Jason Zada always wanted to be a filmmaker. Growing up in Southern California and Hawaii, Zada started making films when he was 8 years old, using his allowance to buy film for his parents’ Super 8 camera to make, for example, a Kiss video with his friends using tennis rackets for guitars. But when it came time for college, he turned down scholarships to film school. “I wasn’t a big fan of organized school,” he says. “I was definitely more of a fan of going out and learning things on your own.”
It was his media arts education at Kalaheo High School in Kailua, Hawaii, however, that gave him the hands-on training that has him now, as co-founder and executive creative director of Omnicom-backed digital marketing firm EVB, creating Web wonders like OfficeMax’s “Elf yourself.” “I got to edit film, shoot little commercials, learn sound design,” says Zada of the curriculum. “That’s where I figured out my direction.”
After stints in Los Angeles and New York, Zada moved to San Francisco in 1993, where he began creating CD-ROMs and dabbling in interactive design. “When the Web was first starting out, I began learning how to do all that stuff,” he says. “I was never a programmer. I always had crazy ideas, and then I would find a group of people who could help make that happen.”
In 1997, he launched Spyplane, a digital design firm that was acquired by interactive consultancy Zefer in 1999. While working with San Francisco agencies on digital components of campaigns, such as the 1999 launch of the Sega Dreamcast for Foote, Cone & Belding, Zada met EVB co-founder Daniel Stein, who had been working at Saatchi & Saatchi’s Darwin Digital.
In 2000, the pair launched Evolution Bureau (later abbreviated to EVB), which Omnicom bought 50 percent of in 2006. “We had always talked about doing something that was digitally based and also about branding,” he explains, but some of their ideas were too cutting edge. Zada remembers leaving early clients like Old Spice, which was just beginning to explore the digital space, scratching their heads. “We pitched an original Web-based show, but it was about seven-and-a-half years ahead of its time,” he says.
In 2005, the agency created an award-winning site for LeapFrog’s FLY Fusion Pentop Computer that had teens demonstrating the way the pen worked and invited visitors to virtually try it out themselves. “It broke that boundary of now I’m watching something and now I’m interacting with it,” he explains.
LeapFrog was one of Zada’s most challenging projects, but one of the more personally fulfilling was last summer’s “Football resurrected” campaign for 2K Sports’ All Pro Football 2K8 video game. For it, Zada, 34, directed hip-hop legends for online, TV, print and outdoor content. “I was a little white kid breakdancing in the early ’80s and I got to shoot and direct Rakim and Chali 2NA,” says Zada, a huge hip-hop fan and avid gamer.
It is these types of integrated projects that Zada is most enthusiastic about these days. EVB is currently working on its second campaign for Major League Soccer. Zada is traveling all over the country to shoot episodic content to launch online in June, a follow-up to last year’s campaign, which had 13 different bands creating original music tracks for the teams.
Recently, EVB launched a “Get a happy face” online and print effort for Alberto Culver’s St. Ives that pairs each product in the line with a widget or piece of content, such as a protective cleaner paired with a desktop widget that gives users daily sun-intensity information. And for VO5, EVB is currently making its V05 “Ultimate Flirting Championship” Web site into a portable widget for Facebook and Perezhilton.com.
But “Elf yourself,” which Zada created and directed with Toy cd Ari Merkin, remains a favorite. “The career milestone was going onto YouTube and seeing a couple hundred videos of people from all over the world doing the dance,” he says, including everyone on Good Morning America. “Doing something that has affected pop culture on that level is one of the things most creatives never have the chance to do, and it was so fun to do that two years in a row.”
Background: Born in Los Angeles and moved to Hawaii when he was 10. His father, he says, is a surfer. “We went places where there were waves.” Today lives in Mill Valley, Calif., with his wife, Liz, a former art director, and two children, Milo, 5, and Lula, 3, and Cleo the pug.
Awards: Addy for Adidas Basketball “Step Inside KG” (2006); Ad:Tech, Best Integrated Campaign, Adidas Soccer “MLS Mashups” (2007) and Best of Show, OfficeMax “Elf Yourself” (2008); Cannes Cyber Lions for Wrigley’s Winterfresh “Winterfresh Network” (2004) and Burger King’s “The Whopperettes” (2006); Internet Advertising Competition, Best in Show for Redwood Creek (2005); London International Awards, Best Interactive Media, Orbit White “Good Clean Feeling” (2006); SXSW Interactive, LeapFrog “Fly Pentop Computer” (2006) and OfficeMax “Elf Yourself” (2008).