Q&A with Ant Melder, ECD Host/Havas
Are you confident about finding a bad ad and reworking it, to make a better one for the same product? That's what Module 2 of the AWARD School Application Workshop requires from its participants. Sydneysiders have a little while to ponder their registration for the full day event, but to help you decide we caught up with presenter for the module, Ant Melder, executive creative director, Host/Havas and asked him a few questions about what informed his decision to consider commercial creativity as a career, who he has looked up into the industry and asked him for the highlight campaign of his career to-date and why it was so full of impact.
TCC: Can you outline your career trajectory/path from where you began to where you are now?
AM: Education wasn’t for me and I left school at 16. I got a job as a studio junior/tea-maker/general dogsbody at a design agency. Which was fun but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. Someone suggested the D&AD Workshop (the UK version of AWARD School) - I did that and fell in love with ideas. From there I worked at a series of agencies in London, including Saatchi & Saatchi, M&C Saatchi and Iris. In Sydney I’ve been CD at M&C Saatchi, Creative Partner at DDB and now I’m joint-ECD at Host/Havas.
TCC: Name some of the turning points for you in your career?
AM: Reading Allen Ginsberg’s poem ‘Howl’ at the age of 16 and being blown away by the visceral power of words on a page.
In my early 20s, I saw an ad for Pepe Jeans in The Face magazine. A picture of a man mowing his neat suburban lawn was untidily positioned in the middle of a scratchy blood red background. Inside a yellow panel, uneven type said, ‘CUT THIS OUT AND STICK IT UP YOUR ARSE’ with a Pepe logo below. The attitude of the words and art direction blew me away. And I was inspired by the idea of forcing the brand into a brutally created punk-esque generation gap.
A meeting with Dave Trott in my late 20s. He was so generous with his time and taught me so much. I came away buzzing on the possibilities of a life devoted to commercial creativity.
Seeing Bruce Springsteen live in New Jersey in 2005. The Boss’s ability to mould words and ideas into a platform to communicate deeply with a massive spectrum of people has always been and remains a huge inspiration.
Arriving in Australia in 2012 and seeing cigarettes sold in ‘plain’ packaging covered with health warnings. Reminded me that great ideas aren’t always ads and reaffirmed my belief in the power of ideas to change the world.
TCC: What is the biggest campaign of your career and why?
AM: At M&C Saatchi, I made Game of Balls, a life-saving porn movie. Working with the testicular cancer charity The Blue Ball Foundation, we learned that testicular cancer is the number 1 cancer in young men with many of them dying from the disease. However, with early detection, it’s 97% curable. So we needed to tell young men to check themselves - and show them how. We did this by addressing them at the right time, in the perfect context – through the world’s first porn movie interrupted by a public health message.
We partnered with Digital Playground, one of the biggest adult film studios, to be part of their biggest release of the year, a tribute to the world’s biggest TV show. In the middle of the action, porn star Eva Lovia stopped, turned to the viewer, and taught him how to check himself – demonstrating on her co-star’s privates.
We then directed men to the Blue Ball Foundation, to find out more. Our message spread organically across the net, with views reaching 18+ million and counting. The campaign inspired countless self-checks and visits to the doctor. It won a tonne of awards, and is still one of the most-watched films on the 'pornweb' and, most importantly, it’s still saving lives, the world over.
TCC: What motivates you in the industry today?
AM: I love working with passionate, hard-working young teams. I get a kick out of helping them develop their ideas and execute them to their full potential.
And I’m really excited about the combination of ideas and technology. Creating work just to plug media holes with ‘content’ doesn’t interest me. In a world where people actively try to avoid advertising, I’m passionate about creating work that adds something to people’s lives. By giving them something useful, beautiful, inspiring, fun or entertaining.
TCC: What motivated you in the early part of your career?
AM: I wanted to make a life and a career out of using my mind. I tried writing stories and novels but that’s a very solitary life and I love collaboration. Especially with smart, fun people.
I studied every D&AD annual I could get my hands on and learned the ads by heart. The Copy Book was my bible and Randall Rothenberg’s Where The Suckers Moon made a career in advertising seem so exciting.
I was inspired by great work like The Economist, Tango, Playstation ‘Double Life’. Tony Kaye’s ads, Tim Riley’s work, Neil French’s writing. Everything HHCL did in the 90s seemed to be a breakthrough. Blackcurrant Tango ‘St George’ blew my mind.
Like these creative and agencies, I wanted to do work that was inspiring, challenging and irreverent - work that my mates down the pub would talk about, that kids in playgrounds would quote.
TCC: What advice did you receive that has helped you get this far?
AM: One of my first CDs, Siimon Reynolds, said to me, “Make your future bigger than your past by seeking growth rather than applause.”
And I’ve been lucky to have been coached by the legendary Dave Trott over the years. The key thing he taught me years ago is that energy always overrides talent. All the talent in the world is nothing without application. While a little talent will go a looooong way with the right attitude and relentless energy.
TCC: Any advice for aspiring creatives/copywriters who are contemplating AWARD School?
AM: This course can change your life but you’ll only get out what you put in. The demands made on your time, energy and headspace will, at times, seem unreasonable. But the best way to succeed at AWARD School – and in the advertising industry – is to be a bit unreasonable.
And, when you’re working on ideas, bear this in mind: 4% all advertising is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively, and 88% isn’t noticed or remembered. Which makes 88% of the work we create in this industry a complete waste of time and money. Your task when you get a job – and even more so at this start point of your career – is do things that stand out. ‘On-brief’ is good; ‘good’ is fine; but what you should be aiming for is to make your ideas outrageously bold and totally un-fucking-ignorable.
Learn more from Ant, at the Sydney AWARD School Application Workshop, designed to help you nail your application for the 2018 intake of AWARD School when it takes place on December 2, register now.