Campaign Brief Q&A ~ Simon Vicars, CCO, Colenso BBDO New Zealand: “Don’t listen to the rules”

Campaign Brief Q&A ~ Simon Vicars, CCO, Colenso BBDO New Zealand: “Don’t listen to the rules”

Campaign Brief recently caught up with one of the world’s most awarded creatives Simon (Si) Vicars. As a copywriter he’s won 53 Cannes Lions, including two Grand Prix, a Titanium Lion and 19 Golds. He’s currently CCO at Colenso BBDO.


Campaign Brief: You’ve been in the role two years. What are you most proud of?

Si Vicars: Colenso has a big legacy and I did worry we might feel like we’re working in the shadow of it.

It could have been a burden, but it’s not.

I’m proud that this group of people are creating their own era of Colenso.

It’s exciting to write our own chapter alongside an amazing and ambitious group of clients.

CB: How does Colenso differ from other agencies you’ve worked at?

SV: I think the agency is wired to say “yes”.

Momentum for an idea is so fundamental to making it happen, and that’s why a default “no” can be so damaging for creativity but also for an agency as a whole.

I also think Colenso protects the importance of speaking simply.

I really noticed that when I first started here in 2011 – just how plainly people spoke. Great ideas outsmart everyone.

CB: What do you look for when hiring at Colenso?

SV: I would say the people who really succeed at Colenso are just the right amount of delusional.

Self-driven and big believers in their abilities – psychotic optimists who know they’ll find a way, even if that way isn’t clear.

Brewtroleum was almost 3 taxis imported from Argentina, Yellow Treehouse needed a ramp hours before opening, Rick & Morty was a “total long shot”.

In those moments when everyone else has their head in their hands, I really like the people who are laughing.

CB: Adam & Eve DDB is one of the best creative agencies in the world. You were there for 3 years. What did you learn?

SV: That there are no ad gods.

There aren’t creatives who have some mystic ability that you don’t. I saw terrible ideas from the best teams in the world. That was cool. It demystified the job for me and reassured me that my shit ideas didn’t make me a shit creative.

Then, as a copywriter, to see the John Lewis process first hand was special. The brief never changed and it was in the building 365 days a year. That makes it hard to find fresh ways at coming at it, but their hit rate was legendary.

It was a real privilege to be part of that agency’s story, and to work in amongst such a talented bunch.

CB: What’s the piece of work that had the biggest impact on your career?

SV: Get a Perm for Instant Kiwi.

Giant and I (plus Carlos and Damian) were brand new juniors at DDB. We came up with a campaign that was really odd. We shot three TV ads. No one cared about two of the spots, but Get a Perm went crazy.

When you’re a junior and you see people buying t-shirts and getting tattoos of your idea, that emboldens you. It helps you believe in your way of doing things. It was total permission to keep doing it our way.

I owe a lot to DDB and Toby Talbot for the belief they instilled in us as young creatives. I hope I can do the same for the juniors who come through Colenso.

CB: Colenso was recently named Pacific Agency of the Year at Cannes. What does that mean to the agency?

SV: Turning up uninvited on global rankings is something we really enjoy at Colenso.

Beating the best agencies in Aussie and NZ, then to be one place behind adam & eve and one place in front of Gut in the rankings was good fun.

For the agency, it confirmed that our global benchmark is dialled in. For our people, it was a reminder that they’re as good as the best in the world.

CB: What advice would you give young creatives coming into the industry now?

SV: Don’t listen to the rules.

There are more and more systems creeping into the industry. Systemising creativity sounds like an excellent way to bore people.

So watch out for experts. If someone says they know how to do this job, it’s because they’re replicating what’s been done before.

Come in and make this industry what you think it should be.

Campaign Brief Q&A ~ Simon Vicars, CCO, Colenso BBDO New Zealand: “Don’t listen to the rules”