The Interview Series // 23 (Part Two)

daniel2

“Work on your shit. Ride your bicycle. Don’t have sex. Work hard. Be nice. Pay attention. What else? That’s kinda it. Oh, and don’t buy dumb shit.” And that, our clever and taste-ridden friends, is where Part One of Daniel Bremmer’s interview finished. If you haven’t read it yet, read it now. We got really drunk in a Brooklyn bar and solved the problems of the universe, pretty much. This second half however, is even better–we really hit our stride. It seems the more alcohol we consumed, the more articulate, erudite, considered and clever we became. If you want to figure out if advertising is a vain waste of time and resources on the rich white people of the world, or if it can be used to save the world’s environmental and economic problems, gosh, are you in for a treat…

Daniel: Don’t buy dumb shit.

Junior: Don’t buy dumb shit? Like what?

D: Anything that has an expensive logo on it. I’m going to think your dad has money and that you probably suck.

Jr: So what should you wear to an interview?

D: Stuff that doesn’t have expensive logos on it.

Jr: Like this?

D: That’s fine. Grey t-shirt and short shorts. I might skip the short shorts.

Jr: Oh really? Why? They make me look cool!

D: They’re a little short. Definitely not that cool. Anyway, you know what? I’ve had had an epiphany.

Jr: What’s that?

D: I don’t give a fuck about making ads that make a dude richer. I don’t care anymore.

Jr: Which dude? Who’s the dude?

D: Well, it’s not a dude — it’s corporations. So it’s really like a bunch of people.

Jr: Ah, I see. Tell me more.

D: I wanna make things better in the world. And I think everybody does — well most people. There are bad people, people who don’t give a shit; but most conscientious people, most creative people, want to make things better. That’s what I wanna do from now on. I got on this high, where I got to see the good results of something I did (Editors note: Daniel worked on the Obama campaign), that I was a part of. You know, changing things for the better, in a good way, and that’s what I want to do from now on.

Jr: Wow. I think that’s a wonderful epiphany.

D: So do I. I have a little philosophy. It’s called, ‘Do good well.’ Because there’s a lot of agencies entirely built around doing good work for non-profits, and a lot of the time they get involved in doing philanthropic work for big companies, to make the big companies who do evil shit look good cause they threw a few million out of their x billion dollars in annual profits towards something nice. And there’s a lot of non-profits that hire agencies to do their fund-raising who need the money, to do good work, but that’s not as rewarding as doing cool stuff. This is a movement that’s happening slowly. A very good friend of mine, an early mentor named Don McKinney, who is interactive ECD at Grey, he calls it the purpose driven economy. Which is based off The Purpose Driven Life (http://www NULL.purposedrivenlife NULL.com), a book by pastor Rick Warren. It’s bullshit, but it helped a lot of people.

To me, it’s about making ‘good’ and ‘right’ both desirable and popular. Especially when you’re dealing with stuff like the environment, solving issues to do with global warming, dealing with respecting our natural resources, not polluting our environment, treating our environment as a living organism that we need to survive, not as a tree you should hug and respect because it’s beautiful, but because that tree keeps you the fuck alive and you better stop being a dickhole to it. These are the basic principles if you have a long view of the world.

Jr: This is how I feel about my health.

D: Your health is exactly the same.

Jr: It’s no longer, “I need to eat better just because I should be healthy, but because I don’t want to wake up every morning feeling like shit. And I don’t want to be exhausted at the end of the day.” You know what I mean? It’s cause and effect.

D: Exactly! Our body and our planet are the same shit. It’s the exact same shit. And our economy is really the same shit. And what we’ve seen with this giant economic collapse is a whole lot of high-fructose, partially hydrogenated, high-risk, bullshit get-rich-quick nonsense that is sinking our economy, our planet, our health and our souls. It’s retarded. And there’s a better way to do all that shit. There’s a better way to do everything. Let’s all tell the fucking truth, let’s all do the right thing, let’s all come up with systems and products and services that help everybody do better.

Jr: But can you do that as a junior?

D: You can, I think. You have the energy, you have the soul, you don’t have children. Right? That’s the great thing. Older people can say, “I have kids. I love my kids more than I love an abstract notion of life in twenty years, therefore I’m going to sell Snickers.” Snickers is going to give people diabetes. Snickers is going to destroy the fucking world. Right? Snickers is a bad product.

