New Talent: Mariam Guessous
Mariam Guessous was born and raised in Morocco, attended university in Texas and now lives in New York. She speaks ‘four-and-a-half’ languages and thrives on immersing herself into different cultures. And it’s that understanding of different people and their beliefs that fuels her creative thinking. She’s an extracurricular fiend and is always juggling work as an art director at Launchpad with her own side projects and her entrepreneurial journey. This week she told LBB’s Addison Capper how and why she reminded New Yorkers how lucky they are and why the city leaves her broke a lot of the time.
LBB> You were born in Morocco, went to university in Texas. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
MG> I was born in Marrakech and lived there until I was 18. After graduating high school, I was about to move to Casablanca to study at a small advertising school there. My parents were freaked out about the idea of having me living alone in another city, so they insisted that I go study in Texas since my sister was already studying there. So I went. But little did they know that my sister would move back to Morocco the following year and I would end up living by myself half way across the globe! Long story short, I stayed in the US and have made it my home ever since.
LBB> What kind of childhood did you have?
MG> I'm the youngest of four and I have a big family with a lot of aunts and cousins and we spent a lot of time together growing up. We had a garden at home and I used to wander about, pick plants and flowers and make art pieces out of them. My parents are both on the business side of things, so we didn’t grow up in a ‘creative’ environment per se. But they always encouraged us to be curious and try new things. We had a lot of freedom to choose our own path. I played sports, wrote short stories, made mixed tapes and daydreamed a lot. Truth is, I’m still an avid daydreamer.
LBB> You speak 'four and a half' languages - what are they? How do they influence your creative work?
MG> I speak English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Moroccan. Moroccan is a dialect so I call it half a language. Speaking many languages helps me understand different cultures and that influences my work. I get to draw inspiration from a variety of sources. This is especially important in our industry because we communicate with different groups of people. I feel like if you understand people’s cultures, you can actually talk to them instead of talking ‘advertising’ to them. Also, growing up in Morocco, I was exposed to many different cultures at a young age. People from all over the world visit Marrakech, and our media is truly diverse. We used to watch TV in three languages.
LBB> What led you to pursue art direction and advertising as a career?
MG> I always knew I was different from the rest of my family. ‘Left Brain’ thinking never really excited me. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t really know about advertising until I saw a movie when I was 15. The main character was a Creative Director and he was presenting ideas in one of the scenes. It was an ‘aha!’ moment. I knew right there and then that’s what I wanted to do.
LBB> You're an entrepreneur at heart - is launching your own business something you plan to do? Why is it important for you have extra projects outside of work?
MG> I think I will eventually launch my own business. I don’t know what it will be yet though. I tend to take opportunities as they come. I’m not a big planner. I thrive on spontaneity. If I see an opportunity, I go ahead and just do it. That’s why I have so many side projects! And it’s working out well for me. In this digital age, acting timely is crucial. I tell everyone around me: Don’t talk to me about your idea, show it to me. Let me experience it.
I love side projects, they let me experiment, make mistakes, and meet new interesting people. They also help me at work. Side projects are great exercise for your creative brain.
LBB> In your online portfolio, you say: "I prefer to have a dialogue with my audience instead of advertising to them." What exactly does that involve and why is it important to you?
MG> Sometimes advertising people, and I’m guilty of this too, forget that we’re ‘advertising’ to humans. We tend to use a lot of buzzwords like ‘target audience’ and ‘user’ but we can’t forget that our consumers are people, like us. If we spend time with these people and understand them like we do with our friends, our work will be better received. It’s important to me because I’m a consumer too, and I don’t like to be ‘advertised to’. I certainly don’t want my work to feel like that. This isn’t an easy thing to master and I have a long way to go, but I try to be mindful of that.
LBB> In '365 Days of The Empire State Building' you've really captured New York and its charm as a whole. What inspired the project and what were your aims with it?
MG> I love the Empire State Building. It’s very iconic and, to me, it represents the NYC dream. Every New Yorker has that moment when they’re running around town and they get a glimpse of the building and it makes them stop and smile for a second. The building almost reminds you everyday that you’re lucky to be living in this city. It reminds you of your NYC dream that led you to move here in the first place – and that keeps you going.
I wanted to capture that moment everyday and remind people that indeed, we are all lucky to be here.
LBB> Which other projects are you most proud of and why?
MG> I’m very proud of the feminism poster I made for the 3% Conference Contest. I really had no idea how much it would resonate with people. Honestly, I don’t know a lot about ‘feminism’, so at first I didn’t feel comfortable submitting anything because it’s such a touchy subject. Then I got curious. So I spent a lot of time researching by reading comments and debates in forums and blogs. I came up with the conclusion that the average person does not fully understand the meaning of feminism. So I decided to simply explain it so that people can make their own conclusions.
I’m also proud of the Jambu campaign I’m working on here at Launchpad. I loved seeing the transformation of the brand. I learned a lot along the way. I’m thankful that Launchpad gives me the space and the opportunity to grow. I get to interact a lot with clients and I’m encouraged to make a lot of decisions, and that helps me stay focused and strategic.
LBB> What else do you like to get up to outside of work?
MG> Side projects. Just kidding.
Here are my favorite things to do:
- Sleep: I can sleep without waking up for up to 15 hours.
- Eat: I’m a big foodie. Living in New York leaves me broke because the number of amazing restaurants in this town is insane.
- Dance: I used to dance ballet and modern dance in college. I can’t anymore because, just like advertising, dance demands a lot of your time. I love house music though, and I don’t miss the opportunity to go dancing every time my favorite DJs visit town.
- Talk to people: I’m very interested in people’s opinions and point of views. I find the way people think and process things fascinating. I appreciate people’s differences because it opens a whole new world – that’s exciting because it helps me get out of my comfort zone.