When he says, “Nothing about my start in advertising was accidental,” Adi Hussain means it. The junior creative made waves online as he started a fundraising campaign to put himself through ad school, winding up at Creature where he now works and supports with their ‘In the Wild’ programme - a mentorship scheme to support budding creatives on their journey into adland.
Adi’s childhood was spent like many, creatively expressing himself in any way that he could: “I was a performer as a kid, performing for friends and family, wearing their shoes and coats." Coupling this with a curious mind and many interests, Adi describes a ‘huge, gaping inkling’ towards becoming a creative. “Quietly misbehaving and an absolute fanatic about something one week and something else the next. I enjoyed making things up and had a curiosity that propelled me towards so many things, from medical manuals to my sister’s questionable magazines.”
Growing up in a religious, Pakastani household brought with it the expectation of upholding tradition, which doesn’t really fall within the creative industries. “In every film based on an Asian kid from such a household growing up in Britain, there’s always a tug of war between the culture at home and everything else beyond their doorstep. It’s pretty cliché, but there’s almost always a disconnect between the parents and the kid.” Acceptance is what Adi sought, taking refuge in the movies that depicted his experience but also actively questioning the disconnect between his family home and the rest of the western world. He says, “I’d argue about parts of my mother’s culture I disagreed with or didn’t wish to participate in. She too would call out the warts of what I believed and what I did. Now that I’m older, I have respect for what she believes and keeps alive. And there are even aspects of her culture that have been instilled in me, such as the importance of taking care of one’s parents and siblings.”
With his family surrounding him, Adi took inspiration from his sister, who had a talent for drawing that Adi wanted to refine himself. After some pleading, Adi’s sister caved: “She taught me how to draw a cartoon dog - simple shapes that filled an entire piece of A4. Once she ran through it with me, I spent weeks drawing it again and again until it came easily. Then I started drawing other things and never really stopped until my teens when there were much more dazzling things to keep my attention.” With an abundance of energy, the teenage Adi was playfighting with his friends at school in a style that he describes as ‘WWF in its good days.’ With all his experimental dance moves and wrestling practice, ‘from doing flips and slams’ Adi’s mum ended up replacing five sofas - which as an adult, he made sure to replace.
After deciding that he would in fact pursue a creative career, Adi went on to study Film Production at UCA in Farnham, but by the time second-year rolled around, he’d fallen out of love with the course. “I’d actually picked film because it was the only thing I got good grades in - that and drama - but there’s no way I’d ever be an actor!” As the first in his family to attend university, Adi stayed on to continue his degree, even though he didn’t think it was worth it. With a little encouragement from his sister, he set out to try new things, “So I went and experiences I got; some good, some bad, and some I’ve yet to understand.” His second year, sitting on the top floor of the library was where he found a passion: “That was where I’d felt a love for words and began writing every day. It didn’t matter where I was, or who I was with, I loved writing in my notebooks. Notebooks I still have to this day.”
Leaving university, Adi was determined to set foot into adland, but despite many championing diverse talent, the truth is that there simply isn’t enough out there to support it. For Adi, his lockdown experience was spent in Watford, being the sole carer for his mother. “She’d also caught COVID which was scary as she doesn’t have the best health. But fortunately, she got through it without any long term damage,” he says, “I was fortunate enough to continue working a job that adapted to the changing circumstances. Working from home allowed me to care for my mum throughout the day which was vital as we’d learnt that she required dialysis treatment early in 2020.” And Adi channelled the values his mum had taught him while growing up, “I can’t say I picked up rollerblading during lockdown, or perfected my trunk twists. I just tried my very best to take care of those around me.”
Originally intending to go to the School of Communication Arts, there simply wasn’t adequate funding for him to cover living expenses and so Adi did what he had to do, fundraised and made some noise about it. He says, “That fundraiser soon went viral and caused people to not only donate but share my story via social channels and their agencies. I’d received an overwhelming response both through donations and helpful, guiding and even brutally honest emails.” An incredible reaction, but what was even more surprising is what happened next: “Then, sat in my Junk mail was an email from Stu at Creature inviting me to jump on a Zoom call. After plenty of messing about back and forth, Stu asked me to sack off my current job and come to Creature as the first In The Wild placement, where I’d work on live briefs and learn about the business. I said yes and now here I am.” He reiterates, “Nothing about my start in advertising was accidental.”
