The advertising industry is full – uncomfortably full, like a bullet train in rush hour Tokyo full – of creatives who are convinced that they are misunderstood, thwarted artists. And to be fair, there are a fair few who escaped adland to carve out legit careers in art, literature and film.
Julia Dovlatova, Creative Director at Geometry Prague, has traversed that same road between advertising and art – though she journeyed in the opposite direction. Growing up in St Petersburg, Russia, to a family of fiercely creative writers, filmmakers and artists, she always found herself under enormous pressure to become some kind of great creator. She started out working in feature film, assisting one of her relatives – and it was only later, after a series of adventures and random jobs that she found her true calling. Advertising.
“Coming from the family that has always been into arts, it took me some time to understand that art on its own was not so interesting or exciting to me. When it came to the practical application, I suddenly started getting excited,” she says. “This is advertising to me. You can apply all sorts of thinking and crafts to solve a problem. This is why I like design as well. I like useful things in life. I really struggle with art unless it really impresses me.”
Upon meeting Julia, what strikes you is her sharp wit and sheer sense of the funny and absurd – her pragmatism is rooted in humour.
It took a while to get to that realisation. A self-described ‘free spirit’, Julia was never particularly focused on career growth. She spent a year in New York, living with another relative. There were stints working as a translator. Looking back, she says, every odd job she had was somehow connected to film or writing or selling – though she didn’t know it at the time, all great training grounds for a job in advertising.
She started out as a copywriter in 2003 at a Moscow agency called Progression, before joining BBDO a couple of years later. Getting into copywriting was straightforward enough, but she soon found herself racing upwards, becoming a creative director, thanks to the energetic and rapidly-developing economy of turn-of-the-millennium Russia.
“There was a lot of acceleration and everything was developing fast. If you vaguely had some common sense in how you see the world it was not difficult to move up,” says Julia, with a self-deprecating twinkle.
Having found a groove in advertising, Julia embarked upon a new adventure – a move to Prague and the arrival of her child. Never one to follow the prescribed path, Julia was quite happy to take some time out of the industry and find somewhere more family-friendly to live, somewhere that might be more amenable to her relaxed outlook.
“I’m not very good at splitting attention between important things. I was already tired because I worked a lot for big clients and it was perfect for me to take some time off. Maybe I’m, in this sense, traditional but I couldn’t imagine not spending time with my kid in the first couple of years. So, we knew I wouldn’t work and if you don’t work in Moscow… why the hell would you live there?” she laughs.
Julia’s husband, a journalist covering the economy of Central and Eastern Europe, could move anywhere in the region and the safe, picturesque, creative city of Prague was the obvious choice.
And that’s where she came across Geometry. Ready to re-enter the workforce, but open to options beyond adland, Julia was in need of some new challenges.
“I needed some excitement. That’s probably what helps me through life – I can be very easily bored so I need a boost,” she says. “I need to entertain myself and I cannot entertain myself just by doing some crap work on a daily basis. I was looking and Geometry just came about by chance and it just matched exactly what I was looking for. It offered me a challenge.”
Geometry’s focus on activation, applied creativity and experience fitted in well with Julia’s passion for purposeful work that solved real problems. “It matched what I valued in life and that is why I am very happy to be there,” she says. “Things can be tough at times, but if you share the same values, you stick together.”
And it’s a match that is working well. This year, Geometry Prague took home a Silver Lion and three Bronze Lions for an ingenious project that allowed blind people to ‘see’ works of art. In this case they used not a VR headset to stimulate sight, but haptic feedback gloves. Julia’s particularly proud of the Bronze Innovation Lion – the first one for the Czech Republic.
Another project she’s proud of from her time at the agency is Salvation Paper, a project for the Salvation Army inspired by the Japanese practice of Furoshiki, by which gifts are wrapped not in disposable, wasteful paper, but in cloth that can be re-used. Geometry and the Salvation Army set up a gift wrapping service
in Czech shopping malls in the run up to Christmas – using second hand clothing to wrap people’s gifts.
For Julia these projects epitomise her philosophy. They’re not just pretty baubles or indulgent whimsy – they use creativity to solve problems. And that’s the space that she just loves to work in. “Advertising is applied creativity and craft, but it shouldn’t be art. It always has a very specific purpose and message and business objective.”