Interview by Jay Morgan, Creative Shop ANZ
CPB Creative Director Jason Pierce shares his recipe for culture connection and falling in love with the problem.
Name Jason Van Pierce
AKA photographer and culinary genius
Creative Director at Crispin Porter Bogusky
With two decades in the design game (and a lifetime love of sneakers)
Based in Denver, Colorado
Known for keeping it real and cooking like an effing gentleman
Awarded Gold at Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity (just casually)
Clients include INFINITI, Vrbo, 1800 Tequila, Goose Island Beer Co., Ford, GM, Chrysler, Walmart, Gatorade, and State Farm
M.O. The ideology of creating connection
And he has been quoted as saying: “humans relate more to other humans, not to brands”
“I find myself gravitating toward people’s obsessions and that’s how I view CPB – the people that are the best at what they do, because they’re obsessed with some aspect of it.”
Jason Pierce is a Detroit native and Creative Director at Crispin Porter Bogusky, who started his career working with music artists around the world. Bringing to the table a diverse background in photography, creative, and home cooking, Jason’s passion for culture is today what drives his creative work in the advertising game.
He is the man behind innovative campaigns like the Chevy Game Time Super Bowl ad – which won him a Gold Cannes Lion. And he continues to push the creative boundaries with his fierce sense of passion and authenticity.
So Facebook’s Creative Strategist Jay Morgan caught up with Jason, to talk creative director to creative director and find out more about CPB’s recipe for compelling creative that taps culture. In short? A proverbial sandbox of ideas, specifically designed to foster creative problem solving.
LEARNING TO LOVE THE PROBLEM
“Creatives should fall in love with the problem,” Jason says of making meaningful work in today’s fast-paced media landscape. “It’s something I stole from our ECD here because it really stuck with me (I think he stole it from somewhere for the same reason).”
“We’re trying to get creatives to pivot from being in love with ideas to being in love with solving a problem.” That doesn’t mean the ideas become irrelevant, just that there is permission to let them be in the background.
This involves working with trusting clients that deliver open briefs to solve the big problem. And Jason’s philosophy is that you then need to learn to fall in love with this problem. Which is why he’s so passionate about building a proverbial sandbox of ideas as a safe space for creatives to try out different ideas. “So, the sandbox is the place of falling in love with the problem?” Jay asks the CD. “I love the idea that you can hold a little less tightly to your ideas because you’re actually in love with the problem and finding the best solution to that problem. Now more than ever, that is a moveable feast.”
“Yeah and I want to find the thing in [a] problem that really hits me and resonates with me,” Jason says. He sees his role as that of a problem solver essentially – and he believes there is actually a lot of freedom and scope for personalisation in that. One example of CPB’s problem solving creative is the INFINITI Now campaign, launched earlier this year. The problem for this automotive giant was that no-one was going into dealerships during COVID lockdowns. So the solution was to bring the dealership experience to wherever the customer was.
“Now we’re just building onto [INFINITI Now] and it’s all centered around unleashing luxury [and] bringing luxury to wherever you are,” Jason says of the team’s ongoing work across the project. A big factor in its success so far has been CPB “being able to tailor the content to the needs of the customer, so it’s not a one size fits all approach.” This has involved showing up on unexpected platforms, as well as creating content specifically for different customers that’s targeted around where they are at in the purchasing process – at every touchpoint, proving their brand philosophy of ‘Luxury Should Be Lived In’.
“For instance, we know people have been stuck at home, so our team wanted to come up with the most convenient way for them to test drive a car – live, from their couch,” says Jason. “We worked with the talented actor Daveed Diggs to host a Live Test Drive on Instagram. We also let them interact with him live, asking questions about the car, and his projects.”
STANDING FOR SOMETHING
Of course, mastering the art of passion-driven problem solving is also about standing for something. “Really knowing who you are,” as Jay puts it. And “that’s a big challenge for brands,” Jason agrees. “What we’re seeing this year is that you need to know more than ever who you are as a brand and, as creatives, to understand and [frame] that brand in a fresh way back into that space in real time.”
Brands really can’t sit on the fence anymore, he says, describing this as a unique moment in time that has “forced everyone to get off the fence.” Which is ultimately a good thing, he believes, because the most impactful ads are those that feel deeply relevant to the individual. As if “the brand existed in the same world and space at the same time as you.”
In the context of 2020, this has meant many different things. Which is why CPB believes that everything happening culturally right now makes it even more vital to not just respond in real time, but also to stand for something when you do. “You have to pick a side, to plant your flag and say what you stand for,” Jason explains. “The brands that we’ve seen succeed in this space are the ones that [show] they exist right now, here in the same space as you.”
