secrets to his strong collaboration and output alongside fellow Alma creative director Gabriel Reyes. It’s a view that succinctly captures the creative joy the two bring to their process.
“There’s nothing so pressing that you have to eat spaghetti next to your laptop,” Ferrer says. “Breaks are key.”
The contagious enthusiasm for life that “Gabe and Gabe” bring to their agency have rapidly made them one of the Miami-based shop’s go-to teams, leading all work on the Sol Beer account and also creating campaigns for clients like Tobacco Free Florida, Netflix and McDonald’s.
For Netflix, the duo created a counterintuitive “Spoiler Alert” campaign in advance of Narcos Season 2 that announced Pablo Escobar’s pending death on the show—but then created an interactive puzzle for fans to solve about how it all went down.
More recently, Ferrer and Reyes created a video campaign starring puppets as evil tobacco executives. The team says the campaign, “Funny Guys,” required “over 25 calls with lawyers” to ensure the biting depiction wouldn’t spark legal backlash.
Outside of work, the two have so many other passions and projects, you’d wonder where they find the hours to do it all. Reyes is a DJ and father who loves to “disconnect and act like a kid again,” while Ferrer’s interests seem to have no limits: “I love editing travel videos, writing raps, designing T-shirts, playing basketball and recently taking a Masterclass every month in a topic completely out of my comfort zone. One year, I celebrated a holiday every day of the year. … I want people to be confused when they introduce me to someone because I do so much stuff. One hobby I should probably do more of is sleeping.”
Derek Fridman and Jason Musante
One is an acclaimed street artist. The other is a pilot who sees time in the skies as a form of meditation. Together, they form one of the most interesting and inventive duos in modern advertising.
Derek Fridman has spent years stretching the outer edges of how the industry defines “design.” It began in 2001, when he left Razorfish after the dot-com collapse and spent six months dedicated to creating art under the pseudonym UrbanMedium, resulting in gallery showings around the world. Even today it remains an “outlet for my insatiable need to create as well as a catalyst for thinking outside the box when solving a client’s design challenges.”
In 2013, Fridman opened Huge’s Atlanta office, now the agency’s second-largest. He’s most proud of launching Huge Cafe, a self-sustaining public coffee shop and R&D retail space. His team has also created apps, VR/AR activations and other interactive experiences for brands like Lowe’s, Under Armour and AMC Theaters.
As Huge’s creative chief, Musante brings a diverse agency pedigree, including successful stints at Saatchi & Saatchi, Co:collective and BBDO New York.
While his team’s work on the 2018 Super Bowl for Quicken Loans, starring Keegan-Michael Key, is his best-known recent work, Musante was also instrumental in the 2017 launch of Zelle, a mobile payment app owned by a partnership of banking giants like Bank of America and Capital One. Huge developed the name and market strategy for the app, along with all the marketing materials—accomplishing the seemingly impossible design challenge of getting seven major financial institutions to agree to one brand aesthetic.
With so much going on, amateur pilot Musante finds that time in a cockpit is the perfect way to disengage from his digital life and be present in the moment. “This total focus is incredibly meditative,” he says, “allowing me to get a different perspective, literally, on any creative or business challenge.”
After many years as an editor for GQ, Devin Friedman parlayed his storytelling talent into a job where he could further his ever-expanding creativity: multimedia journalism.
In college, Friedman studied fiction but didn’t want to stay home writing alone. He became an award-winning journalist, writing for magazines such as Esquire, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker. At GQ, he wrote an Iraq war book and led the magazine’s video channel, where he developed Most Expensivest Shit with 2 Chainz, now a TV show.
But he wasn’t done finding new, expansive creative outlets. Last year, Friedman joined Wealthsimple, a Canadian financial tech company, helming DGA award-winning ad campaigns, and establishing a Webby-finalist online magazine and video series. He is now exploring what a Wealthsimple podcast and print magazine could look like.
Just don’t use the term “branded content.”
“Either it sounds and feels like an ad, or it feels creepily un-ad-like in a way that makes me feel suspicious,” says Friedman, who wanted to create transparent content, something he characterizes as “totally legit when it comes to being interesting.”
For instance, in Wealthsimple’s interview series, Money Diaries, people tell their life stories through the prism of money. In one, Rachel Bloom shares her money made per episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In another, a nun discusses her vow of poverty. Other interview subjects include Aubrey Plaza, Solo star Alden Ehrenreich and ad icon Paul “Can You Hear Me Now?” Marcarelli.
“The point of it is to be interesting and human about money,” says Friedman, “to make people feel like they’re not alone and to maybe teach them something as well.”
Juan Pablo Fuentes, known as Paul Fuentes by friends and family, is a graphic designer and content curator. He began his professional career as a junior designer at Universidad Anahuac Mexico City in 2012. Over the next four years he worked as a senior designer at Vida Anahuac Social Magazine, quitting the publication to create his own studio. Fuentes began posting images of food on Instagram just as the whole food porn was trending, earning him instant notice. His Instagram account now has 224,000 followers.
Fuentes’ playful, colorful designs attracted the attention of advertisers and brands alike. He has done work for 20th Century Fox, Dior, Swatch and Cup Noodles. “I want to make people happy,” he says. “With a sushi cat or a juicy hamburger, it’s my goal to break your boring Instagram feed and to get a smile on your face. I like to remind people how fascinating the world is by producing images of food, animals and objects. These images are minimalistic mashups with pastel backgrounds.”
Adds Fuentes: “My main inspiration is happiness and simplicity. Simple is beautiful. I wanted to bring a new way of humor, so what I try to provoke is the feeling of not taking life too serious.”
Running “weird” Twitter accounts is a fine art. Wendy’s and Denny’s were pioneers in creating a connection between the humorous side of social media with the informative brand messaging that many companies want to push to their followers.
Now it’s the government’s turn.
The Twitter and Facebook accounts for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are maintained by Joseph Galbo, former copywriter for McCann Healthcare and social media coordinator for the Liberty Science Center. Between detailed product recalls and warnings, the accounts also share hurricane awareness images using Shiba Inus or fire escape plan reminders using an abstract illustration with fluffy cats.
They’re weird, they’re borderline baffling, and oodles of thought are behind them.
Galbo turned to David Ogilvy’s work from the 1960s as inspiration for the text-with-image template the CPSC accounts are known for, in addition to the entertaining photos and fonts. “We’ve really embraced the idea that everything in social media is temporary,” says Galbo, “and we’re all just living day to day.”
With a communications team of 10 people, Galbo gives credit to his supervisors for approving posts and vibing with his direction. When trying to educate the public about everyday hazards, the accounts make sure the information is interesting, fun and relatable.
“People have expectations of what government accounts look like,” he says. “With us, they get something different. Our fans appreciate learning something and having fun while doing it.”
Gay’s debut novel, An Untamed State, exploring the intertwined themes of the immigrant experience, race, privilege and sexual violence, marked her ascent as an important literary voice. Her follow-up collection of essays, Bad Feminist, marked her arrival.
Known for her distinctive, inclusive, raw and not-holding-anything-back style, Gay’s 2017 New York Times best-seller, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, discussed fatness from the perspective of an overweight person and not after the triumph of weight loss. “Most of the time when people write about fatness, they write about fatness after having lost a significant amount of weight,” she says. “But I didn’t have that story, so I was interested in just writing a different kind of story.”
Last year, she also published the short story collection, Difficult Women, and created her first comic book, World of Wakanda. “It was really exciting to be able to write black, gay women into the Marvel canon,” she says.
Prolific as well as insightful, Gay is at work crafting a book of writing advice, an essay collection about TV and culture, a YA novel called The Year I Learned Everything and adapting her first novel into a film with director Gina Prince-Bythewood.
Her advice to writers? “You have to be relentless and you have to find a way to grit your way through all that rejection. … It’s OK to feel dejected and hopeless, as long as you don’t let that keep you from continuing to write and continuing to try and put yourself out there.”
Before kale was cool and wellness gurus were the rage, Gelula spotted the nascent trend in launching a national wellness and lifestyle brand.
In 2009, using her journalism background to report stories on health, Gelula co-founded the digital media company Well + Good. Today, the website has 8 million monthly unique visitors, 800,000 email subscribers and 1.2 million followers on social media. Last year, it garnered the Webby Award for Best Health Website. This year, Fast Company named the site one of the world’s most innovative firms in wellness.
The former editor in chief of SpaFinder Lifestyle and travel editor at Fodor’s Travel Publications, Gelula holds a master’s from the University of Toronto and six years of psychoanalyst training. She continues to monitor the zeitgeist. Last year, Well + Good launched a travel vertical, and this year, she is bringing that concept and online content out into the real world by hosting healthy lifestyle retreats with workshops for yoga, meditation, healthy food and wellness products.
Much can be said—and has been said—about Greta Gerwig’s lauded directorial debut, Lady Bird. To craft a narrative about mothers and daughters that does not shy away from but instead actively interrogates the murky, difficult push-pull of that relationship is no small feat. To do so and receive the kind of accolades Gerwig achieved in the last year—including becoming the fifth woman ever to be nominated for Best Directing at the Academy Awards—is unheard of.
“Most women I know had infinitely beautiful, incredibly complicated relationships with their mothers in their teenage years,” Gerwig said in an interview with the movie’s distributor, A24. “I wanted to make a film that put that at the center, where at every moment you feel empathy for both characters. … To me, those are the most moving of love stories. The romance between a mother and daughter is one of the richest I know.”
Gerwig is an accomplished actress in her own right, with dazzling performances in such films as 20th Century Women, and her Golden Globe-nominated turn in Frances Ha (which she also co-wrote). Next up for this creative polymath: a starring role in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island.
A veteran of agencies CP+B and 72andSunny, Yogiraj “Yogi” Graham is the production wizard behind some of Intel’s most visually stunning campaigns, usually centered on some mind-bending use of the computer giant’s cutting-edge tech. Graham joined the company’s in-house Agency Inside in early 2015 and rose to the position of global director of Intel Creative Content Labs last fall.
One of his favorite projects from the past year involved breaking the Guinness world record for most drones flown simultaneously in an airborne light show ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
“It was emblematic of the collaborative approach that it takes between the business unit and the creative group and agency inside Intel,” says Graham.
He’s also worked on such boundary-pushing campaigns as a reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest with a digital-avatar lead for the Royal Shakespeare Co.; a demonstration of how Intel’s drones and an AI called the “Snotbot” can be used to analyze whale spray in partnership with Parley for the Oceans; and an AI-powered music video for Chinese pop star Chris Lee.
Graham says his approach to creativity has evolved since he crossed over to brand-side advertising, where he now has the resources of one of the world’s biggest tech companies at his fingertips. “The technology that has been at the heart of the inspiration for many of the projects we’ve done has challenged me to think in a different way,” he says. “When you put the capabilities of a new technology first in a creative process, it can lead you to a place creatively where you haven’t been before.”
The annual Starbucks holiday cup design has become a lightning rod for criticism, and while some might be wary of working on such a project, Christine Gratton relishes every moment.
“We took the ‘blank canvas’ design as a metaphor for inclusivity: There’s room for everyone, no matter how you celebrate. Let’s focus on what really matters, the holidays —and the people you celebrate them with,” she recalls. “The animated film for the cup’s launch told that story. Modern families. Different races, religions and traditions. A same-sex couple leaning in for a kiss. When the media got wind of that scene in particular, it blew up. I didn’t think I would get that much satisfaction from making that many people that angry. Because it means we got the message across.”
Gratton joined Big Spaceship at the end of 2015, following more than four years at MRY. Her work since joining the agency has ranged from social causes to social innovation.
Her work for YouTube’s International Women’s Day Campaign, #HerVoiceIsMyVoice, turned brief snippets from famous women into a powerful rallying cry.
A lighter campaign for Converse, #FirstDayFeels, starred actress Millie Bobby Brown enacting more than a few emotions—32 were turned into GIFs—felt on the first day of school.
DIY projects keeps Gratton’s creativity sharp when she’s not at the office.
“The tactile stuff, using my hands. Building, painting, power tools,” she says. “Spatial thinking becomes meditative. It’s fulfilling creating something you can see every day. It reminds you why you create. That feeling is everything.” —Amy Corr
There’s nothing safe about the visually compelling webzine Damn Joan, with its mood-swinging monthly themes (such as “happy death” and “(re)birth”) matched with games, mysteries and phone trees where you might find the Partridge Family. Since Damn Joan’s launch in 2017, Halpin has overseen five boundary-pushing editions, including a transmedia murder mystery, where users discover diaries and cult websites as they solve the crime.
Previously, Halpin guided the creative content of publications for and about women, serving as editor at large for Lenny Letter, deputy editor at Glamour and editorial director of Refinery29. “This sounds like a satirical Tinder bio,” she says, “but I just want to tell good stories and have fun. And pay the rent.”
Halpin’s actual bio is about changing things up. In 1993, she created an app allowing feature films to be played on PCs. She launched a 1996 webzine featured at the Whitney Biennial exhibition of emerging artists. In 2000, Halpin was co-creative director of an Oxygen network show.
