50 Creatives Whose Brilliant Ideas and Beautiful Craft Will Make You Jealous

Meet the top U.S. agency stars from this year's Creative 100

Last year’s inaugural edition of the Creative 100 featured 40 agency creatives—broken down into 10 chief creative officers and 30 rank-and-file creatives. This year we’ve expanded the agency section to 50 creatives (pairs and groups of three count as one entry)—and put them all together, junior and senior talent, into this one list.

We’ve also dug deeper to find younger talent whose names you might not know, but whose work you’ve undoubtedly seen over the past year. They sit side by side here with some U.S.-based global chief creative officers—showing a full range of exceptional talent from literally entry-level people to global network chiefs.

What unites all of them is a passion for the work, an incessant curiosity about the world and marketing’s evolving role in it, and some serious creative chops—from wonderfully unique, clever, business-changing ideas to remarkable executional ability. (Also, they are honored equally on this list—the order does not indicate a ranking.)

Congrats to all the honorees, whose work is the envy of the agency business.


John Matejczyk

Executive Creative Director
Muh-tay-zik Hof-fer, San Francisco

A veteran of Y&R, Goodby Silverstein (twice), Fallon, BBH, TBWA\Chiat\Day and 180LA, Matejczyk in 2009 opened Muh-tay-zik Hof-fer, which has produced breakthrough work for Google, Netflix, Audi and AAA. “There is always a way,” he says. “A way to pull it off, a way to make a brand fresh, a way to solve a problem. The best work is always the result of persistence.” That dogged approach crosses styles and mediums, from the Super Bowl (for SoFi) to the murkier corners of the internet. Recent hits include turning wifi network names at the New York Auto Show into Audi attack ads on BMW; holding a 24-hour video-game auto race on Twitch for Audi (synced to the real-life Le Mans race); celebrating glorious messes for cleaning brand Method; and Periscoping a guinea pig whose movements in a cardboard box amusingly advised college kids whether to study or watch Netflix.


Rohan Cooke and Laura Petruccelli

Creatives
Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

This Australian pair arrived from Grey Melbourne in 2014 and have been integral to several remarkable GS&P campaigns. They dreamed up Sonic’s exquisite “Square Shakes”—milkshakes designed for, and sold on, Instagram. They also worked on the sobering “Unacceptable Acceptance Letters” campaign about sexual assault on campus. They like to take cultural tensions and flip them to find something new. “Instagram was made for food, so why not make a food for Instagram? Students upload happy films of the moment they open their college acceptance letters, but would they be this happy if they knew that one in five [college women] would be sexually assaulted?” Petruccelli says. Adds Cooke: “We challenge ourselves to collect insights every day in everything we do. There’s really no excuse when the internet shares millions of them every second. When you match the right one with the right brief, you get the rare opportunity to make a little piece of culture yourself.”


Susan Credle

Global Chief Creative Officer
FCB

Advocate of the everlasting, enemy of the ephemeral, FCB’s new global CCO is steering her agency toward what she calls “Never Finished Ideas.” “I am most proud of ideas that endure,” Credle says. “Too often we define success one creative execution at a time. That’s a very short-term measurement considering what our amazing industry is capable of.” A “Never Finished Idea” is one that can be expressed in a multitude of ways over long periods of time, creating richer equity and lasting returns for brands. “The comedic ensemble that is the M&M’s characters, Secret deodorant’s ‘Mean Stinks’ anti-bullying work and Allstate’s Mayhem campaign are all examples of this kind of thinking,” Credle says. “At FCB, our work for Nivea Sun is becoming a Never Finished Idea. Never Finished Ideas are all around us. As an industry, we need the vision and the patience to invest in them.”


Alexander Nowak and Felix Richter

Group Creative Directors
Droga5, New York

These two GCDs are enjoying a creative run perhaps unmatched in U.S. advertising today. Their Under Armour campaigns with Gisele Bündchen and Michael Phelps won Grand Prix at successive Cannes festivals (and has also won a gold Clio), and “The Piccards” for Hennessy is one of the most visually beguiling spots of the decade—a mix of “complex storytelling and transcendental undertones,” according to Richter. “We enjoy the executional part of our job just as much as the conceptual one,” he adds. Nowak says the goal is simple: “We always try to make work that makes you feel something.” That mix of craft and emotion has made them stars at an agency that isn’t short on talent. “Alex and Felix are two of my favorite thinkers and instigators,” says David Droga. “Not just for their pure creativity but for their incredible intellect and relentlessness. Good people who make good things for good reasons.”