He uses the example of Nike here, which launched its ‘Play for the World’ COVID campaign, one of inclusivity and connection, based on its brand purpose of inspiring people through sport. “To me, that’s responding in real time,” Jason says. “That’s acknowledging the world you live in and building a relationship with your audience, to say ‘we’re in this together.’” In the wake of this year, he feels we are being forced to respond IRL more than ever before and to show the consumer that we believe in the same things they do.
Part of that consumer connection boils down to a brand’s ability to be more human. In Jason’s opinion, 2020 has actually levelled the playing field in creative – and our commonality is our humanity. The CD’s theory is that “humans relate more to other humans, not to brands”. Which is why he feels it is so important for brands to give a little of themselves over in order to interact with consumers in a more human way.
“I think the big brands struggle with that,” he explains. “Because in the digital and social space, in order to build that sort of love and connection, you have to relinquish some of the brand to the consumer. [So] I’ve been paying attention to a lot of the smaller brands, and what they are doing is giving some control to the user or the consumer.”
He uses the example of underwear brand Parade here, which celebrates fun and diversity through user-generated content on Instagram. By allowing all of their customers to appear in their content, Parade is fostering a fluid conversation with its audience and building the world of the brand in collaboration with them.
“I think part of their success comes from the customer understanding the brand [so] there’s an actual relationship,” Jason says. “There’s a bilateral conversation there. It’s not just the brand talking about the brand. It’s the brand and the customer talking to each other. SlimJim is also doing a great job of this in the social space right now.” This is the sort of stuff that most brands would pay top dollar for. And all it takes is the openness to behave like an actual human being. The kind of openness that leads to what Jay describes as a “fountain of creativity that we didn’t have before, [which is] expressed through a different kind of humanity or truth in the kind of work that we put out there.”
EMBRACING THE PACE
Of course, time is increasingly a challenge for many brands, with Jay pointing out that we “can’t really have the luxury of six to 12 months lead time on a piece of work” anymore. Fortunately, Jason says he loves what 2020 has done to the process, in terms of the pace that culture is changing right now – and the impact this has on truncating the creative process. “At the beginning of COVID something would happen, and we would prep our response to it,” he explains. “We would go to the client, pitch them with smiles and big eyes. And then, after their approvals, it’s already irrelevant. [So now] you have to go with your gut. And you’re forcing everyone [else] to go with their gut.”
The danger, of course, is that there are some very serious topics emerging in the culture right now. But those higher stakes are exactly why it’s so important to know what you stand for and to respond with those authentic values in mind. Because the luxury of a long lead time has all but disappeared now.
“The Super Bowl campaign completely changed my perspective on the way we consume media,” Jason says of 2012’s Chevy Game Time, a live second-screen experience that let viewers interact with commercials and the game itself in real time. This was an example of how Jason cut through a highly competitive ad market to use technology in a way that helped spark creativity. With 700,000 app users interacting with the new commercials on game day, for a chance to win a Chevy, the live campaign used culture to drive connection.
“We got real time analytics, [which] meant we were creating assets in real time too,” the CD recalls of this epic undertaking. “Once I walked away from that project and gained back all of the weight I had lost, it really changed the way I thought about how we bridge the gap from traditional media into something that fits in the palm of a person’s hand and allows them to actually connect with it.” This ideology of creating connection is what drives his work most now.
KEEPING IT REAL
“Creativity comes from inside of you,” Jason believes. “So if your barometer is what you love, then chances are, it’s going to be more relatable to your audience.” And this presents a unique opportunity to keep it real in the face of all things 2020. Jay agrees that “the best work is probably the truest work, where the creative behind it has put their soul into the work. And you can tell that they’re passionate about it because the authenticity is so clear.”
As the creative process gets shorter, then, and brands are increasingly pushed to stand for something meaningful, the delicate balance for a creative becomes about maintaining both speed and quality. “I’m curious to see the aesthetic ramifications of [this year]” Jason muses. “I suspect that you’re going to see the type of work that feels more editorial. It feels more raw, less produced, and therefore probably more relatable.”
The magic sauce to making that happen, then, has to come from drawing out the realness and using it to start conversations. Like with the CD’s own cooking channel ‘Cook Like A Fcking Gentlemen‘, for example, fusing two of his personal passions – food and photography (view JP’s photography here). “Cooking is one of my creative outlets,” he explains. “That’s been a really nice outlet because it gave me a chance to bring all of the things that I love and care about together.”
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This simple side project has helped Jason Pierce of CPB revitalise his love for creative direction and feel more well-rounded in his work. “I found that, as I got into the business of being a creative, I stopped doing the other things that fulfilled me creatively outside of [the ad industry],” the CD says. But getting into cooking and shooting photography again has helped Jason re-inject his worldview into his work. “If you don’t bring those things into what you’re doing, then I don’t think that makes you a better creative,” he says. “I think that just makes you a robot in this industry.”