Columns / Insights

Be a Sponge

Christian Haas

Christian   Haas
Where do your best ideas come from? I have my best ideas when I’m sleeping, in that stage between dreams, half-awake. With nothing else on your mind, ideas flow seamlessly, and every advertising problem in the world is solved without moving a muscle. When you wake up, it takes about five seconds to realize how dumb your ideas were. But still, for a moment, they sounded amazing.

What do you consider to be the greatest headline (or ad) of all time? Lines that are written after smart insights: “You can say anything with a smile,” for Crest, and “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” for Snickers. My all-time favorite is “got milk?”

What trends in advertising are you most interested in and why? I love the idea of marketing products, tangible things designed to complement or lead advertising campaigns. They can be apps or physical objects, free or paid. A good example is the recent Sorry, I Spent It on Myself campaign for Harvey Nichols in the UK. The brand created a series of cheap gifts people could give to loved ones while buying something they really wanted for themselves. Things like a “Real Plastic Door Stop” and an “Elastic Band Gift Set” were featured in commercials, and then they could actually be bought at Harvey Nichols stores.

What challenges do today’s advertising agencies need to address in order to remain relevant? Proving that risk-taking pays off in light of shrinking marketing budgets.

Where do you seek inspiration? The founders of the investment site Motley Fool once wrote that you should buy stocks based on what you have in your refrigerator, the point being to start by looking at the companies whose products you like and actually buy. Inspiration comes from observing all the things we surround ourselves with. I live in Chelsea, and there are over 600 galleries around here. My wife and I spend weekends going from show to show, seeing everything new. I also love movies and find them to be a great source of inspiration, even the bad ones. You may see something one day and, months later, when you’re trying to solve a problem, you’re influenced by it. The important thing is to absorb everything, to be a sponge.

If you could choose any product to create an ad for, what would it be? I once interviewed a famous fashion editor and asked her why every high-fashion ad looked the same. You don’t often see fashion ads that make you say, “That’s a great idea.” You may say, “That’s a beautifully shot portrait of a gorgeous-looking model,” but that’s it. I would love to help change that, especially by using technology. Christopher Bailey at Burberry has done some great work in the category. I believe there’s a lot that can still be done.

What was your riskiest professional decision? When I was in high school, I took a summer job at a brand-new production company in São Paulo. It was an amazing place with three massive sound stages, a full-time production staff and all the equipment drug money could buy. I think I was the assistant to the production assistant. On the top floor of the giant complex was the post-production wing. People talked about it like it was the Pentagon; you needed a special badge to cross the tinted sliding doors. Occasionally, I’d go in to deliver lunch to the editors, and one day, as I was making my way out, I stopped to peek inside an open door. One of the editors, who was about four times my size, grabbed me by the ankles and turned me upside down. “Now you’re gonna learn not to go in where you don’t belong,” he said with a sadistic smile. For the next fifteen minutes or so, he took me on a tour of every editing bay, telecine, special-effects room, MCR and bathroom, all while holding me upside down and occasionally banging my head against a door frame. But it didn’t matter, because I was so excited to be there.

How does your long experience working in Brazil affect your work now that you are in the US? Brazil has an amazing advertising culture. I always attributed it to the lack of a profitable movie industry—without that, advertising became the most valuable of the commercial arts. But what you learn the most working in Brazil is how to be quick on your feet, to adapt quickly to any circumstances.

How does your experience as a film editor influence the way you work as a creative director? I started editing on Moviolas, cutting films with a knife and splicing with tape. You couldn’t just throw different versions at a problem. You had to think hard before slicing every frame, and train your mind to see what would happen before making every cut. You also learned the difference a single frame makes. I have never forgotten those things.

Christian Haas is executive creative director at Goodby Silverstein & Partners New York. Since joining GSP in 2006, Haas has worked on award-winning campaigns for clients such as Sprint, eBay, HP, GE, YouTube and the California Milk Processor Board. In January 2013, he was named one of the founding partners of GSP New York, where he works with YouTube, Google and PledgeMusic. Prior to joining GSP, Haas spent seven years at Organic, first as vice president and managing director in São Paulo, and later heading the creative department at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. Before that, he founded Vizio, a leading Brazilian interactive agency, and worked as an editor at a film production company. Advertising Age and Creativity recognized Haas as one of the 50 most influential and inspiring creative personalities of 2010. That same year, he made Campaign magazine’s Global Power List, and MediaPost named him a Creative All-Star.


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