The Art Directors Club is 92 years old. It’s the world’s first advertising and design club and award show, and it has touched some of the most important designers, advertisers and artists of this century. The ADC Hall of Fame includes greats like Andy Warhol, Walt Disney, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser and Annie Leibovitz, as well as ad legends like Lee Clow, Leo Burnett, George Lois, Bill Bernbach, both Wieden and Kennedy, Sir John Hegarty and so many more. Regardless of its prestigious history, we serve all members with the utmost service and support no matter how senior or junior they are.
We have tons of programs for our members like the monthly ADC Adventure Club, where we take creatives out to the mountains for hiking, snowshoeing, whitewater rafting and more so they can escape from behind their screens. We also have a quarterly event called StartUP, which focuses on all the creative directors from big agencies who quit their jobs to launch their own startups. Another monthly event we do is “BUTTER: A Night of Pop Culture and Popcorn,” which is a very informal networking get-together where we serve beer and popcorn and plop on big Fatboy bean bag chairs to watch short films, documentaries and music videos. Networking is a very important priority for our members around the world.
The ADC 92nd Annual Awards + Festival of Art and Craft in Advertising and Design will be held on April 2 to 4 in Miami. What important themes will the festival attendees and presenters be discussing?
We are spending more than 12 hours a day staring at a screen, punching buttons and rolling our fingers over our phones and tablets. In that process, we have lost touch with our artistic side, which is the original reason why all of us got into the advertising and design industry in the first place. We loved art, music, film and photography. I want to reconnect with that original intention in all of us, and most importantly, I want ADC to bring back the importance of art and craft in our everyday work.
I keep telling agencies to stop their singular obsession with technology because consumers have won that battle. 12-year-olds can build better apps than most agencies, and it only takes a visit to Vimeo to see that amateur filmmakers are shooting better films than most agencies that have the benefit of big budgets. The only leg we really have left to stand on is art and craft. It is the concept that ADC was founded on and the one I know is going to take over once again.
So, I did not invite any agency people to speak at the festival. Instead, I invited people outside of the advertising industry who inspire me: artists of all kinds from all parts of the world. We won’t sit and listen at the festival — we’ll do and learn.
What is the most important idea attendees should take away from the festival?
Without commitment to art and craft, we are not creative at all. Going to conferences to hear other agency people speak is anti-creative. The most important skill a creative person should have is the ability to absorb inspiration — visual and conceptual — yet ironically, advertising people generally only go to advertising conferences where they are exposed to the residue left over from other ad agency people’s ideas. So by contrast, I decided to bring the art to our festival attendees in an environment that they will.
While the festival does have some presenters, the main focus of the festival leans toward workshops. Why choose this format over the traditional speaker/networking format?
I hate speaker-based conferences. It’s not the fault of the speakers. It’s just the honest truth that our attention span has forever been changed. In most conferences, a speaker takes the stage and half the audience automatically starts playing with their phones, taking their minds elsewhere, tuning in occasionally for a sound bite to tweet to prove they are in attendance.
Personally, I only learn by doing and participating myself. I want my festival attendees to be forced to hold a camera, draw on paper, play with videos, build with LEGO pieces and do creative brainstorming. I think everyone who comes will leave a changed creative professional by this experience.
How has digital changed the role of an art director in an agency? What skills are necessary to be successful in integrated and cross-discipline marketing?
A couple of years ago, I would have told you that digital is the most exciting part of advertising, but I wouldn’t anymore. After more than 10 years in the advertising industry and then becoming the executive director at ADC, I’ve realized that the most important aspect of any art director’s career right now will be his or her commitment to craft. Digital is no good without craft. Do you want proof? The best games, the best apps, the best social experiences and the best online sites are, for the most part, gorgeous. Maybe in the beginning an app did not have to be beautiful to be popular, but now people look at that and judge it as part of the whole package. So if you are an art director, it means that the same blood, sweat and tears you put into a print ad with typography and meticulous color choices will now come into play when doing anything digital.
The most interesting digital technologies are not being used by advertising people; they are being used by experimental artists. I think anyone who is in marketing needs to make a much more dramatic effort to be exposed to and learn from all the new tools that are out there. When’s the last time you tried to build a digital interactive LED wall that reacts to sound?
