How did you discover your passion for branding and advertising? Growing up, I was the one trying to organize all the neighborhood kids to put on plays, writing lines, handing out parts and divvying up assignments. Maybe it was destiny that I ended up a creative director. So much of the joy of what I do is working with other creatives: the collaboration, the camaraderie and the rush of making something together. Also, I’m a people-obsessed person. I love anything that helps me understand a person or group of people, whether it be cultural studies, personality tests, the Enneagram or astrology. The world of branding and advertising is the perfect place to blend that analytical curiosity about human beings with the art of storytelling.
What drew you to take on a creative director role at Netrush? For a little context, Netrush is an online retailer, and I came on board to lead its in-house creative studio. Our job is to work with consumer brands and build their presence on Amazon. I’ve got to be honest—when I’d tell former colleagues and friends in the creative industry about my gig, I often got the sense that they felt a little sorry for me, as though it wasn’t “real” creative work. In some ways, what I do now is very different from the kind of work I did with Fortune 500 clients, but in many ways, it isn’t that different. Our team creates lots of product listings, which form the bread and butter of Amazon content, but we also do creative for marketing, social campaigns and tons of fun video and motion graphics work. I’ve found it to be a challenging yet fruitful space from a creative perspective.
The biggest difference is how granular it can get. The work is so product-centric. More than half of all product searches start on Amazon, and most of the time, shoppers aren’t searching by brand. They’re doing generic product searches like “Vitamin C.” Because of this behavior, there’s this temptation to believe that the larger brand narrative doesn’t matter, but I think it matters more. There are a million kinds of Vitamin C. I want the ones we work on to stand apart. You do that by connecting the product to the bigger picture.
In your work for shoe dryer PEET’s Amazon store, you’ve created a full-service campaign with digital banner ads and stop-motion animation. What kinds of limitations come with designing for Amazon’s commerce space? Creatives often talk about how constraints are a springboard for innovation. Give me a blank page, and I get paralyzed by all the possibilities. But give me 140 characters, and now I’ve got a problem to solve. I’ve come to see Amazon’s stripped-down user interface and templates as an opportunity. What can we do with a set of nine enhanced listing images? How can we use A-plus content to deepen the conversation with the customer? I’ve heard creatives go on about how they love the succinct format of the radio ad or billboard because it forces them to focus. An Amazon product listing presents that same challenge.
Why is it important to develop brand storytelling with Amazon? Brands are starting to understand that because people shop where they want to shop, they have to pay way more attention to all their retail channels, even those they don’t own. If their customer has a great experience with a brand on Amazon, it creates a halo effect for other channels. Brands that don’t prioritize the quality of their content on Amazon are losing that chance to build their fanbase. Engaging and clear storytelling, good design and a keen understanding of branding are just as necessary on Amazon as anywhere else.
As more and more brands adopt the idea of bespoke Amazon product listings, do you see Amazon potentially expanding its capabilities for branded content on pages? Absolutely. Amazon has been doing it incrementally over time by allowing brands to build their own storefronts, placing a premium on video content. You can now follow a brand on Amazon. There’s a social shopping experience called “posts.” I’m not sure Amazon will ever be known for its groundbreaking aesthetics—it’s too relentlessly focused on customer choice, price and convenience, and that dictates how it’s going to build—but I do think it pays attention to how brands are using its platform, and that’s a business opportunity.
With Netrush, you’re responsible for managing hundreds of brands. What has that experience been like? Given the number of brands, the volume and the high velocity of the environment, the need for exceptional, skilled talent is high. Just think of the digital asset management that goes along with all those brands, and all the hundreds of products and SKUs they carry—this is not a job for the inexperienced.
If you could choose any product to create an ad for, what would it be and why? It’s easier to say what I wouldn’t work on: guns, fossil fuel, Monsanto. I’ve had as much fun doing work for a small local chocolate brand as creating campaigns for global brands around sustainability. Once I worked on a campaign to help a client prevent hand injuries among employees. Hands are fascinating, and so are the reasons people choose not to be safe.
What skills do young creatives need to succeed in advertising today? Some people would probably say an understanding of data and analytics. I won’t tell you not to learn the data side of things if that’s your jam. But I think our creative power comes from caring about and knowing about things that no one else does. It’s hard to remember that sometimes—especially as you move up the ranks into leadership—there’s a lot of pressure to switch into business mode. Resist that. Be interested in culture and art instead. Collect stuff. Play music. Play Dungeons & Dragons. Whatever. Then, infuse those things back into your work. We had a motion graphics designer who was into roleplaying games. He started making these animated, Pokémon-like cards for one of our brands, showcasing some of their “superhero” ingredients. It was really different for that brand and really effective.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career? “Leadership is the willingness to influence others and be influenced by others.” I think about that all the time when it comes to how I lead my team. I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room; I want to be surrounded by smart, interesting people. My job is to harness their talent to do incredible things. Besides, it’s more fun that way.