“I’ve always gone where I could tell the best stories in the most interesting ways,” she says. “Now, at Damn Joan, I don’t have to choose—it’s a brand that has creative exploration built in.”
Next up: She wants to take over The Daily Show. Well. not exactly, Halpin wants to create a feminist sketch show for Instagram. “In my head,” she says, “it’s as if The Daily Show was run by weird feminists who cover pop culture, style and politics.” —Senta Scarborough
Letter artist and logo designer Jessica Hische’s work is everywhere you turn and even where you pose. At the Color Factory last year, the wildly popular pop-up experience in San Francisco, she created the Paint the Town mural in a secret alleyway, which no selfie-loving Instagrammer could resist. Moviegoers, meanwhile, know Hische from the film titles she created for Wes Anderson’s Oscar-nominated Moonrise Kingdom. Coming soon: her logo redesign for Squier, a budget-friendly guitar line from Fender.
Speaking of logo redesigns, Hische has become something of a specialist in this arena, executing exquisitely subtle updates for Southern Living, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and Eventbrite, among others. The projects indulge the letter-art geek inside her but also are her stealth way of teaching clients the valuable nuances of her craft. “I really like helping to justify hiring a professional,” she says, citing the proliferation of aggregate websites that offer anonymous design services on the cheap.
This October, Penguin Workshop will publish Hische’s first children’s book, Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave. In an aspirational era when kids are told they can do and be whatever they want, she aims to deliver a message of reassurance that she feels is missing: It’s OK if you don’t succeed at every single thing you do. “Not everyone is capable of winning,” she says, “but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.”
Many TV lovers would be hard-pressed to pick their favorite HBO character or personality. But David Horowitz didn’t have to, because he got to work with almost all of them.
For the network’s “It’s What Connects Us” campaign, Horowitz’s team gathered together stars from a litany of HBO shows—Game of Thrones, Veep and Westworld, just to name a few—and then had them … groan? Gasp? Drone? The peculiar sounds come together as a chorus at the end of each spot, forming the unique “HBO sound” that emerges from static at the beginning of each program.
“HBO is a brand I’ve loved since I was way too young to be watching it, so I felt a great responsibility to do it justice,” Horowitz says. “Having the opportunity to bring together all of those characters in service of one simple idea, and to even get to direct some of my favorite actors in the process, was an incredibly rewarding experience that will be hard to top.”
Another beloved client is Ben & Jerry’s, for whom Horowitz worked on the “Democracy is in Your Hands” voter-empowerment campaign and product launches in the U.S. and Europe.
While it almost pains him to say it—”Jesus, I sound like public radio”—Horowitz cites life in New York City as a daily creative inspiration.
“Just walking around the city and taking in the ambient energy that comes from so many people thrown on top of each other does it for me,” he says. “Everyone here has made a decision to live in the center of the universe, just to make life as hard and interesting as possible. That energy clings to you, especially when you’ve just gotten off the F train.”
Bobby Hundreds strives to keep streetwear as relevant today as it was in the 1980s and ’90s. He makes casual clothing grounded in the world of skaters, surfers and hip-hop fans, and his success owes a nod to both street subculture and gonzo blog journalism.
On his brand’s site, TheHundreds.com, he seamlessly blends retail with content, with Hundreds himself maintaining a blog whose topics range from an interview with Garfield creator Jim Davis to a lengthy, personal treatise on the importance of diversity in surf branding.
“I am, almost embarrassingly, one of those people whose lives revolve around surf. Who plans his family’s vacations around surfing, much to their dismay,” Hundreds writes in the post, based on a speech he recently gave to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association. “Yet, I’m also the guy who shies away from that ID: ‘Surfer.’ Surf is the axis by which my world revolves, yet I don’t feel a connection with any of the brands or markers that designate surf culture. This makes no sense to me. Especially as someone who designs apparel, whose life’s work is dedicated to tying communities to brands.”
The tenor of the post highlights how the designer, photographer, illustrator, writer and director has become both a brand builder and a brand activist. After last year’s deadly white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Va., he tweeted: “Hey fellow streetwear brands. If today pisses you off, take that anger and energy and put it into your designs and messaging. Speak out.” He released free anti-hate T-shirt designs including “Alt Wrong,” “Don’t Be a DICKKK” and “FKKK Off.”
In January, Hundreds teamed up with Yosi Sergant, the Obama staffer who helped create the “Hope” campaign, to launch Into Action, a social justice festival of art and ideas. The free event promoted “community power and cultural resistance” and brought thousands to Los Angeles for a weeklong pop-up art exhibition, music performances, panel discussions and activist workshops that included John Legend, Rosario Dawson, Shepard Fairey, underground artists and victims of police brutality.
Hundreds co-directed his first documentary on streetwear, Built to Fail, in 2017. Next up: a memoir, This Is Not a T-shirt, to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in late 2018 or early 2019.
You won’t find much information about innovative cartoonist Olivia Jaimes, and that’s by design.
The pseudonym-cloaked artist and writer made history on April 9, 2018, becoming the first woman to ever draw the 80-year-old syndicated comic strip Nancy. From her inaugural frame, Jaimes’ creative influence brought the precocious protagonist a newly acquired modern commentary. Suddenly, Nancy went from adorable snow-day shenanigans to griping about internet trolling at the hands of “bots” alongside her best buddy, Sluggo. Though met with protests from certain fans who took issue with the obvious changes, readership has nearly doubled since her debut, according to the strip’s distributor, Andrews McMeel Syndication.
But don’t expect the woman behind the comic’s newfound vitality to step into the limelight anytime soon. Jaimes prefers to let her work speak entirely for itself. “It’s been extremely freeing,” says Jaimes. “It keeps things quiet, which is one of the things I value most when I’m trying to make creativity happen.”
In other words, to understand the artist, see the art. “Like me, Nancy is navigating this space where her technology has changed the way she interacts with the world in strange, funny ways,” she explains. “I try to reckon with my own baggage by making jokes about it through her.”
Whether creating cinematic ads with heart, helping a client turn waste into warmth for needy children or advocating for LGBT acceptance in sports, Gus Johnston is a creative who brings both passion and purpose to everything he does.
Much of his most notable work at VB&P has been in the hotel space, a category not typically known for soul-lifting ideas. As part of launching the Go Beyond campaign for Sheraton Hotels, he created the visually compelling spot “The Deep” about the lengths that hotel employees would go to for guests.
For sister brand Westin Hotels, Johnston helped launch the new global brand platform “Let’s Rise,” but best of all, he conceived and led ThreadForward, a first-of-its-kind program that collects, processes and reweaves hotel bed linens into pajamas for children in need.
“Around 30,000 pounds of bed linen from 50 Westin hotel properties around the world were collected, processed and then rewoven into children’s pajamas,” he says. “From concept to design and collaborating with a raft of specialized manufacturers, this project required an extraordinary commitment from a wide range of partners. Being part of a collaborative effort to bring something genuinely meaningful into the world made this project extra special for me.”
A longtime hockey player, Johnston has been a vocal advocate for better gender balance and LGBT acceptance in sports, in his native Australia and around the world.
Many auteurs shy away from working with brands—or, at least, doing it too publicly. Not Spike Jonze.
The Oscar-winning filmmaker, who got his start making hypnotic music videos (see: “Weapon of Choice” for Fatboy Slim), knows how to expertly craft a visually and emotionally compelling narrative in a short amount of time. He did it in 2016 for Kenzo with the Titanium Lion-winning perfume ad starring Margaret Qualley.
And he did it again this past March for Apple, with “Welcome Home” for the HomePod. Working with FKA twigs and Anderson .Paak, Jonze created an astonishing six-minute short that explores loneliness, depression, self-expression through dance and music, the comforts of home and introspection.
The spot was such a hit that the famously restrictive Apple released a mini-documentary on the creative process behind the stunning ad, demonstrating how Jonze’s vision pushed the cast and crew to create something truly amazing. “It could not work, it could look terrible,” Jonze says in the behind-the-scenes video about the seemingly impossible task of using sets—instead of CGI-heavy postproduction special effects—to create the look of the colorful, gorgeous, stretched-out apartment. It worked.
The sense of community is a big deal in the Pacific Northwest, where creatives often take the most pride in work that represents principles and purpose.
Bex Karnofski embodies this spirit at Must Be Something in Portland and counts her creative work for Urban Gleaners—a longstanding nonprofit that collects fresh food for people who need it before it goes to waste—as a crucial creative moment. Taking the lead on a design project for the organization, she created an entirely new brand system.
“The process of working as part of a creative team was incredibly rewarding, as was working for a company as inspirational and important as Urban Gleaners is to the city,” she says.
But Karnofski’s work also extends far beyond her community, with her design chops being brought to bear on significant projects for Nike, including the “Choose Go” global campaign and “Welcome to Season 15” social media campaign for LeBron James’ signature line.
Her impact has recently touched brands like Uniqlo and Venmo. Earlier in her career, her client roster included Amazon, Swiss Army, Alaska Airlines, Indian Motorcycles and Kindercare.
Very much a Pacific Northwesterner, her approach is steeped in love for nature—especially walks in the woods or on the Oregon Coast to recharge. Portland’s maker culture is another catalyst that keeps Karnofski broadening her horizons. “Pursuing new skills and pushing your mind to think about things in new ways always influences creativity,” she says.
Katie Keating and Erica Fite
If a chain of sex shops isn’t the first kind of client that comes to mind when you think of an agency dedicated to empowering and championing women, well, maybe it should be.
New York-based Fancy was founded by agency veterans Katie Keating and Erica Fite in 2011 with the insight that “if something matters to women, it matters to the world.” Years before #MeToo began shifting the agency landscape, Fancy was building a business around limitless respect of women both as colleagues and as consumers.
And when they were recently approached by The Lion’s Den, a chain of 46 sex shops looking to modernize its brand image, Fancy made the magic happen.
“Fancy was challenged with shifting perception of a mostly male, DVD-centric, pull-off-the-highway adult superstore into an appealing destination for women and couples,” Fite says. “We knew Lion’s Den would provide the perfect opportunity for us to elevate and validate sexual health and empowerment as an important part of a women’s life, historically misrepresented—in a category dominated by ideas and images meant to tempt and titillate men—or flat-out ignored.”
The resulting work was empowering, certainly, but still fun, with women shedding inhibitions in the bedroom and even at the occasional geriatric birthday party. The brand’s poster for International Women’s Day was especially memorable: “Women Come First!”
Another point of pride is Fancy for Good, the agency’s nonprofit focus area. “We recently raised money to equip midwives with motorcycles in Ghana,” Keating says, “and our efforts also support women and girls around the world from Haiti to Rwanda to South Africa to right here at home in NYC.”
Donna Lamar and David Lennon
When it comes to Donna Lamar and David Lennon, it’s a case of opposites attract. Lennon is immersed in knowledge of the space, while Lamar has the cultural expertise.
After a stint at McCann, Lennon helped shape content studios at Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal before joining Vice—attracted, he says, by the media company’s balance of both brand and storytelling.
For Lamar, who went from head of production to creative director at TBWAChiatDay and then to content development studio Amusement Park before her most recent role as creative director for Twitter #Studio, she says, “My whole career has been about transitions.”
While Lamar notes that she didn’t realize “how big a difference it would be going from Twitter to a media company” when she joined Vice this past fall, it opened up new possibilities while allowing her to fully tap into her versatile skill set.
Vice recently launched a partnership with Geico educating viewers about filing taxes, which Lennon says was “the most difficult brief I’ve ever got.”
The result: Vice’s Tax Spa, which Lennon describes as a “Westworld-like experience” in which participants were instructed on taxes during a relaxing spa experience. He says the project was a “breakout campaign,” with viewers watching on average “83 percent or more” of all four videos in the series.
Other work includes Vice’s Broadly female-skateboarding documentary series for Vans, an upcoming Most Unknown science documentary series and a star-studded homage to Aaliyah created in partnership with cosmetics brand MAC.
“Every day we get a chance to work on so many different clients,” says Lamar, adding that she loves “the unpredictability of what we’ll be working on” and “looking for something that only Vice can bring.”
Christine Lane and Deb Archambault
A statue that became an icon. An album featuring no less than Bob Dylan. These are just two of the projects that have made McCann New York the recent envy of the agency world (and Adweek’s U.S. Agency of the Year for 2017), and they couldn’t have happened without producers Christine Lane and Deb Archambault.
“I will forever be proud of leading content creation around Fearless Girl,” Archambault says of the highly awarded bronze statue created for State Street Global Advisors. “She may be small, but she’s so much bigger than a project.”
Lane says Fearless Girl has been an unprecedented experience, especially in terms of the unexpected ways it echoed throughout the world.
“Working in advertising, you always want your projects to resonate in culture, and to see Fearless Girl as a meme, as a question on Jeopardy, and represented in political satire was incredible,” she says. “But I never anticipated women would get tattoos of Fearless Girl. I never anticipated receiving emails from mothers who saw their daughters in Fearless Girl or from women working on Wall Street who felt their struggle was finally being acknowledged.”
