18 Top Creative Leaders Whose Ads Are Breaking Through Into Culture

Meet some of the U.S.'s top ECDs and GCDs

Droga5's Casey Rand and Karen Short pulled off a massive media coup with the Clinton Foundation's "Not There" campaign. Photo: Paul McGeiver
Headshot of Tim Nudd

Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel campaign. Werner Herzog’s internet documentary Lo and Behold. The unsmuttifying of Carl’s Jr. The tireless pursuits of IBM’s Watson.

The executive creative directors and group creative directors—and creatives of comparable rank—on the list below helped make all the work above, which has gone well beyond the confines of the ad world and permeated pop culture. Read below about the creators of advertising that moves the needle for clients, and is also embraced on a mass scale.

Note: Instead of one big list of U.S. creatives, this year we’ve divided it into smaller lists based on rank. We have 1) chief creative officers, 2) executive creative directors and group creative directors (this list), 3) creative directors and associate creative directors and 4) art directors and copywriters. We’ve also gone international with a separate list of 10 global creative chiefs.


Casey Rand and Karen Short
Group Creative Directors, Droga5

After meeting a decade ago at VCU Adcenter, Rand and Short (pictured above) went their separate ways (to BBDO and Goodby Silverstein) before reuniting in 2013 at Droga5. Since then, they’ve worked together on Diet Coke, Chobani, the YMCA, the National Women’s Law Center, Under Armour and Chase—mostly recently launching Chase Sapphire’s new brand platform with short films starring James Corden.

Both cite the Clinton Foundation’s “Not There” campaign, for International Women’s Day in 2015, as a career highlight, when they got more than 20 brands, including Condé Nast, to remove women from media imagery—from billboards to Top 40 songs to magazine covers—to communicate that gender equality has not yet been achieved.

“It was a massive effort behind a simple thought in a salient moment,” says Short. Adds Rand: “It changed the scope of what I believed was possible to achieve in advertising. It proved to me that advertising could create culture and effect change.”

Rand likes work that makes her nervous. “Great ideas contain tension, be it cultural, emotional, executional or otherwise,” she says.

Short offers a football analogy: “Barry Sanders was one of the few NFL players who never danced in the end zone. He made a touchdown, and then had the confidence to let it lay. Good work does this. Good work is solid enough in its simplicity and delivery that it doesn’t need extra showiness or loudness. Also, whenever possible, I try to make work that makes a positive difference in the world.”


Jason Norcross
Executive Creative Director, 72andSunny

Norcross spearheaded the most sweeping brand about-face of 2017—the modernizing of Carl’s Jr. after years of famously smutty advertising. After blowing up the brand’s old image with new logos, packaging, employee uniforms and ads (including a spot starring the fictional Carl Hardee Sr.), 72andSunny blew up its history quite literally—with an explosive interactive event in the desert.

The campaign “was an opportunity to reimagine a brand that came to be defined in a very one-dimensional and, for many people, unflattering way,” Norcross says. “Confronting those perceptions as a means to introduce a new idea and a renewed focus on why they do what they do was exciting.”

Norcross—who has also been integral to the “Climb On” campaign for Coors Light and “You’re Better Than This” for Sonos—sums up his creative philosophy bluntly: “Constantly try to answer the question, ‘Why will anybody give a shit about what we’re doing?'”


Luciana Cani
Executive Creative Director, Lapiz

The Brazil native and former Leo Burnett Lisbon ECD earned headlines this year for Lapiz’s “Tequila Cloud” for Mexico Tourism—a real cloud that rained tequila to playfully urge people in rainy Berlin to vacation in Mexico.

It’s the latest in what Cani has been calling her “experimental projects” since her time in Europe. “We had no idea how we would build the cloud,” she says. “We failed so many times before achieving the final result, but that’s exactly what makes these kinds of ideas challenging and rewarding in the end.”

This story first appeared in the June 12, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.