Jaime Robinson

Chief Creative Officer
Joan Creative, New York

Robinson—who started out as a writer at Mad Dogs & Englishmen, got famous at Pereira & O’Dell (for Intel and Toshiba’s multiple Grand Prix winner “The Beauty Inside”) and rose to lead Wieden + Kennedy New York’s creative department—has enjoyed a new challenge lately: opening her own shop, Joan Creative, with Lisa Clunie. “Picking the name and creating branding for our new agency has been one of the most thrilling things ever,” she says. As they get the place up and running (General Mills is their first account), Robinson has a simple philosophy for creative management: “A little warmth and generosity can really help bring out maximum creativity in others. And it pays dividends—the more open and optimistic people you can bring into the process, the more you new and exciting things you can discover. That’s why a lot of the work I’ve been involved with has had some kind of participatory element.”


David Littlejohn

Chief Creative Director
Humanaut, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Littlejohn caught the invention bug as a CP+B copywriter in late ’00s, working on brand projects like Domino’s Pizza Tracker and Best Buy Twelpforce. He opened Humanaut in 2013 as a “brand invention agency” to invent products and help other brands launch things the world has never seen. Among its more notable projects: introducing SodaStream’s newest bottle-saving home sodamaker during the Super Bowl, and crafting hilarious viral spots for Organic Valley, including “Save the Bros.” “If you want to be truly innovative, you have to assume you don’t already know the answer to the problem,” says Littlejohn, who pushes his team to “experiment, fail and learn as quickly as possible.” He adds: “Getting to help brands innovate that are actually doing good in the world, like Organic Valley, is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”


Avery Oldfield and Adam Wolinsky

Art Director and Copywriter
Venables Bell & Partners, San Francisco

A grad school professor told this young pair that everything they make should surprise or delight. “We try not to disappoint him too badly,” they say now. Their recent work has been particularly undisappointing—including REI’s smash hit #OptOutside, the anti-Black Friday campaign that won the coveted Titanium Grand Prix (and a Promo Grand Prix) at Cannes last month. “Being in advertising, it was a pretty amazing and bizarre experience to work on a campaign whose sole purpose was to not sell anything,” Wolinsky and Oldfield say. In addition to making Thumbtack’s first national TV and out-of-home campaign, the pair are also proud of their 2015 Google spot about a gym for transgender men in Kansas City. Their approach to most projects is simple: “We just throw stuff out until we hit a wall. Then we either go for a walk, or look at dogs on Instagram. Sometimes both.”


Margaret Keene

Executive Creative Director
MullenLowe, Los Angeles

“Who needs Tinder when you’ve got tasty food? It’s always been the best aphrodisiac.” That trusim led Keene to make one of 2016’s most viral ads, Knorr’s “Love at First Taste.” And it wasn’t her only food-themed triumph this year. During the Super Bowl, she had client California Avocados post Twitter videos showing how avocados can pair with food and drink brands advertising on the game (from Budweiser to Snickers). Keene, who started her career as the switchboard operator at Chiat/Day (and was once Lee Clow’s creative assistant), also works on Acura and Patrón. Among her tips for creatives: “Try hard to find out what makes people tick, and build something real from that. Don’t be precious about the work. Be willing to beat it up to get to a better place. Make something your mom, your dad, your kid, your dog likes. Make work that matters to real people.”


Keith Cartwright

Executive Creative Director
Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Sausalito, Calif.

Earlier this year, BSSP acquired Union Made Creative, the shop Cartwright had founded and run as chief creative officer four years earlier, and no wonder. The boutique was doing top-notch work for clients like GE, eBay, Nike, Chipotle and Lego—for which it made the fantastic girl-power anthem “Keep Building” in 2014. Cartwright himself brought a history of working on other top brands, including Jordan at Wieden + Kennedy. At BSSP, he’s been part of a major creative win on Uber and helped the agency add work from Allergan and PowerBar. “Part of our responsibility is figuring out how to infuse culturally relevant thinking into what our clients make and do,” he says. “So how do we do that in a way that’s nimble and current and doesn’t ignore the basic principle of our business, which has been and will always be about narrative, stories and ideas?”