Since Fearless Girl’s launch, McCann has continued to generate lauded campaigns, including the Universal Love album featuring new versions of classic love songs, reimagined as being sung to someone of the same gender. Dylan, Kesha, St. Vincent and more contributed to the project. “My hope,” Archambault says, “is that Universal Love helps inspire artists to sing more freely about whomever it is that they love.”
Min Jin Lee
In 1989, novelist and essayist Min Jin Lee attended a lecture by an American missionary discussing the history of Koreans living in Japan. He shared a story about a young boy who was born in Japan but was ethnically Korean and who committed suicide after being bullied at school by his Japanese classmates. “I became sort of obsessed with this idea of, ‘Why would people hate you just because you’re Korean?’” That led her on the journey that eventually resulted in the publication of her 2017 New York Times best-seller, Pachinko.
It was hardly a quick-turnaround, overnight success. A National Book Award finalist, Lee wrote the novel between 1996 and 2003, based on academic research, but then shelved it. She published her first novel, Free Food for Millionaires, while living in Japan, in 2007. Casting about for her next project, she decided to delve back into the unpublished book and figure out where it went wrong.
“I started interviewing people,” she says. “And as I interviewed all these different kinds of people on the ground where they suffered, it made me realize that they don’t see themselves as victims. They see themselves as ordinary people. … I don’t even know why I didn’t know that. I think I was so stuck on the sad things that happened to them that I didn’t realize that they’re not even sad people.”
About the struggles and frustrations from page to published, Lee says: “That’s the funniest thing about wishes that come from your heart. You don’t know why they’re there, and you don’t know which ones you’re going to honor. But I did honor my wish to make good works of art.”
Sports drink ads are supposed to be sweat-soaked, aspirational odes to physical perfection. So why is Vitaminwater Active being sold by a “Sorta-Fit Spokesguy” who admits that when he can’t find convenient parking at the gym, he’ll probably just go back home?
The answer is Gavin Lester and his creative team at Zambezi, the versatile L.A.-based agency named for an African shark that can swim in saltwater or freshwater. For Vitaminwater’s new electrolyte-enhanced drink line, Zambezi proposed a break from cliche.
“There is a whole demographic of people who are not looking to get ripped, who prefer light workouts,” Lester says. “That was the core insight, which was not based on the product ingredients so much as on the consumer. We executed against that insight creating a new type of spokesperson—the Sorta-Fit Spokesguy. My role, besides nurturing, supporting and encouraging the work, was to serve as a model. If anyone here at the agency is sorta-fit, it’s me.”
Members of Lester’s team also worked on a side project called “Rotten Apples,” a searchable website that lets you know whether a TV show or movie has any connection to Hollywood figures accused of sexual harassment.
Outside of work, Lester creates conceptual sculpture and finds inspiration in everyday objects: “It could be a broken neon light flickering on and off, or a discarded burger bag in a gutter. My education in fine art has allowed me to be hyper-receptive to things outside of the gallery. If you are trained correctly, you can see creativity everywhere.”
When Kate Lummus isn’t creating campaigns for clients Special Olympics, All Nippon Airlines or AlticeUSA, she’s speechwriting.
“I love speeches because they cannot be self-indulgent,” says Lummus, who primarily works with local NYC politicians. “Is the room cramped? Cut it in half. Is this the fourth speech of the day? Skip to the fiery part. Understanding the audience is as crucial to the success of the speech as the words.”
Lummus began her career as a freelancer for McGarryBowen and McCann before joining the digital agency world at the now defunct Publicis Modem, followed by Atmosphere BBDO (now Atmosphere Proximity).
Memorable projects include the “Nice vs. Kind” campaign for Kind snacks, which profiled volunteers arrested for leaving water in the desert for illegal immigrants.
On a lighter note (but still with a serious message), she created MTV’s “Food Porn” PSA campaign that turned sexting emojis into a serious discussion about condom use.
Stepping out of her comfort zone gives Lummus a different perspective on idea creation.
“I listen to people who have nothing to do with advertising,” she said. “I read articles on new MIT discoveries that have nothing to do with my brief and listen to music I have never heard before. Ideas are all around us, we just have to collide them together in the right way and be listening for the new sound they make.”
Lummus also listens to her gut for career choices, not the chatter surrounding her.
“When I started in advertising, everyone told me taking a job at a digital ad agency was a dead end. And that experience has turned out to be incredibly valuable. So just remember that you make your career, it doesn’t make you.”
Janne Brenda Lysø and Stian Johansen
For many years, Norway has been a country whose international advertising reputation rested largely on one agency: TRY. But five years ago, a new player emerged onto the scene, practically erupting like Athena from the skull of her father.
POL was founded by six TRY employees, including creative directors Janne Brenda Lysø and Stian Johansen, and the young agency quickly carved out a reputation as a global creative leader with work like Audi’s “Enter Sandbox,” a VR experience that turned a children’s sandbox into an off-road driving experience. POL and production partner MediaMonks took home five Cannes Lions, including a gold, for that project in 2017.
The agency then partnered with DVA Studio to create an AR app that extends an Audi commercial into your living room.
The agency also recreated a real, ravaged home from a Syria war zone and placed it right in the middle of an Ikea, where most model apartment are picture-perfect and cozy. The campaign raised 23 million euro for the Red Cross.
Most recently, they’ve been proud of their campaign for Norwegian Railway, for which they wrapped trains with large displays celebrating specific train riders as heroes for helping boost the environment and economy by taking the train.
The creative duo, who’ve been partners for nearly 20 years at Oslo agencies including BBDO, Leo Burnett and McCann, say Norway’s small population—about 5 million—poses challenges (namely an increasingly competitive creative marketplace) along with unique benefits.
“We get closer to the marketing directors, closer to the CEOs,” the two say in an email to Adweek, “and in that way we also get closer to the decision-makers, making our work more hands-on.”
The Newport Beach Film Festival’s marquee trailers are known for being instantly memorable, and this year’s promo, a gritty sci-fi vignette by director Jillian Martin, was no exception. “Quota: Who Made the Cut” centers on two weary miners in a dark future world who are relentlessly prodded to harvest a depressingly hefty quantity of crystal each day. It’s punishing work performed while tethered to the side of a mountain, and before long a violent rivalry ensues that leaves the viewer—and one of the miners—dangling. The tagline: “See who made the cut.”
“The original inspiration kind of came from being in the Grand Canyon a week prior and observing the otherworldly natural elements of the canyons,” says Martin. “We worked backwards from the tagline and knew we wanted a battle to the death.” Martin cowrote the trailer from a nine-page script with Robert Dalsey; she then pruned it into a short with creative director Melissa Webber and senior producer Jeff Perino at Garage Team Mazda.
“Quota” was a departure for Martin, whose credits include inspiring spots like HP’s “Reinvent Mindsets: Dads and Daughters” and “What Moves You?” for Degree Women. But then again, she’s used to sharp turns. In college, Martin was all set to be an art teacher when a visit to a film set illuminated a new world of possibilities. Within a week, she uprooted herself and moved to Winter Park, Fla., to attend film school. “I still think it was the best thing I ever did,” she says.
Last year, McArdle’s first full-length feature film, Kissing Candice, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The dark but dreamy coming-of-age story, set in a small Irish town, has been compared to David Lynch’s cult classic, Mulholland Drive.
McArdle grew up in Omagh, Northern Ireland. She got her start directing music videos with powerful narratives around love, dissension and culture for underground artists, like England’s Jon Hopkins as well as Bryan Ferry and James Vincent McMorrow. Her video for U2’s Every Breaking Wave was nominated for a U.K. Music Video Award in 2015.
Known for her intense focus on youth, countercultures and the people who aren’t afraid to break from the status quo and stir the pot, McArdle’s filmography includes distinctive and award-winning commercials for brands such as Under Armour and Audi. She directed Toyota’s inspiring Super Bowl LII commercial, “Good Odds,” following the athletic journey of Paralympic alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft, an eight-time gold medalist. Last year, she helmed Absolut’s beautiful and evocative ad, “Equal Love,” showcasing an array of diverse couples kissing in support of the LGBTQ community.
While her projects differ vastly from one another, they all have McArdle’s unique brand of authenticity. The filmmaker says she’s always inspired by the “people I meet on the streets, my dreams, risk-takers, artists. Overall, just staying curious and empathetic keeps me inspired.”
What can a pizza chain do? Oh sure, it can make pizza, but in 2018 that’s nowhere near enough. Can it fill the potholes in your town to help get your pizza home with maximum speed and minimal jostling? Can it create a wedding registry that’ll keep the happy couple in cheesy, saucy bliss? Can it give Ferris Bueller another day off?
For Domino’s, the answer to all of the above is yes, and the person we have to thank is Kelly McCormick. One of CP+B’s most prolific creatives since joining the Boulder office in 2010, she was promoted to creative director and lead on the Domino’s account in 2016, ushering in a new era of bizarrely charming innovations.
While most of the ideas—such as the Domino’s Wedding Registry and the modern recreation of Bueller’s run home, this time with Stranger Things’ Joe Keery—are silly, social media-savvy fun, her team’s newest idea for the brand shows that advertising can sometimes do more than just sell pizza.
With “Paving for Pizza,” Domino’s pays to repair damaged neighborhood roads, making it easier to get carry-out pizzas home unscathed but also cooking up some goodwill among all residents.
“I’m really proud of our latest Domino’s campaign in which we actually pave potholes and repair roads all over the country to help customers get their carryout pizza home in as pristine condition as possible,” McCormick says. “It’s a bold action for a pizza company to take, but something that really telegraphs how much Domino’s genuinely cares—both about their customer and about the sanctity of their product.”
Nicole Michels McDonagh and Shawn Herron
If you’ve noticed (and hopefully appreciated) the lack of disposable straws in beachside cocktails recently, you’ve got Nicole Michels McDonagh and Shawn Herron to thank for it. The creative duo at Possible Seattle led the charge on Lonely Whale’s #StopSucking campaign encouraging businesses and consumers to avoid plastic straws, which have become a widespread source of pollution and a danger to wildlife.
A celebrity-packed PSA, shareable pledge and catchy hashtag fueled the movement, which helped reduce the number of straws used by 100 million in 2017.
It’s only one of several high-profile campaigns the two have worked on, including several others aimed at making the world a better place.
“I’m most proud of WeCounterHate, the anti-hate speech AI platform we built at the beginning of 2018 to stop the spread of hate on Twitter,” Herron says. “It was one of those rare projects that you somehow sell into your agency that people just rallied around. Long nights, weekends, and an army of freelancers tossing their skills to make it happen—and then to watch it work, that was the magic we had all hoped for, seeing it stop the spread of hate speech up to 50 percent on the tweets we countered.”
For Coca-Cola, McDonagh also created a “Red Bench” campaign that helped revitalize and celebrate community parks in Los Angeles and Atlanta. “We created a film and poster campaign,” she says, “and one of my favorite lines was: ‘Lines on a map make a neighborhood. Love makes a community.’ No matter where you live or where you come from, that’s what it’s all about.”
Jesse McMillin thought he wanted to become a painter, but switched his studies to graphic design and art direction after an epiphany in college.
“Early on, I had that typical crisis many creatives come across,” he says, “I can keep following my pure passion and my own work, but it’s potentially hard to make a living, or I could focus my energy creatively around things that are more broadly in demand.”
That led to design and branding work for Nike in Amsterdam and then to helping Virgin America reinvent air travel in the U.S. He joined Lyft in 2014 and, over the course of his tenure, the brand has created a body of work he says has helped build its identity. That includes Lyft’s Amp device, which sits on car dashboards and changes color to match a customer’s app so they know which car is theirs and “[reinvents] the idea of the taxi light.”
Most recently, McMillin led a visual refresh of the Lyft brand, creating a custom font, logos and color palette.
But despite all his branded creative work, he still paints.
“For me, I kind of always need to have my own personal work. It’s a nice outlet from my other work and they inform each other,” says McMillin. “You can express or try things in your personal work that you may not be able to do in work for brands. But a lot of times you can take inspiration and push ideas you may want to bring to life commercially. You can experiment more.”
This French directing collective is responsible for some of the most noteworthy camerawork of 2018. Think March’s Delta spot from Wieden + Kennedy New York, wherein the group ingeniously transformed myriad tourist scenes into a metaphorical jet-plane runway. Or Nike’s “Nothing Beats a Londoner” February ad from the same agency network’s U.K. office. This blisteringly upbeat 3-minute paean to the city’s diverse athletes and cultures deployed a 360-degree camera, racing drones, GoPros and custom rigs with invisible wires to create a fresh and playful spin on sports marketing montages.
Comprised of Léo Berne, Charles Brisgand, Raphaël Rodriguez and Clément Gallet, Megaforce got its start in 2008, quickly gaining notice for its inventive music videos; eventually directing for the likes of Madonna, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Rihanna—namely, the latter’s provocative, Quentin Tarantino-esque revenge fantasy in 2015 for “Bitch Better Have My Money.”
