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5 Minutes with… Matt Swinburne


Colenso BBDO’s group creative director talks to Esther Faith Lew about how his crush with the agency led him back to New Zealand

5 Minutes with… Matt Swinburne

Matt Swinburne has had a crush on Colenso BBDO for the longest time, and it certainly seems like destiny to finally join the agency in November last year. Having garnered global experience in Sydney, London and New York, it’s a new stage of his career that sees him making a creative impact in his native New Zealand. 

His work has taken him around the world, but Matt has also always loved that creative briefs take him places – intellectually. “One week you’re learning all about renewable energy, and the next you’re becoming an expert on cocoa farming in West Africa. And then suddenly you have an opportunity to make a difference in those worlds.”

All it took to get Matt started on this journey was to have a university tutor tell him he wasn’t going to be good in advertising as a career. “My mind was instantly made up,” says Matt, and that speaks volumes about the conviction he has in his craft. No surprise then that he has made his way to his first love.

“Since ad school I’ve always loved the work out of College Hill [Colenso’s home]. I love being surprised and entertained, and they’ve always done it better than most. I’m pretty smitten now I’m in the building. There’s something in the water (or the carpet) here. I think it’s a shared ambition to do exciting work, have fun doing it, and to take care of each other along the way. The culture is also brilliantly led by the bosses,” says Matt.

Together with group CD Duncan Bone, Matt adds to the creative firepower headed by CCO Simon Vicars, who has said that Matt is a “fantastic human to have around”, not to mention his work has given Simon the “jealous sweats”. Matt’s repartee to that? “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Si sweat. I sometimes think he might be a cyborg sent from the future to dominate advertising.” 

The ‘jealousy’, if we can call it that, is mutual. 

LBB> So, what makes you jealous of Colenso’s work and why?

Matt> Where do I start? I love the way they uncover a gem of a truth or insight and then bring it to life in an unexpected, and often very entertaining way. They make work that competes with culture, and adds to it, which is no easy task. Their level of craft helps with this too, elevating work so it doesn’t feel like typical marketing. 

LBB> What is a successful campaign to you?

Matt> Something that people actually want to be a part of, and that leaves an impression. When your cab driver brings up your work, or someone makes a T-shirt with your idea on it, that’s success. 

There’s a tendency to focus on short-term results these days because everything is so measurable, but the real value we can create is building long-lasting relationships with consumers.

LBB> What are the campaigns that were memorable to you in terms of pushing creative boundaries and setting benchmarks?

Matt> My favourite campaigns are the ones where people said “Can we even do that” when they first heard the idea. Ideas like blowing up a car with 10 grenades to demo the force in a high-speed crash, stranding a group of people in the ocean (including me) and challenging the country to find us in a live online search simulator, or opening an art gallery during lock down when it was illegal. That type of creativity punches above its weight by creating shared experiences that people talk about and write stories about.

LBB> They sound like ‘mission impossible’ experiences. What did you have to do?

Matt> I do love the challenge of doing something that hasn’t been done before. For instance, when I blew up a car for a road safety campaign by the Rodney District Council, my creative partner and I had to play mathematician, figuring out the right amount explosives, and then we lived in a gallery for a week stringing up all the pieces to create the installation.

In another campaign for the New Zealand Coastguard, we clung to a capsized boat off the coast of New Zealand for a few hours while our live GPS coordinates were fed into an online rescue simulation where people could try to find us. No one did and it showed how hard life is for our coast guard.

The art gallery idea was also one of my favourites. Our client Bombay Sapphire Gin believed that like food, creativity was essential during lock-down. Galleries were shut. Supermarkets were opened. So we turned a gallery into a supermarket so it could open. We collaborated with artists to create works of art on the packaging of household foods like baked beans and pasta. It was a logistical nightmare, but worth it.

LBB> In your opinion, what is the trickiest thing about approaching a creative brief? How have those briefs changed and evolved for you?

Matt> The media landscape has been blown apart. As an old man, I make a conscious effort to stay up to speed with new platforms and technologies to make sure I can connect with any audience a brief serves up. At the same time, the power of ideas and storytelling hasn’t changed. We’re just finding new ways to tell them.

LBB> What’s the “creative arsenal” that a creative should be armed with in order to meet new shifts in client demands?

Matt> I think creatives need to be more versatile than ever. We need to be able to think and execute in many spaces. Not just because of the media landscape, but also because agencies need to be thinking about their client’s entire business, and how they can add value anywhere.

LBB> More importantly, how do you see consumer demands shifting and how will that influence the way you approach a campaign?

Matt> I saw a stat in a deck once that if 75% of the world’s brands disappeared tomorrow no consumer would give a rats. Your brand needs to matter to make consumers care. They expect you to be sustainable, ethical, charitable, useful, and entertaining. And your marketing is competing with culture. It needs to earn your time like your favourite app does or stop you in your tracks like that Labradoodle singing Celine Dion does. 

LBB> What’s on your dream list of projects that you would like to work on?

Matt> I had what I thought was a dream project. I’m a big cricket fan and I was pitching for the Cricket World Cup campaign, with the pitch meeting in the Lords press box overlooking the famous ground. It wasn’t my best work. I was too close to the subject and didn’t have a unique take on it.

I think almost any brief has the potential to become a dream project, and sometimes it’s the ones you least suspect that become something amazing.

LBB> What does your crystal ball say about 2023 and what you’ll be facing?

Matt> Everyone is feeling the pinch at the moment and all the talk is about how the economy will affect the industry. I think the agencies that stick to their creative guns will come out on top. Creativity is an economic multiplier, and it will be needed more than ever.

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Colenso BBDO, Wed, 08 Feb 2023 04:06:59 GMT