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

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.”

Cani is a big believer that happy people produce better work. “Happy people are more committed to and work better in teams,” she says. “Usually, advertising maintains a competitive environment, and it’s not easy to break this behavior.” By encouraging collaboration and spreading out opportunities among her creatives, she is “building an environment that I, as a creative, would like to work in.”

She has one other way of making her staffers happy, too. Every Monday morning, Cani gives a bouquet of flowers to a different person on her team to show her appreciation.

 

Dave Arnold
Executive Creative Director, Pereira & O’Dell

Arnold led the Netscout project that eventually became the Werner Herzog documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, about the history and future of the internet. The film, which snagged two gold Pencils at The One Show and is a contender at Cannes, is an ambitious meeting of agency, brand, artist and audience—a branded piece of content that’s artistically driven.

More recently, Arnold has moved on from Herzog’s genius to Einstein’s, helping to craft a series of 10 short films about the scientist’s passions—promoting the National Geographic Channel show Genius, but departing from the show entirely.

“Everyone knew how rare this brief was, and it was exciting to explore the intersection of music and science, knowing how important both were to Einstein,” Arnold says. “I guess I’m most proud to see how advertising creatives are being recognized more in the broader entertainment world.”

Arnold, who also works on brands including Realtor.com, Memorial Sloane Kettering and Timberland, says his creative philosophy is simple: “Encourage friction. It helps reveal the best ideas.”

 

Lindsey Allison
Head of Strategy, Deutsch

A creative in a strategist’s body, the onetime CP+B rising star’s inspired account planning at Deutsch set the table for any number of nontraditional Taco Bell ideas—like launching the first QSR e-commerce website, ta.co; opening up the Irvine test kitchen to Open Table reservations; orchestrating the first blind pre-order, for the Quesalupa; giving the cheapest menu items the most sophisticated ads with “Feast for $1”; and getting real about breakfast with the “When your morning is hell, just go to Taco Bell” jingles.

“To me, a good brief is a first round of creative,” Allison says. “I think strategy has only one job: to find ideas that make the meat fall off the bone for creative teams. Because without brilliant execution, strategy is just a piece of paper.”

Her approach to strategy is simple. “Find the right problem to solve—a problem that is real and matters to people—don’t invent one that doesn’t exist,” she says. “Solve it with a surprising truth—something that feels familiar, yet you are hearing it for the first time. … It’s psychology. Their minds have to stop and make sense of it. That’s what I strive for. Ideas that people have to pause and think about.”

 

Hans Dorsinville
Group Creative Director, Laird+Partners

Dorsinville has been with the fashion-focused Laird+Partners since it opened in 2002. For the past three years, he’s pioneered messages of body positivity in Lane Bryant’s breakthrough campaigns, from #ImNoAngel to #ThisBodyIsMadeToShine, igniting a movement not only to accept plus-size women, but to celebrate them.

“Being the father of a 16-month-old girl, and thinking about how she will perceive herself, has greatly affected my desire to put messages of positivity for women out into the world,” he says. “Every iteration of this campaign has been a build on a previous theme, all centered around one platform of body positivity—a story that is important to tell to empower women.”

Dorsinville sees creativity as “a unique vision that is a translation of an observation. Something mundane can be transformed into something noteworthy if it’s handled with creativity. Watch, listen and then serve it up in a new way. There is so much inspiration out there if you are open to it. Really listening to the consumer can bring forth many ideas, and listening to your gut can validate them.”

 

Victoria Azarian and Jeff Curry
Executive Creative Directors, Ogilvy New York

These Ogilvy ECDs are the keepers of IBM’s Watson, partnering man with machine to create new kinds of work, from fashion to sculpture to music. Curry is focused on building the Watson brand, while Azarian leads key initiatives that deploy his A.I. in creative ways.

“Watson is a computing platform,” says Curry. “We created his character … how he looks, how he talks, how he interacts with people. He’s hung out with some of my favorite humans: Serena Williams, Stephen King, Ridley Scott. But the most fun shoot of my career was our ‘Support Group’ spot for the Oscars. Watson played the straight man to Carrie Fisher’s comedic timing and Joe Pytka’s evil robots.”

Azarian is proudest of two Watson projects: “The Cognitive Dress” and “The First Thinking Sculpture created with Gaudí and Watson.” The former, a partnership with Marchesa fashion house, created the first dress that responds to how people who view it (with comments via tweets). It debuted at the Met Gala, where the theme was Manus x Machina.

“The dress was the talk of the gala,” says Azarian. “IBM not only outperformed fashion giants like Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, it landed on numerous best-dressed lists, including Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. And now it is on permanent display in the Henry Ford Museum of innovation. So that’s pretty cool.”

For the Gaudí project, at Mobile World Congress, Azarian and her team fed everything they could find about Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudí—images, articles, even song lyrics—into Watson and had him make a Gaudí-inspired kinetic sculpture. “When the art historian for the Gaudí Foundation, Professor Daniel Giralt-Miracle, said it was ‘a natural extension of Gaudi’s thinking,’ I couldn’t have been more proud,” Azarian says.

Curry is a humanist—at least, that’s what his longtime mentor, the late Chris Wall, told him. “I’ll go with that,” Curry says. “I try to consider the person I’m making work for. So many people get hung up on B2B or B2C. Why not just talk like a human being? We don’t make art, we make conversation. Respect the intelligence and attention span of your audience.”

For her part, Azarian believes in creative energy. “Teams that work best together tap into each person’s unique strength, build on it and create something really special together,” she says. “I also try to look at each project with a sense of playfulness and laughter. Because if you’re not having fun, why bother? I can’t deal with sad dogs.”

 

Ricky Vior
Executive Creative Director, The Community

Vior was one of The Community’s first creatives, joining in 2002 as an art director. He now helps drive the creative vision for clients like Converse, Corona and Verizon, and is a fine artist in his own right who regularly shows in Miami and Buenos Aires.

Vior drew on his artist roots for Converse’s #LoQueSoy (“Who I Am”), which highlighted artists who lead double lives, working boring day jobs to support the pursuit of their dreams.

“We found bands that despite of having five followers or views on social media, they kept producing, posting and creating. These bands’ search was not about viewers or likes, it was about searching for what matters to them,” says Vior. “Understanding why people are willing to do something is, in a way, understanding yourself. I was inspired by the stories that were shared, and it brought me back to the early days in my career when I believed anything could be done.”

This story first appeared in the June 12, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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