The Colenso BBDO creative director explains why working in advertising right now is like going back to art school
When Dave Brady first got into advertising, he was as pure as they came. Graphic design and posters were his jam and even to this day, he describes himself as a ‘visual addict’. But a few decades and a journey that’s taken him over 11,000 miles from his native England to New Zealand has seen Dave evolve into the kind of creative who loves to go deep and think laterally.
These days, he’s creative director at Colenso BBDO in New Zealand, where he works on the likes of Anchor and Tiger Beer. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with him to learn more.
LBB> You’re originally English – what was your early career like and how did you end up in New Zealand?
Dave> I’m originally from North West England. I came over here in 2003, and before that I was in London for about 13 years at start ups. I was creative director of a little start up there called Tugboat. It’s a crazy town, London, when you’re trying to start something with 500 other agencies trying to scrap with the big boys. It’s kinda hectic.
We ended up picking up work for MTV, did a bit of work for Virgin Holidays, and ended up doing some work for New Zealand Lamb, funnily enough. And through that I got introduced to how amazing the production process is and the industry is over here. To see how collaborative everybody was and how easy it was to make work was a real eye-opener.
I came over and got work too fast – I wanted to learn to surf! I got work at FCB, which was quite sleepy at the time but just started to picking up awards for them, moved to DDB and got a few more, then moved to Australia for a while, at TBWA over there, and then came back to Colenso in 2015.
I’ve been on this side of the world for quite a long time and I love it!
LBB> And why did you get into advertising in the first place?
Dave> I studied advertising communication design, that was something I wanted to do. I love posters. I’m a visual guy, a visual addict and it was really poster design that got me into it.
You have a massive amount of information that comes with a brief and it’s condensed into that moment. Just that instant communication through a visual can do so much.
LBB> And how do you see that sort of visual, instant communication these days?
Dave> It’s an interesting time. I’m a classic poster and TV guy, but I think some of the most interesting work I’ve done is in the activation space.
But what I’ve really found interesting over the past decade is that I used to think that print was dying, but it’s just morphed into social, moving billboards in social feeds. Great art direction can still make you go ‘that’s cool, what’s that?’
I still remember a McDonald’s ad for fiery fries and it was just a chip dipped in tomato sauce like a match stick. Or something like the Samsonite Heaven and Hell poster makes you go ‘woah that’s cool’, and then the more you look at it, the more there is. Incredibly entertaining and quite a humorous story. From a distance it looks amazing but you can also spend a lot of time of it. That’s a great poster for me.
And in social, now, it’s that ‘thumb-stopping’ thing. If something’s great, they will spend a bit of time with it and investigate further, thanks to the connectivity of these ads.
LBB> Talking about activation, Colenso does a lot of really interesting stuff in that space. Projects that are entertaining but functional. As someone with their roots in design, how do you approach that?
Dave> We’ve just done work for Tiger Beer, which is an awesome outdoor campaign with an amazing photographer. We went to Bangkok and shot all these really cool DJs and influencers and rappers. It’s a new platform called East of What You Know, trying to open up people's worlds beyond their social bubbles. We show people this amazing world of South East Asia that isn’t the backpacker world. Asia is an interesting place because it’s taken hip hop and skate culture influences from America and have evolved it using their own backgrounds and traditions to make something new. There’s a big surge of energy coming out of there but nobody really knows about it here. We spoke to things that people are already into but just a totally alternate version of it that’s really original.
We did this outdoor campaign with world-class shots, but these days that’s just not enough. You need to do something deeper. We’ve invented a new product, we’ve taken bar snacks as an example. Bar snacks are salty, crunchy, delicious but what would be the East of What You Know bar snack? We’ve Eastern-ised the bar snacks. We’ve got peri-peri crickets, roasted scorpions, tarantulas. We’ve trialled them and people have just gone absolutely nuts for them. I think the tarantulas are particularly challenging! But some of them are actually quite good, the crickets are good. It’s not to shock people, it’s here’s a viable alternative. In terms of sustainable protein it makes a lot of sense.
That’s been approved for a much bigger roll out in bars here and in Australia. That’s what we’re trying to do with Tiger Beer is to open them up beyond a brand that just sells beer to a brans that sells an attitude. There’s limited edition prints, snacks now and hopefully we will develop that down the track to become more of a long term thing for them, to open them up to be more of a lifestyle brand. That’s kind of interesting.
I guess that’s what Colenso does. We won’t just do you an ad campaign, we’ll use creativity to connect with consumers in a meaningful way. The right kind of work to the right kind of people in a meaningful way. It might not be an ad. It might be the bugs. It might be a little hook for your phone so you can take selfies.