Jose Ripol and Samantha Salzano

Copywriter and Senior Art Director
DigitasLBi, New York

Failure as a kind of success is a cliché in the creative arts. But for this young team, it was suddenly and literally true—they turned a big disappointment into an even bigger triumph. The Orange Rose they created as a symbol of maternal health fell short at Cannes Young Lions in 2015, but was picked up and used this past Mother’s Day by Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit run by Christy Turlington Burns. “It was an idea we thought would never become a reality. Being able to bring it to life was a big deal for us,” says Salzano. “The idea of using my skills for campaigns that can truly impact the lives of others was something I dreamed of ever since I was in college,” adds Ripol. To use another cliché, these two creatives rely on both inspiration and perspiration. “There’s something to be said about your subconscious … Sometimes sleeping on it really pays off,” says Ripol. Adds Salzano of her approach: “Make things that people want. Stay weird. And work really fucking hard.”


Ferdinando Verderi

Creative Director
Johannes Leonardo, New York

An Italian based in New York, Verderi sees the audience—which is constantly reinterpreting and reappropriating ideas—as a medium and not a destination for advertising. “For that reason, I am attracted to ideas that act as open questions as opposed to closed statements, that expose contradictions as opposed to selling self-proclaimed truths, and that provoke a paradigm shift in how we look at things as opposed to reinforcing the perspective we wish to believe in,” he says. Expressions of this approach include Verderi’s “Future” campaign for Adidas Originals, which challenges the status quo of a dystopian future. Self-taught, and with an academic background well outside advertising, Verderi subverted typical publishing with another recent project—a book about Jefferson Hack that he co-edited, art directed and designed in a limited edition of 5,000 copies, each with its own unique cover. “I saw it as a challenge to the idea of creative control that the fashion industry usually imposes on its image making,” he says. “We did the opposite of what a retrospective project is expected to do: Instead of respectfully placing these precious images from archives on the cover, we disrespectfully let a machine hack them to create something new, and instead of talking about one person’s past, we talked about the future of a generation.”


Jess Greenwood

VP of Strategy
R/GA, New York

An ex-journalist, Greenwood takes a story-driven approach to help brands navigate the chaotic intersection of brand strategy, content and creativity. She has overseen strategy for clients like Nike, Verizon, Tiffany and Samsung and now leads R/GA’s 40-person activation strategy team. In the past, strategists mostly had to be clever, she says. Today, they have to be helpful, in ways that are ever changing—using constant learning and collaboration to keep up with “the platforms, the behaviors, the cultures and the currencies” that clients need to know. Aside from brand work, Greenwood is also a founding member of Papel e Caneta, a global creative and strategy collective for social good, through which she co-created #asktransfolks, a social video project where anyone can ask a question about the trans experience and get a personal reply. The end game? “To create a world that’s a little kinder and safer for all of us,” she says.


Chris Adams

Chief Creative Officer
Phenomenon, Los Angeles

Adams and his agency were the creative force behind the rollout of one of the year’s most fascinating tech products—the Wilson X Connected Basketball. Phenomenon named it, developed the graphic ID on the ball, and designed the packaging, website, UX/UI for the mobile app and the ad campaign that launched it. “It’s all the stuff we love to do, all brought together in one beautiful and incredibly fun-to-use product,” Adams says. The TBWA and Saatchi veteran ran his own boutique, adams&partners, before the jump to Phenomenon. “I’m a pretty optimistic person, so I’m never looking to kill ideas,” he says of his creative approach. “I’m always looking for ideas I can fall in love with. When I see them, whether it’s a fully formed idea or just a scrap, I can usually see the potential for how the conversation will play out across all kinds of media.”