“My [writerly] education came from reading widely and making a note of things I liked, whether that came out of a magazine article on flossing or a man at the market, or a poem about plums,” says Adi, “The only trouble was that I didn’t have any eyes on my writing to give me feedback or encouragement. Now that I’m in advertising, that’s changed and I’ve learned not to be precious over it.” His passion for writing and determination to absorb all that he can, shows why Adi was eager to create opportunities for himself, and how he wound up at Creature.
Adi’s first project at the creative agency was a seemingly perfect reflection of his journey into the industry. He says, “My very first project was Class Polish, which we produced with the Social Mobility Foundation. It was the perfect brief as it centred around the issue of classism. My memories of it will always be sweet because it was during that time that I’d been offered a permanent job at Creature.” A surreal but happy moment for Adi, he continues, “So there I was, working on something I felt passionate about, with the knowledge that my butt was staying put at the agency. And as we moved further into production, I saw people like Fern Brady jump on board, it felt great knowing we were all working together to make shit happen! Especially given that I, myself, wasn’t from a privileged background and had to kick adland's door in.”
So far, Adi has learnt a lot about himself and the industry he works in, “The most useful lesson I’d learnt was where my value came from. I realised that it didn’t come from sheets of paper or shiny things with my name on it, but from where I came from and the experiences I had. I’d lived before I began in advertising but only when I got there did I realise how much of a goldmine it really was.” And the junior creative shares the best part of his role, “It’s gotta be the encouragement to soak up as much as I can about all kinds of things.” Appealing to his childhood of continual interest in different hobbies, the freedom and range of briefs keep Adi on his toes and encourage him to find niches he may have otherwise not considered - mentioning his deep dive into ‘birds beaks and their correlation to train’s noses.’ Adi’s experience so far has sparked his excitement for global creativity and helped align his goals within the industry, “I aspire to make stuff that works, stuff that sells, stuff people - not in advertising - talk about.”
Of course, the advertising industry isn’t perfect, diversity and inclusion being a hot topic as the industry works to be better at what it does. Adi says, “There were schemes, programmes and plenty of people chiming in about upping the stats - treating diversity like some sort of numbers game. It frustrates me because with all of it there seemed to be an air of inclusion for the sake of it, but not necessarily an understanding of just how diverse individuals can bring value and how an agency has to nurture such talent.” Adi believes that making the industry appealing to children from disadvantaged backgrounds will help shape the next generation of the industry and give young people an opportunity to thrive.
When he isn’t working, Adi has many hobbies: “I force both my cats into a yoga pose that amplifies their third chakra, light a homemade incense pinwheel, sit on a heated cushion and begin to chant nursery rhymes backwards. That usually does the trick, but if not, GTA 5.” Describing himself as having a ‘terrible sickness of wanting to do too many things’, working with carpenters and joiners from New Zealand has made him learn the craft of woodworking. “When I came back I got a woodworker’s manual that went through every tool - giving me the same high one experiences when staring at the rainbow arrangements of stationery. My next high will be finding myself in a workshop building things whilst breathing in that sweet sawdust,” says Adi.
Consuming media, Adi loves everything from moving image to print. He says, “So that could be going from David Cronenberg to Katsuhiro Otomo, or Gasper Noé to Junji Ito and then to Ryu Murakami - just to shake things up a bit! The names above are definitely favourites of mine for their attention towards the gritty side of human existence as well as having a wild imagination that can at times rob you of your appetite.” But his interests also lie in the soothing company of Classic FM, the radio station he swears by, creating comics that often have a vulgar or strange quality to them and gravitating towards podcasts of the American stand-up comic variety.
Adi leaves us with his parting thoughts: “I’ve always put more focus on my work than anything else. Coming from a background like mine, all you have is the work you do to get yourself out of the circumstances you’re in. That’s made it so that I can go from working three jobs to having a place at Creature. All without a portfolio, having not gone to ad school and knowing not one soul in the industry.”