Art Director Nails the Humor and Heartbreak of Millennial Life in Ads for Her Book

Scenes from a quarter-life crisis

Much has been made of the quarter-life crisis. And for millennials, an unforgiving job market, impersonal hook-up culture and the pressure to be Instagram-perfect don’t help.

But few have captured the current mood of twentysomethings as insightfully—and amusingly—as Samantha Jayne, a freelance art director for MullenLowe in Los Angeles.

The 25-year-old has created four pitch-perfect videos about young adulting to promote her new book, Quarter Life Poetry, due out April 5 from Grand Central Publishing. The book is based on Jayne’s popular Instagram account of the same name, which she started last year with a four-line poem and illustration about whipping up frappes as an MFA grad.

She quickly racked up 72,000 followers and a book deal with quatrains about the humorous and heartbreaking facts of millennial life, ranging from Tinder dates and random roommates to unpaid internships and office malaise.

Instead of making a standard book trailer, Jayne partnered with director Arturo Perez, a finalist in the 2015 New Directors’ Showcase at Cannes, to create a handful of short films that could just as well be promos for a new Netflix dramedy.

An ad worker and actress, Jayne wrote the scripts, acted in the spots and got permission from MullenLowe to film in the office over one weekend. The result is a darkly comic look at a young employee’s life in and out of an ad agency—although the setting is purposefully vague so anyone with an office job can relate.

In “Mortality,” Jayne spirals into an existential black hole during the office’s Pizza Day. Then, she dutifully documents the spread for social media with a caption that hardly matches how she feels. “There are so many perks in ad agencies,” Jayne tells Adweek. “Then there’s always that little crisis—this is what I rushed to work for?”

“It’s definitely due to my advertising background that they came out like [advertising] spots,” she says. “I do think of things through an art director’s lens. I love funny commercials—there’s always that bit of truth there. As opposed to a book trailer that’s really straightforward, I thought we could make a pretty colorful narrative out of these.”

Perez was already familiar with Quarter Life Poetry when Jayne approached him. He edited the scripts to amplify the feeling behind each funny moment.

“What I really love about all her poems and illustrations is that they hit a truth. I know people like to say they’re Dr. Seuss-y, but they only work because they’re honest about a struggle we all have faced or are facing. That’s what really attracted me,” says Perez, 32, a finalist for HBO’s Project Greenlight. “I think the best commercials in the world are the ones that do that.”

“Mom Talk,” the most lighthearted and visually ambitious of the four spots, shows Jayne calling her mom—from the office, the bathroom, the kitchen—with questions like what is a W9 and when is Thanksgiving, only to insist in the final frame that she’s an adult.

Each video is about a minute long and ends with the words “Who are we kidding?”—a punch line that calls out the tension between the generation’s fantasy and reality.

That tension is at the heart of the whole project.

“I started Quarter Life Poetry as a way to connect with other people in their 20s about how I was actually feeling,” Jayne says. “You go on Instagram and see all these shining, happy photos of friends. And there’s a disconnect there, because then you get drinks with them and find out how they’re really feeling.

“Our generation has two completely different identities: There’s our real self, and the one we curate online,” she adds.

A New Jersey native, Jayne graduated with an ad design degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked her share of internships before becoming an art director at KBS in New York and Swirl in San Francisco. Last year, she struck a part-time deal with MullenLowe that allowed her to focus on side projects. (Now, she’s freelancing as those projects heat up.)

“They’ve always known I was an actress out here as well, and was working on the book,” she says. “I asked to film at the office, and they were like, ‘Absolutely!’ Which is great. Mullen was so excited and supportive to do it.”

Two of the spots were filmed at friends’ apartments, including “Morning After,” in which a lover makes an offer the protagonist can’t refuse.

“All of these spots, I’m pretty sad to admit, are 100 percent autobiographical, except for the humor, because none of this was funny when it was actually happening,” Jayne says. “I really hope people take away that they’re not alone. I know these struggles are completely privileged struggles, and pretty much what you go through when you’re becoming an adult, and you make mistakes all the time.”

She sees the character as a slightly younger version of herself and hopes the project will resonate with people in the trenches of their own quadrascentennial crises.

“I’m still navigating my 20s, and still awkward and weird, but not as emotionally distraught as I was in my early 20s,” she adds. “Like, I know what a W9 is, finally.”

Directed by: Arturo Perez Jr.
Written by: Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr.
Director of Photography: Ricardo Diaz
Production Designer: Jill Bencsits & Dominic Guidote
Costume Designer/Stylist: Sarah Kinsumba
Hair & Makeup: Kait Matlock
Edited by: Arturo Perez Jr.

Samantha: Samantha Jayne
Frightened Neighbor: Odell Mack

1st AD: Will Lamborn
2nd AD: Angela Chen
1st AC: Logan Turner
Gaffer: Eli Just
Key Grip: Jonathan Schrader
Sound: Brandon Pert
Swing: Theo Hippolite
PA: Sharon Lee

Music By Temp Love
Sound Designer & Mixer: Christian Hanlon
Animation: Kimo Sanborn
Graphics & Illustration: Samantha Jayne
Colorist: Paul Yacono
Conform: Chris Riley
Color Producer: Jenny Bright
Head Of Color Production: Kim Christensen

@stephpaterik Stephanie Paterik is the executive editor of Adweek, where she leads the editorial staff and strategy.