29 Rising Agency Stars Who Are Keeping Advertising Relevant, Fresh and Fascinating

Meet the next generation of creative icons

Caroline Cappelli and Ryan Tovani, ACDs at GS&P, created the Super Bowl's epic Doritos-Mountain Dew lip sync battle.

Unafraid and unintimidated by change, today’s emerging creative superstars reflect everything the ad industry aspires to be: diverse, principled, restlessly innovative and personally interwoven with the complex cultures marketers have consistently struggled to understand. These are the faces of a new creative class, and they’re ready to bulldoze every obstacle and outdated institution that gets in their way.

Kako Mendez and Robbin Ingvarsson
Associate Creative Directors, TBWA\Media Arts Lab

When it comes to the emotional power of film, Kako Mendez is a true believer—so much so that he created an app called Feelm that helps you find the right movie for your current mood rather than your favorite genre.

But the film buff can create just as well as he can curate, as proven by the masterpiece Mendez and TBWA\Media Arts Lab partner Robbin Ingvarsson dreamed up this year: Apple HomePod’s “Welcome Home,” directed by (fellow Creative 100 honoree) Spike Jonze and starring dancer FKA twigs.

The longform spot is a stunning piece of craft that combines surreal practical effects with mind-bending visuals, and it was a labor of love for the two associate creative directors.

“It gave us the opportunity to be on a set full of world-class artists,” Mendez says. “There’s no better learning and inspiring experience than that. And the reward was obvious—we got to make a piece that blew people’s minds and hearts away. It was wonderful to see your crazy little dream on a paper become real.”

The duo also led a 2017 visual rebrand of Apple Music and created dramatic spots for the MacBook Pro and Apple Watch.

Ingvarsson, who describes his home country of Sweden as “a culture that doesn’t pay an exaggerated respect to titles,” says a key to creative innovation is finding the balance between respecting those who’ve come before you and carving out your own path.

“Learn from people, collaborate with them,” he says, “but don’t shy away from questioning their ‘truths’—in the nicest of ways.”
David Griner

Kelly McCormick
Creative Director, CP+B

What can a pizza chain do? Oh sure, it can make pizza, but in 2018 that’s nowhere near enough. Can it fill the potholes in your town to help get your pizza home with maximum speed and minimal jostling? Can it create a wedding registry that’ll keep the happy couple in cheesy, saucy bliss? Can it give Ferris Bueller another day off?

For Domino’s, the answer to all of the above is yes, and the person we have to thank is Kelly McCormick. One of CP+B’s most prolific creatives since joining the Boulder office in 2010, she was promoted to creative director and lead on the Domino’s account in 2016, ushering in a new era of bizarrely charming innovations.

While most of the ideas—such as the Domino’s Wedding Registry and the modern recreation of Bueller’s run home, this time with Stranger Things’ Joe Keery—are silly, social media-savvy fun, her team’s newest idea for the brand shows that advertising can sometimes do more than just sell pizza.

With “Paving for Pizza,” Domino’s pays to repair damaged neighborhood roads, making it easier to get carry-out pizzas home unscathed but also cooking up some goodwill among all residents.

“I’m really proud of our latest Domino’s campaign in which we actually pave potholes and repair roads all over the country to help customers get their carryout pizza home in as pristine condition as possible,” McCormick says. “It’s a bold action for a pizza company to take, but something that really telegraphs how much Domino’s genuinely cares—both about their customer and about the sanctity of their product.”
David Griner

Nicole Michels McDonagh and Shawn Herron
Group Creative Director and Creative Technology Director, Possible Seattle

If you’ve noticed (and hopefully appreciated) the lack of disposable straws in beachside cocktails recently, you’ve got Nicole Michels McDonagh and Shawn Herron to thank for it. The creative duo at Possible Seattle led the charge on Lonely Whale’s #StopSucking campaign encouraging businesses and consumers to avoid plastic straws, which have become a widespread source of pollution and a danger to wildlife.

A celebrity-packed PSA, shareable pledge and catchy hashtag fueled the movement, which helped reduce the number of straws used by 100 million in 2017.

It’s only one of several high-profile campaigns the two have worked on, including several others aimed at making the world a better place.

“I’m most proud of WeCounterHate, the anti-hate speech AI platform we built at the beginning of 2018 to stop the spread of hate on Twitter,” Herron says. “It was one of those rare projects that you somehow sell into your agency that people just rallied around. Long nights, weekends, and an army of freelancers tossing their skills to make it happen—and then to watch it work, that was the magic we had all hoped for, seeing it stop the spread of hate speech up to 50 percent on the tweets we countered.”

