DC is more than just our nation’s capital: It’s home to some of the most creative minds in the advertising business. These thought leaders are pushing the envelope, developing award-winning campaigns that inform and inspire far beyond Washington. We sat down with past ADDY Award winners to learn what motivates them to Resist the Expected.
Today’s creative brain is Emily Gallt, Senior Marketing Strategist at CHIEF. Last year, CHIEF won an ADDY for Responsive Design for the National Park Foundation’s website redesign. Emily spoke to us about the importance of people in creative.
Tell us about your ADDY Award-winning project.
It was about people’s experience on tablet, phone, and laptop, making sure that [the design] maintained its integrity throughout the experience.
How did it resist the expected?
Something that the National Park Foundation really cares about, beyond just the parks themselves, is the human element. The users on the website are also the park visitors. Instead of just showcasing the parks, we showcased the people.
We showcased the work that the foundation does for the parks through the people, who really make the biggest impact. There’s a section where people can upload their own photos of the park, so it’s not just stock photos or these beautiful pictures that professionals have taken, it’s curated and developed by the users themselves.
The story of the parks is not just the story of the parks. The story of the parks is all of us — the American people. It’s such a uniquely American idea that you can’t ignore the people element of it.
What do you think it means to resist the expected in the world of advertising?
Tapping into insights that aren’t necessarily coming through data. Doing social listening exercises and listening to what people are saying out loud themselves, or commenting on Facebook, or letting the users dictate the brand and the message, giving them ownership of it.
I used to work in politics, so this is something that I’m very familiar with. Putting the message into the user’s hands is going to elevate it forever and make it more authentic. You tap into the messaging on the ground more than the messaging from a poll or from analytics. It’s knowing your audience and taking advantage of groundswell — [for instance,] an insight driven by meme culture or youth culture. That is more resisting the expected than just following focus groups.
What is your favorite piece of advertising of all time?
A Snickers commercial from the 2000 presidential election. There’s a guy in the voting booth with a cartoon elephant on one shoulder, and a cartoon donkey on another, who are arguing back and forth as Al Gore and George Bush. It ends with, “Well, did you know my dad was president?” “Well, did you know I invented the Internet?” “Did you know I invented pants?” It just goes back and forth, and it’s ridiculous. My favorite way to end all arguments now is, “Well, I invented pants,” because no one can respond to that.
I like it because it’s silly, but 18 years later, I still have that commercial in my brain.
How do you feel that ad, in particular, resisted the expected? Why is it still playing in your mind?
Because it has nothing to do with Snickers, but I know it’s a Snickers commercial. The way Snickers ends up tying in is that the voter just stands there, waits for them to stop arguing, and eats a Snickers. The candy has nothing to do with [the argument], but the spot’s stuck with me.
What clichés in advertising do you wish people would start resisting?
It’s not the physical, final product, but the process of getting there. Don’t just rely on past knowledge, and all data all the time, to inform your decisions. We have guts. And we have a gut instinct for a reason. Follow it, and make something new. Don’t be scared.
How do you feel CHIEF resists the expected?
CHIEF resists the expected every single day:
- We just [rearranged] everybody to sit more closely with project teams and collaborators.
- We highly value the mentor/mentee relationship.
- We have open space where people can just go and sit and talk and collaborate and not have to be confined. We encourage people to walk around.
- Our motto is “Be Brave” and we really live that. I think there’s a true connection to everything we do every day and being brave.
- We’re not afraid to ask questions. Wrong answers are encouraged and appreciated. Brainstorms are about forming ideas and really just bouncing ideas off of each other.
- We’re all about breaking down barriers, in terms of personalities and job responsibility. That’s our life. That’s our thing.
What do you feel is unexpected about DC creative, specifically?
That it exists. Period. The industry of DC is the White House and federal government. Those are great places and I like that industry, but the fact that we even exist at all is unexpected. We’re not New York, we’re not San Francisco, but we’re pushing out work that is just as good, if not better. We just have a different clientele.
We go to SXSW every year, and people expect CHIEF to come. CHIEF has been a really good nationwide ambassador for the DC creative scene. We take the responsibility seriously — it’s important to CHIEF as a whole, and it’s important to DC. Because we’re creative, fun people, the DC party is one of the best ones at SXSW. (Also, our stickers are literally everywhere across Austin, because [Co-Founder] Scott Johnson and [Chief Creative Officer] Chris Lester walk around and paste them. They blanket the city with CHIEF stickers.)
Why do you feel advertising competitions are important?
I think they’re important for a lot of reasons, but what I take away from them is getting ideas and meeting the industry, realizing we’re not alone in this. We think of ourselves as, “We are CHIEF”, but we’re part of something bigger. And having the recognition of award shows like the ADDYs is really inspirational.
It’s also inspirational to see what other people in our field are doing, and just to meet them and recognize, “Oh, yeah. That person, at that firm, might not have the exact same title as me, but they’re doing really cool work and it’s really similar to what I’m doing.”
Our award was for a website, not traditional advertising. It was really cool to be considered in the advertising space and push the envelope of what advertising actually means.
What was your favorite ADDY winner last year?
The Hillary for America “Mirrors” spot from GMMB. I remember watching that when it came on [during the campaign], and then I cried at the award show again because it was post-election. I remember realizing, “Oh my God. Those are people I work with. These are my peers.” That was a really cool experience.
What advice do you have for someone submitting to the ADDYs?
Don’t be afraid to question what advertising is. We won for a website in an advertising category. Anything that inspires your users to take action with your organization, your company, your product, is considered advertising. So push the envelope on what that means because you can win.
What is unexpected about you?
I’m a very open book, so nothing is truly unexpected because everybody knows everything about me. [That said,] I’m transcribing my middle school journal into either a blog or book because I realized that there was not a single boy that I went to middle school or high school with that I didn’t have a crush on. And I recorded the time and place every time I heard a Backstreet Boys song, so there you go.
Join Emily and show us how you’ve resisted the expected by submitting your work to the 2018 ADDY Awards.
Meghan Kotlanger, the friendliest of interrogators, is a producer/director at Eastward, a content studio in DC and LA. Eastward is a collective of creatives, driven by curiosity and conviction, that bring a range of experiences and disciplines together under one filmmaking roof.
Matthew Rakola, is a photographer with 16 years of experience working with a wide range of commercial, editorial, and educational clients. He specializes in making “real people” shine in front of the lens, usually by poking fun at himself.