Levi has won over 60 international advertising awards, among them Titanium and Gold Lions at Cannes, Pencils at D&AD, as well as at One Show, Clio, New York Festivals, London International, Webbys, and Mashies. He has also featured at TED. In 2010, Levi left Saatchi & Saatchi, London for Colenso BBDO, where he worked on advertising campaigns for Carlsberg, T-Mobile, P&G, and Cadbury, and produced the first global campaign for Guinness, including a Cannes Lion winning film. Prior to joining the Saatchi network in 2007, Levi was with the BBDO / Clemenger group for eight years. Since January 2015, he has been with BBDO New York. Michael Weinzettl chatted to the top creative about subjects as diverse as his two-hemisphere-spanning career and the Levi take on this year’s Cannes festival.
Hi Levi, many thanks for selecting the digital work for this issue of Archive. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I started my career in Perth, Western Australia. It’s an incredibly beautiful city, full of incredibly beautiful and talented people, but after five years I left paradise to experience other markets. Over the next 10 years, I worked in Melbourne, Auckland, London, and New York. For the majority of that time, I have been with the BBDO network, leaving only twice to work for Saatchi & Saatchi in London and Anomaly in New York.
You’ve been Creative Director at BBDO New York since early this year and joined them from Anomaly in New York. What’s it like signing on at one of the most established and oldest agencies after working at an 11-year-old agency that defines itself by its very name?
There are actually a lot of similarities between the two agencies. Both have a healthy balance of traditional and genuinely innovative work. And both fill the building with intimidatingly bright people. The key difference is scale and longevity. BBDO have been at the top of their game since the beginning of modern advertising. It’s pretty remarkable. They are 100% focused on the work. It turns out it’s that simple.
When was your first assignment in the field of digital media, or have you been involved ever since you started your profession?
I’ve always been interested in digital media, in whatever form was available to me at the time. When you get it right – creating a truly unique and unexpected experience – it’s like magic. I can’t imagine a better format for storytelling.
Do you see digital as just another addition to a creative’s toolkit, or is there more to it?
It all comes down to how you work. I’ve used digital as a tool – a way to extend an experience or tell a story in a new way. And I’ve been inspired purely by a digital channel or innovation. The key is relevance. If the execution is relevant to the idea, and the people you’re speaking to, it’s right. If not, it will most likely feel like a gimmick.
What are some of the differences in the way agencies approach digital now, as opposed to when you started out in advertising?
When I first started, the industry tended to chase innovation. It was a case of being first to market. Now that so many possibilities are available to us, and it seems that absolutely anything is possible, the core ideas have to be better.
What did you think of this year’s Cannes Festival and its crop of winners?
As always, there were the expected winners, some genuine surprises, and a bit of controversy. This year marked a really big step forward in virtual reality. The technology had finally become so accessible that all sorts of brands were experimenting with new ways to use it. And, of course, Google Cardboard picked up the Grand Prix in Mobile, giving everyone the chance to experience it and create with the technology.
And what about those categories that presented awards for digital?
The lines between disciplines and categories are getting so blurred. It seems there is a digital component to virtually every category – even the most traditional – so it’s not as easy to separate the campaigns as it once was. That said, there were some really remarkable pieces: Vodafone Red Light, The Berlin Wall Of Sound, Hammerhead, Emoji Ordering, and I Will What I Want. I was also lucky enough to see the live pitch of What3Words for the Innovation Grand Prix. But, if I could have done one campaign this year, it would have been RE2PECT.
Can you tell us a bit about some of the work you’ve done over the course of your career that you’re particularly proud of?
I’m probably most proud of Reduce Speed Dial for Volkswagen. We worked with VW and government transit authorities to create a speed dial that replaced the standard printed numbers with your child’s handwriting – reminding drivers of what they have to live for at the exact moment they consider speeding. I’ve also done a lot of work for Pedigree. We built Doggelgänger, facial recognition software that accurately matched dogs looking for adoption with owners looking for dogs. We collaborated with the tech-genii at Finch Company to make Donation Glasses, 3D glasses that revealed a hidden film on a cinema screen. And, most recently, K9FM, a 24-hour radio station for lonely dogs.
How do you get the inspiration for your work?
What is your take on print advertising? Does it have much of a future?
Of course it does. It will just be an evolution of how we have traditionally used it. Rather than a print ad being the end result of all of our strategy and creative thinking, we are increasingly using print as part of our creative toolkit.
Who are some of the advertising people you admire?
Cliff Freeman, Eric Silver, Tom Carty & Walter Campbell, Eric Kallman, Chuck McBride, and Nick Worthington. I have been lucky enough to work with a couple of my heroes. Most of those moments were in equal parts thrilling and disappointing. Not because my heroes are rubbish, but because they are human. They had ordinary ideas, too. The difference is, those ordinary ideas were quickly followed by great ideas.
What are some of the ad campaigns you wish you had been involved in?
Anything by Nike. It doesn’t matter what twist, or tech, or channel, or fashion the global industry conjures up, Nike embraces it and makes something profound. And they usually do it before anyone else.
And FedEx. For as long as I’ve known about advertising, I’ve wanted to write for FedEx. The craft is always excellent and the standard of writing is consistently world-class.
How do you relax, or what are your interests outside of advertising?
I have a two-year-old boy who keeps me really busy. So at the moment my interests outside of advertising are slides, diggers, trucks, and bacon.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about the criteria you applied when selecting the digital work for this issue of Lürzer’s Archive?
Given how quickly this industry moves, it’s very easy to grab at the campaigns just launched this morning. Instead, I wanted to pull together work that has genuinely inspired me over the last 12 months. I was looking for campaigns or innovations that were creatively brilliant, and relevant, and smart, and beautifully executed, and pushed the industry forward – even if just a little bit.