“It’s really important for us to challenge what we already did in the past,” the group writes to Adweek. “It’s the best way to have a fresh and exciting approach on each new project.”
With five Cannes Lions under their collective belt, Megaforce cites influences ranging from “Japanese fantastic cinema” to “French surreal poetry” and “stupid videos found on YouTube.” While recent brand work includes a heartfelt “Live for the Story” bit for Canon, a classic remains 2012’s wonderfully insane “Pour Spectacular” for Baileys and BBH London, a Busby Berkeley-infused number created with choreographer Michael Rooney and featuring tiny dancers emerging from a glass of the beverage—a vision perhaps more fit for absinthe, or something stiffer yet.
Kako Mendez and Robbin Ingvarsson
When it comes to the emotional power of film, Kako Mendez is a true believer—so much so that he created an app called Feelm that helps you find the right movie for your current mood rather than your favorite genre.
But the film buff can create just as well as he can curate, as proven by the masterpiece Mendez and TBWAMedia Arts Lab partner Robbin Ingvarsson dreamed up this year: Apple HomePod’s “Welcome Home,” directed by (fellow Creative 100 honoree) Spike Jonze and starring dancer FKA twigs.
The longform spot is a stunning piece of craft that combines surreal practical effects with mind-bending visuals, and it was a labor of love for the two associate creative directors.
“It gave us the opportunity to be on a set full of world-class artists,” Mendez says. “There’s no better learning and inspiring experience than that. And the reward was obvious—we got to make a piece that blew people’s minds and hearts away. It was wonderful to see your crazy little dream on a paper become real.”
The duo also led a 2017 visual rebrand of Apple Music and created dramatic spots for the MacBook Pro and Apple Watch.
Ingvarsson, who describes his home country of Sweden as “a culture that doesn’t pay an exaggerated respect to titles,” says a key to creative innovation is finding the balance between respecting those who’ve come before you and carving out your own path.
“Learn from people, collaborate with them,” he says, “but don’t shy away from questioning their ‘truths’—in the nicest of ways.”
It’s unusual for a show to hire a director for the first three episodes of a series—especially if that director isn’t part of the crew. But that’s what happened to Reed Morano, tapped to helm the highly anticipated adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Handmaid’s Tale.
The former cinematographer didn’t think she’d get the call—she’d been pushing for months—but once she did, she had just four days to put together a pitch. The time crunch wasn’t an issue. Morano had answers for every aspect of the show “without having to say, ‘Well, that’s something I’d have to discuss with the cinematographer.’”
She adds that “being specific and being able to break down a scene,” referencing Kubrick’s symmetrical composition for the show’s present-day scenes and using a more “emotional, organic camera moments, kind of vérité” look for the flashbacks, likely helped her land the job.
Morano not only set the tone for this dystopian show, but she also delivered a hit for Hulu—moody, current, intimate yet removed with a pitch-perfect performance from star Elisabeth Moss. It was exactly what one would want from the celluloid version of this haunting tale.
Last September, Morano’s work earned her an Emmy for outstanding directing for a drama series, making her the first woman to score the award in 22 years—and only the third woman in history to be so honored. Currently, Morano is shooting her third feature film, The Rhythm Section, starring Blake Lively, in Spain. In January, she showed her second, I Think We’re Alone Now, at Sundance.
From her youth, Brit Morin was always a creator. As a latchkey child in the ’80s and ’90s, she made things like custom clothes and jewelry—and even a beach bag from Capri Sun cases. As the internet started to become a bigger part of daily life, Morin learned to code. Setting her sights on Silicon Valley, she landed at iTunes, Google and YouTube.
It was while trying to work with TV networks to get long-form video content for YouTube that she realized traditional media companies seemed outdated compared to millennials who were used to uploading content for free and amassing followings just by being themselves. “I left Google with the idea that media was about to get completely disrupted,” she says.
After some time off, Morin joined TechShop, what she calls a “gym for making things,” and started pinning her projects, like décor for her wedding and earrings, on Pinterest. That’s when she started to gain a following of young women who were fascinated by what she was doing, but felt they didn’t have the skills to do it themselves. In 2011 she founded Brit + Co as a media company that included a community of experts in topics like beauty, fashion, food and home.
“It really bothered me this generation—my generation—aspired to be creative, but didn’t know where to start,” says Morin. “It was almost like a new generation of Martha Stewart needed to exist to teach them how.”
Freelance illustrator Dan Mumford developed his unique style from his love of comic books. Not surprisingly, superheroes, Star Wars and other pop culture items are well represented in his portfolio.
“To me, I like to draw things that have a complexity to them,” Mumford says of his bold, ink-heavy style. It’s that very style that has attracted such clients as media giants Disney, Sony and CBS, as well as bands like The Grateful Dead, Queens of the Stone Age, Pearl Jam and others.
Working on multiple Star Wars projects—including creating Imax exclusive poster art for the releases of both The Force Awakens in 2015 and The Last Jedi in 2017—have helped earn Mumford a reputation for instantly memorable artwork.
But he describes his solo exhibition at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles last year, Chroma, his most memorable project to date. “I created all the artwork in small bursts amongst a lot of traveling,” he recalls. “I didn’t get much time to really stop and look at the work as I went along. When the show opened and I finally got to see all the work on the walls, it was quite an amazing feeling. I was exhausted, but very happy.”
Carlos Murad’s work for The Field Museum gave a voice, or 150 voices, to its “Specimens” campaign with a shoestring budget. “Since the Specimens didn’t have a voice, we went out and asked the people of Chicago to lend us theirs through a portable recording booth,” Murad says.
A native of Brazil, Murad first began his stint at Leo Burnett two decades ago as an art director in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Lisbon, Portugal, concluding as executive creative director in Bogota, Colombia.
Returning to his Leo Burnett roots in 2015 as regional creative director of LAPIZ, Murad currently serves as creative director for Leo Burnett Chicago on Samsung and Field Museum accounts.
Interaction with a diverse group of people gives Murad a creative boost. “Talking to people with different cultures, ages and backgrounds is refreshing. A great idea should be great for everyone,” he said.
Notable work from Murad includes Samsung’s “Don’t You Die On Me,” where phone batteries are close to dead as users watch climatic near-death movie scenes; and “Doppelgänger Tourists” for Mexico Beard of Tourism, where workaholics
watch video of their alter egos on a fun-filled vacation meant for them.
For Murad, running helps him keep a handle on the work chaos: “Running is great. It’s the only moment that I can organize my ideas and do my personal therapy. You are more productive after a long run in the morning.”
His advice for young creatives is a simple message but one that reflects a frequent challenge for the artistically minded: They should “create ideas for people and not for themselves.”
“Everything I’ve done up until this point has come from a really organic process of finding collaborators I like and intuitively following what’s interesting to me,” says music video and TV director Hiro Murai, whose approach this year has led to some of his most accomplished work yet, alongside frequent creative partner Donald Glover.
Murai returned to Glover’s FX comedy Atlanta, directing seven episodes of Season 2, highlighted by the surreal, terrifying episode “Teddy Perkins,” in which Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) ends up at a mansion owned by an odd, pale, reclusive pop star (Glover, in whiteface).
“Donald wrote that episode and we’re interested in the same things: We like the absurd, we like the uncanny, tonally complicated pieces of media. It is a horror genre episode, but it’s also dryly funny and tonally ambiguous in a lot of ways,” says Murai, who focused on the “negative space” between the two characters. “Just let us bathe in all the clock-ticking and room tone that’s in that mansion.”
He pulled off another visual masterpiece last month with “This Is America,” the provocative music video from Glover’s musical alter ego, Childish Gambino.
“For me, that video was all about capturing the feeling and anxiety that I’ve certainly had and that the song evokes. It’s not a concrete thing; it’s a very abstract feeling,” says Murai, who has been blown away by the video’s 254-million-and-counting views on YouTube. “Whenever you’re making something, you’re hoping that it connects with somebody in some big way, but I’d have to be crazy to expect that.”
When it comes to food, Michelle Nguyen sees things differently than most of us. Literally.
“I have synesthesia, where I associate experiences with colors,” she says. “Cooking, or even eating, to me is almost exactly like painting a picture. Every ingredient, sound, texture and taste formulates a color that gets layered and stored into my brain like a painting.”
That might explain why, after leaving her successful tenure as design director for lifestyle media site Brit + Co to launch San Francisco agency startup Scout Lab, one of her first major projects has been to create stunning visual content for Plenty, a network of local farms that use vertical gardening techniques to create healthy food with a minimal footprint.
“Not only do I get to combine my love for design and food, but the experience has also been deeply rewarding because I’m developing creative for a brand that I truly believe will change the world,” Nguyen says.
The magazine-quality creative direction for Plenty has been strategic and hands-on joy for Nguyen. “I loved getting down and dirty in the process,” she says. “I handled everything from concept of photography to model selection and even recipe development with our food stylists.”
Any free time Nguyen finds between work projects is spent on her two other great passions: travel and true crime.
“I find creativity in how crimes are solved, putting the case together piece by piece through evidence, testimonies, and facts versus perception,” she says. “I actually thought about becoming a forensic scientist before I decided to get into design.”
“Very Blade Runner-esque.”
That’s how Eddie Opara describes one of his favorite recent projects, the visual design of a seven-story digital screen you can walk through to enter Thailand’s MahaNakhon Cube. The towering display fronts a mixed-use complex outside Bangkok’s tallest tower.
The project represents the fascinating fringe of how “design” is defined in the modern world, with Opara’s team working to create everything from a custom typeface tailored for the towering screen’s elongated pixels to a dynamic visual aesthetic that reflects the city’s daily cycle (calmer at sunrise and dusk, faster-paced at rush hour).
Such futuristic projects might create the mental image of Opara as a frenzied visionary from science fiction, but in fact he finds he’s most rejuvenated when he finds moments of peace and reflection.
“Through finding a quiet stop, sometimes going for a walk, or at Mass—yes, Mass, how un-PC—I find that I zone out easily, and it clears my head and allows me to think,” he says. “I need to go way more often to that.”
Born in London, Opara received his MFA from Yale University less than 10 years before starting his own design firm, The Map Office, in 2005. In 2010 he became a partner at Pentagram, one of the field’s most respected firms.
His advice for those looking to reach such professional heights? “Travel and see this amazing world we have. It will open your idea about so many cultures and ways of seeing—more than Instagram, Facebook and Twitter combined.”
It made for an eerie, otherworldly sight during Toronto’s rush hour: an empty streetcar, swathed in black, running its route like a ghost ship amid a sea of commuters.
The riderless car was a commemoration of the more than 200 workers in Ontario who die on the job each year, and its Friday evening route marked the arrival that Saturday of the National Day of Mourning dedicated to remembering such deaths.
“It was incredibly rewarding to see how powerful the work was, how moved people were and how it made them think differently about their own safety at work,” says Helen Pak, president of Grey Toronto, which created the project for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario.
Pak joined Grey in 2017 after many years in other Canadian agency executive roles, including CEO and CCO of Havas Canada, Toronto-based evp and ECD of Saatchi & Saatchi, and creative director at Ogilvy. An award-winning architect before pivoting to a career in creative direction, Pak also served as a creative strategist for Facebook and Instagram from 2013 through 2014.
Canada can be a challenging market for creative agencies due to the combination of tech fluency, high consumer standards and far smaller marketing budgets than a similar brand might allocate in the U.S. But Pak says this combination can result in a focus on great ideas that don’t depend on massive media spends for success.
“We are continually faced with adapting global assets and confronted with shrinking local budgets,” Pak says, “and as such, we find ourselves having to be more inventive and more innovative in how we make our ideas more relevant and breakthrough. Although the industry is changing, I find this to be a very exciting time where the best ideas rise to the top.”
Daniel Pérez Pallares
The theme of breaking down barriers isn’t hard to spot in Daniel Pérez Pallares’ work. As CCO of Leo Burnett Mexico, he created an epic spot for Corona directly connecting President Trump’s proposed border wall with the internal walls that hold us back from our potential. He also helped those who’ve lost limbs surmount the obstacle of phantom pain syndrome with Samsung Gear VR.
But one of his greatest accomplishments since joining The Community has been to knock down a more subtle barrier: the antiquated divide between mainstream U.S. advertising and multicultural marketing.
For Verizon’s ads targeting Hispanic audiences, Pallares’ team could have simply created a Spanish-speaking equivalent of Silicon Valley star Thomas Middleditch’s spokesman character—and in fact, they did. But they brought the two characters together, with Mexican actor Luis Gerardo Méndez suavely stepping in when eminently awkward Middleditch finds himself hitting a language barrier in ads like “Date Interrupted” and “Marathon.”
That work “served as a great experience that taught me a lot,” he says. “In 30 seconds, we achieved reuniting two general market and Hispanic market celebrities. Within the situation, we tried to show an insight while keeping a humorous style that went with the campaign and characters. These factors posed a huge challenge–and I think the piece turned out very organic and fun, while communicating the message very well.”