Jr: But it’ll pay my children’s school fees!

D: In the short term it’ll bump me this much up in life if I do a big Snickers campaign. Pepsi, right? Peter Arnell (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=WJ4yF4F74vc) is a piece of shit. He was the guy that redesigned their look. I wouldn’t trust that guy to fold my goddamn napkin, much less design my brand. The guy is a fucking catastrophe. I looked through his website (http://arnell NULL.com/) today. It’s atrocious. They have an ad that has CG lizards dancing with football players. It makes no sense. Pepsico has given the keys to the castle to this guy. Why? Because he has round glasses that used to be cool? Round glasses and a beard can get you anywhere these days. Maybe you shouldn’t hire the guy with round glasses anymore. Maybe that worked in the 90’s.

Jr: Yes! Let’s bring back square glasses! But we digress.

D: Yeah, fuck that guy. Ha, we got on a weird Peter Arnell tangent there, and how bad Pepsi was. Oh yeah! Pepsi.

Jr: Yeah, because people want to pay their bills.

D: Pepsi makes the world worse. It makes us all fat. It encourages reckless consumption. It’s not good. Nobody should be selling SUVs. As a junior, I turned down a job. I had graduated Art Center College of Design. I thought I had a job waiting for me at Karmarama (http://www NULL.karmarama NULL.com/) in London. They came back with an offer that in Britain was very generous. But in America it was so low. I was looking at a six-figure student loan. So I flipped out. I said, “I cannot afford to make that little money. I need to pay this loan off now.” So I turned Karmarama down. Worst decision I ever made.

Jr: Oh wow.

D: An ethical, smart, brilliant, creative agency that cared about doing good work and cared about making the world better, in an awesome country with a visa waiting for me. And like a stupid idiot I said no. I had to move back in with my parents in Orange County and freelance in L.A. I would drive two hours to get to these freelance gigs. It was horrible.

Jr: Why was it so horrible?

D: Because it was a two-hour drive to get there and an hour drive to get home!

Jr: That sucks balls.

D: Yes! That sucks balls! And while doing that I wouldn’t take jobs working on things like Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs). I wouldn’t take a job at Chiat because I wouldn’t work on SUVs. Did you know that the Nissan Pathfinder Armada has thirteen cup-holders and seven seats?

Jr: Thirteen cup-holders!

D: And seven seats. No one should buy that. That is bad for the world.

Jr: Thirteen cup-holders and seven seats? That doesn’t even make sense!

D: It is bad for the world and I wouldn’t go take a job working on it.

Jr: So were you briefed on it? How do you go about turning down a job?

D: No, no, no, I wasn’t briefed on it yet. I just didn’t take the job. I had been in one situation where I was briefed on something though. It was explained to me that the brief was aimed at human resource directors at Fortune 100 companies. The idea behind the campaign was how this very large American health insurance company reduces costs and that’s how they’re solving the health care crisis.

Jr: Because they reduce costs?

D: Because they’re reducing costs for employers. Which makes it more affordable. Which means that more employers will be able to continue to provide insurance for their employees. Which is a good thing. In the absence of a modern, sane health system, you need that. So I did the campaign. Half way through the campaign, I find out the media buy is for Congressional Quarterly and The Hill. You know, newspapers that Senatorial and Congressional staffers read, telling policy makers, “Don’t worry, we’ve got it under control.” So I realized this half way through, and the creative was basically done. I told my Creative Director, “I’ll finish this because I started it. But I can’t work on this client anymore. And if it means my job, that’s a conversation we can have.”

Jr: Wow! You said that? So big!

D: I had no savings and I was in debt, but I just couldn’t do it. The bottom-line was: I do not have the discipline to do work I disagree with. The worst obligation I have is a stupid loan that my parents co-signed for. I don’t have a house, I don’t have any children, the worst I can do is fuck over my parent’s credit a little bit. That’s the worst-case scenario. Actually, I have a life insurance policy to cover my student loan. So if I get hit by a bus on my way home tonight, they’ll foot the bill. But I don’t want to be run over.

Jr: Cheers! To saving the world!

D: To saving the world!.

