The Geometry Global Chief Creative Officer on straddling entertainment and advertising, the ‘punk’ of digital and his Mad Men namesake
For a man who got into advertising with ‘no grand plan’, Jon Hamm has found himself at a very interesting nexus. As someone who got his start at RSA and still produces TV series and movies he’s got a unique and very well-informed perspective on branded entertainment. He set up his own digital agency in the late nineties and was able to learn and grow as the discipline blossomed. And now he’s the Global Chief Creative Officer at Geometry Global, an agency that puts behaviour and effectiveness at its heart. So, given the changes happening in the industry, he’s in a position to pull all of these threads together.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Jon to find out more.
LBB> You studied philosophy and law before getting into advertising – fairly unusual for a CCO! Do you think that background/experience ever comes into play in your job?
JH> Philosophy is all about the pursuit of ideas and law is about presenting ideas in a compelling way, so yes, I think they have been very useful. Also more than ever we need diverse creative people coming into the industry, so hopefully I’m proof of that.
LBB> When and why did you decide that you wanted to get into advertising?
JH> I never consciously decided to go into advertising. The truth is I started a digital agency in 1999 because I was fascinated by what the technology was going to do to the entertainment business and thought that it would be the “punk” music of my generation. There was no grand plan, just a passion and stupidity / bravery to try new things, after that the work we were doing got noticed by brands like PlayStation and Nestle and I sort of evolved from there.
LBB> Since taking over the CCO role in 2014, how has Geometry evolved?
JH> What I love about Geometry is that this is a company without a past. Everyone one of us who works here now is the first generation of the company. The destination of the company, the journey it goes on is in our hands. So as a result it’s evolving and changing all the time. However today there is a much greater focus on a creative culture and a more clearly defined vision of what we want to creative product to be. Obviously with so many offices, it is fair to say that they are all at a different stage of the journey… but we are now on the same journey.
LBB> Since Geometry formed, the industry really has changed and ‘activation’ has become more central in people’s thinking (perhaps in terms of behaviour change or effectiveness). What are your thoughts about that?
JH> For me it’s pretty simple, the things that activation loves…understanding of journeys, the power of moments, behaviour change, driving conversion and action these are the things that are central to a modern client’s communications strategy. Add to that, activation agencies natural skill at creating ideas that put people first and it’s easy to see why activation is so important in the modern world.
LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about the industry right now?
JH> I know it’s a well-trodden answer but I honestly think that it’s the diversity of the creative output. We have a global platform called Mona Lisa, which we use to create communities around ideas, so that they can get tested, prototyped and developed and every time we do a round I see ideas that include product design, IOT, packaging innovation, multiplatform content, technology platforms, apps, stunts, promotions, sponsorship, media platforms and everything in between. It’s pretty inspiring.
LBB> And the most frustrating?
JH> Seeing briefs that brief a channel or discipline rather than a problem or a behaviour to change.
LBB> In terms of recent work, what projects have you really enjoyed see come to life?
JH> Knowing how hard it is for ideas to come to life I have to say I love it when any idea becomes real. However if pushed, I think the work we did in Hong Kong and Colombia, focusing on changing behaviour, in relation to the illicit trade in endangered animal products for the sex industry, is amazing.
LBB> When I think Geometry, I guess I always think of the Colombia office, particularly with all the Lionfish work over the years. What do you think makes that country so strong?
JH> Same thing that makes any office great... a real partnership and shared vision between creative, strategy and leadership. You can have the best of any of these parts but without them all working together to achieve great work it’s nearly impossible to be successful.
LBB> Geometry is a network that really does have strong offices all over the world – which offices are really exciting you at the moment?
JH> That’s a bit like asking me to choose my favourite child… But if I’m forced to… I’d say that in Japan, Korea, London, Dubai and Rio there is something really exciting happening.
LBB> So outside of advertising you’ve also got Greenroom Entertainment, producing film and TV. How did you get into that area?
JH> It’s actually where I started. My first job was working for Ridley Scott’s company and it went from there. We set up Greenroom Entertainment as part of my original digital agency, we always wanted to have a division that developed our own IP in addition to creating work for clients.
LBB> Greenroom has produced a major TV series in Rogue, and films like Killing Bono… how do you decide what projects to get involved in?
JH> If we can raise the money for a project that we love. We will do it. Money is always the major deciding factor.
LBB> Why is it important for you to have this other outlet?
JH> The entertainment industry understands how to create compelling experiences in a way that the advertising industry is yet to fully embrace. Staying connected to it reminds me of that everyday.
LBB> As branded entertainment/content grows, you’re in an interesting position as you understand brands and advertising AND the entertainment world. What do brands and adland need to learn from the entertainment world if they’re to make successful branded content?
JH> I was recently judging the branded content category for the Clios. We felt strongly that for branded content to succeed agencies need to realise that they are competing for people’s attention against all other forms of entertainment, not just other forms of advertising. It might sound simplistic, but understanding that people don’t distinguish between branded and non-branded content, they just want to be engaged or entertained is the most important learning the branded content industry needs to embrace. In addition the explosion in new forms of entertainment present amazing opportunities, we recently partnered with a company that produces sensory VR, the branded content opportunity is mind-blowing.
LBB> And when it comes to the film and TV that you enjoy, what floats your boat?
JH> I just watched the Ozarks. Anything full of atmosphere and character get’s me. I love TV. I am definitely of the TV generation.
LBB> What do you do to refuel creatively?
JH> I’m trying to be a cook, I follow Chelsea FC and play with my kids. Anything that stops me from turning over ideas in my mind.
LBB> I’m sure you get sick of this, but I’d be a terrible journalist *not* to ask… what’s it like working in advertising and sharing a name with the (actor behind) the world’s most famous fictional ad man?
JH> Ha.ha. I don’t mind. To be honest it screwed up my google ranking but the upside was when I was living in NYC it did mean I got a lot of great tables in restaurants. Even if they did move me when they realised it was the other Jon Hamm.
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