Shots at 30: Ad Icons - Creative Correspondence with Diane McArter and Casey Rand
Continuing our series of features in which we ask one of our advertising icons to interview - and be interviewed by - a person of their choosing, Diane McArter, and Casey Rand exchange emails.
As Founder and President of production company Furlined, McArter represents some of the industry's most notable directors, including Speck and Gordon, Yael Staav, Martin + Lindsay and Erin Heindenreich. She also helped found the integrated studio, LoveChild.
Meanwhile, Rand is a former ECD at Droga5 who works on campaigns for Harley Davidson, Chase Bank, Coca-Cola and CarMax, and who, in 2019, co-founded the Potential Energy Coalition, a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition that brings together America’s leading creative, analytic and media agencies to help shift the narrative on climate change.
Below, the two Canadian natives [hence the moose in the photo] discuss the current challenges the world faces and how brands might be able to help, why we need less binary thinking, and just how powerful advertising can be.
CR: Di, when we spoke a while ago you said something that really stuck with me; "we are in a crucible moment, not just for our industry, but for the country and the world". That was before Amy Cooper threatened Chris Cooper with the police in Central Park. It was before George Floyd was killed by a police officer in the streets of Minneapolis and the country erupted in protest. It was before our national crises (a pandemic, an economic crisis and the death grip of white supremacy) layered on top of each other like some ugly, poisonous sandwich.
In turbulent times, it can be hard to feel a sense of purpose in our industry, but you are someone who's always tried to use advertising to advance social causes; what do you think is a brand's role in creating social change?
DM: There are moments in life that can hit you like a bolt out of the blue and, in an instant, everything changes. I remember rushing to try to make it to Al Gore’s closing speech at the 2007 Cannes Lions. I arrived late, gasping for breath, to the already-closed doors of the auditorium. The expression of disappointment on my face was enough to evoke the pity of a kind usher, who secretly escorted me to the uppermost level, allowing me to be the last person admitted just as Gore began to speak.
"The world in crisis... is an opportunity for brands and for our industry to be a part of the solution!”
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to say a few words to you about the role of brands and the advertising industry in helping the world community successfully address and solve the biggest and most dangerous crises that our world has ever confronted,” Gore began, speaking of global warming. And that’s when it hit me; the world in crisis, threatened by global warming, with the survival of the human race at stake, is an opportunity for brands and for our industry to be a part of the solution! Gore underscored the inability of governments to successfully align mutual interests, even with something as threatening as global warming. In contrast, multinational brands span geographic, cultural, and political boundaries. They must navigate both local and global interests, find commonality wherever they operate.
That year was a pivotal moment for the festival, as our industry acknowledged the Triple Bottom Line concept of ‘People, Profit and the Planet’, measuring company profits side-by-side with environmental and social performance. The industry’s commitment to this new paradigm was solidified with a new category in the show, the Cannes Lion for Good. It was also a profound awakening for me. I made a commitment that day to put my belief that doing good is good business into practice.
"When envisioning the world in 2036, we imagined a future in which doing good was profitable, and transparency in consumer products was the norm.”
Nearly 10 years ago, Furlined convened a diverse cross-section of 50 thought leaders from advertising, not-for-profits and brands, in brainstorming sessions called All Tomorrow’s Donuts (ATD). The purpose of the event was to imagine the ways in which brands can contribute to positive social change. Recently, I revisited the thought boards that emerged from the first brainstorming session and I was taken aback by their prescience. When envisioning the world in 2036, we imagined a future in which doing good was profitable, and transparency in consumer products was the norm.
Multinational corporations are the superstructures of the present and the future. Witness SpaceX leading the way and becoming a part of the story of human evolution; Full Cycle, a company that funds new technologies that combat climate change with a commitment to a more just form of capitalism. In the wake of George Floyd’s death; Ben and Jerry’s bold and direct statement, delineating where the company stands on racial injustice.
Global citizens are demanding more transparency and accountability from leaders, corporations and one another. And, they are beginning to vote with their dollars, favoring companies that are a true expression of their shared values.It is now easier to be conscious of how we spend our money, and to determine whether those expenditures truly reflect our values. Aspiration, for example, is a new type of banking product that invites people to 'spend their values', letting users know how environmentally- and people-friendly their purchases are through their product impact score. Other value signaling methods, like Corporate Knights’ annual global rankings of the most sustainable businesses, are transparency shortcuts for the increasingly conscious consumer.
"Global citizens are demanding more transparency and accountability from leaders, corporations and one another. And, they are beginning to vote with their dollars."
