What the most creative advertising idea you’ve seen recently?

I have a two-part answer to this. For the first, it’s not recent. The last thing I saw that I was truly excited about was the Apple AirPods Stroll spot (2017).

The original iPod commercials of the 2000s hit me like a brick wall. It was a moment in time when Apple was creating magic in a world where we had been taught magic wasn’t real. They were leading culture through their advertising. They were creating brand evangelists left and right because they were doing something completely different from everyone else around them and they focused on how they made people feel and creating identity and community for their consumers. Their products gave us purpose. They pulled us out of the matrix. 

This AirPods spot re-awakened this feeling for me. It’s so elegant and immediate, like watching magic being created in front of you. I can’t help but watch it from beginning to end and then two or three more times after. It also reminds me of how I felt after seeing the old Sony Bravia Balls, Play-Doh, and Paint ads for the first time. I love the immediacy of this type of advertising. It’s so playful. For me, this is where art and commerce meet. 

Apple – Apple: Stroll

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My second answer is a bit of a departure from the question. I have been an enthusiast in the crypto space since 2013, and deeply involved since 2016. Crypto advertising has arrived and is here to stay. 

Although I had been hoping to be in a position to make one of this year’s crypto Super Bowl spots, because of my proximity to the industry, it was so exciting to see broadcast spots from, and Coinbase front and centre. What excites me most is not just the spots themselves but that this is an entirely new frontier in advertising/culture that is ripe for experimentation. There are very few people who truly understand the paradigm shift towards self-sovereignty that is beginning, and for those that do, very few are storytellers. Crypto/blockchain is not a product, it is a seismic shift in the way that humans interact with each other digitally, and needs to be treated as such. This industry is going to be way bigger than most people understand right now. Currently, only 3% of the world owns crypto, and it is tracking the same adoption curve as the internet.

FTX – Don't Miss Out

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What website(s) do you use most regularly?

I tend to live on Twitter. It’s such a fascinating window into people's minds, and a great jumping off point for a story.

What’s the most recent piece of tech that you’ve bought? 

DJI Mavic. It’s not my most recent piece of tech, but my favourite of the last few years. I bring it with me every time I travel. I’ve been building and flying drones for over a decade. I started out as a hobbyist, flying collective-pitch RC helicopters and building DIY Arduino multi-rotor drones when I was at RISD and, over the last decade, it's been astounding to watch DJI take over the consumer drone space. 

Their products are unbelievable feats of engineering, bordering on magic. They let you put the camera anywhere you want, with precision and reliability. At a certain point, it enables the camera to become a flying extension of you, removing the barriers between you and your vision. The less you have to focus on logistics and technique, the more you can focus on story and tone. It’s kind of the feeling I had when I first started using Apple computers in the early 2000s.

What product could you not live without? 

My snowboard. In talking, above, about objects becoming an extension of yourself, my snowboard is the ultimate extension of my physicality. It allows me to travel and explore in ways that you otherwise cannot. It has given me purpose physically, emotionally, and artistically. The ability to go 60+ miles per hour, hit a jump, fly multiple stories through the air, and touch back down softly is such a gift. So much of my point of view as a filmmaker was formed from the half-decade I spent filming professional snowboarders.

What’s the best film you’ve seen over the last year?

I think my favourite film of the year is Swan Song. I went to a DGA screening with a fantastic Q&A from [director] Ben Cleary and Mahershala Ali. It’s a sensitive and imaginative story that really stood out from the pack for me this year. Cleary creates a rare, modernist-but-warm, inviting portrayal of the future, while simultaneously dealing with such sullen, heavy subject matter. The synthesis really resonated with me. 

Also, it was lensed in British Columbia which has been much of a second home to me for the last decade-and-a-half. Vancouver is such a special city in how its modern, urban aesthetic interacts with grand, unadulterated nature. The film was also scored by my extremely talented friend, Jay Wadley, who has scored a handful of my commercials.

What film do you think everyone should have seen?

Children of Men. It’s so simple in premise but expansive in scope: We open in an apocalyptic, not-to-distant future. Women can no longer have babies and no one knows why. And the last thread that is holding humanity together is a sliver of hope. [Director] Alfonso Cuaron and [DoP] Chivo craft a cinematic language and point of view that quickly makes you forget that you’re watching, and in turn, you begin experiencing. It’s immersive modern cinema at its purest.

What’s your favourite TV show?