Drinks: *Clink*

Jr: Love the world. *Hiccup*

D: But no, I mean, I don’t know any young smart creative person that wants to make the world worse. The only ones I know want to make the world better. The world is fucked because of our parent’s generation, it’s not their… Well, it is their fault… But you can’t really blame them. It’s not like your mum and my mom decided to fuck the world. But the world is fucked and we need to fix it. And there’s a lot of money to be made in fixing it. Capitalism can solve this problem. Advertising is the lubricant of capitalism. Lubricate it for good, don’t lubricate it for bad.

Jr: Absolutely.

D: Don’t compromise yourself. You don’t have to.

Jr: So as a young creative, what should you be doing to make sure that happens? Should you be trying to work for the companies that have the good and moral clients? Should you be calling up the clients who are doing good things and saying I need to be working on your business?

D: You can’t call the client! Who are you going to call? Who are you going to call at Proctor and Gamble? There’s a shitload of people. But! Proctor and Gamble is doing things bit by bit that are good. Unilever is doing things bit by bit. Pepsi, which in it’s current state, is causing obesity and diabetes and short attention spans and hampering education efforts, is a terrible thing. Pepsi is horrible. No one should have Pepsi in their life or their home. It is a bad influence. It is probably worse than drugs. Because it is so widely acceptable to do. No one’s going to give you shit for drinking Pepsi at the Christmas table, but if you bring out the cocaine at Grandma’s house, someone’s going to have a little talk with you. You know, “We’re going to get you some help with that cocaine problem.” No one’s going to intervene and give you help with your Pepsi problem. Who’s going to say, “You know Bob, that shit’s going to give you diabetes and you’re going to fuck up our health care system.” You just don’t have to work for them. Although with Sun Chips, Pepsi is moving to biodegradable bags and using Solar energy, so that’s good. Hopefully they’ll bail on the high fructose corn syrup.

Jr: So I guess you just pick the right places to work for or when a job comes on you decide to try and change the company culture.

D: I think if enough people would simply be honest and straight up about everything — shit’s going to change. If you’re stuck in a situation where you’re the person building a coupon for the agency that’s not the decision maker, you’re fucked. But if you’re the decision maker and you’re in a room with your client and you’re smart and you’ve thought through what you’re going to say and it makes sense, they should be OK with everything. Look at G.E. Big fucking company. They own NBC. They make jet engines.

Jr: Jet engines? Wow.

D: Yes. Somebody had the balls to present ‘Ecomagination’ as a platform for the company. And it’s fucking brilliant. It’s a mainstream company that has banked their success on making things cleaner and more efficient. And making that into a business that is sustainable. Right? You look at Snapple. They’ve dropped high fructose corn syrup and are switching to sugar.

Jr: Really?

D: Yes. Walmart. Fucking Walmart. Adam Werbach of Saatchi and Saatchi S (http://saatchis NULL.com/), his company used to be called Act Now (http://www NULL.actnowproductions NULL.com/). He was the youngest president of the Sierra Club, gave a speech saying, “Environmentalism is dead. We’re not going to hug trees anymore. We’re going to hug the people. We’re going to make everything fucking better at the same time.” Then he started working with Walmart. He looked at the company, inside the company, and said, “How do we make this shit better?” They have language for this, I don’t remember exactly what their internal terms are, but basically they’ve worked with the employees, you know, the people wearing the smocks in the stores, and said, “Make a pledge. Do something to improve your health or your planet.”

Jr: Wow.

D: And the brilliant thing behind starting with that is that somebody can come into Walmart, a CEO or whatever, down the road, and say, “Fuck that guy. Fire Saatchi S.” Guess what? Nothing changes. Because your entire culture is built on making things better. So what they did, they started making their shit totally eco — the easy stuff was switching off the lighting, making things more energy efficient. Then they started working with their suppliers, said they wanted to reduce their packaging, said they wanted to reduce their carbon footprint — they’re doing a lot of stuff. Say what you will, they’ve done some evil shit with employee relations and health care, but they do some really smart shit with supply chain management. And they’re doing that to help the environment. And the new thing they’re doing, they’ve banned recombinant bovine growth hormone in their dairy products. That’s a chemical that Monsanto makes that is in American dairy that is illegal everywhere else in the world. American milk is not legal to sell in Canada.