Outside of work, Pérez Pallares’ maintains a dizzying amount of creative side projects, including writing a feature-length movie and a video series while also developing an app with friends.
When, two years ago, Vera Papisova was named Teen Vogue’s first wellness editor, she sat down and composed a syllabus, with help from experts, outlining how she wanted to cover mental, physical and sexual health, relationships, body image, and other issues from an intersectional perspective. The groundbreaking vertical, launched in March 2016 with such content as “What It Means to Be Intersex” and “This Is a Love Letter for Any Uterus That Bleeds,” saw its traffic increase 10 percent month over month its first year live.
Earlier this year, the Boston University graduate was promoted to wellness features editor, expanding her platform to editing and producing stories and videos on topics that include mental health, nutrition, sexual identity and fitness. In her video series, Guys Read, Papisova invited men to read stories about women’s issues by women. Her most commented-on piece was also Teen Vogue’s best-performing article of 2018, “Sexual Harassment Was Rampant at Coachella.” In it, Papisova interviewed 54 women attending the wildly popular musical festival: All of them described being groped, assaulted or sexually harassed. Papisova herself was inappropriately touched 22 times, shining a light on the ways in which women are violated by strangers in public spaces.
“My hope,” Papisova says, “is that by sharing young people’s experiences and providing accurate information from experts that Teen Vogue can continue to be a reliable resource for inclusive and non-judgmental conversation.”
Every part of the world has its own tapestry of cultures, ethnicities and political perspectives, but in terms of complexity, few can rival the Middle East and North African area known in the corporate world as MENA.
But Kalpesh Patankar, ECD of Y&R MENA, has been one of the marketing industry’s unifying forces in the region, bringing together disparate groups while also pushing the area’s clients forward. His approach is best captured by “The One Book for Peace,” which highlighted the many similarities between the Bible and the Quran and was mailed to world leaders. Created for Interreligious Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it became a global sensation.
“We always have to be aware of cultural sensitivities here, as we create work that defies boundaries and borders—ideas whose creative spirit have not been restricted, but instead raise the bar,” Patankar says. “The MENA market has grown, and now people see it as a hub for creativity. We are proud to keep this momentum going.”
Patankar’s career has taken him across much of the world, with stints at agencies in India, Malaysia and Singapore. He’s now based in Dubai, where he recently led the process of creating the city’s own font. It was Microsoft’s first city-specific typeface and will have a global impact for the destination. “We told the story of the city through type,” he says, “and embedded that brand in over 100 million devices across the world.”
Since age 14, Laurence Philomène has been taking photos, beginning with images of dolls, later evolving into photos of friends, who remain largely the subject of personal and commercial pieces. Many of the Montreal native’s photos deal with identity, queerness and color theory, which is particularly evident in their ongoing series: Non-Binary Portraits.
“The idea behind it is to showcase a different side of the trans community than what was being shown in the mainstream media,” says Philomène, who identifies as non-binary and has photographed friends and others in the community who also identify as non-binary.
The series challenges perceptions of beauty and gender. “A main goal of mine is to make people feel calm and loved and included as much as possible,” Philomène says.
“I’ve had so many people reach out to me and tell me that my photography has helped them to cope with their identities,” Philomène shares. “I’ve also had people reach out to me and tell me that it’s made them think about what can be beautiful and what is beautiful and things like that. And that’s something that I really love and am really glad that I’m able to do.”
Philomène, who directed a touching “13 Reasons Why You Matter” video for Netflix and photographed for VSCO and Converse, developed the Artist Interview Series on Adolescent.net that features emerging artists in various fields.
Amy Reeder and Natacha Bustos
Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur has flourished as an example of a more inclusive future in comics thanks, in large part, to the the distinct artistry of Natacha Bustos and the work of multitalented Amy Reeder, who writes for the series and created its early cover designs.
Since 2015, the creative team behind the hit comic has chronicled the adventures of Lunella Lafayette—a quick-witted 9-year-old girl, heralded as the smartest person in the Marvel Universe—and her mentally linked, gargantuan partner in heroics, Devil Dinosaur. Co-created with writer Brandon Montclare and colorist Tamra Bonvillain, the comic is a look at Lunella’s cosmic battle to save the world from evil while fighting a genetic mutation that is destined to morph her into something inhuman.
Though the comic succeeds in taking the reader on a boisterous, action-packed ride, it manages to do something even more iconic: It centers the dynamic story of a young, brilliant black girl who excels in invention and openly embraces her intellect. “She’s a genius, she’s young, she roller skates, she’s black, she wears glasses, she likes science, she has difficulty relating to other people,” Reeder says of the award-winning character. “Just one of those things could align with you, and I think it makes you as a reader have more stake in the character.”
In February, Marvel TV announced plans to develop Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur into an animated television series, opening up the comic to a brand-new audience. “From the outset, this comic had the potential to make a difference,” says Bustos, “and it’s great to see that three years down the line it continues to exceed those expectations.”
Some projects leave an indelible mark on the creatives who lead them, but Nat Resende’s in-house campaign for 2017’s International Women’s Day also had an impact on the rest of the 22squared office.
“We created a website that asked all of our female employees, ‘What’s the one thing you hate being called at work?’ The data collected from the website was then used to design a series of posters meant to make everyone stop and reflect on the words they’ve often used when speaking to or about women,” she says. “Now, a year later, if you walk around 22squared, you still see those empowerment messages sprinkled throughout the office.”
Resende began her career at Brazil’s AlmapBBDO, followed by gigs at The Martin Agency in Richmond, 22squared Atlanta and Havas Atlanta, until she rejoined 22squared in 2017 as creative director. There, she’s worked on a wide array of projects for clients like The Home Depot, including its Built-In Pins campaign that packs entire home improvement projects into Pinterest pins.
She recently debuted Gaynimation, a side project on Instagram where she creates LGBTQA-inspired content.
“Being part of the LBGTQA community myself, I’ve often felt a lack of artistic representation when it comes to GIF animations and expressions of queer lifestyle on social media, she says. “I feel curating the Gaynimation content is increasingly beneficial to my creativity at work.”
To quench her thirst for knowledge and inspiration, Resende likes to hit the road. “I take solo road trips across the U.S. and travel to new places whenever possible. Traveling as a source of inspiration is as cliche as it gets, but this cliche only exists for one reason: It works every time.”
When Adam Rippon stepped onto the red carpet at the Oscars, even jaded Hollywood raised its eyebrows. It wasn’t that “America’s Sweetheart” (as the Olympic figure skating champion proclaimed himself) wasn’t expected to show up—it’s just that he wasn’t expected to show up wearing a harness under his tux jacket.
The touch of leather was fitting. Rippon is, after all, the first openly gay man to snare an Olympic medal (and the harness was by Moschino). But Rippon’s gesture said as much about his personality as his sexuality. As he leaves the world of competitive skating behind—28 is old for the sport—Rippon is arguably better positioned to step into celebrity shoes than most former Olympians.
“Right now I’m in a morphing stage,” Rippon says. “I’ll always be an athlete at heart, but at my very core I’ve always been an entertainer and a performer.”
Most recently, Rippon proved that his fancy footwork isn’t limited to the ice by taking first place on Dancing With the Stars—which helped (along with the shirtless pics) push his Instagram following to 829,000. Rippon’s recent Twitter fight with Vice President Mike Pence over gay rights has also moved him away from mere athleticism and into the realm of social commentator.
Which probably means that, before long, the brand endorsement deals will be coming. Rippon isn’t opposed—so long as “it stays true to the message of who I am,” he says. “If it feels [like] you’re just doing it for money, people see right through that.”
Shannon Ross and Kenia Perez
Advertising’s lack of diversity and inclusiveness is a complex, multifaceted problem, and many think that hiring is the only path to progress. But Shannon Ross and Kenia Perez believe there’s another approach that needs to be embraced: dialogue.
So the two associate creative directors created “Not So FAQ,” a conversation card game and video project that grouped together their fellow R/GA employees and then had them draw questions for each to answer. Prompts included “What languages do you speak?” and “Did your family have any superstitions?”
“As women of color, we saw a need to do something about the ad industry’s ongoing struggle with diversity and inclusion,” Perez says. “We’re especially proud of this project because it’s not for any client or brand; it’s for people. Too often we’ve been left outside of the recurring circles of sameness that traditionally exist in this industry solely based on our gender, race, or even our age. So we’re proud to have created a tool for people to get to know one another through personal questions and stories that have the power to reveal the remarkable humans they are outside of a job title and description.”
On the client side, they created a social strategy to launch eBay Fashion onto Instagram, going from zero to 11,000 followers in two months. They also created an integrated campaign to promote Verizon’s NFL mobile partnership and, via nonprofit collective Papel & Caneta, developed a campaign urging New York’s governor to restrict plastic bags.
From the moment Kristen Roupenian published her debut short story, Cat Person, in The New Yorker last December, she became a literary sensation.
The story is a cautionary but all-too-relatable tale about online dating, centered on a 20-year-old college student, Margot, who goes on a date with an older man, Robert, and after back-and-forth, breaks things off with him. It went viral, became the magazine’s second most read article of the year and kicked off a bidding war that garnered Roupenian a seven-figure, two-book deal.
Roupenian has said she was inspired to write the piece—which touched off a firestorm of debate about consent, modern dating and gender dynamics—after a nasty online encounter.
“When you’re dating, you show up and there’s somebody across the table from you and they’re not who you want, but you want to make it work, so you think: ‘I need to act differently,’” Roupenian recently told British journalist Dolly Alderton. “That’s not at all who you are when you are friends with someone.”
Roupenian holds a Ph.D. in English from Harvard and an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan, where she is currently on a writing fellowship. She also recently sold a horror movie script, called Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, to A24, the independent entertainment company behind Lady Bird and Ex Machina. Eagerly anticipated is her debut collection of stories, You Know You Want This, due to be published by Scout Press in the U.S. and in more than 20 other countries next year.
Darryl Sharp Jr.
Whether it’s turning music artists like Migos into weekly Instagram animations for Laundry Service client Beats by Dre as part of his day job or colorfully reimagining his hip-hop idols’ album covers on his own time, Darryl Sharp Jr. is constantly creating culturally relevant projects aimed at making “a really big splash.” Sharp says he finds inspiration everywhere. In Los Angeles, where he resides, he spends most of his downtime going to free events to “people watch” and strike up conversations with strangers.
“I love capturing different experiences,” Sharp notes, because they could lead to a viral moment. That’s what Sharp says he loves most about advertising—it can be used to tap into trending topics and even push cultural conversations to virality.
Recognizing that he is part of a group of “few and far between” black graphic designers, Sharp says it’s always important for him to highlight voices not often heard.
One personal project he produced was a series of motion animations that saw his favorite hip-hop artists as Marvel superheroes including Childish Gambino—his utmost idol—as Gambit, aka “Childish Gambito.” As a child, Sharp says he used to visit record stores weekly just to study album covers. Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) is one artist Sharp is dying to work with; specifically, doing the artwork for his upcoming album and the last under the Gambino moniker. Sharp posted his own version of Childish Gambino’s video for his single, “This is America,” to his Instagram, featuring an animated Glover head—which captured the artist’s persona to a T. “But make no mistake,” says Sharp; his work is always “100 percent me.”
Alex Shulhafer and Piper Hickman
“It’s not often in advertising that you’re able to be a part of something with such real-world impact.”
Most creatives spend their careers hoping to find opportunities that could be described that way, and for Alex Shulhafer, the project was a truly special one. Bravo Tango Brain Training, a voice-activated app on the Google Assistant platform, was created by the agency and National Geographic to help veterans cope with the lingering emotional toll of their time in the military.
Released the weekend of Veterans Day 2017, the app was inspired by the client’s scripted miniseries The Long Road Home. Bravo Tango asked users to describe their current emotions, and then provided guided meditation and other calming techniques to help sooth nerves or alleviate anxiety. It was designed with an Air Force psychologist.
“The stories told throughout the series inspired us to help real soldiers,” Shulhafer says. “Our exit interviews show that many soldiers are using Bravo Tango regularly, to help with falling asleep, meditation and other life needs.”
Her partner, fellow GCD Piper Hickman, has straightforward advice for young ad pros looking to create opportunities for rewarding work: First put in the work.
“Find your own voice and own your own process,” she says. “Study the Greeks. And Joseph Campbell. Chat up the C-suites in the elevator. Learn how to present. Show up. Listen. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially when you’re young; no one expects you to know what you’re doing.”
While many might know Solange for her contributions to the music industry—her 2016 album, A Seat at the Table, received widespread praise from critics and fans alike—this artist does much more than drop killer albums. Over the course of her career, Solange has perfected the art of connecting music with other, boundary-pushing artistic pursuits. Earlier this year, she was honored at the 70th annual Parsons Benefit for her contributions to the world of fashion, design and art.