Paulo Ribeiro and Nilesh Ashra

Co-Directors of The Lodge
Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

The coolest part of one of the world’s coolest agencies? It might just be The Lodge at W+K. Its 20 rogue experimenters, led by Ashra and Ribiero, are rethinking how creativity and technology meet—via things like hardware engineering, experience design, CG, VR and AI. Their work often just feels magical. For example: the functioning Verizon network they built inside the video game Minecraft; the musical-paper project Soundsketch; their Slackbot named Mimic; or their little furry robot, Needybot, that roams W+K talking to people. “We’ve been trying [innovative tech] for years with some amazing successes—Chalkbot, Old Spice Responses. Now in The Lodge we are focusing on just that,” Ribiero says. Ashra adds: “We’ve assembled curious-minded experts in machine learning, interaction design, real-time graphics, architecture, sensor technology and other emergent parts of technology that we think could blow up how everything in the world works.”


Nichole Geddes

Associate Creative Director
Heat, San Francisco

A little humor goes a long way—at the agency, and in the work—according to this ACD, whose “Be Slightly Adventurous” campaign for Hotwire and “Madden: The Movie” idea for EA showed formidable comic chops. “People remember the things that made them laugh, things that entertain them,” Geddes says. “So often, advertising can get to you, but as long as we know we are making commercials and not trying to win a Nobel Prize, we can keep it all in perspective.” The five-year Heat veteran—whose extracurriculars include mothering “a sassy 80-pound ball of fur” named Kaiyuh and tending to “a pretty insane stamp collection”—says this year has been all about getting bigger, both for Adweek’s Breakthrough Agency of the Year and the work she’s doing for it. “I feel really lucky our clients keep letting me make the bigger, weirder and crazier ideas for their campaigns,” she says.


Linus Karlsson

Chief Creative Officer, Ming Utility and Entertainment, New York
Creative Chairman, Commonwealth/McCann

More than 25 years into his career, Karlsson is enjoying a creative renaissance. He and Paul Malmstrom, aka “the Swedes,” stormed America in 1996, electrifying Fallon before co-founding Mother New York. After serving as McCann’s global CCO for several years, Karlsson is now creative chairman on its global Chevrolet business—and has started Ming, a creative shop at the intersection of design, technology and entertainment. He is thrilled to be writing again, and Ming is finding its identity with clients like Swire Group, Ikea, Polaroid and Smith Optics—for which he produced an amusing series of anti-marketing fishing spots. “To some of my blue-collar friends back home I am a ‘fantasizer.’ I love that,” Karlsson says. “Imagination is the most important thing in the world. Combined with stubbornness and a drive to get things done, [it’s] what changes the world.” He adds: “I haven’t felt stronger, clearer and more creative in my entire career. My head literally explodes every day, thinking of what’s possible.”


Bianca Guimarães

Associate Creative Director
BBDO, New York

Like so many talented creatives, this young Brazilian—a rising star at BBDO following five years at JWT—is often driven by insecurity. “The truth is that every time I’m done with a project, there’s that feeling that there is something I could’ve done better, but that pushes me to keep improving my ideas and the way they’re executed,” she says. Her ideas and executions have been top-notch lately. Triumphs include “Invisible Faces” for the NYPD Missing Persons Bureau, which put actual missing people’s faces on storefront mannequins; “Fit Nesting Dolls” for CrossFit chain Brick to show how you’ll slim down; and particularly, her Autism Speaks work—including the gorgeous 3-D stop-motion “World of Autism” animations. As for her downtime? “I like to play volleyball as a way to distract my mind and give it a rest,” she says. “That definitely helps me stay creatively fresh.”


Chris Avantaggio

Associate Creative Director
The VIA Agency, Portland, Maine

A former pro snowboarder and onetime CP+B intern, Avantaggio has been with VIA since 2007. This year he won his first One Show Pencil (a silver) for art directing a series of Greenpeace illustrations of tuna fish—filled with graphic scenes of unsustainable fishing practices and human rights abuses. “I like to approach every project with a strong consideration for striking visuals and concise messaging,” he says. Among his other favorite work of late: a website redesign for Maine Beer Company that put stories first and the beer second; a full branding and identity project for Portland’s Press Hotel; and a TV campaign for Perdue Chicken featuring real employees in a real chicken house. He also runs a successful side business as founder and creative director of the Maine lifestyle brand LiveME, whose clothing and other merchandise are becoming ubiquitous across the state.


Pum Lefebure

Chief Creative Officer
Design Army, Washington, D.C.