In the end, it’s people who create change, not governments or brands, and it all comes down to values. Now is the time for all of us, as individuals, to re-examine our values, to make a commitment to walk the walk and hold ourselves accountable to them. Shared values are the only way to bridge seemingly impossible divides. We must rise to the occasion that history has presented. To your point about finding a sense of purpose, Sir Ken Robinson, a world-renowned thought leader on education and creativity, speaks about connecting our unique talents with our values and passions to discover our purpose in life.
"Shared values are the only way to bridge seemingly impossible divides. We must rise to the occasion that history has presented."
Casey, it occurs to me that you have a powerful sense of purpose in your new role as Chief Creative Officer at the Potential Energy Coalition. Was there an ‘a-ha!’ moment for you, when you became aware of aligning your talents with your values in the work you do? Would you speak about how you came to discover your purpose?
CR: Totally agree about shared values. One of the reasons I stayed at Droga5 for so long is because I really felt like I understood why it existed, and aligned completely with David [Droga]’s view of how brands wield influence and have a responsibility to the world. Of course, that doesn’t always pan out, and lofty ideas about brand purpose can end up coming out the other end of the sausage grinder as a 2-for-1 pizza deal, but no creative I know ever starts there.
In my career I’ve always had to practice a small amount of cognitive dissonance in order to do the job. I love being a creative but, as an ad person, I lost a lot of sleep over the role I was playing in society. I always tried to have a pro-bono project happening in tandem with my paid client work to balance my karma. Last year, one of those projects was about climate change.
"Lofty ideas about brand purpose can end up coming out the other end of the sausage grinder as a 2-for-1 pizza deal.”
My now-partner, John Marshall, was convening a group of creative shops to think about how to rebrand an existential threat, and Droga5 was one of those agencies. So, I did what I normally do with any creative assignment, I dug into the product. The more I read, the more I learned what was really happening, how dire and irreversible it was and how little time we had to stop it. I got super-depressed. I wasn’t sleeping. My husband was perpetually apologizing for my behavior at parties because someone would ask, “how’s work?” and I would immediately drag them into a pit of despair.
"I guess my ‘a-ha!’ moment was more like a slow-motion car crash”
So, in September of 2019, I decided it wasn’t enough for me to dedicate only a tiny portion of my professional life to this. If we truly had a handful of years to kick our carbon addiction, I wanted to be working at the rehab clinic. I wanted to be able to look my future kids in the eyes and say "this is what I did when I learned your world was on the line”. Now, I’m leading a group of over 200 creative and media agencies who have all dedicated time and resources to helping accelerate the demand for a cleaner, more liveable planet. So, I guess my ‘a-ha!’ moment was more like a slow-motion car crash.
It’s funny though because, now that I’m on the other side of the client equation, trying to create culturally relevant work that can speak to new audiences, I’m struck by how important the messenger is and how much power brands truly have. Is it more effective to work at a non-profit, constantly trying to wiggle your way into culture, or to use the cache of the world’s leading brands to occasionally do something hyper influential for the good of humanity? I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that, in America, we treat corporations like people. I would argue we treat them better and more humanely, so business leaders have an opportunity to use that power and privilege to shape culture in a way that moves us forward.
"Is it more effective to work at a non-profit... or to use the cache of the world’s leading brands to occasionally do something hyper influential for the good of humanity?"
You asked about the cognitive challenges of tackling climate change; one of the big ones is that people model their behavior after those at the top and, right now, we have no leadership on this issue. We never hear about it in the media, our president has systematically gutted every environmental law meant to curb heat-trapping pollution, oil companies continue to get tax breaks and subsidies (something both parties enable) and bold corporate leadership is rare, more often eclipsed by orchestrated greenwashing.
One thing world leaders and business leaders have in common is that they’re mostly men (only 6% of CEOs are women and less than 8% of world leaders). I was reading an article the other day about how well female-run countries have done curbing the coronavirus, and the writer brought up the trope of men not being willing to ask for directions. Women are more likely to seek advice and trust experts while men barrel ahead like they know all the answers.
"Our president has systematically gutted every environmental law meant to curb heat-trapping pollution.”
You are one of the most thoughtful leaders I know, always so in tune with how the people around you are feeling and doing, which—SHOCKER—turns out to also be a very effective business strategy. So here is my idea: we replace the men with women and see where we are in 10 years. Thoughts?
