At 27, Daniel Barak must be one of the youngest digital experts ever to provide the selection of outstanding work for us.
Advertising needs to maintain all the firepower it has to attract young talents.
But then Daniel must also be one of the youngest creatives ever to become VP and Creative Director at a major player like Deutsch. Michael Weinzettl spoke to Daniel – who was born and raised in Israel and claims that “Archive is one of the reasons I got into advertising to begin with” – about his astonishing career and the reasons behind his choice of this recent crop of digital work.
Hi Daniel, can you tell us a bit about how you got into the ad business and whether you think that your youth – not forgetting, of course, your numerous achievements and the awards you’ve already won – comes with the “Digital” territory?
When I was 16, I started planning and producing underground parties and raves back in my hometown, Tel Aviv. In the beginning, I promoted the parties just through word of mouth and text messages, but after a year or two I had to step up my game. I learned Photoshop to design flyers and posters which I would hang around the city. Video editing and basic web development skills also helped get more people to the parties. But my favorite aspect of promoting was what I later learned to be guerrilla advertising. I was so excited by the fact that literally everything was my canvas that, sometimes, I would enjoy promoting the party more than I would enjoy the party itself. After a while, someone asked me if I was planning to study non-traditional and interactive advertising, which at the time I had no idea was even a real profession, so obviously I had to give it a try.
I’m sure that my “digital nativity” derives partially from my age and background. I was born at the right time, and had the privilege of being a kid when the internet had just started. It definitely helped in terms of instinctively understanding certain things earlier.
What would be the average age of people working in your department?
At what age did you get your first computer? Would you say that this was fairly typical for your generation?
I got my first one when I was 6. Some of my friends already had an Intel 386 computer, and I couldn’t wait to get mine. I remember one day coming home from school to a new 486, which felt like I got access to a military-level supercomputer, and I could now move satellites out of orbit if I wanted to. Exciting times.
You’ve worked in agencies in Israel and the US. Have you noticed any difference in the way Digital is handled or the attitudes towards digital media?
The attitudes towards digital media vary from agency to agency, I don’t see a major difference between the US, Israel, or Europe based solely on location. Some see it as a nice-to-have or as a support to a TV campaign, and some understand its importance and the fact that they’ll become irrelevant to their clients and audience in the near future if they don’t fully integrate it into their work.
Even though it’s one of the most progressive in the world, even the US market still heavily relies on broadcast to do the heavy lifting, which comes with a hefty price tag.
In Israel the budgets are a lot smaller, which really forces you to get creative with production and execution. Because of that, a lot of talent-based campaigns and “borrowed interest” ideas based on known characters are out of the question.
For example, the entire production budget for the “Drugs Set Your Timeline” campaign was a little under $5,000, so I had to make some difficult choices: do I want a van for the production to move around eight different locations? Or do I want an actor to play the drug addict? Obviously I needed the van, and ended up being the presenter myself. Took a lot of explaining to get Grandma on board with me lying in a trashcan.
Can you pick and describe some of the campaigns you’ve been involved in that presented the biggest challenges – and, perhaps, proved to be those you’re most proud of?
Well, “Drugs Set Your Timeline,” which I just mentioned, presented a big challenge. We wanted to grab a young audience’s attention to a difficult subject, and flip the old before/after drugs approach on its head.
To do that in a relevant way, we cheated Facebook’s new timeline layout and turned it into a double-sided story, showing two parallel universes on one FB profile, one with drugs and one without.
I described the production difficulties of the two-day shoot, but the real problem was assembling the double-sided Facebook timeline in the right way. Oh man. This was a nightmare. Facebook’s algorithm made no sense, and would randomly move pictures between the left and right side, messing up the narrative to a point where I thought it’s just not going to work. In the end, it paid off, and I got to see my junkie face on the news.
Volkswagen’s “Unleash Your Rrrr” was probably the most technologically advanced project I’ve worked on. We started with a simple brief – the Golf R is so fun to drive it makes you feel like a kid again.So we found a truth everyone can relate to: as kids, we were all racecar drivers, playing with toy cars and imagining ourselves pulling crazy car stunts. Speaking one universal language, performance – aka Rrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
We wanted to visualize people’s imaginations and turn it into a reality. This led us to create an online experience that translates your own car sounds into a perfectly synced Golf R video.
On the frontend, we had the most simple and magical user experience – “Make car sounds, get a personalized video” – but on the backend our troubles were just starting.
To pull it off, we created the first artificial intelligence brain that could understand abstract sounds and emotions and create meaning out of them. Until then AI brains like Siri could only understand language, and no technology could recognize abstract noises. We also had to shoot hundreds of car stunt clips to match an infinite amount of combinations, so no user-generated film was ever made twice. Think about going into a shooting day with a shot list that’s divided into different sounds. “Ok, now we’re shooting screeching!”
