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Creative Is Native: The Power of Ireland’s “No Notions” Culture


Droga5 Dublin creative director Alex Ingarfield on turning down London in favour of Dublin, parallels between South Africa and Ireland and why a gut reaction is so valuable

Creative Is Native: The Power of Ireland’s “No Notions” Culture

Until 2018 Alex Ingarfield had spent her whole life in Cape Town, South Africa. With English and Irish parents, it was around that time that she considered moving abroad and London seemed the obvious city to be calling her to continue her creative advertising journey in. But as it turned out, it was her Irish side that she ended up reconnecting with, moving to Dublin where she now is a creative director at Droga5 Dublin, part of Accenture Song.

“Alex moved to Ireland from South Africa five years and her diverse and international experience brings a fresh perspective in her creativity which comes through in her work for her clients’ brands,” says Charley Stoney, CEO, IAPI. “She is not just a strong creative leader but also a close mentor to her peers at Droga5.  She was one of the recipients of IAPI’s 2021 Female Futures Fund programme and it’s been incredible to see her growth in this industry over the past few years.”

LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to her about the work that built her career, why a more progressive society is good for creativity and the different reasons that clients come to Droga5 Dublin for.

LBB> How did you end up in an advertising career?

Alex> I wish I could say I always knew it was what I wanted to do, but that wasn’t the case. I was a confused 20-something with an impractical undergraduate degree in history and sociology, thinking about maybe doing architecture or law next. A family friend, knowing me better than I knew myself, told me to look into copywriting. It looked fun and creative, but then so did architecture. So, I ended up tossing a coin, literally, and I started at FCB Cape Town in 2010. It’s been 13 years and I’m pretty glad that coin landed on tails.

LBB> What have been the most important projects you've worked on in shaping what you do and why?

Alex> There’s no one project, rather a series of projects that have helped me discover more about myself. What unites those projects is that they were all challenging. You know the unwieldy, brain-scrambling jobs that have you thinking “I have no idea what I’m doing here?!” That type of work is the most rewarding and confidence building. It’s made me discover that I love every day being different with a new sticky problem to solve. And no matter how experienced you get, something will come along and remind you that you’ve a way to go.

LBB> What drew you to Ireland and Droga5 Dublin (then Rothco) in 2018?

Alex> Besides [chief creative officer] Al Kelly’s incredible charm? I was looking for a job in London, and one of the recruiters I was chatting to had a role at Rothco. And it was the perfect role for me. Plus, it was at an incredibly ambitious agency, who had just released ‘JFK Unsilenced’ for The Times, with a client roster that excited me. My mom is Irish, so Dublin has always been on my radar. And the more I looked into Ireland, the more it made sense. So, I turned down the London gig and booked myself, my husband, dog and cat a ticket here.

LBB> Ireland's been through a period of radical change in the past decade, with the two historic referendums and the campaigns around them being an obvious manifestation of this. From an outsider's perspective, how do you think that generational shift has impacted the country's creativity?

Alex> I wasn’t here for the referendums, but I do know that change and upheaval breeds creativity. South Africa is all change and turbulence all the time, and as a result, its people are resilient and creative out of necessity. Ireland has also seen incredible change since the conservatism of the ‘90s, becoming a more progressive society. I think that openness in culture makes people freer to express themselves, allows different voices to be heard and the creativity is better for it.

LBB> Are there any fundamental aspects of Irish culture that you think affect the way creativity is done there?

Alex> Everyone will say storytelling because it’s true… But what I love is that Irish people don’t take themselves too seriously. This “no notions” culture has created a creative space that’s less egotistical. A good idea can come from anywhere. 

LBB> I loved your recent work for Aer Lingus. So human. What was the key to getting that project right?

Alex> Our ECD, Jen Speirs, has this thing where she “calls out” work that is too adland or stretches reality too far. When we landed on the creative platform “to become the world’s most empathetic airline”, we knew we had to keep ourselves in check to make something truly human. We ended up with a very simple story and knew if the casting and performances weren’t perfect – there was nowhere for us to hide. I thank my lucky stars we had Elle Ginter directing. She was so on board with our vision and is phenomenal with performance and kids. A lot of what made it into the film happened when the two-year-old thought we weren’t filming.  

LBB> What else are you most proud of recently and why?

Alex> My first job as a creative director was a campaign for Accenture Song about having your period at work. The gang on it was hugely passionate and crafted every little thing to make the work irreverent and impactful. I’m so proud and incredibly grateful for all of them. It gave me the confidence boost I needed as a newly promoted CD, and changed our Song UKI office culture for the better.

I am also incredibly proud of the body of work I have built with AIB over the years, and our client’s love of strong creative, craft and music. It shows in the work, and it’s all thanks to mutual respect and trust.  

LBB> What do you think is most interesting about Droga5 Dublin as an agency right now?

Alex> Clients are working with us in different ways. Some are simply here for a global brand strategy (haha - I say “simply”), others want to talk to us about innovation and some need creative platforms or our stellar production teams. The talent is diverse and when the different skillsets collide, the work gets more interesting. Droga5 Dublin’s best work is always ahead of us, making it a very exciting place to work.

LBB> What are you most hoping to see changing in the Irish ad industry in the coming months and years?

Alex> I want the industry to regain some of its chutzpah. At times, we’re overly reliant on performance marketing, research and a style of work that’s been done before. I want us to get back to our gut reaction – when you first saw or heard that work, how did it make you feel? That’s how consumers experience our work, and I think we need to trust our guts more.

LBB> Finally, what's inspiring you in culture or society at the moment? 

Alex> My constant source of inspiration is the podcast ‘99% Invisible’. I love discovering more about the world around us, and the objects we take for granted in design and architecture. Plus, Roman Mars’ voice is silk.

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The Institute Of Advertising Practitioners In Ireland, Mon, 06 Mar 2023 16:07:32 GMT