DM: My first grandchild, a girl, was born today [June 29] at a moment in time when we're at a tipping point. My prayer for this little one is that feminine identity is not a barrier but a gift for her, and to the world. I pray that the next generation’s potential will not be limited by gender or by ethnicity. Over the course of my career I've struggled with what it means to be a woman in a world that tends to devalue women’s voices; with how to lead as a woman in a male dominated industry. We need a new vision of leadership grounded in inclusivity and the integration of qualities we associate with both the masculine and the feminine.
"[We need] less binary thinking, a shift away from an either/or mindset, to a higher order of 'AND’."
We need leadership that embodies higher values. Leadership powerful enough to heal a cultural wound from time immemorial. Less binary thinking, a shift away from an either/or mindset, to a higher order of 'AND'. Brands AND non-profits working together to form complementary partnerships that could have a wide-ranging positive impact on people’s lives and on the planet. The confluence of recent events has created a tipping point that could give rise to the changes needed in our social, economic, educational, and political systems.
What tips a tipping point, making lasting positive changes in culture and society possible?
CR: What a graceful way to shoot down my idea of replacing men with women. On one hand, I'm pessimistic about our ability to move away from binary thinking, given how polarized the country is and how short our attention spans are but, on the other, I'm buoyed by the younger generation's gender fluidity and rejection of labels. Nuance is dead! Long live nuance!
On your question re. tipping points; I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book [The Tipping Point] years ago and only remember the notion that ideas are like viruses, which is suddenly a much more powerful metaphor. Personally, I think tipping points are all about messaging and messengers, and I'm not just saying that because we're in advertising!
"For years, activists framed [gay marriage] as a civil rights issue, but in 2011 a group in Maine reframed the idea. They made it about love, the ability to love who you want."
Take gay marriage, for example. For years, activists framed it as a civil rights issue, but in 2011 a group in Maine reframed the idea. They made it about love, the ability to love who you want. Suddenly, straight people who thought of gay rights as a political issue saw it as a personal one. What was even more effective, the activists made the faces of their campaign straight relatives of LGBTQ family members. They shared their journey of being sceptical at first, but coming to realize that their brothers, sisters and children deserved to love who they wanted, just like they did. In just over a year, a majority of people in Maine approved of gay marriage.
Think about that. A messaging campaign pushed gay marriage over the line. That's the power of advertising. I’m realizing that a lot of our back and forth has been pretty intense and the readers might want some fun. So, here is my next question to you: in three words, describe the best day of your professional life.
DM: Today, genuinely, when one of Furlined’s directors wrote to me that Furlined is “the best production company in the world!” I aspire that we, as a company, live up to and into that promise. Okay, so that wasn’t three words. I tend to be long-winded, but I’m loving the challenge of being more succinct as we wind up our back and forth. We have two more questions and answers to go to fulfil our promise to shots.Here’s a question that can easily be answered in three words!
What are your top three core values? What I mean by core values is: fundamental beliefs that you hold yourself accountable to— beliefs that you live by personally and professionally.
But, before I sign off, here, for your entertainment pleasure, is a short film from Furlined directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon— a LoveChild project, in collaboration with Chris Beresford Hill, who is currently CCO of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York. Devin and Glenn stars Justin Long, Mike White, Tom Arnold and Nora Dunn. With over 35 million views within weeks of its release, I like to think Devin and Glenn contributed to the tipping point that overturned California’s anti-gay marriage proposition, Prop 8 in 2008.
CR: I remember this film! Had no idea you produced it. And here I am explaining the history of the gay marriage narrative to you... So funny you should ask about core values. I just watched an episode of Queer Eye (Season 5 is perfect by the way, if you're looking for an uplifting watch in traumatic times) where they challenged one of their makeover subjects to answer this exact question, and I thought to myself ‘huh, I should do that exercise’. I then got distracted by a tweet and immediately forgot about it.
"I'll probably look back on this and cringe one day; you'll notice self-awareness is not on my list.”
Top three is tough. I consulted this list by Brene Brown [professor and author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead] to make sure I was covering my bases. After careful consideration, I think my answer is: creativity, courage and contribution. Competence, humor and self-discipline come in a close second. I'll probably look back on this and cringe one day; you'll notice self-awareness is not on my list.
Now, this lightning round would not be complete without a dead or alive question, so here goes: if you could have an hour with any leader in the world (business person, head of state, activist, cult leader, etc), living or dead, who would it be?
DM: Brene Brown— hands down! One final question, if I may. Step into the future; you’re retired, living happily in a sustainable community in upstate New York; looking back on your career. What do you want to be known for contributing to the world?
CR: A story that helped save it.