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 These are the faces of a new creative class, and they’re ready to bulldoze every obstacle and outdated institution that gets in their way.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.”

One particular brand that Stinson connects deeply with is Powerade. “I have a real connection with the brand,” he says. “I see myself in the kids that we market to. So whether we’re trying to inspire them or give them a good laugh I’m always pushing to deliver something special with every project.”

Though he didn’t end up in the music business, he still makes time to compose beats and DJ from time to time—creative oxygen that keeps him current and lets him create on his own terms: “It’s nice to just be able to create something without rules or expectations.”
Doug Zanger

Alex Shulhafer and Piper Hickman
Group Creative Directors, 360i

“It’s not often in advertising that you’re able to be a part of something with such real-world impact.”

Most creatives spend their careers hoping to find opportunities that could be described that way, and for Alex Shulhafer, the project was a truly special one. Bravo Tango Brain Training, a voice-activated app on the Google Assistant platform, was created by the agency and National Geographic to help veterans cope with the lingering emotional toll of their time in the military.

Released the weekend of Veterans Day 2017, the app was inspired by the client’s scripted miniseries The Long Road Home. Bravo Tango asked users to describe their current emotions, and then provided guided meditation and other calming techniques to help sooth nerves or alleviate anxiety. It was designed with an Air Force psychologist.

“The stories told throughout the series inspired us to help real soldiers,” Shulhafer says. “Our exit interviews show that many soldiers are using Bravo Tango regularly, to help with falling asleep, meditation and other life needs.”

Her partner, fellow GCD Piper Hickman, has straightforward advice for young ad pros looking to create opportunities for rewarding work: First put in the work.

“Find your own voice and own your own process,” she says. “Study the Greeks. And Joseph Campbell. Chat up the C-suites in the elevator. Learn how to present. Show up. Listen. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially when you’re young; no one expects you to know what you’re doing.”
David Griner

Gus Johnston
Associate Creative Director, Venables Bell and Partners

Whether creating cinematic ads with heart, helping a client turn waste into warmth for needy children or advocating for LGBT acceptance in sports, Gus Johnston is a creative who brings both passion and purpose to everything he does.

Much of his most notable work at VB&P has been in the hotel space, a category not typically known for soul-lifting ideas. As part of launching the Go Beyond campaign for Sheraton Hotels, he created the visually compelling spot “The Deep” about the lengths that hotel employees would go to for guests.

For sister brand Westin Hotels, Johnston helped launch the new global brand platform “Let’s Rise,” but best of all, he conceived and led ThreadForward, a first-of-its-kind program that collects, processes and reweaves hotel bed linens into pajamas for children in need.

“Around 30,000 pounds of bed linen from 50 Westin hotel properties around the world were collected, processed and then rewoven into children’s pajamas,” he says. “From concept to design and collaborating with a raft of specialized manufacturers, this project required an extraordinary commitment from a wide range of partners. Being part of a collaborative effort to bring something genuinely meaningful into the world made this project extra special for me.”

A longtime hockey player, Johnston has been a vocal advocate for better gender balance and LGBT acceptance in sports, in his native Australia and around the world.
David Griner

Bryan Espiritu
Creative Catalyst, Anomaly

There’s no simple professional box in which you can put Bryan Espiritu. An artist whose work conveys pain and resilience, a streetwear entrepreneur, a mentor for at-risk youth, a charitable advocate—and, for Anomaly, a “creative catalyst” who sparks big ideas and creates bold visual identities for clients like UFC and Nike.

“Bryan is true creative superstar doing amazing work, prolific art, successful business and impacting young lives across North America,” says Franke Rodriguez, CEO of Anomaly NYC and Toronto.

It was Rodriguez who approached Espiritu, founder of TheLegendsLeague, about collaborating with Anomaly after the two met via the multi-talented artist’s extensive involvement in the Toronto creative scene.

In addition to his copious visual creations, Espiritu has also launched an effort to provide household essentials—such as basic silverware, cooking supplies and bed linens—to young people setting out on their own after stints in foster care or times of homelessness, an effort supported by his social audiences and Ikea.

Espiritu says one key to balancing all these roles and responsibilities has been making time for meditation.

“Much of my creative inspiration comes from reconciling pain from my past, depicting messages of mental health awareness, as well as leaving my emotions out in the open in my art and design,” he says. “In recent months, meditation has played the biggest role in my daily re-energizing, as it reminds me to immerse myself in my current space and not consider past or future. It’s allowed me to graduate my creative outputs to being depictions of my truths rather than forcing me to re-experience past pain just for the sake of creating.”
David Griner

Caroline Cappelli and Ryan Tovani
Associate Creative Directors, Goodby Silverstein and Partners

Most ads that feature two completely different products, which happen to be owned by the same parent company, come across as a creative jumble in the name of pinching pennies on paid media.

So why was PepsiCo’s lip-sync battle of a Super Bowl ad featuring Doritos and Mountain Dew so incredibly, flawlessly good?

While there’s plenty of credit to go around (including to actors Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman for pulling off their performances), one team whose contributions can’t be overlooked is Caroline Cappelli and Ryan Tovani of agency GS&P.

Cappelli is relatively fresh to the industry, with Goodby being her first and only employer since graduating ad school five years ago, while Tovani joined the agency two years ago after a nearly decade-long stint as an art director at Venables Bell.

Together they’ve been a creative powerhouse, not only orchestrating the brand-combo Super Bowl alongside director (and fellow 2018 Creative 100 honoree) Nabil Elderkin, but also winning the agency’s pitch to Stacy’s Pita Chips, for which they created the empowering “Stacy Stands With You” campaign.

“This was our first big push for the brand,” Cappelli says. “Stacy’s Pita Chips was originally founded by a female entrepreneur named Stacy Madison, and in the wake of the historic 2017 Women’s March, we felt it was our responsibility to help women take action during this critical time. After witnessing the power of the march first hand, we came up with the idea to take those vibrant, powerful, handwritten signs and transform them into packaging. We then worked with Snapchat to create custom Snapcodes that used geotargeting technology to let people call their local congressional representatives just by snapping a photo of any bag.”
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Blake Winfree
Vp and Creative Director, MullenLowe

“Baby, sometimes it’s better to be misunderstood.”

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

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