Emblematic of her ability to merge artistic worlds can be found in this year’s Metatronia. In the performance art installation, which she directed, a series of dancers performs different movements in front of a massive cube sculpture. Solange partnered with Uniqlo, agency Droga5 London and the Hammer Museum on the piece, meant to explore the process of creation while also highlighting Uniqlo’s line of sportswear.
Solange says about the work: “Continuing my practices and interest in exploring the relationship of movement and architecture as a meditation, Metatronia centers around building frequency and creating change through visual storytelling.”
Solange also brought her directing talents to the music video for SZA’s hit song “The Weekend,” and it was recently announced that Solange’s Saint Heron collective will be collaborating with Ikea on an as-yet-undefined project about “architectural and design objects with multifunctional use.”
Ray “Neutron” Spears
A former factory and janitorial worker, Ray “Neutron” Spears (he earned the nickname from “a girl in high school for his nerdy tendencies and large cranium”) broke into professional photography as a wedding photo editor in Los Angeles in 2013. Over the years he’s expanded his artistry through mixed media, documentary filming and portraiture.
The work of the now New York-based photographer and Typical Magazine co-founder reflects a singular interest: to capture the intrinsic beauty of every person’s most human moments. “I hope to make everyday citizens appear larger than life and the celebrity feel relatable,” says Spears. “My dream job is to photograph Jay-Z frying an egg, Beyoncé taking out the trash and their security guard Julius sipping D’ussé in a Maybach. That kind of imagery will be important in 30 years.”
These days Spears maintains a career that allows him to take on multiple projects ranging from commercial work to public speaking. With an impressive roster of clients that includes the likes of Apple, Heineken, Lecrae and Zoë Kravitz, Spears has established a sort of signature, unaffected vibe that makes his body of work feel intimate and genuine. Many of the images can be found on his Instagram page and the magazine that he co-founded with his wife, who just so happens to be the same young woman who gifted him his nickname way back when.
When it comes to brilliant creative with a razor-sharp edge, few agencies on the global scene have a reputation that can rival Jung von Matt.
For women’s rights group Terre de Femmes, Jung von Matt had transgender job applicants seek the same roles, as both a man and a woman, with the sadly predictable result being that they received substantially better job offers when applying as men.
Behind that work and many other projects is CCO and international creative superstar Dörte Spengler-Ahrens, who has been a creative partner with the agency for 15 years.
Spengler-Ahrens says she’s also quite proud of a recent effort for Berlin mass transit agency BVG, which was struggling with a negative perception among locals, especially young Berliners. Jung von Matt created a partnership between BVG and quintessentially cool footwear brand Adidas to create stylish sneakers that double as a one-year pass for the mass transit system.
While consumers are increasingly distracted from and disinterested in advertising, she says that obstacle can also force agencies to create work that will actually earn—rather than just demand—attention.
“The good thing is that more and more in times where people are not deliberately watching content, you need distinct creative work to entertain them,” she says. “The ones who can entertain the audience the best will be the most successful. This is great for our industry.
Many new creative chiefs are brought to an agency to help lift it out of a slump, but Darren Spiller had the rare experience of arriving just as his new shop was embarking on one of its most celebrated campaigns ever.
Joining Host/Havas (formed from two recently combined shops in Havas’ Australian portfolio) in early 2017, Spiller came on as work on <a href=”https://dev.adweek.com/creativity/the-palau-pledge-a-small-nations-massive-environmental-effort-just-won-a-top-global-honor/”>the Palau Pledge</a> was getting underway. The project, which now requires all tourists to sign a pledge to protect the environment and wildlife of the Micronesian nation of Palau, has since built global buzz, won top honors from the D&AD Awards and is positioned as a social-good front runner at Cannes this year.
“Whilst I can’t take credit for the work, it would be remiss not to call out my immense pride for the incredible work my team did on the Palau Pledge, which was recently awarded a D&AD Black Pencil—one of eight (pencils) it received,” he says. “The tenacity and passion of the team to see that to fruition is part of what convinces me I have one of the most enviable and talented creative departments in the world.”
Spiller is a well-known figure in the Australian ad world and internationally, having served as DDB Melbourne’s creative chief for five years after a stint as CCO of Minneapolis-based Fallon. Since joining Host/Havas, his favorite work that he’s personally led creation on was Air New Zealand’s cheeky “Very Merry Mistake,” in which Santa struggles to make sense of the Kiwi accent.
“It combined all the things that make a campaign memorable,” he says of the effort for the airline. “It combined a great insight, surprising storytelling, and integrated social, film and product creation.”
Keenly aware of Australia’s proud tradition as an advertising innovator—the country has spawned everything from Cannes Lions Grand Prix record-holder “Dumb Ways to Die” (from McCann Melbourne) to last year’s bizarre auto-safety creation “Meet Graham” (via Clemenger BBDO Melbourne)—Spiller says his country’s obsession with pushing the envelope can be a mixed blessing.
“Australia is quick to take up what’s new and shiny. It can often put us ahead of the game,” he says. “However, that kind of behavior can also force us into doing things because it’s new rather than it’s right.”
It stands to reason that Max Stinson was destined to make his way to Portland, one of the world’s most exciting music meccas. The Rose City’s independent spirit has long kept it brimming with artists of every conceivable stripe.
Originally intending to focus his career on music production, Stinson instead landed in advertising, first at Element 79 in his hometown of Chicago and now at Wieden + Kennedy Portland, where he’s brought a deft touch and fresh voice to brands including Nike, Old Spice, Dodge Chrysler, Facebook, TurboTax and Powerade.
“Music has always been an escape from the demands of creativity as well as a major influence and inspiration for creativity,” says Stinson. “It always reminds me that there are levels to how much an idea can move people.”
One particular brand that Stinson connects deeply with is Powerade. “I have a real connection with the brand,” he says. “I see myself in the kids that we market to. So whether we’re trying to inspire them or give them a good laugh I’m always pushing to deliver something special with every project.”
Though he didn’t end up in the music business, he still makes time to compose beats and DJ from time to time—creative oxygen that keeps him current and lets him create on his own terms: “It’s nice to just be able to create something without rules or expectations.”
Between her popular graphic novels Skim and This One Summer, New York Times best-selling author and artist Mariko Tamaki’s creative laurels include an Ignatz Award, Dayne Ogilvie Prize, Eisner Award and a Caldecott Honor. Each holds a special significance for her. “Any time someone, or a committee of someones, tells you you’re doing a good job, it feels pretty good,” says Tamaki.
Tamaki uses the comic book medium to creatively explore identity and humanity within extraordinary beings. She has lent her talents to both Marvel and DC Comics, penning multiple issues She-Hulk and the Supergirl: Being Super miniseries. Though Jennifer Walters and Kara Danvers are fundamentally different legacy characters in completely different universes, Tamaki’s touch threaded their stories with a shared sense of introspection and self-discovery. Her distinctive voice intermingled heroic feats with lessons about processing trauma, self-care and the complex relationship between strength and human emotion.
In the recent She-Hulk series “Jen Walters Must Die,” for example, Tamaki touchingly conveyed the character’s journey through the grief cycle after the death of her cousin, Bruce Banner. While maintaining the action setpieces one would expect from a superhero comic, Tamaki’s writing brought nuance and heart to the multi-issue arc.
On March 14, Marvel officially announced that Tamaki would be writing the story of Laura Kinney in X-23, set to debut this July, featuring the artistry of Juann Cabal. “I think there’s some pretty common themes in a lot of my work, things like identity and fate, responsibility and consequence,” Tamaki says. “There will definitely be a lot of that in X-23. Also as a comic about clones, it’s a lot about the definition of family.”
The world-changing powers of humanity and creativity were never abstract ideas to Feh Tarty, born in Liberia and raised in the United States, where he watched from a distance as loved ones endured a brutal civil war.
Those memories felt fresh when he served as creative director on the 2017 music video for “No Refuge” by PARISI and Wu-Tang Clan alumnus RZA.
“It was emotional for me because members of my family fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries in order to survive Liberia’s civil war, which began in 1990,” Tarty says. “As a child growing up in the U.S., it was hard listening to some voices in the media refer to Liberian refugees as a nuisance, rather than parents, siblings and children fleeing for their lives to unite with their loved ones—and in many instances risking their own lives to save others.”
Tarty created the video while running his own London agency called Stay in School, which he left to take on a CD role at consultancy SYPartners before being named to his current role, CCO of SS+K. Previous roles include creative stints at DDB Los Angeles, Mother London and Wieden + Kennedy London.
Passionate (or, as he says, “super nerdy”) about history and human behavior, Tarty believes that creativity is a defining aspect of how mankind endures its greatest times of crisis.
“Eventually, after some unbearable suffering, our survival tends to fall on our creative ideas and willingness to work together,” he says. “The minute we lose sight of that, the earth will simply hit reset without us.”
Liz Taylor is writing a book. She wants you to know this, because the more she mentions it, the more pressure she’ll feel to actually get it done.
“It’s a goal I’ve always had,” she says. “I try to take time each year to head off into the woods, surrounded by trees and nature’s soundtrack, to work on it. It’s rewarding to be a maker, a writer, a storyteller.”
Regardless of whether or when her book gets published, Taylor’s storytelling is frequently on display in the work from FCB Chicago and, prior to that, from her time as an ECD at Ogilvy. At FCB she’s worked with brands big and small, including creating the 2018 Super Bowl ad for Michelob Ultra featuring Chris Pratt.
For under-the-radar men’s products brand Archer, FCB Chicago created a PR coup by giving a minor-league baseball pitcher “the biggest sports endorsement deal of all time”—$3.4 billion, with the clever caveat that it would be disbursed over 10 million years. The work won two Cannes Lions and an Effie.
But Taylor’s favorite project was the eye-opening “Teddy Gun,” which created a gun in the shape of a teddy bear. The gun-control advocacy project wanted to highlight that toys often face stricter regulation in America than firearms.
“The campaign accomplished what all the headlines and news coverage on the gun violence epidemic couldn’t,” Taylor says. “On April 27, 2017, Illinois Senate Bill 1657 (the Gun Dealer Licensing Act) was passed—a huge step forward for gun regulations in Illinois and beyond.”
The Cast of The Good Place: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil
Creator and showrunner Michael Schur expected that audiences would initially watch his wildly inventive NBC sitcom about the afterlife because of stars Ted Danson and Kristen Bell.
“But we all knew this is an ensemble,” he says. “It was always going to be about four people [D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto and Jameela Jamil] who are locked in a weird, private hell , the demon who was torturing them [Danson] and the weird repository for all the knowledge in the universe that is there for the ride [Carden].”
To fill out a cast that deftly sells every farcical twist and matches comedic wits with Danson and Bell, Schur credits casting director Allison Jones and her associate Ben Harris for “finding these people who no one’s ever seen before, who magically fit the roles perfectly. Jameela was a host from England, and had never acted before. Manny is a Filipino kid from Vancouver, Will was a New York theater actor, and D’Arcy was an L.A. improvisational actor.”
For Season 2, as The Good Place switched gears with the big revelation that its characters were actually in “the bad place,” Schur and his writing team amplified the cast’s comedic strengths (“we know what the weapons are now,” he explains), leading to more moments like a scene early in Season 2 where the cast distracts Jacinto’s dopey Jason with a lit sparkler, to his utter delight. “It’s a very simple scene,” Schur says, “but they’re so alive with each other, that even those tiny, throwaway moments become really special.”
Angie Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give, explores some of America’s most rancorous and sensitive subjects: poverty, racism and violence.
The story of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old girl who witnesses a police officer shooting her unarmed best friend, began as a short story. Thomas says she was inspired to write the story in college, after a white police officer fatally shot Oscar Grant III, an unarmed black man in Oakland, Calif.
Her searing novel details how the character, Carter, navigates her poor, black hometown and the mostly white suburban prep school she attends while coping with the trauma and grief she’s experiencing.
“I knew that while the topic was timely, it was also controversial,” she told The New York Times. “I say: ‘It probably will make you uncomfortable. I’m not here to give you comfort.’” The Hate U Give has spent more than 60 weeks on The New York Times’ young adult best-seller list, much of that time at No. 1. A movie adaptation starring the Hunger Games’ Amandla Stenberg and Issa Rae began shooting last fall.
Born in Mississippi, where she still lives, Thomas earned her BFA in creative writing from Belhaven University. Her next novel, On the Come Up, is an homage to hip-hop due for publication next year.
Are paid media and owned media two different worlds? Not to Franklin Tipton, an agency industry veteran who says the content lines are blurring.
“Yes, we still produce ads, but we use social media to blast-test directions, style and ideas using Facebook as a ‘campaign incubator,’” he says of his approach at San Francisco’s Odysseus Arms. “From there, we finesse individual executions and push them with paid media. The cost versus impact on sales is a multiple of anything I’ve seen in 25 years.”
He’s found some fun brands to share this journey with him, too. For booking app Hotel Tonight, the agency’s cheeky work has included social-friendly, pet-centric posters and videos about the annoyances of lodging with relatives, saying: “Visit family. Stay with us.”