Lefebure, who came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student from Thailand, opened Design Army with her husband Jake in 2003. From the beginning, they were extremely selective about the clients and projects they take in. “I believe you can’t do epic shit for basic people,” Pum says. Among the epic shit she’s produced lately is the gorgeously hip and quirky “Our Family Knows Glasses” spot for Georgetown Optician. “At Design Army we are known for our unique point of view, and the best combinations of beauty and wit,” Lefebure says. “Every single element in this film was carefully planned. Beauty IS the detail. Design IS the idea.” Of her creative approach, she adds: “It has always been vital to keep reinventing myself over and over and to never loose sight of the aesthetic/vocabulary that I have built. As a designer, you have to have a distinct point of view.”


Colin Jeffery

Chief Creative Officer
David&Goliath, Los Angeles

Few car guys have had as much advertising success as Colin Jeffery. After overseeing Volkswagen at Arnold, the South Africa native moved to D&G in 2006 and soon created the Kia hamsters, which have starred in some of the most viewed spots of all time (and have won multiple Effie awards). The ex-TBWA Hunt Lascaris and Saatchi Singapore creative is also proud of Kia’s “The Truth” campaign, which had LeBron James respond directly to tweets skeptical that he drove a Kia (he does); and the world-record 80-foot-tall Jack in the Box coupon he hung from a building on on Sunset Boulevard. “I ask lots of questions. The more questions you ask, the more likely you are to discover something truly unexpected,” he says of his process. “People aren’t sitting around waiting for your next ad. Be surprising. Tell them something they don’t already know. Show them something they haven’t seen before.”


Click below to see the rest of the 50 Creatives list:

Kimberly Linn
Creative Director
Pitch, Los Angeles

For Linn, it’s all about the visuals. “As an art director by trade, the creative process for me, nine out of 10 times, begins with a single key image that will help tell a story,” she says. The former Dentsu and FCB creative has been telling stories at Pitch since 2013, and is particularly fond of her work for Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and Pepsi’s 1893 soda. For the OITNB spots, “everything was shot first-person POV to put viewers in the shoes of Litchfield’s newest inmate. We hid Easter eggs in each spot for superfans that led to some pretty great digital activations,” she says. For 1893, she created the Soda Sommelier character, who “elevated the product while making fun of the artisanal/craft foodie trend.” The most compelling ideas, Linn says, “are generally the ones that can be explained in a sentence or two. For me, it just so happens to begin with an image, and then a sentence.”


Karen Costello

Executive Creative Director
Deutsch, Los Angeles

Costello pulled off one of the great high-wire acts in advertising this year—Deutsch’s live music video for Target starring Gwen Stefani that aired in real time on the Grammys. “The bravery that idea took to execute is staggering,” Costello says. “It was unbelievably hard. Unbelievably risky. And unbelievably rewarding. … I’m lucky, honored and pinch myself every day that I get to partner with clients like Target.” Costello, who also works on Zillow and the Georgia-Pacific brands Angel Soft and Vanity Fair, was the 12th employee hired at Deutsch L.A. office, back in 1997. She’s seen it all at the agency, and found a balance in the work. “Be brave but not reckless,” she says. “I love doing things that haven’t been done before. But ideas should always be grounded in a true human insight and based on real consumer needs or desires. That’s the ‘not reckless’ part.”

 


Anselmo Ramos

Chief Creative Officer
David, Miami

Ramos’s remarkable run of Burger King work includes 2014’s “Proud Whopper” (which last year won a Grand Clio Award) and this year’s “Whopper Sign,” which got fans to come up with sign language for the Whopper on National American Sign Language Day. David also contributed to Y&R’s world-beating “McWhopper” campaign, and got into the Super Bowl with the adorable Heinz Ketchup weiner dogs. Other hits include the “Man Boobs” PSA, made with David’s Buenos Aires office. “We look for firsts,” Ramos says. “Firsts are uncomfortable, time-consuming and don’t come with any guarantees. … At the same time, firsts generate stronger emotional connections and more views and clicks.” The agency doesn’t wait for client briefs, either. “Each brand is an open brief,” Ramos says. “We can sometimes become a pain in the ass to our clients, and sometimes they tell us to get lost. But at the end of the day, they appreciate it. I just want to do something my Aunt Maria Lucia will understand and forward to her friends.”

Recommended articles