Jr: No… Really?

D: Yes. Because it’s filled with this fucked up chemical that makes cows produce a shit ton of milk really fast. And we feed that to American girls. And we wonder why they have giant boobs and get their periods really early.

Jr: Shit! Is this true?

D: It totally is! So Walmart said no. Walmart — which many people would say is the worst company in the world.

Jr: But they only said no recently.

D: Very recently. I mean, today capitalism isn’t a force for good or bad. Capitalism is just a force for ‘is’. It’s an efficient way of getting shit done. The ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depends on what people demand of it. And our role as advertisers is to create consumer demand. It’s our choice.

Jr: So I guess what you’re saying is, as a junior, even though you probably can’t influence change until you’re in a room with a decision-maker, you can be educated on what is happening and who the companies are that are implementing these ‘good’ forces of capitalism.

D: Yes. But really, I would just say have standards — with everything. Because every company has the potential to be good. Every person has the potential to be good. You look around this bar, some of these people are really nice people, some of these people are not nice people. They all have the potential to be either. And we as communicators, we as cultural artists, we as people that create feelings and emotions with our work, when we’re doing advertising, we’re creating desire. We’re creating emotion for our clients. We can steer that for good. Even in subtle ways.

There was a project I did for Intel, with Venables, Bell & Partners (http://www NULL.venablesbell NULL.com/). When I got there, they had already sold the strategy of ‘Sponsors of Tomorrow’. That was done. The TV and print had sold, they were already working on pre-production, that was done. They needed me to work on the interactive and launch. The idea was, we asked people what they want from the future. “What do you hope for in the future.” So you could go to the website, and you could say, “In the future I want…” You could answer that. You’d type that in. In Times Square, on crazy LED billboards, you could go and see a little guy dance, and see, “In the future I want blah blah blah. What do you want? Text it to this number.” You could text what you wanted out of the future. What do you think people texted?

Jr: World peace?

D: Ha, there was a lot of that stuff. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there was like, “I want a girlfriend,” or, “I want a computer that’s super fast.” There was stuff like that. But a very large percentage was humanitarian. People have a hope deep down inside, people want shit to be better. If people didn’t have that we wouldn’t have gotten to this civilisation where you and I can go into this bar and talk to some dude, he’ll bring us a bunch of alcohol, while assuming that we’re going to be good enough to pay and not run out. Girls can come in and we can talk to them, and they’re not going to think we’re going to club them over the head and drag them back to our cave, right? I don’t believe that people are inherently good or bad, but I think we want good.

Jr: Everybody wants good. Even the bums. *Hiccup*

D: Even the bums. And if we tie this back to the Obama campaign, what that guy did was appeal to the best of us. He appealed to the best of our nature and it fucking worked.

Jr: Absolutely. I completely agree with that.

D: And it bums me out that we’re in this weird hangover right now as a world.

Jr: What do you mean?

D: Don’t you feel like we’re all in a giant hangover where we all had this big high and hope and now everybody is like, “Oh, shit’s still kinda fucked up.”

Jr: Yeah but we’re all just seeing what happens. Maybe the first year is recognizing the problems, the second year is fixing the problems, and the third year is changing the world.

D: I don’t think it’s like that. I think it’s much faster and more delayed. We did a lot of stuff really fast. We’re starting to see the early indicators of economic recovery. But it hasn’t hit the average person yet. The haemorrhaging is stopping. We haven’t started to heal yet. But the haemorrhaging is stopping. I’m freelancing at a lot of agencies in midtown now, and there’s a lot of empty offices. Empty offices everywhere.

Jr: Wow. You know, Australia is technically not in recession.

D: Really?

Jr: One of the only countries in the world.

D: Why is that?

Jr: Well it’s seen a downturn, but not into negative national GDP. That’s not the reason but that’s the evidence.

D: That’s good.

Jr: Yeah, I mean, doesn’t mean that a lot of people haven’t lost their jobs.

D: Well you still drive those stupid cars — the GM ones…

Jr: What stupid cars? You mean Holdens?

D: Yeah Holdens! You still drive those big stupid Holden SS Utes. You gotta change that shit.

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 08/12/2009