Max Rapley, a copywriter at Aussie agency The Monkeys, was always destined for a career in the creative world. He was surrounded by a family of artists and fashionistas growing up and had a strong desire to entertain others. Though, the biggest hint that he may end up in the advertising industry was a childhood experiment with stop-motion films. “My friend and I would take this old camcorder and press stop-start really quick so it recorded a split second of video. We’d do that over and over, moving the toys a little bit each time, staging these epic battles.”
It seemed like the obvious move to head into the creative industry post-graduating from his degree in Film and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney but life had other plans for Max. Instead, he decided to up sticks and move to New York and LA to become an event producer. He wound up coordinating destination weddings and celebrity parties, including Charlie Sheen’s engagement party. He adds: “The launch of Tidal, Jay-Z’s streaming service - the event was me, the event staff and 10-15 music royalty: Beyonce, Jay-Z, Madonna, Kanye, Daft Punk - it was crazy.”
Though it was quite a ride, Max decided to move back to Australia for a more “creatively fulfilling career”. As someone who describes themselves as coming from a “melting point of cultural influences”, Max believes he’s a curious character. “My dad’s parents were first generation Australians. They immigrated from Hong Kong during World War Two. They’re part Chinese, part Portuguese, part English. Mum is Irish Australian from way back. We actually have a great great uncle who was killed by Ned Kelly. If you don’t know him, he’s like the Australian Robin Hood.” He’s always been open to different cultures and identities and believes that diversity in work comes to him as second nature – and that everyone should have a seat at the table.
However, when the table open to him was potentially following in his father’s footsteps, Max was wary. “My dad’s first job was as a finished artist at JWT, and I think it was always something I knew was an option. But I fought against it.” He found that “like most people who don’t work in the industry”, he had a “pretty low opinion of advertising”. But the way he finally entered the industry was a wonderful accident that started with a first date.
“I’d just got back to Australia from living in LA and I was on a first date with this girl and we got talking. She said she was applying for AWARD School and I was like, that sounds interesting, what’s that? That night I looked it up, and I was like, maybe this is what I’m looking for. Maybe I could get paid to write stuff. So I knocked together an application, and somehow I got in.”
The serendipitous moments in Max’s life didn’t end there and the day after submitting his final portfolio he was at a friend’s place when he heard talk about an internship at Australian collective The Glue Society, which wound up being his first role within the advertising world. “I got to see how provocative and non-traditional campaigns got put together. I also learned a lot about film craft because they do a lot of that too.”
A short while later he wound up at The Monkeys, where due to a bigger workload Max believes he “learnt the craft in reverse”, though his biggest lesson from those early days was simple: don’t be boring.
“If the work’s boring, nobody will listen, and if nobody will listen then nobody will believe what you have to say, and if they don’t believe you then nobody cares which is bad for brands and the products and services they sell.”
One project that definitely wasn’t boring was the first ever one that Max worked in professionally. As part of a promotion for Rodin’s The Kiss to an Australian audience for the first time, he was tasked with a project for the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The idea behind the project was to find a group of Aussie couples to strip naked and recreate the kiss using 3D scanners. “So my first job in advertising; I’m interviewing these people sitting in bathrobes right after I’ve just seen them kissing, completely naked. Sounds like the introduction to a different industry come to think of it...” Despite the initial apprehension, Max found the work to be really powerful due to the mix of different genders, background and ages showcased in the final project.
Having been in the industry for enough time to get to grips with what makes it tick has given Max plenty to think about. In particular, the debate about creativity – and in particular the art of advertising vs the science of advertising riles him up. “Personally, I feel like the science is winning at the moment and we don’t see enough work where you go, ‘woah, that’s an ad?! I don’t understand it, but I love it’.” This runs true when he looks at the digital and social era and how the work is “all about trying to win in the channel battlefields”. But Max finds that sometimes some of this work can be gimmicky, so his focus is what’s going to come next after the social blow up and how can he be a part of it.
Like many in the industry, lockdown and Covid have changed a lot with how a work-life balance is viewed. And for Max, this looks like a shake-up of the 80-hour working weeks that were always so normal. “I’d love to see more flexible arrangements for creatives to work part time when they’re burning out. I think that way we’ll keep talent in the industry for longer.” He also thinks that to attract talent there needs to be more women in leadership positions and while there are moments when those at the top think they’re trying, “we can try harder”.
But perhaps, Max’s biggest frustration with the industry is the “hegemony that internet culture is a bad thing for creativity”. He adds that while the internet has been an incredible force for the “the democratisation of creativity”, it has brought with it some mediocrity. “I want to see something absolutely wild and new. We need another creative revolution. I think advertising, like art, is at its best when it’s leading culture, not just following it. Some brands get it right for sure, but there should be more creatively led work in the world. I honestly believe that’s how you build an enduring brand.”
Outside of work, Max tries to stay off social channels and instead trawls through online archives, museum and library databases sourcing images to inspire him. And as someone who’s “obsessed” with learning, he’s often found picking up new skills from coding to typography, design and art theory.
Max’s aspirations for his career whittle down to four things: “Make bold ideas happen, tell stories with heart, make people laugh, make people think.”