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Creativity Squared: Why a Good Strategy Is Imperative with Dez Marzette


TBWA\Chiat\Day LA's executive creative director on judging advertising on efficacy, having a curious personality and how hip hop exposed him to storytelling

Creativity Squared: Why a Good Strategy Is Imperative with Dez Marzette

Desmond Marzette is a creative advertising executive with two decades experience working with the biggest brands and entertainment figures in the industry and the culture. 

His academic and professional career has been driven by the study, translation, creation and commercial use of pop culture. He taught UC Berkeley's first ever course in Hip Hop Studies, while simultaneously studying African American Pop Culture Studies as an undergrad. After working as a music researcher and show producer at some of the most popular radio stations in the country, Desmond became a founding member of the Def Jam Mobile executive team in 2000.

Since then, Dez has been recruited by world-class agencies like Wieden+Kennedy and Creative Artist Agency where he collaborated with and lead creative teams on brands like Nike, Old Spice, Target, Coke, Beats by Dre, 2K Sports, Champs Sports, Foot Locker, Li-Ning, HBO, and many more. Dez is also very proud of the Strategic and Personal Brand planning he’s done for talent like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and others. 

As executive creative director of Chiat/Day LA’s Sports and Lifestyle group, Dez is continuing his mission to create Positive (Branded) Pop Propaganda: pop culture content that ripples the zeitgeist, creates positive impact, and inspires audiences to be their best selves.


I would describe my personality as curious and maybe a little bit mischievous; two qualities that I believe are very useful in advertising. Curiosity works particularly well here at Chiat\Day LA because of the expanded canvas of disciplines, tools, and expertise at our disposal. If my creative team is curious about AI, as an example, we can tap into our Backslash team to not only discuss, but experiment and learn. Chiat\Day LA’s expanded canvas is the perfect tool kit for the curious creative. 

Mischief is playful trouble or rebelliousness, and I have always loved advertising in that tone. Nike’s 'Freestyle' had a mischievous spirit when it dropped. All the Sprite ads in the 90s. Anything from Apple. Fun, but daring, you know? Something that feels counterculture. 

Funny enough, as a gamer since I was a very young kid, I’ve always found similarities in my life and my favourite video games. Each year of life feels like a new level, with a new 'challenge' to defeat, and a new skill to learn and take on your next adventure - new 'achievements' to obtain, new teammates to make and compete with. Only so many 'hearts' or lives to lose, so the stakes are high at times, but the losses are necessary. I could go on and on, but generally this outlook on life keeps things positive (which is hard nowadays), and always with forward momentum, and that’s where that curiosity comes back in again. 

We all are creative in unique ways. But, professional creativity, in our industry, is a direct result of what you are exposed to. As an executive creative director (ECD), I understand that part of my role is ensuring my teams are being exposed to voices, experiences, and stimuli that may not be on their radar. The more theory and execution that can be called upon, the more the work can be tied to something real - something deeper than conversations born in concepting sessions. Something truly cultural. 

One recent example: I have a good friend, Khalil Kinsey, whose family owns the largest collection of Black art and historical artefacts. A small portion of the collection is currently at display at the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. Khalil and I held a discussion at the agency on the untold legacies in the Black American experience through the lens of history and art. We gifted our creatives with The Kinsey Collection book in hopes that the experiences, history, art, and stories within it can inspire a way to make our work just a little bit better. 

When it comes to whether I am an introvert or an extrovert, extrovert may be a strong word, but I certainly have learned not to shrink myself in work environments. As a Black creative, my journey in the industry has forced me to work on my self confidence in boardrooms, and to work on being more extroverted. As I’ve gotten older, and especially as I’ve become an ECD, I’ve realised that much of my role is now relationship-based. Being extroverted in this professional sense means building, maintaining, and nurturing relationships, with clients and with the team here at the agency. 

Good creative is a result of trust, understanding, empathy and vision. And it is IMPOSSIBLE to build those things with your teams and clients without a concerted effort to be aware of their lives, experiences, and needs. So, I’m conscious of being more accessible, and to build relationships with my colleagues that go beyond the office. 

I don't do well with routine, considering how strong my sense of curiosity is. I find myself going deep into rabbit holes of research and inspiration, and routine doesn’t leave much time for exploration. Planned exploration time is less effective.

That said, I can recognise the benefits it provides for many others in our industry. Some need structure to be able to juggle the many responsibilities that fall on each role on our teams. 


I judge art on creativity, but ultimately judge advertising on efficacy. Do I remember what the ad was for? Did it make sense? If it’s simply entertaining, but not making me curious about the product, it’s not a good ad. It may be a funny joke, but not a good ad. 

There are also so many types of creative, even in advertising. My favourite criteria of advertising creative is to ask, “Is it simple, clear, and sticky (or memorable)?” 



I, and most creatives in advertising I believe, are constantly finding inspiration and reference for future work. My Notes app on my iPhone is full of thought starters, questions, prompts and random inspiration from life. Much of it stays in the Notes app, because it’s not about forcing anything into a brief response, but more about having fresh (and maybe unexpected) reference to push off. 

There is no question, my preference is to work collaboratively across disciplines in our business. I treasure the collaboration with planners, especially. Good strategy is imperative to a good brief response, and working with the strategists to identify a tension or unexpected insight is a great start to developing disruptive creative work. 

The push and pull, and the healthy debates, are the most enjoyable parts of the process to me: figuring out the WHY. And the best WHYs are discovered through debate, informed by practical and cultural stimulus.  


I grew up in Inglewood and Mid-City Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s, and I know for a fact that my infatuation for Hip Hop and Pop Culture sowed the seeds for my creativity. Hip Hop exposed me to storytelling and creative writing - it exposed me to the possibilities of creative touching the world in an impactful way. Honestly, seeing the culture of my community reach the global stage inspired me to feel confident to believe that my voice could do the same. 

Being obsessed with the ‘making of’ for anything from music videos to films, to commercials created a path for me to have a career in a creative industry. I always found myself breaking down WHY I liked a film, song or commercial, and would consider the elements of the creative that affected me. I became obsessed with writing and writers, especially MCs. 

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TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, Thu, 11 May 2023 09:50:28 GMT