For Coca-Cola, McDonagh also created a “Red Bench” campaign that helped revitalize and celebrate community parks in Los Angeles and Atlanta. “We created a film and poster campaign,” she says, “and one of my favorite lines was: ‘Lines on a map make a neighborhood. Love makes a community.’ No matter where you live or where you come from, that’s what it’s all about.”
David Griner

Mike Van Linda and Fabiano “Tatu” de Queiroz
Creative Directors, RPA

For children with cancer, the experience can be especially upsetting because, in addition to the pain and disorientation, there’s an overwhelming sense of confusion about what’s happening.

Thanks to an RPA team led by creative directors Mike Van Linda and Fabiano “Tatu” de Queiroz, kids now have an incredible resource that speaks their language: the Imaginary Friend Society. Working with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and animators around the world, the team created 22 films, with characters inspired by real kids’ imaginary friends, to help children understand how cancer works and how it’s treated. An AR app even brings the campaign’s vibrant characters to life right in the hospital room.

“The Imaginary Friend Society is the most important project we’ve ever been a part of,” Van Linda says. “The utility of the campaign makes us incredibly proud, as does its longevity. It will be around long after we’re gone. However, while we love the campaign and the tremendous impact it’s had, we look forward to the day it’s no longer needed.”

Outside of work, the two find inspiration in different pursuits. De Queiroz tries to paint at least one hour a day and immerses himself in the culture of his home country, Brazil, to discover new writers, artists and musicians.

When Van Linda isn’t surfing or running, he’s recharging with his family or making up bedtime stories for his 2-year-old. “Recently, my son started telling his own stories, which has been amazing to witness,” he says. “His narrative structure is so free. He doesn’t know it, but he’s the one inspiring me.”
David Griner

Bex Karnofski
Senior Designer, Must Be Something

The sense of community is a big deal in the Pacific Northwest, where creatives often take the most pride in work that represents principles and purpose.

Bex Karnofski embodies this spirit at Must Be Something in Portland and counts her creative work for Urban Gleaners—a longstanding nonprofit that collects fresh food for people who need it before it goes to waste—as a crucial creative moment. Taking the lead on a design project for the organization, she created an entirely new brand system.

“The process of working as part of a creative team was incredibly rewarding, as was working for a company as inspirational and important as Urban Gleaners is to the city,” she says.

But Karnofski’s work also extends far beyond her community, with her design chops being brought to bear on significant projects for Nike, including the “Choose Go” global campaign and “Welcome to Season 15” social media campaign for LeBron James’ signature line.

Her impact has recently touched brands like Uniqlo and Venmo. Earlier in her career, her client roster included Amazon, Swiss Army, Alaska Airlines, Indian Motorcycles and Kindercare.

Very much a Pacific Northwesterner, her approach is steeped in love for nature—especially walks in the woods or on the Oregon Coast to recharge. Portland’s maker culture is another catalyst that keeps Karnofski broadening her horizons. “Pursuing new skills and pushing your mind to think about things in new ways always influences creativity,” she says.
Doug Zanger

Shannon Ross and Kenia Perez
Associate Creative Directors, R/GA

Advertising’s lack of diversity and inclusiveness is a complex, multifaceted problem, and many think that hiring is the only path to progress. But Shannon Ross and Kenia Perez believe there’s another approach that needs to be embraced: dialogue.

So the two associate creative directors created “Not So FAQ,” a conversation card game and video project that grouped together their fellow R/GA employees and then had them draw questions for each to answer. Prompts included “What languages do you speak?” and “Did your family have any superstitions?”

“As women of color, we saw a need to do something about the ad industry’s ongoing struggle with diversity and inclusion,” Perez says. “We’re especially proud of this project because it’s not for any client or brand; it’s for people. Too often we’ve been left outside of the recurring circles of sameness that traditionally exist in this industry solely based on our gender, race, or even our age. So we’re proud to have created a tool for people to get to know one another through personal questions and stories that have the power to reveal the remarkable humans they are outside of a job title and description.”

On the client side, they created a social strategy to launch eBay Fashion onto Instagram, going from zero to 11,000 followers in two months. They also created an integrated campaign to promote Verizon’s NFL mobile partnership and, via nonprofit collective Papel & Caneta, developed a campaign urging New York’s governor to restrict plastic bags.
David Griner

Max Stinson
Creative Director, Wieden + Kennedy Portland

It stands to reason that Max Stinson was destined to make his way to Portland, one of the world’s most exciting music meccas. The Rose City’s independent spirit has long kept it brimming with artists of every conceivable stripe.

Originally intending to focus his career on music production, Stinson instead landed in advertising, first at Element 79 in his hometown of Chicago and now at Wieden + Kennedy Portland, where he’s brought a deft touch and fresh voice to brands including Nike, Old Spice, Dodge Chrysler, Facebook, TurboTax and Powerade.

“Music has always been an escape from the demands of creativity as well as a major influence and inspiration for creativity,” says Stinson. “It always reminds me that there are levels to how much an idea can move people.”

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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