With Barefoot Wines, Odysseus Arms says its social content approach has yielded visibility 600 times higher than what other large brands are seeing on Facebook., and the agency says its work for Foster Farms Corn Dogs sparked a 22 percent growth in sales. He’s even done “invertising” work for Facebook, promoting the social network’s internal culture of charitable giving.
For Tipton, the job definitely isn’t just about financial results. He makes time for both the social impact of projects like the agency’s ACLU poster calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and for simple pleasures, like teaching hundreds of kids around the world how to surf. When asked about what he’s learned in his time in advertising, he’s quick to see the positives: “Are you kidding? Best job on earth.”
If you’re on Twitter at all, you’re likely aware of brands engaging in playful online banter. When it comes to branded content, the tweeting of gentle teases and repartee among brands and their customers is the new normal. And among the most fun, witty and memorable practitioners is the MoonPie Twitter account.
Guided by Dooley Tombras, MoonPie’s sassy tone has differentiated itself from the pack, eschewing traditional marketing messaging. For instance, it tweeted: “It is the year 2032. Twitter has been abandoned except for brand accounts who continue to talk to each other and roast bots every once in a while.” Last year, MoonPie was named one of Adweek’s breakthrough marketers.
The Tombras Group is MoonPie’s agency of record, and the social media team’s irreverent and edgy tone has driven results. For instance, Tombras has built out the firm’s “in-house content factory, design lab and social media command center,” while agency revenue has increased tenfold under his leadership.
The Tombras team has brought its clever communications to bear on such accounts as the national brand campaign for Orangetheory, a hyper-targeted boutique fitness company, and those of Maaco and Meineke.
With marketers embracing the new frontier of social media in ever-changing ways, MoonPie is a bright example of how to gain customer attention and loyalty—though that’s the kind of traditional corporate speak that would probably leave MoonPie tweeting “Lol ok.”
Lisa Topol and Derek Barnes
In advertising, when you find the perfect partner, you never want to be parted. But promotions and job changes usually bring an end to such dream duos.
That seemed to be the fate in store for Lisa Topol and Derek Barnes, who met at Wieden + Kennedy New York in the 2000s but parted ways to work at different agencies. Then they were reunited at Grey as ECDs in 2013, and this year, DDB New York lured them both away to be its co-CCOs.
At Grey New York, their partnership fueled the creativity for brands like the NFL, Bose and Best Buy. Topol and Barnes are most proud to look back on their 2015 Super Bowl spot for NoMore.org, which let audiences listen to a chilling conversation between a 911 operator and a domestic violence victim pretending to order a pizza while her abuser was in the room.
“This was just before the ‘Me Too’ movement blew the lid off the types of behavior women are all too often exposed to every day,” Topol says. “It used one of the biggest platforms in the world to deliver a very compelling, sobering and real statement about the often silent issue of domestic violence. It made noise and it made phones ring at domestic violence hotlines across the nation.”
Activism and social causes have increasingly fueled Topol’s creative pursuits, such as the posters she wrote for the 2017 Women’s March, with slogans like “pRESIDENT EVIL” and “Is That Putin in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Happy to Deceive Me?”
“Sitting back and watching this implosion is not an option,” she says. “Along with friends and colleagues we launched a huge series of protest signs we made available on Tumblr for free download. I was amazed when I saw them show up all over the march in D.C.”
Alex Trochut’s innovative typography, logos and illustrations have made him the go-to artist for clients who don’t want business as usual. Anomaly New York hired him to interpret Johnnie Walker’s striding equestrian as a female rider, “Jane Walker.” For TBWA, he designed 10 wildly creative posters for McDonald’s “10 Years of Big Mac” campaign, variously inspired by vintage video games, mixtapes, circuit boards and Bitcoin. For DDB Barcelona, Trochut made financial services look cool for Volkswagen, designing a logo that would fit right in on a music festival poster.
“It’s part of my job to present content in a surprising and seductive way,” explains Trochut, whose work has been recognized by the Art Directors Club, Type Directors Club and the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, among others. “I try to be as chameleonic as I can.”
Trochut was born in Barcelona, Spain, where he ran his own design studio after college before moving to New York. Working with a mix of analog (photography, paint, pencil, brushes) and digital tools, he constantly tests the limits of his creativity.
He recently collaborated with electronic musicians including LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on an enigmatic portrait series called “Binary Prints.” He’s also added 3-D to his arsenal. “Working with 3-D space, light, form and movement has definitely opened a door to incredible possibilities and results,” he says. “My final objective is to grab people’s attention for as long as I can.”
Mike Van Linda and Fabiano “Tatu” de Queiroz
For children with cancer, the experience can be especially upsetting because, in addition to the pain and disorientation, there’s an overwhelming sense of confusion about what’s happening.
Thanks to an RPA team led by creative directors Mike Van Linda and Fabiano “Tatu” de Queiroz, kids now have an incredible resource that speaks their language: the Imaginary Friend Society. Working with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and animators around the world, the team created 22 films, with characters inspired by real kids’ imaginary friends, to help children understand how cancer works and how it’s treated. An AR app even brings the campaign’s vibrant characters to life right in the hospital room.
“The Imaginary Friend Society is the most important project we’ve ever been a part of,” Van Linda says. “The utility of the campaign makes us incredibly proud, as does its longevity. It will be around long after we’re gone. However, while we love the campaign and the tremendous impact it’s had, we look forward to the day it’s no longer needed.”
Outside of work, the two find inspiration in different pursuits. De Queiroz tries to paint at least one hour a day and immerses himself in the culture of his home country, Brazil, to discover new writers, artists and musicians.
When Van Linda isn’t surfing or running, he’s recharging with his family or making up bedtime stories for his 2-year-old. “Recently, my son started telling his own stories, which has been amazing to witness,” he says. “His narrative structure is so free. He doesn’t know it, but he’s the one inspiring me.”
Imagine if someone told you 10 years ago that one of the leading voices in the fight against toxic masculinity would be Axe. But that’s exactly what’s happened, despite the line of men’s body sprays and grooming products being synonymous for years with scantily clad women fawning over guys in pheromone-induced ecstacy.
Today Axe is sparking global conversations around the meaning of manliness, thanks to its “Find Your Magic” campaign and #IsItOKForGuys hashtag. The woman behind both is Laura Visco, a Buenos Aires-born copywriter who, since 2014, has been creative director at 72andSunny Amsterdam.
“I believe advertising can be a powerful tool for change, and can have a positive impact in society,” Visco says. “That’s why Axe’s ‘Is It OK for Guys?’ was so important for me on a professional and personal level. The campaign shines a light on the fact that guys are born into a ‘man box’ with lots of gender restrictions, and nowadays masculinity is more toxic than ever.”
In addition to generating conversation online, the campaign had another unexpected result for Visco: “When we launched this campaign, for the first time in my 19 years of experience, people looked at the credits and contacted some of us individually to thank us for starting this conversation,” she says. “It was incredibly rewarding to see men talking about this subject for the first time.”
Benjamin Von Wong
Equal parts artist, activist and social media personality, Benjamin Von Wong has parlayed a knack for creating arresting larger-than-life visuals into a platform for advocating around social and environmental causes. To wit: a photo shoot this year turned thousands of pounds of discarded computer parts into stunning sci-fi backdrops promoting Dell’s electronics recycling program.
His hyper-real aesthetic often looks like it must be the result of computer magic, but it’s not. In 2017, his brand work included gravity-defying shots of sports-and-fitness-focused social entrepreneurs dangling off the edge of a 30-story skyscraper in Manila, captured live to promote the air-like qualities of Nike’s VaporMax sneakers.
The accessibility of behind-the-scenes videos documenting projects like these—or his feature on the New York Harbor School’s Billion Oyster Project to rehabilitate the Hudson River around Manhattan—have resonated with a wide audience online, where he shows how everyday moments of hard work and perseverance (often with the help of sizable volunteer crews) can add up to a beautiful still.
“I think with everything in the world being so ‘polished and perfect,’ getting a glimpse into the process of what it took to make things possible is where the new magic happens,” says Von Wong.
And while Von Wong—formerly a mining engineer and currently looking to work with “triple bottom-line” companies—might easily be mistaken for a photographer, he describes himself as ultimately “more of an installation artist or set designer. The photography part of the project is ironically the afterthought—‘All right, I’ve done all the work—all I need to do now is make it look good.’”
This is Lena Waithe’s moment. This year alone, Waithe appeared in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One and stole the spotlight on the red carpet at the annual Met Gala wearing a colorful, pride-inspired cape. She’s earned accolades and notice for her breakout role in the Netflix series Master of None, where she plays Denise, a character coming to terms with her sexuality. Then there’s Showtime’s The Chi, which Waithe created and serves as executive producer.
A prolific writer too, Waithe co-wrote (with the Master of None creator and star Aziz Ansari) the groundbreaking “Thanksgiving” episode, which aired during the second season. In it, Waithe’s character grapples with how to tell her mother about her sexuality, eventually bringing a love interest to the family’s holiday celebration.
In addition, she’s become quite the ad star, anchoring a multipart Nike campaign in which Waithe plays a “shoe therapist” helping athletes cope with their footwear obsessions.
Her work, both on screen and behind the camera, earned Waithe an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series—the first black woman in history to be so honored. Talking about African-American representation in TV, at a Blackhouse Foundation panel during this year’s Sundance festival, she said: “We as artists can do whatever the fuck we want to do. We just have to do it really, really well. … You have to write and develop and wait for the world to catch up to your art.”
Fear is a powerful motivator for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who says she knows she’s found a worthy new project “when I start to feel nervous or a little bit scared about what I’m writing.”
That’s what prompted her to turn Luke Jennings’ Villanelle novellas—about an MI5 operative tracking an assassin around Europe—into Killing Eve, BBC America’s critically acclaimed new drama, starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. “With Killing Eve, strangely, writing the psychopath wasn’t the thing that felt dangerous. It was writing Eve, who was an everywoman, and then revealing her darker self, that was the hook.”
Hooking viewers too, Killing Eve has built on its 18-49 and 25-54 demo audience each week during its just-completed debut season, which BBC America says is the first new scripted series to do so since Nielsen’s live-plus-3 measurement began more than a decade ago. The drama helped Waller-Bridge avoid Hollywood pigeonholing after the success of her 2016 BBC/Amazon comedy series Fleabag, which she starred in and created (second installments of both series will air next year). “I feel like you have to teach the industry about the kind of creative you want to be,” she says. “I want to keep swerving left—or right!—and keep surprising people, because it keeps it fresh for me as well.”
Her mantra led to yet another unexpected turn this year: a motion-capture performance as droid L3-37 in the new Star Wars film Solo. “I’ve made a career through Fleabag on ridiculous facial expressions, and not being able to have that box of tricks was a fun challenge,” she says. “It was very liberating.”
Returning to work at the beginning of this year after the birth of her second child, Alyson Warshaw dove right into working on a major project with someone who could certainly relate: Serena Williams.
“I came back from maternity leave in January, just when we were completing production on the Serena Williams x Lincoln campaign that we launched in March,” Warshaw says. “Serena had given birth only a month or so before I did, so she was just getting back to work herself, and was in the middle of preparing for her big comeback tournament.”
The Lincoln spot ends with the line “Return Strong,” which is just as fitting for Warshaw. Laundry Service has become one of New York’s most-watched agencies in recent years through a creative combination of documentary filmmaking, social-savvy content and multilayered integration for brands like Hennessy, Jordan Brand and T-Mobile.
That momentum shows little sign of slowing, with a flurry of business wins in 2017 starting to bear creative fruit, such as the Williams ad (for which Lincoln bypassed its relationship with WPP in assigning to Wasserman-owned Laundry Service and its content studio, Cycle).
“The campaign came out beautifully, and it was really inspiring to watch such a strong, accomplished woman take on this leading role while juggling the responsibilities of being a star athlete and a new mother,” Warshaw says. “I’m so glad that I got back in time to help out with those final rounds of creative review during the postproduction process.”
Kevin Weir and Chris Colliton
The lines of reality get blurred a lot when Kevin Weir and Chris Colliton are involved.
The creative director duo at Droga5 pulled together a fake movie that was a real promotion for Tourism Australia, and the process around the impressively believable Dundee reboot was so baffling, even star Chris Hemsworth was unsure what was happening: “I kept asking the director, ‘Hang on. So I know it’s a movie, but it’s not a movie but a commercial,” Hemsworth told Adweek in the lead-up to the tourism stunt’s Super Bowl reveal. “And I’m playing a—wait … at which point am I playing a character or playing me?”
The head-fake campaign required a complex, global effort, sparking global speculation about what was really going on, and the final Super Bowl ad was fulfilling for everyone involved. “It feels good knowing that the late nights, stressful meetings and 17-hour flights were worth it,” Colliton says. “We made something that got noticed and that the people of Australia are proud of—David Droga being one of them.”
