The David&Goliath copywriter on broadening one’s horizons, mentoring a new generation and the power to change the status quo, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt
Fortune cookies are an odd thing. They’re small, not exceptionally tasty and they break easily, but when they’re brought out at the end of a meal, it’s always accompanied by a feeling of unadulterated excitement. And for Mac Mullen, a copywriter at David&Goliath, the experience means a little bit more. He collects the papers within, seeing them as “snackable bits of wisdom” that realign his mind - allowing him to focus on putting out his best work.
Of course, his great work isn’t solely powered by slips of paper housed within hardened sugary shells. But there’s something to be said for the value of a few encouraging words in an industry where Mac says “everyone fails more than they win”.
That… and a good amount of perseverance. “What’s important is your ability to get back up and try again and again and again with a good attitude,” he says. “Nobody is going to give you anything and you have to be ready to be told ‘no’.”
This is just one of the many life-lessons Mac has learned - lessons which influence the man he is today.
Among the others is the importance of not judging a book by its cover. As someone with heterochromia iridum [different coloured eyes], he believes that it has shaped his outlook on life and has allowed him to develop his observational tools while not being afraid to ask questions. “I do my best to keep an open mind to what I don’t understand and always ask the stupid questions,” he says. “I would rather be foolish for a moment than for a lifetime.”
But neither of these is as impactful as Mac’s genuine passion for the work he does. Where some in the industry find their way through round-about paths and sudden opportunities, Mac only ever wanted to pursue his creative side. “As a kid, my parents would make deals with me that if I didn’t talk while the tv show was on, I could put on skits during the commercial breaks,” he says. “Looking back on it, that’s where I developed my affinity for entertainment.”
Mac also found himself engrossed in the storytelling process - designing, doodling and reading his way through new planets and worlds. “Not a whole lot has changed,” he adds. “My sister still thinks I live on another planet. And I’m still having fun.”
Such passion led Mac to pursue a post-secondary education at the University of Oregon’s advertising program. Therein, he truly realised the potential impact that advertising could have. “I get to work in an industry that sits at the intersection of so many different subjects: entertainment, culture, technology and ethics to name a few,” he says. “Every day I have the opportunity to shape what society experiences and I consider that to be a huge responsibility.”
During that time, Mac also would learn a few more valuable life lessons. On the academic side, he affirmed the importance of reading and pursuing extracurricular activities as opportunities to broaden his horizons and maximise his ability to create. But outside of school, during his sophomore year, Mac’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease which required Mac to assume responsibility as his father’s power of attorney and guardian. While difficult, he says that it left him with skills that he uses on a daily basis, particularly the values of patience, goodwill and intention. “While I would say my college years were incredibly important to my creative development, I would argue that it was outside experiences that taught me about my capabilities as a human being,” he adds.
Mac’s perseverance also continued to pay off. Immediately after his graduation, he packed up his car and drove to Los Angeles where he had been accepted for a creative internship as a copywriter. While he’s found himself working in the industry ever since that internship, he recalls that the process of getting that first foot in the door was actually quite difficult. “I searched everywhere for internships and failed where I applied,” he says. “I didn’t think it was going to happen, until an agency reached out to me by chance. We had an interview and the next thing I knew, I was signed up for my first experience in advertising.”
To this day, Mac still remembers his first produced and scaled professional project, a piece of digital content for Jack in the Box. “I was asked to come up with a creative concept utilizing existing footage of food and of course, no budget,” he says. “I’ve been known to be a bit of a musicophile and I knew a little bit about royalty-free music, so we grabbed a few people off the street, recorded them singing (bawking?) a classic tune as if they were chickens and put it to our food footage. The result was loved by the internet (and by my mom).”
But, Mac adds that his most career-changing piece of work came in 2020 while on a random assignment with his art director partner, Tucker Stosic. It was in the middle of the pandemic and Tucker had been asked to design some masks - incidentally also for Jack in the Box. What they decided to do was add some scent to the masks themselves, designing and launching the first ever ‘Chicken Scented Face Mask’. He adds that “it resulted in a smashing success for the brand in social impressions, product sales and organic PR, all while keeping smiles safe with the scent of chicken.”
Despite this success, Mac has still not lost his sense of perseverance. He finds himself consistently challenged by his peers and mentors at David&Goliath to improve the status quo. It also plays into his passion for realizing the potential of a project. While he loves great work, he has a special passion for helping out the little guy.
“There’s something special about taking something not all that interesting and finding quippy insight that can turn into something brilliant,” he says. “I always find a special reward in creating work that elevates the underdogs.”
Naturally, his passion for the work extends past what he creates and into the realm of looking at what the industry is, holistically. Specifically, Mac feels the need for a real sense of responsibility within the advertising industry. He believes that his line of work has the power to make the world a better place: “advertising is an industry that can completely shift narratives, change the status quo and fundamentally make an individual stop and think.”
That being said, he believes that there are a few lessons which should perhaps be embraced more widely by the community, in order to get there. For a start, Mac believes in the importance of creating one’s own voice. “Often, we borrow existing tones of voice from other brands to hedge our projects on proven success,” he says. “However, I find a brand’s tone to be way more compelling when a voice is original or alludes to an overall purpose of the brand.”
Mac also feels that too often egos get in the way of good work. While he appreciates the importance of having the best idea for a brand win, he finds that those with excessive egos make it difficult to determine what is helpful or harmful to a project. But perhaps most important of all is his belief in the consistent need for those within the industry to push themselves to be better as a whole. While he recognises that there are a myriad of things to look at, he believes that change will come from good leadership “to help us direct where our collective boats are headed.”
That being said, Mac is optimistic about where the future of the industry lies. Specifically, David&Goliath found an opportunity during the pandemic - challenging senior members to mentor a new generation, wherein younger creatives had routine check-ins with more acclaimed creatives to talk shop. Not only did it help the younger ones, but it also served to hold the older creatives accountable and challenge the matter of how creativity is fostered in the workplace.
“I remember the obstacles I went through in getting into the industry, so I do my best to lend a helping hand,” he adds. “I often direct those who reach out to Natalie Kim and her program ‘We Are Next’. They do a fantastic job providing insight and help those interested in the advertising industry.
With that in mind, he believes that the years of advertising industries taking consumers for granted with simple-minded solutions is over.
“Now, we are seeing a revolution in advertising, focussing more on the purpose of being - championing pure human emotion and empathy to form a connection between brand and consumer,” Mac says. “I believe that’s the future and it excites me.”
But he adds that while these changes happen, he’s still no less focussed on putting out great work. “Advertising as a whole has so much potential to make the world a better, more fun place. It’s always been my dream to make people smile, laugh and think. That’s the work that excites me and it’s the kind of work I strive to deliver.”