When I was moving back home, I found an old college course catalog. I looked up my major and discovered that the only communication arts course my college offered that I had never taken was called Introduction to Advertising. I had always had creative pursuits in my free time—everything from creative writing to improv comedy to music—but I had never realized that the skill set I developed doing the things I enjoyed the most could actually translate into earning a living. So I looked into it, found an ad school, and I was off.
You’ve said that you’re a big fan of Monty Python, Saturday Night Live (SNL) and Tim & Eric. How has watching comedy helped you strengthen your skills as a copywriter? I don’t know if watching comedy has helped me strengthen any skills, but I’ve been really into comedy my entire life. I’ve always loved sketch comedy and late-night comedy programs. Even when I was in middle school, I used to stay up and watch Late Night with David Letterman every night, and I never missed an episode of SNL—it’s just what I was into. When I took my first job at ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, I dove into the comedy world in my free time. I did improv comedy and comedy writing and made friends with people who went on to write for all of the late-night shows—even SNL. But I was having a blast doing advertising, too. It got to a point where I knew that in order to progress with the comedy stuff, I had to commit to it full-time. But advertising was just as fun, and it paid the bills. So I stuck with advertising.
I had a phone call with a prospective client just as our agency was forming. ... It asked if we base our work off of research and data to optimize results, or if we’re just into creative ideas. It didn’t realize that any good agency does both.”
What’s the last thing—whether it was a commercial or something outside of advertising—that made you truly laugh out loud? To be honest, things that make me laugh out loud have sadly been growing fewer and farther between for years. I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I say that comedy movies, TV shows and commercials have been on the decline for a while now. The only things that have me truly laughing out loud lately are on social media. There is a guy on Instagram named Daquan Gesese, and I laugh from at least one of his posts every day. He simply curates and comments on Internet GIFs, videos and memes, and he’s the best at it. I’m really down on comedy in film, TV and advertising overall, but I’m in awe of Daquan. He’s the best.
You and Craig Allen, now a group creative director at Wieden+Kennedy, have penned award-winning work together, from Skittles’ Taste the Rainbow campaign to Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” commercial. What advice do you have for maximizing creative collaborations despite any differences of opinions and working styles? The first thing I have to say is, if you want to maximize your creative collaborations, then collaborate with Craig Allen. He is not only the most talented creative I have ever worked with, but he is easily the best person I have ever worked with.
Beyond that, I would say that, whomever you work with, you need to consider and value her or his opinion. Even when I work with creatives who are straight out of school, I hear them out on everything and do my best to take a step back and see where they are coming from. Heck, I do the same thing with our account people. We work in an industry that is 100-percent subjective. To think that you are some kind of creative oracle that is always right is not only egotistical, but also will lead to work that is not as good as it can be.
What do you think made the Old Spice Response Campaign so successful? What did you learn from it? It was the first time that notable creative advertising communicated with people in the way that people communicate with each other: in real time. It’s one of the reasons why Steven Erich and I started our new agency, Erich & Kallman. We provide world-class creative to clients way faster than they could get it from traditional creative agencies. As communication in the world gets faster, so should advertising. And we are fast.
What has been the most surprising thing about running your own agency? Nothing so far. Our model, although different from most agencies, has so far proven itself to be correct. Most real talent is freelance. It’s a way for people to maximize their earnings while avoiding the 80-hour weeks of traditional agencies. And it’s the best of the freelance market that makes up our creative department. We haven’t lost a pitch yet—knock on wood.
Online comments sections have gained a reputation for being places where trolls like to romp. But is there value in sifting through comments and replies on platforms like YouTube and Twitter? There is absolutely no value in this. While I defend the idea of valuing the opinions of anyone connected to the work, both internally and on the client side, what happens in comment sections is different. Comment sections allow people to work through their own personal emotions at the expense of others. It’s sad, really. Comment sections to anything and everything should be avoided by anyone with a functioning conscience.
What resources help you take the pulse of modern culture? The pulse of modern culture is completely expressed on social media these days. It’s funny, because when I write “traditional media,” I’m always really writing for social media. To me, this is where everything of consequence is broadcast to the world. And sometimes, it’s also put on TV.
Can brands today capture the public’s attention—and hearts—without relying solely on Instagram-heavy influencer marketing? With an original creative idea, yes. The digital marketing revolution brought with it the advent of a new type of agency, with no emphasis on breakthrough creative work and all the focus on the literal application of research learnings and data. That’s why many agencies today pitch “ideas,” like using research and data to find the most effective influencer and have her or him sell a product. What people are losing sight of is the power of the creative idea and how much more effective their work would be if they used learnings and data to help shape creative work. It’s the marriage of creativity and strategy, or heart and mind, that leads to the most effective work.
What are the greatest challenges facing the advertising industry today? I consider most of the advertising industry’s current challenges to be self-inflicted: the industry’s focus on research and data alone has led to a whole generation of marketers who don’t understand the value of a great idea as well as they should. I had a phone call with a prospective client just as our agency was forming. It’s a young, but incredibly well-known Bay Area–based company. It asked if we base our work off of research and data to optimize results, or if we’re just into creative ideas. It didn’t realize that any good agency does both.
What’s the best piece of career advice you ever received? My grandfather, who was a very successful business owner, noticed that I was having early success in advertising. He told me that once I had learned my trade, I should open my own business, and that it would be the most challenging and rewarding thing that I could ever do professionally. So six months ago, I did. We’ll see what happens.