You launched IHAVEANIDEA in 2001. What did you hope to accomplish by creating this community publication? What projects and initiatives are you championing through the publication?
I wanted to change the industry I loved so much. There were so many things that I saw as a junior and student that I hated, like the lack of community and the lack of information on how to break in the business. Over the years, we’ve done so many things that it’s hard to put in a paragraph, but we have championed women in advertising, we have helped juniors break in the business, we have helped thousands and thousands of juniors break into advertising, and we have visited and written about hundreds of ad agencies and creatives on IHAVEANIDEA. You have no idea how many people around the world I meet who that tell me they broke into advertising because they read something on IHAVEANIDEA at one point in their lives. IHAVEANIDEA now supports the mission of ADC — particularly the “provoke” pillar of its mission to “connect, provoke, elevate” — by continuing to bring its irreverent yet extremely relevant editorial to incite the advertising industry to think at least or act at best.
Why are creative awards important? Why do you think it is important for the industry to continue this tradition?
Creative awards, the way they are done right now, are not very important. When it was two or three media, like print, television and radio, it was easy to understand what winning a bronze, silver or gold meant. But now, with the number of media that are out there in the wild and the complex interaction between all the elements (social, geo-location, cinema, augmented reality, events, branded entertainment), you cannot expect those same judging elements to remain useful.
Award shows need to teach, explain and help ad agencies understand where the future is going. It’s the reason why I founded the Tomorrow Awards, which features a video from the judges explaining why a campaign won is created. It’s the same reason why our new Art Directors Annual app will not only show the work that won in the ADC 91st Annual Awards but will also show the behind the scenes and “making of” the winning work. We also launched a new ADC magazine this year, led by myself and editor Brianna Graves, to do more of this important background reveal that explains to our members and creatives around the world how the best and most beautiful campaigns are made.
How do you want to see the advertising industry evolve? What are some of the current problems you see affecting creatives and advertising professionals in general?
I think that the entire concept of a campaign is long dead and gone. It used to be that campaigns were responsible for making us laugh or giving us a chuckle with a funny, clever line. It’s mad to think that a worldwide agency with massive clients and focus groups is doing the same thing as 15-year-olds shooting crazy, truly funny things and posting them on YouTube. Think of that. How can your content be funnier than any of the stuff that gets posted by citizens and consumers who know what they want? It just can’t.
We can still create campaigns that make us laugh for a bit (like the Old Spice Guy), but to be honest, that is not a trend. It is an anomaly and a case study. 99.99 percent of what is out there is not funny, and it is not good. So we have to do new things. Advertising needs to become useful. It’s not good that agencies have taken this long to start building apps themselves. Instead of creating a campaign that will live for 30 seconds, why not create an app that will simultaneously make money and be useful for your client’s consumers?
What trends in marketing/advertising do you find most interesting/exciting?
Unlike many people, I do not own a television or have cable any more. I don’t subscribe to magazines, and I have an ad blocker on my browser. The only way to reach me is in person, in a store, by doing an event or designing a beautiful product I cannot help but notice. I think the most important trend we will see is that design will ultimately become more important than advertising.
And to be clear, I don’t think it’s a new trend. I think it already started last year, so it’s a fact. Let’s just hope that ad agencies react quicker to this than they did when the Internet first entered the picture.
One reason you love what you do: The best part of my job is helping the thousands of juniors I talk to each year get into advertising and creative industries. Counseling, advising and feeding off their energy is the best part of my gig. Some people love the old guys that made history in our industry like Ogilvy, Burnett and Bernbach. I respect them, but I get way more excited about the future and young creatives who will change the industry.
Favorite ad: I’m biased, but I love all the stuff we award at Tomorrow Awards more than anything else right now.
From the past … I remember seeing the Nike “Good vs. Evil” spot at a theatre when someone from W+K came to speak at my school in Holland, and I was so blown away by it. It was one of the reasons why I pushed so hard to break in — I wanted to do a spot just like that.
Must-read book: “Pick Me: Breaking Into Advertising and Staying There”