Dan Wright is a Creative Director at Colenso BBDO in New Zealand and the man in charge of selecting the digital work featured in this issue.
Television as we knew it is as good as over.
Dan joined Colenso following 16 years spent with agencies such as AKQA, Hi-Res and DDB, working in New Zealand, Australia, the USA and the UK, and on brands such as Samsung, Nike, Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Cadbury, and Diageo. Among the few dozen international awards his work has garnered are multiple Pencils at D&AD, Gold at Cannes, and distinctions at all the major international shows. In the interview that follows, Michael Weinzettl quizzes Dan about both his career and his insights into the latest developments in the digital arena.
Hi Dan, after Tony Bradbourne you’re already the second New Zealand-based creative this year to have done the selection of digital work for us. Are you also a native of New Zealand?
I was born in New Zealand and, like a lot of native New Zealanders, I had to get out for a while to realize how good it is here. After a few years away, in Melbourne and London – both of which are amazing, creative, inspiring cities – I came back to Auckland and noticed it is actually paradise. So I’ve stayed.
Was advertising a career aim for you right from the start? Did it figure early on in your life? Or how did you discover the ad industry?
I sort of snuck into advertising. As a kid, I always tried to unpick the ads I saw. I think I was trying to figure out the brief. But I graduated from a degree in furniture design when the internet was new. And it was just an endlessly fascinating experiment, and no-one knew what they were doing. So I did 10 years at digital agencies, winding up at AKQA in London. I didn’t work for a brand agency until 2007, back in New Zealand. Since then I’ve been learning about the rest of the business. I don’t expect that will ever stop.
You’ve amassed a few dozen international awards, among them Pencils at D&AD and Gold at Cannes. How important are the awards for the ad industry, for yourself, and which would you say was the one you were proudest to receive? Which work earned you the D&ADs and Cannes Gold?
There’s so much research now linking marketing effectiveness to creativity. We’re trying to make brands interesting to people. It shouldn’t be surprising that the best way to do that is to be creative, to do something new, to do something they’ve never seen before. And, of course, awarding creativity is a great way to encourage that. The ones I’m most proud of are the ones I consider hardest to get – D&AD. I received one – Trial By Timeline – for Amnesty International and one for Yell.com while at AKQA in London.
Can you tell us a bit about Colenso BBDO? In our Lürzer’s Ranking for New Zealand, it’s the second-placed overall (with records going back to the very beginning of Archive magazine, founded in 1984), and you’re in top spot for New Zealand in the current year. What was Colenso like when you joined? What were some of the challenges facing you when you started out there?
As soon as I started at Colenso I felt a weight lift. It’s the first place I’ve worked without boundaries. Not just in terms of disciplines but also industries. It’s not always reality, but there’s a real sense that anything is possible. That we can use any means to solve a client’s problem. A lot of that is down to Nick Worthington’s leadership. He just likes to fix things. It has an amazing effect on a creative department, on production, on the whole building.
Can you compare the way of working in Europe, the US, and New Zealand? Are there differences, or has it now all become the same – wherever you happen to be?
We’re all operating on a global stage. Our audiences are watching and reading and sharing through global channels, which means we’re all trying to make our client’s brands world-famous. But the experience of getting there is very different. In New Zealand there’s much less money. But there’s much more freedom. There’s less pressure for work to appeal to every right-handed-mother-of-two across EMEA or North America. That means simpler processes. Things happen faster, more work gets made, and more of it is probably a little braver.
Since you’re digital creative director at Colenso, it’s safe to assume all digital work is handled within the agency, or do you occasionally co-operate with digital agencies on certain projects? Also, what are the pros and cons of having the digital work handled in-house?
We handle all creative in-house as well as digital strategy, social and creative technology. That’s important. That’s the heart of the creative product. When it comes to production, the scope of what falls under Digital today is so broad (and changing daily) that it’s not possible to keep all those skills in-house. We have a core team of clever people who can nail the work we do most often, and who experiment enough to discover the best solutions and expert partners for the rest.
What is your take on traditional media such as print and TV? Will they continue to have relevance or will it all be swallowed up by digital?
The media is all being swallowed up by something, but that doesn’t mean the formats are losing relevance. Television as we knew it is as good as over. But the art of film-based storytelling has never been more vibrant.
Newspapers are being swallowed up too. But “News” is bigger than ever. And the news is the new playing field of agencies and brands. Print appears to be thriving. And when you add mobile, social, NFC, rapid prototyping, and countless other new tech opportunities into the mix, the future for all sorts of ’traditional’ formats is incredibly exciting.
Would you say that advertising is still a good choice for a young graphic designer/communications student starting out? And why?
More than ever. As an industry, we’ve spent the last few years fighting for the freedom to be inventors. We can often pretty much present any solution to a client’s problem – from running an ad to designing a product, or launching a political party. What I’m seeing is that many design and communication graduates are emerging more prepared for this world than ad school grads. Rather than being taught to make ads, they’ve been trained to use creativity to solve problems. Anything from innovative packaging designed for reuse, to public transport signage for the visually impaired, or a children’s storybook that helps kids relate better with dogs. These are often closer to what today’s brands want than ads.
What is some of the advertising work that’s been done under your creative direction that you’re proudest of? And what is some of the recent ad work that has impressed you most (apart from the digital work you have selected for this issue)?
Gieco’s Unskippable campaign was brilliant. I love seeing digital work that just doesn’t care about being digital. It’s just how it should be. So simple. Nazis against Nazis. Just genius.
A few things I’m proud of have been Trial By Timeline for Amnesty International, an online app that showed people what punishments their online lifestyle would attract in countries around the world.
Hidden Graphics was a Mountain Dew project to redesign the skateboard so it looked better the more you thrashed it. And for Coastguard Live Rescue, we set four people adrift at sea and challenged New Zealanders to find them before they drowned, using an online simulator.
Where do you get the inspiration for your work? How do you feed your creativity or sharpen the discernment you need as a creative director?
I find it helps to remember there are actual people on the other end of this stuff. And I try to be optimistic. It’s the easiest thing in the world to find reasons not to do something, i.e. why it probably can’t be done, why people probably won’t get involved in it, etc. The challenge is nurturing the naivety that lets us think it’ll work. (Unless it’s shit. Then definitely kill it).
How does Daniel Wright unwind?
I come home and make paper robots and fairy wands with my kids. I’m pretty good at it. Sometimes, I can get a little controlling.
What is the image, whether from advertising, current events, movies, or TV, that comes to your mind – however unbidden – when you close your eyes for a moment?
It’s that dinosaur with the lisp from Toy Story singing New York, New York. Is that a thing?