Weir and Colliton, who joined Droga5 about six years ago as junior creatives and then rapidly advanced to CDs, have also turned imaginary ideas for Johnsonville ads into actual Johnsonville ads as part of the sausage brand’s ongoing “Made the Johnsonville Way” campaign. They’ve also worked on high-profile projects for Dwayne Johnson, Under Armour, Newcastle, Coke Zero and Trident.
Outside of work, Colliton turns to both yoga and improv comedy to help improve his focus, while Weir has a more digitally specific hobby: GIFs. His Flux Machine project eerily animates photos from the Library of Congress archives, while Sassy Birds is his collection of, well, sassy birds.
“I’ve been learning a lot of animation over the past few years,” Weir says. “It’s really nice to sink in and lose myself in After Effects after a long day of Google Docs and emails. I’m also designing a board game where you’re a battle-hungry clam and you have to fight everything else in the ocean. It’s called BattleClams, and it’s pretty dumb. I get bored if I’m not making something.”
Whether he’s making gorgeous smartphone screens built from Google Earth data or creating an AR-fueled app to launch the new Gorillaz album, Petter Westlund brings soaring innovation to everything his team does at agency B-Reel.
Having helped launch the agency in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1999, Westlund is now based in the creative agency’s Los Angeles office.
That’s not to say he’s lost touch with the shop’s Scandinavian roots. Westlund recently led the development of “SAMMI,” a virtual assistant designed with the attitude of a Swedish grandmother for the L.A. office.
But most know Westlund and B-Reel for the big names he gets to work with, like H&M (for whom they’ve organized four consecutive annual designer collaborations, most recently with London-based Erdem) or Google.
He’s especially fond of the Live Wallpapers project for Google Pixel, turning Google Earth data into stunning backdrops for your phone. One version shows your location from space in real time, while another creates hypnotic dioramas of locations around the planet.
“It sits in an interesting and emerging field of digital design, providing the consumer with useful information but in a more subtle way,” Westlund says of the Live Wallpapers. “It was exciting to create something that was such a central part of the user experience—a backdrop to your home screen that shipped with every smartphone.”
His passion may be for running marathons, but when it comes to work, Lewis Williams is a team player. That doesn’t just mean collaborating daily with dozens of creative colleagues at Chicago-based multicultural agency Burrell Communications Group; it also means working closely with other agencies.
For the launch of the 2018 Toyota Camry, one of several high-stakes roll-outs Williams has been tasked with, his team worked with three other agencies to make the campaign a success.
“To go through such an extensive process and end up with both an amazing and effective creative outcome is a feat within itself,” he says. “It also reflects how clients are demanding that agencies put egos aside and work together. In the end, the work was amazing. It’s not always easy, but we did it.”
Williams began his career at Burrell as an art director before a 14-year run at Leo Burnett Chicago, where he rose to svp and creative director. He returned to Burrell in 2006 and has led creative on projects for massive clients like McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble, not to mention extensive work for Toyota.
Williams says he often finds inspiration while running marathons or practicing yoga, but he also remains energized by an aspect of the job that many creative leaders find more exhausting with each passing year: staying culturally relevant: “The challenge is to connect with today’s consumer, who has become more savvy and difficult to reach. They demand that you stay aware of the latest trends, platforms and cultural shifts. I find that exciting and motivating.”
Dougal Wilson’s storytelling is slightly supernatural with a bit of whimsy. There’s his spot showcasing a Halloween party for friendly ghosts starring Ikea furniture. Then there’s the ad where a high school girl realizes her ability to unlock an iPhone X allows her to also crack open everything else.
“I like ones where there’s a little twist in reality,” says Wilson. “Where the laws of reality are slightly exaggerated or change or where something is awry.”
Wilson—who’s also made music videos for bands including Coldplay’s “Life In Technicolor ii”—always seems to find a way of making every message as endearing as it is compelling. That includes his highly awarded 2016 spot “We’re the Superhumans” for U.K. Channel 4 to promote the Paralympics, which won the coveted Grand Prix in Film at last year’s Cannes Lions. Another of his Apple iPhone spots, “Barbers,” recently won top honors at the 2018 ADC Awards.
Part of his ability to predict and capture magic both on and off set comes from his eagerness to balance planning ahead with capturing in-the-moment instincts. (That includes tight storyboarding with videos instead of illustrations to understand the look and sequence of a shot.) “I like to get a feel before the official shoot to try and predict what the feeling of the piece is going to be,” he says. “I don’t like leaving it to the edit.”
“Baby, sometimes it’s better to be misunderstood.”
That was advice Blake Winfree’s grandmother gave him when he was a teenager, and it’s stuck with him as he’s risen through advertising’s ranks without surrendering his conscience or his openness to new ideas, no matter where they come from.
“I’ve never had a go-to source of inspiration,” says the Boston-based creative, who got his start at Fallon in Minneapolis. “I try as best I can to live with my eyes open, and every once in a while, by happenstance, I stumble across things that make me feel something—that leave an impression on me, and that’s dope. It could be an old record, a book, an old drunk with a colorful past who can tell great lies, a stranger. I don’t know, I’m attracted to humanity and authenticity and all its various permutations.”
Winfree has been behind award-winning client work for clients like American Greetings, but most recently he’s also found a receptive audience as a passionate advocate for diversity and political change.
He and colleague Erin Swenson Gorrall created the 25Forty Project, which connects agencies with high school students who might otherwise not learn about the career potential of advertising and creativity. Winfree also led the creation of posters and other creative assets for the March for Our Lives, with his work—2,500 posters and 10,000 stickers—being handed out at and proudly displayed at marches in multiple cities.
“The feedback from the marchers as well as our employees was much more than I anticipated,” he says. “It was incredibly moving.”
You’ve heard the one about the Oscar-winning actress who, even though she’s in her prime and is one of the most accomplished actresses of her generation, has aged out of getting the parts she desires in Hollywood, right? That could have been Reese Witherspoon’s story—if she weren’t Reese Witherspoon.
The actress has transformed her career by zeroing in on the kind of stories she wanted to tell and see told about women—and becoming a producer who knows how to get deals done, with her company Hello Sunshine. Oh, and those deals? They are happening all over town.
At Apple, she has three shows in the works, including one based on CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter’s best-selling novel Top of the Morning, which will see Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston battling the morning television wars.
Then there’s the second season of Big Little Lies at HBO, for which she scored Meryl Streep; and an adaptation of Celeste Ng’s novel, Little Fires Everywhere, for Hulu.
On top of all that, she’s got a slew of narrative and documentary films in the works. “You get older and the phone does stop ringing,” Witherspoon told The New York Times in January. “It’s systemic, because the people who are writing the stories aren’t 40-year-old women. You write what you know. Well, there were no 40-year-old female screenwriters, and now women of color are writing screenplays and getting them made at big studios. I’m as incredulous as everybody else. I never thought this would happen.”
Jim Wood and Carren O’Keefe
Going into a recent pitch for a fitness brand, Jim Wood had one goal: “Be first or last.” Anything else would mean his team at digital agency AnalogFolk hadn’t stretched itself far enough in redefining the client’s expectations.
“Their RFP asked everyone competing to explore unique ways of curating content,” he says. “Instead of creating it, we presented them a new business model. And we won. Sometimes, the brief isn’t the brief.”
Wood and fellow CCO Carren O’Keefe live on opposite ends of the continent—he in NYC, she in Portland—but share a mindset of restless innovation developed as creative partners at AKQA, where they worked on clients like Mondelez, Google and Anheuser-Busch.
With more offices in London, Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai, AnalogFolk has quickly grown its own premium portfolio of clients, such as Nike, for whom the agency developed the Nike Training global campaign, interactive Trainers Hub and a partnership with meditation app Headspace to provide exclusive content for Nike Training Club members.
For Clif Bar, the agency has been equally ambitious, creating a route-design tool for runners called Scout, an inspiration-fueling Mantra Maker and a gender-balance hub called Equality Every Day.
A passion for physical activity isn’t only found in the agency’s work, either. “I’m a powerlifter and I love it because it challenges what I’m capable of,” O’Keefe says. “I was buried under a 275-pound squat once, and my trainer congratulated me on my record-breaking failure. He said, ‘Wouldn’t you rather fail at something spectacular than succeed at something safe?’ That’s become my motto for creativity.”
Jimmy O. Yang
If he wasn’t in comedy, HBO’s Silicon Valley star Jimmy O. Yang says he would be in hip-hop, his first passion. He acknowledges he can’t rap per se, but he still makes beats and produces—even recently working with rapper Too Short.
That Yang ended up in comedy, he says, is due in part to comedian Dave Chappelle. “When Chappelle’s Show came out, if you didn’t watch it on Wednesday night, you had nothing to talk about in high school the next day,” says Yang. “It’s amazing to me—when I first came to this country, I watched BET Comic View, which had all these cultural references and stereotypes. I learned a lot about [American] culture through comedians. It was my first exposure. In Hong Kong, there wasn’t a lot of comedians.”
Yang says Hong Kong, where he lived until he was 13, is very business-centric and his parents wanted him to pursue a career in that vein. “I studied economics and thought I wanted to play with the stock market—my dad was a financial adviser—and I was going to go down that path. I was an intern at Smith Barney,” he says. “But I couldn’t imagine sitting behind a desk for 30 or 40 years, so I decided to take the leap, quit [and] disappoint my parents.”
An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents just so happens to be the subtitle of his book, which came out in March. Amazon calls it a memoir, but Yang sees it as “an honest, real immigrant story that is hopefully relatable for those going through assimilation, and also for people who aren’t too familiar with immigration and only see it on CNN with talking heads as a political issue.”
In August he’ll appear in the highly anticipated film Crazy Rich Asians.
His advice for aspiring comedians and TV stars: Just keep doing it. “You have to practice,” he says. ” If you’re an actor, keep taking classes, [keep doing] sketches. If you want to do standup, you have to go on stage. That’s the only way to get good—stage times. … If it feels like a chore, you should find something else.”
Yang Yeo and Kentaro Kimura
Close your eyes and picture Japanese art, and you might imagine images that are serene, classical and clear in focus. Now picture Japanese advertising, and the result will likely be quite different—frenetic, kaleidoscopic and often on the verge of overloading your senses.
Rather than seeing these as contradictory and conflicted aspects of Japanese creative cultures, Yang Yeo and Kentaro Kimura, two of the nation’s most innovative advertising leaders, see this split through the very traditional visual of yin and and yang.
“Japanese creative culture has two polar opposite forces,” the two say in an email to Adweek. “One is creativity to simplify and purify things, resulting in beautiful art direction and amazing craft. We call it the ‘Zen’ side of Japanese creativity. The other is the chaotic and energetic force to diversify and diffuse things, which reflects cutting-edge digital works and colorful pop culture. We call it the ‘Anime’ side of Japanese creativity. When these two creative forces come together—when Zen meets Anime—entirely new creativity can be born.”
The two have similarly distinct but complementary backgrounds. Kimura is a 27-year veteran of agency network Hakuhodo, having risen through the ranks to the point where he could start his own innovative shop, Kettle, within the company. Yeo’s career path was more international, with stints at BBH London, JWT China and Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai, along with opening Fallon offices in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Combining forces at Hokuhodo, the two now call themselves creative kaiju—a word often used to describe cinematic monsters like Godzilla—for the company’s Asia Pacific (or APAC) portfolio. They describe their mission as trying to “transform a 120-year-old Japanese institution into a global creative company that happens to be based out of Tokyo.”
They are contractually prohibited from discussing any of their work, but they two say they’ve made headway in creating an Asia Pacific Council within Hokuhodo, which allows them to “stimulate our talents internally and make positive impact to our clients’ business, which are extremely rewarding.”
Growing up in an immigrant family in Shanghai, Zhou never believed an artist’s life was a remote possibility for her future. Keeping her love of films a secret, Zhou watched movies when everyone was asleep, “making little Terrence Malick-style love-letter montages, animating Ping Pong balls on a pad of Post-its,” she says.
While studying economics in college, she had an existential crisis. A friend saw her videos and encouraged her to pursue filmmaking. And in quick order she worked as a gaffer, electrician and freelance cinematographer.
During the past two years, Zhou’s been at the helm of major campaigns, collaborating with top artists and brands such as Prada and PlayStation. Using slow-motion shots, she showcased the amazing vogue dancing of Leiomy Maldonado in Nike’s “Equality” campaign.
She directed a “Black History Is Happening Now” effort for Spotify featuring Janelle Monáe on Afrofuturism. Currently, she’s at work on two short films: a love story between a runaway bride and a female alien and a dance film exploring the “badass chick” archetype.
Zhou says the big question that she wrestles with in her work is distinguishing the border between authenticity and opportunism.
“How does one stay true to the world that you see as factual and real,” she says, “when the agenda is trying to convince you that equality, justice, queerness, femininity, otherness, vulnerability, actually looks like a logo, sounds like a slogan, tries to appeal to all people, all issues, all stats, but cannot conjure a single vulnerable voice.”