My favourite current TV show is Succession. It has the best writing on TV right now, hands down, and I’m happy to fight about it. It’s funny; I watched the pilot, didn’t like it, and put the show away for a month or so. Then I gave it a second chance and episode two smacked me in the face. I’ve watched the full series four times at this point. It manages to create such a complex tone, straddling drama and comedy. I’m definitely a drama director, but I’ve always admired comedy directors and actors because I feel that you have to master drama before you can master comedy, and this show makes that so clear. They are unwavering in their ability to weave comedy into what is ultimately a grand tragedy and have it feel honest to the world they’ve created.

What’s your favourite podcast? 

I move around a lot but, at the moment, Bankless. It’s a must-listen if you’re in the crypto world. 

What show/exhibition has most inspired you recently? 

This isn’t recent, but I’ve always been struck by Sleep No More in NYC. It’s a multi-floor immersive theatrical production. I struggle with theatre because so much of storytelling, for me, is about subtextual intimacy with your characters; he type of ‘show don’t tell’ that you can only truly achieve in cinema. I need the ‘close-up’. I need for an actor to speak through their eyes and not their mouth. It is a much more emotionally immersive experience for me. But I was shocked the first time I went to Sleep No More. I felt like I was in a movie. The access to the performers and the ability to interact with the environment and story flipped me upside down. I had to go back a few more times the first week I saw it. 

What’s the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the industry since you started working in it?

The advertising industry’s relationship to risk has always been one that’s required care but, in the last decade, we have reached a point where risk aversion has become more important than the content itself. It is doing a disservice to the goal of creating content that leads and influences culture, which is what fosters a viewer’s emotional connection to a brand and, thus, brand evangelism. Leading culture is so much cooler than chasing it. We live in a digital world where advertisements have to compete for eyes. If the content isn’t fresh, challenging and thought-provoking, it will be outcompeted by content that is. That is the reality of the game that we are participating in. My hope is that we can bring back some of the daring advertising that is memorable and stands the test of time.

Do you think the industry is moving in the right direction in terms of increasing diversity?

Moving in the right direction? Yes. Moving at the right rate of change? Not even close.

In the summer of 2020, in the midst of the BLM protests, the advertising industry was forced to take a stark look in the mirror. Many agencies and production companies, with no black creative directors/directors, were virtue-signalling, posting black squares on Instagram, and they got called out for it. Fortunately, many companies stood up and started the hard work of increasing minority representation. There were big, meaningful industry-wide panels and conversations, and some change began. Then fall and winter came and things quieted down. 

Fast-forward to Super Bowl 2021. Of the 61 total spots, four were directed by men of colour. And that’s not just Black men, that’s all men of colour. Even worse, of the 61 total spots, four were directed by women [Source: FreeTheWork]. That’s a total of eight underrepresented directors. I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Fast-forward again to Super Bowl 2022. Of the 54 spots that reported director info, 12 were by underrepresented directors [Source: FreeTheWork]. To represent the diversity of the US, that number would need to be 33. If this increases linearly, it will take five more years, at the soonest, to reach balance, which is very optimistic. If it increases at a regression, it will take 10-20 years to reach balance (ain’t nobody got time for that). For the record, the representation of women directors in Super Bowl spots actually declined from 2018 to 2021. 

This is all to say that we have to ask ourselves: what do we want our industry to look like? Do we want to hold ourselves to our word? Change takes hard, selfless work. And it doesn’t happen overnight. 

On one end, solving this problem requires the work/investment of increasing the talent pool. On the other end, it requires an overhaul of the culture of fear and risk aversion in advertising, from the client to the agency to the production company. To think that the best stories in the world will be told by any single demographic is a fallacy. Increasing diversity of point of view is the right thing to do and it is also good business. 

If anyone wants to talk further about this, feel free to reach out. 

Julian Marshall – We Are George Floyd

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Above: Marshall's short film, We Are George Floyd.

With regards increasing the diversity of the ad industry, if there was one thing you could change, what would it be?

The more we can increase the talent pool, the faster it will happen. The faster we can expose the industry to talent, the faster it will happen. The more incentives there are at the client/agency level to increase diversity, the faster it will happen. This is a matter of doing the unglamorous work of education. Educating brands that increased diversity of point of view is good business, so that it extends past a moral obligation. Educating ad agencies about where to find diverse talent. And educating/mentoring/investing in a new generation of creators.

Who or what has most influenced your career? 

My skateboard and snowboard. They were the reason I picked up a camera and started ferociously exploring film at age nine. 

Tell us one thing about yourself that most people won’t know. 

My first meal when I get back to NYC from a shoot is always Ippudo ramen.