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Creativity Squared: Zack McDonald's Unapologetic Love for Creativity


CCO of B-Reel on why he couldn’t live without his Notes app and what he learned working at KesselsKramer

Creativity Squared: Zack McDonald's Unapologetic Love for Creativity

Zack McDonald is CCO of B-Reel and oversees the creative work across B-Reel’s offices in Stockholm and New York. 

With almost 20 years’ experience at some of the most renowned agencies in the world, including KesselsKramer and Anomaly in Amsterdam, McCann in New York, R/GA in Portland, Zack’s work for brands such as Converse, IKEA, Nike, H&M and The North Face has been honoured with numerous industry awards and featured in such publications as Fast Company, Wired, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The Economist and the BBC News. 

Recent work launched with B-Reel includes the new H&M Man brand campaign with Pete Davidson and the latest campaign from The North Face, “We Always Have Your Back.” 


I unapologetically love what I do and can’t really help but be loud and passionate about great ideas. Either I’m jumping up and down, riffing with the team and drawing some insane Beautiful Mind stuff on a whiteboard… or I’m not. I don’t really have a poker face.

I think everyone is born with a basic level of creativity. But to use it on a large scale or to attempt to earn a living with it, you need to constantly feed it and work it. If you go too many days without applying your creativity, I feel it starts to recede. Some of my friends in the industry think it’s completely insane that I can find myself, for example, still writing dozens and dozens of manifestos a few weeks out of every year. But I personally need that to keep myself sharp.  

I couldn’t live without my Notes app. I write more-or-less everything here. 

I used to be an extremely chaotic and all-over-the-place kind of person and creative. But over the years I’ve really come to embrace structure. For example, if you have a simple and pretty rigid creative process for getting from clear brief to killer idea, then the creatives actually have so much more freedom and focus to come up with greatness. The whole anything-goes, “let’s be loose” mentality is a bit of a myth, in my opinion. Even the most crazy creatives I’ve met (who are actually good) have some kind of routine and structure if you dig a little. 

The nice thing about working at an eclectic shop like B-Reel is that you never know what’s going to come in useful. I find it really fun to follow my own instincts and tastes, while also encouraging my creatives and strategists to do the same and then share with the rest of us. There’s so much weird and seemingly random inspiration that we find a home for in the work. 


Intuition is always the first factor that tells us if we’re onto something great. If it doesn’t create some kind of excitement in the gut, then it’s probably not right. There are of course other factors to weigh almost immediately — namely does the idea pay off what we’re trying to do or can it with some tweaks. Is it on-brief in some way, shape or form? I’d say the development of our work for 3 Mobile is a good example. The first time I saw the 3 Man (internally known as Toe Man) it felt oddly right. After the initial shock wore off, we realized that he was the one. 

Original sketch for “3 Man” and the final dude.

I never like to go too far back when it comes to the work. I feel like we’ve had a creatively strong year at B-Reel, and that makes me very proud. In addition to the 3 Mobile work, we’ve given an audiobook the blockbuster treatment (Storytel’s launch of 1984), turned a pretty terrible dresser into a fashion icon (H&M Man featuring Pete Davidson) and helped an iconic brand on their journey back from the streets to the mountains (The North Face global brand campaign). 

I’m excited about all the weird new tools popping up in the world of AI. Feels like a lot of fun opportunities will soon be presenting themselves to people willing to dive in. Let’s get weird. 




I’m a simple man. I love a clear brief paired with high ambition. 

Out of necessity, I spend so much time on screens and I don’t think that’s particularly helpful to the creative process. I try to actively push myself into more analog and tactile activities everyday. I might go for a walk with a CD to get updated on a project. Or fix a script while browsing my favorite record shop. I shoot film as much as I possibly can. I find that doing this makes me more open to ideas and to actually see the world through my own eyes instead of having an interface in between. 

Me being all analog.

When it comes to starting a project, I absolutely want to give every project all the hope and naivety that great work often requires. At the same time, I’m constantly feeding my brain books, music, memes, movies, comics, essays, etc. to create an ongoing simmering stew. Odds are that something I’m interested in or obsessed with at any given moment will probably find its way into one of the projects in the agency. Never forced. It just happens. 

When it comes to working, there are moments when the work requires solitude. Crafting a script or manifesto. Preparing mentally for an important meeting. But for almost every other moment, collaboration is key. Lucky for me, B-Reel is an extremely collaborative agency. Where every department is pulling toward making the best work we possibly can. I love that the people around me take me to places I would almost certainly never go without them. Feels both dangerous and comforting. 


I grew up in a small town in Kentucky. From a very early age I was obsessed with music, comics and especially movies. The closest cinema was an hour away, but my parents took me to see a movie nearly every weekend from age 4 to 16. They were quite liberal when it came to abiding by the rating system, which meant I got to see way more things than I should’ve. I think the first time I ever considered and was really impressed by dialogue was in the movie Bull Durham which a kid under 10 definitely shouldn’t have been watching. The singer-songwriter John Prine played a big role in our household. I’m still an avid listener and often look to his simple storytelling for inspiration. 

Everything I learned about advertising I learned from working at KesselsKramer. My then (and sometimes still) partner Ewoudt Boonstra gave me a master class in art direction. Dave Bell didn’t tell me but he showed me how to write for brands without sounding like a boring idiot. Angela Lidderdale and Erik Kessels taught me that if you have no opinion on design then you have no opinion on life. Matthijs de Jongh proved that a single one line truth is worth more than a thousand hundred page strategy decks. Engin Celikbas showed me how to find a way forward to greatness with a difficult client. Marla Ulrich demonstrated the attitude to turn almost nothing into a really big something. I could go on. 

I imagine the way I take in inspiration would seem pretty chaotic to someone on the outside. I’m often reading anywhere from 3 to 10 books simultaneously. Same goes for random podcast episodes. I also love to go through museum exhibitions the wrong way or start digging in the messiest corner of the record store. It feels like the randomness really does something for me… but, then again, maybe I’m just a lunatic. 

My current nightstand stack

Have a clear problem to solve, but be as open as possible on how to solve it. A great agency will give you the solution you could never have imagined. Then bring the tension and ambition that is required to make it an epic success for all. If all else fails with your current agency, feel free to give me and the team a call.  

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B-Reel, Mon, 06 Mar 2023 14:07:00 GMT