You were raised between Beirut and Toronto. How did you end up working in advertising in Portland, Oregon? During design school at the American University of Beirut, I was looking for a way to push my interest in conceptual work and filmmaking. That led my main mentor, Leila Musfy, to recommend that I apply to a new school that had just opened in Richmond, Virginia, called the VCU Brandcenter. At Brandcenter, teachers like Jelly Helm encouraged me to pursue lots of things I was passionate about. One of these, a conceptual interactive art project, was a commentary on how people in the United States tend to believe—and never question—everything they see and read in the news. I come from the Middle East, where no one believes anything they hear—people there want to form their own opinions—so this was a bit of a shock to me. My project ended up getting a lot of attention and eventually made its way onto Dan Wieden’s desk. The rest, as they say, is history.
You’ve said that Wieden+Kennedy was like school. What did you learn from your experience there? At Wieden, no one helps you. You get thrown into the deep end, and you have to figure things out on your own. So how do you come up with stronger ideas? How do you get better at making TV spots? How do you learn to do this or that? You come up with a ton of ideas. You ask questions. You nerd out with people who are better than you, and you learn from them. You learn a ton by doing. Nothing beats experience. You have to get your hands dirty. It’s the best way to learn. That’s when the lessons become part of who you are.
What do you hope the advertising industry takes away from The Wonder Clock, your passion project that followed your biological clock as it ticked down? For me, The Wonder Clock, like advertising, communicated a strategic message to a mass audience—it was about opening a dialogue with other women about fertility and empowerment. And, like art, it revealed a profound truth: we are women, and we are ticking, but we are so much more. The best advertising does both of these things.
How does your background in conceptual art inform the way you approach marketing? It’s all about big ideas and connecting to people. When you approach advertising from a conceptual artist’s mindset, you tend to get rid of the bullshit of selling people things and just connect to them on a deeper human level.
What were the technological challenges of developing Red & Co.’s own film-discovery platform, Feelm, which simplifies movie choices based on how they make you feel? Feelm is on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and the web. We wanted to streamline the development process by reusing many components on all devices. This presented challenges. As we built components for the web, they wouldn’t work exactly as we wanted on mobile. It took a lot of finesse and trial and error to create a consistent experience.
For example, one of the biggest challenges was getting the scroller to feel right. One of the highlights of Feelm is the ability to scroll endlessly through all of the feelings; once you reach the end, it will loop around to the beginning. The scroller accepts mouse, scroll wheel, touch and keyboard input all at once, but devices make assumptions about event parameters, so to avoid some funny situations, we had to normalize that data. We made sure that the scroller maintains a high frame rate on devices with limited processing power. Because it can operate either in a cycling or a rubber-band mode, we optimized its momentum so it feels natural when users fling through it.
This was also the first time we developed an app for Apple TV. We used Meteor as our application framework because it enabled us to reuse many components on the web and on mobile devices. Meteor can’t yet build for Apple TV, so we were forced to write the app using Apple’s Xcode, Swift and TVMLKit JS library. We had to come up with a way to keep Apple TV updated with all the latest films, so we created an internal application programming interface that the app uses to pull in the freshest data every time it’s loaded.
Do today’s brands need to embrace socially conscious advertising in order to survive? Brands definitely need to be more aware and conscious. The young generation of consumers is much more in touch with how things are made and where they’re made, and they want to know the story behind the things they buy. They see through bullshit.
One of your passions in life is yoga. What’s your favorite yoga principle that relates to advertising? In yoga, they say, “As you worship, so you become.” Basically: be careful with who and what you surround yourself with because that is what you will become. This is one of the main reasons I started my Portland, Oregon–based agency Red & Co.—so I could work with people I love and admire for the brands that I respect.
What else was most important to you in setting the ethos of your agency? A few things, really. I started Red & Co. to have a place where I can go every morning and feel excited. I wanted to work both internally and externally with people I admire—employees and clients—making sure that open, honest dialogue is a huge part of our relationships and that we are all here not for our own agendas, but to make our clients successful. One of the best compliments we’ve gotten from a client was when our head Google client told us that we were more passionate about creating Made with Code, Google’s initiative to empower young women with computer programming skills, than even they were.
I also wanted to work in new ways. We know this industry can take a toll on personal lives and health—late nights, weekend work, canceled vacations and tight deadlines are all part of the ad game. I wanted to find more efficient and mindful ways of working so people can maintain a healthy balance. I am strongly committed to working in a way that is more respectful.
Technology has also changed every industry in the last five to ten years, so it was very important to me to integrate technology into everything we do, from the work we create for clients to how we operate internally. I think technology can make the process more fair, transparent, efficient and fun—of course, only when used in the most human way possible.
Lastly, I wanted to create meaningful work for brands that make a difference. There’s too much waste out there!
Our philosophy is built on four sacred principles: trust, respect, passion and no bullshit. We believe that the less time everyone spends on politics and process, the more energy we will all have for creating the best work we possibly can.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were first starting out in advertising? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There is no A leads to B leads to C. It’s more like: A leads to T, which leads to F, which leads to S. So be open to the adventures and take some risks. Don’t try to control everything because you’ll lose the magic and surprises along the way.