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 Kai Fang, Executive Creative Director at Ogilvy. Last year Ogilvy won five ADDY awards for three different projects including Hudson the Dog, Discover a New Talent, and the Peace Corps rebranding campaign. Almost a year later, Kai is still celebrating. Does anyone have a napkin?
Could you tell us about your ADDY winners from last year and how they resisted the expected?
For me, the work that Ogilvy has done that really resists the expected comes down to the vertical that it’s in, [whether that’s] commercial or government.
One example I’ll share is Peace Corps, which I’m really proud of. Most people don’t realize that Peace Corps is a government client. We did the entire rebrand for them and had to appeal to a new audience that was vastly different than who they were talking to in the past. [The rebrand involved] everything from redesigning the logos, which had been around since the 1970s, to doing social content, which is really new for them.
I think that’s an example of resisting the expected, because often people expect government work to be stodgy or boring. And this work was inspired.
What does it mean to resist the expected?
People always ask me what accounts I love to work on the most. Is it retail, or franchise foods, or athletic brands? For me, the type of client is really unimportant. What’s important is that we’re doing something vastly different for that type of client. That’s what “resist the expected” means.
Peace Corps is a great example, but I look at other ones, too – like USAID. To be able to tell their story in a relatable and impactful way and show the good that the program’s doing internationally – it’s just a different way to approach it. In the past, often times, it was based on data and telling people, “X percent of our money went to this, and we saw this as return.” And we were saying, “All right, you have the analytical part, but come back and tell the story and show the lives that it changed.” I think that’s been a game changer for the way we approach the work.
What is your favorite piece of advertising of all time?
I like ads that aren’t necessarily ads. One year, at Cannes, the Obama campaign won. That’s not something you’d expect – it’s not a branding campaign.
How did it resist the expected?
It moved the entire country. The campaign went beyond marketing and changed the way people look at the world or life.
What clichés do you wish people would start resisting?
I feel like we’re in a creative field, but the truth is, everybody finds comfort in the familiar. I think change is hard for a lot of people. I’ve noticed that you’ll see a technique that’s really cool in one area, and then it’ll be copied or duplicated over and over.
One example is an editing technique [with a] super saturated photography look. That was the “in” thing: pushing the saturation so it’s almost surreal; it looks like photo illustration. The next thing you know, everybody’s using that same look. When I see that, [my reaction is] “I just don’t feel like you’re pushing.” It’s very expected.[This happens with talking-head] testimonials in video or print: It’s somebody’s head and you’re just looking at it and there’s a headline. Do something different with that. Either the technique has to be different or show something else.
What about Ogilvy resists the expected?
It’s part of the DNA – specifically in DC. Ogilvy always tries to bring more of a creative/brand approach to things. A lot of agencies in DC are either [centered on] political policy, or they just approach it from more of a politics or government angle. Our thing has always been – because of our background with David Ogilvy – bigger brands. We bring that learning and thinking from the consumer side to influence behavior change.
What do you feel is unique about creative in DC?
At one point, I was kind of burned out. I just felt that we weren’t saving any lives with advertising and there was just so much ego attached to it. I was looking for more purpose. I came back to the area to get my MFA in documentary filmmaking at American University so I could go make nature films.
At one point a friend at GMMB called me in to work on some cause-related and social issues. And that really appealed to me: “Wow, I can help the world.” That’s why it set me up uniquely to be in this Ogilvy DC position – because this office is half-brand, which was the first half of my career. In the second half, I’ve worked on more behavior change and helping the world, which is more government side. So this office is actually a unique combination of the two worlds I know.
If you really want to work on campaigns that affect behavior change, DC is a really solid place to do that. New York is great for big brands, obviously. LA, entertainment. Chicago, packaged goods. Here, it’s to work on initiatives that affect the world and really make a difference, if you feel called to do that.
A lot of our initiatives for USAID, NIH, etc. [aren’t like promoting brand names such as] McDonald’s or Nike. Whether you’re trying to get somebody to understand more about brain health or Alzheimer’s, or change their behavior in some dramatic way, you have to understand the issue a lot more and you have to be able to explain it. That makes creating compelling creative a little bit more difficult.
As a writer, especially, you have to dig in and understand the context, versus “All right, we’re selling burgers,” and just come up with a goofy execution and then make it for burgers. That’s a luxury we don’t necessarily have in DC. It takes the full 30 seconds to explain what the heck we’re talking about.
If you can crack that, you feel so much better. If you can do a great piece for FEMA, which, first, has had reputation problems, and hasn’t exactly done the most [memorable] marketing, then you’ve really done something amazing and unexpected.
Why do you feel advertising competitions are important?
They’re important for multiple reasons. One is, regional competitions are important because they bring the community together. We get involved in the day-to-day and forget that there are other agencies out there, especially in smaller markets like DC. If you work enough, you know the same faces, but time goes by and you lose touch. It’s a nice opportunity to get together, see what people are up to and reconnect. So from a regional standpoint, I think the ADDYs are nice for that.
They’re also important to celebrate the work. It can be tough to birth an idea and get it all the way from a concept to fruition, so you want to put it out there. Your peers get to see if it’s worthy of being celebrated and if it’s exceeding a high quality standard. [We may] think what we do is great, but [here,] neutral judges come in and say, “This resonated with us,” or “This resonated with a lot of people.”
What was your favorite ADDY campaign that you saw last year?
I’ll tell you a story. The grand opening campaign for the National Museum of African American History and Culture won Best of Category for Out-of-Home. The agency, Eighty2degrees, is very small and run by Ambica Prakash and her husband. It’s a great underdog story because she was a freelancer and started [this company] on the side.
Essentially, they won this huge account without necessarily expecting to and had to figure out how to manage it and they did an awesome job. You always see big agencies [at the ADDYs], but when you have this small, mom-and-pop place not only winning this coveted contract, but also winning Best of Category for their fantastic work … [I loved seeing] her get celebrated for it.
What about you is unexpected?
I did a program in spiritual psychology a few years ago [and] I volunteer at a maximum security women’s prison every three months. It’s in Chowchilla, California. I basically come out and help counsel.
There was a book written by Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. He was in a concentration camp and said, “The one thing that you can’t take away from me is the way I respond to what you do to me.” A lot of things will happen to you, but how you choose to react is what you have control over.
That’s the focus of my work at the prison – going in to talk about that notion. Some of the people are in there for life. They’ve done a lot. Killed people, committed crimes. But when you get in there, you realize that everybody’s human and [you] abandon that judgment. We talk to them, helping them understand that they have the choice of how they want to react to this. [Why? Because] prison isn’t a physical structure – [instead, it’s mental,] it’s how you see things.
I actually end up getting as much out of it as I hope they do. What’s unexpected is that these are people that have lived so much life; when they ask about my situation, it feels like the things in my life are trivial compared to them. I’ll share something and they’ll share how their experiences might help. What they say is really profound and you think, “That’s just awesome.”
Come see all of the work that resisted the expected this year by attending the 2018 ADDY Awards on March 29th at Gypsy Sally’s.
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.