LBB> Over the course of your career, what are the campaigns you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?
Dave> I did one for Anchor Milk, which was interesting. Milk can be just a commodity but as a food it’s really interesting. We did a thing called X-Ray Casts
for kids, to encourage them to get calcium when they break their bones so they can get their strength back. When the Colenso machine turns on and puts its foot on the gas it’s amazing what can get done. You could upload your X-Ray image to the Anchor website and we’d send a sticker within 24 hours and you could stick it on your cast. On the back there was a bar code, so if you went to the supermarket and scanned it, you could get your milk for free. Which meant if you were a Kiwi kid with a broken arm, you could get free milk.
We did a thing called Milk Slams,
working with an English slam poet called Harry Baker, who’s a nutcase. He’s amazing. He’s a real academic, a real nerd, but he’s really into rap. He’d go into rap battles in London where people were talking about cars and money and he’d rap about algebra and stuff. Teenage girls stop drinking milk but it’s the best way to get calcium in your body. It’s not seen as cool, but it’s your teenage years are the crucial time to be drinking it. we had to get that across to teenagers. So we did Milk Slams; we got Harry to talk about the scientific properties of milk by doing these super cool slam poems.
When I first got here, my first film was about inner strength in New Zealand. It was for Anchor and it was called Go Strong.
We went and found some great people. A single Dad. A stuntwoman who doubled for Charlize Theron in Mad Max. A Maori celestial navigator, one of three people who can navigate without any instruments. So we found a load of these people and created this amazing film and told more of their stories online. That was rewarding because it was showing diversity of New Zealand and for a brand like Anchor it was pushing the boundaries.
LBB> You’ve gone from a poster fan, the purest form of advertising, to someone who loves to get stuck into developing experiences and products. How has that evolution been for you?
Dave> The advertising world changed. I moved to New Zealand. The digital thing changed. The scope to do more interesting things changed. I just love communicating with people and getting a reaction out of people. I love human nature.
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster here in New Zealand; you can be quite prolific, you can move fast and Colenso moves best with really smart people. There’s new stuff happening all the time.
LBB> And as someone who obviously lives for craft, how do you find the navigating the current situation where budgets can be tight and timescales can be non-existent?
Dave> We live in an interesting world. People want more for less. It’s classic. The social post: “It’s a digital film, it’s not to go on telly so we’re not going to pay you as much to make it.” It’s hard, and you’ve got to deal with the budget.
But I guess if you’ve still got an innate passion, that can drive you. And as I’ve got all that experience I can work quite quickly. It’s still interesting. I was chatting to Levi [Slavin] our CCO the other day and he was talking about David Lubars presentation to the network and it was just handwritten on an iPad. He said, “just make it”. It’s quite a revelation to just go out and make stuff yourself. It’s like being back at art school.
There’s still the big brand stuff that has a lot of depth and meaning but it doesn’t mean you can’t still have a bit of quick, fast fun. Go out and make a moving billboard for someone that makes people go ‘huh’.
It’s not easy and it’s still taking time for a lot people to get their heads around but if you embrace it and take it for what it is and you have a really strong platform to work underneath, you know where you’re coming from, you can go out and make something on a low budget. We love low budgets here in New Zealand! One day we’ll be working on a NZ$1.5m TVC and then next we’ll be doing an 800 buck post. But if you’ve got passion you’ll get stuck in and do something good. It will show in your work.
LBB> And that passion, where does it come from?
Dave> Like I say I’m a visual addict and I’m a communications addict. That concentration of communication that then expands out again through an amazing visual. There’s a heap of work out there you just go, ‘oh man, I wish I’d done that’. The Samsonite poster, that inspires me to go, ‘there’s the benchmark, that’s what we’re aiming for’.
I guess in New Zealand we’re lucky that we’re stuck in the arse end of the world looking out to everybody else but it’s always been really prolific here and done well on the world stage. We don’t compete locally, we try and compete with global agencies.
LBB> Outside of advertising, what sort of things are you passionate about?
Dave> Art and culture here is massive. I love New Zealand for the fact that it embraces indigenous culture and embraces it deeply. The visuals that come out of that culture are really interesting too.
Personally, I’m really into bikes. Nick Worthington, our chairman, is really into bikes too.
I was late to riding. We had a motorcycle account in the UK, so I learned to ride late in my 20s but yeah since I came back to Aussie I started customising bikes. So about five or six years. It’s a great subculture and I just love the visuals of it. It’s great design. And it’s a good community spirit.
I learned how to weld. I customise motorbikes and things like that. That’s the fun side. I used to paint but I have kind of translated that into metal now.