Building and finessing the AI brain was a frustrating and nerve-racking process and wouldn’t have been possible without the mad scientist Sabri Sansoy. Things would break until the last minute. But in the end, it was a successful project that sold out Golf R’s inventory and became a milestone in the intersection of advertising, art, and artificial intelligence.
Target’s “Share the Force” also had a simple idea: we’re all connected by the force. And Target, which has been selling Star Wars merchandise since the 70s, wanted to visualize and show the world what Star Wars means to hundreds of millions of fans around the world by proving that it’s the biggest fan.
Not only was it one of the most immersive and complicated WebGL experience on mobile, which raised its own difficulties, we also had to make it 100% accessible. Every couple of projects, you have this urge to leave everything and go grow tomatoes on a farm. I was very close.
You’ve won tons of awards already, including Gold Lions at Cannes, One Show, Webbys, Clios, LIAs, and ANDYs, to name but a few. How important are advertising awards to you in general?
It’s a love-hate relationship. The chemical rush you get from winning is like a drug and is amazing for a couple of months, but the “down” after awards season, and not topping your own achievements from previous years, can get quite devastating mentally. From the creative’s perspective, awards are mostly crucial to get hired, to climb higher in the agency ladder, and to get freelance work; the prestige and honor are secondary. But from the advertising world’s perspective, considering the changes that the business is experiencing and the changes other industries are facing, awards are important to keep talent in the industry. Advertising needs to maintain all the firepower it has to attract young talents, who now have more choices than ever. And with all the negative things I mentioned above, awards still play a big part in it. For me personally, awards have helped unlock amazing, life-changing opportunities and experiences. So, at the end of the day, I’m definitely happy about them.
What inspires you? Where do you draw the inspiration for your ideas from?
I am lucky to be surrounded by talented people in various trades who inspire me. Inspiration for my ideas comes from many places – the usual blogs, technology and science publications, film, music, books, and food. Also from nature, I love being outside and just looking at how things work. This might sound cheesy, but the other day I was at the beach, and saw sand really up close for the first time. It’s mind-blowing. And I’ve been around sand my entire life. Just google “Sand under a microscope” and see for yourself. In the last couple of years, I’ve been following a super-talented artist named Yung Jake. He’s a rapper with a strong attraction to digital art, innovation, and especially interactive music experiences, which are my favorite. He inspires me to try new stuff.
Have you ever worked in traditional, or “classic” media, i.e. print and film? And if not, what are some of the current film or print campaigns you admire?
Working in the nightlife scene, I used to spend a lot of time at offset print houses, making sure my posters and flyers are done right. And then going around the city and posting them too. But after I got into advertising, I didn’t really get to do print because most agencies separate their digital and traditional departments, and I was quickly labeled.
I did get to do a big OOH campaign for HBO and yes (a satellite TV provider) that was all around print. It was an interactive art exhibition to celebrate HBO masterpieces. We collaborated with over 30 artists and asked them to create a piece inspired by their favorite HBO series. It was printed on billboard-sized canvases that, when viewed with a mobile device, unlocked additional content on the artist and the series. In terms of current projects I admire, the new Snickers “Bad Photoshop” print ad and “The Big Short” are both brilliant because they’ve each created a new type of conversation. It’s so hard to bring a fresh perspective to print advertising, and Snickers did it big time. Although it’s not a campaign, “The Big Short” is brilliant because most of the bad responses to the film were: “It’s too complicated and uses ‘industry’ jargon too heavily,” which was the exact point of the film: a bunch of people used big words to make you lose interest and let them drown the US economy without interruption. A high level of ironic correspondence between a film and real life.
Lürzer’s Archive is first and foremost a print publication, so we would of course like to hear your take on the future of print. Is there any future at all from your perspective?
Ironically, print is one of my favorite mediums, not only in advertising, but also in art. My prediction is that it will definitely stick around for at least another century (until we all become apes whose visual arousal levels are so high that we need physical sensations to focus for more than 5 seconds, which, by the way, will be achieved with connected biofeedback chips interacting in sync with the content). After that, print will just evolve. I don’t believe it will ever be extinct. There’s a different interaction with a hard copy, there’s more respect to whatever is in front of you, and the fact that it can’t be closed with a little x in the top corner of the page.
When you employ new team members, what are the most important things you are looking for?
Besides having raw talent, I look for team members who are curious and passionate. I look for people who want to stay current and speculate about what’s coming next.
What were some of the criteria you applied when selecting for this issue of Archive?
Digital is such a wide definition, so I tried choosing a couple of different types of digital works. Every group had slightly different criteria. For websites and digital experiences, I looked for great ideas that were amplified by the highest level of digital design and pushed the boundaries of the web. For video-centered projects, I looked for innovative and unexpected thinking, and a high level of craft. What my selections all have in common is providing answers to the following questions: Does it make me feel anything? Does it make me want to share it? Does the execution bring anything new to the table?