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Kevin McKeon

Partner & Chief Creative Officer / StrawberryFrog

 

Kevin talks about his background: "Over the course of my rather extensive career, I’ve worked my way up through the best agencies in New York, have been privileged enough to work for and later with some of the smartest, most creative people in marketing, and have won more than my fair share of industry awards. 

Over the past ten years, as ECD at BBH/New York and now as Partner and CCO of StrawberryFrog, I’ve been successfully building agencies, winning new business, managing global accounts, shaping creative departments, and continuing to win awards for the work we create.

After my first year at BBH, we were named Adweek’s East Coast Agency of the Year. During that time and over the next two years, I launched an award-winning campaign for Axe Deodorant (and changed the way American teenagers view basic hygiene); I introduced notable new campaigns for Levis, Rolling Stone and ING Direct’s Orange Savings Account; and I crafted the iconic Johnnie Walker “Striding Man”campaign.

At StrawberryFrog, I joined a virtual start-up agency working on a handful of small projects. As of this writing, we’re a thriving, innovative, and award-winning agency with a staff of 60, working across every discipline, for clients like Jim Beam, Pampers, Sabra Dips, Emirates Airlines, LG, New Balance, Ecco Domani Wines, and the non-profit Nanhi Kali, for which we’ve been honored at both The One Show and Cannes. Other clients at StrawberryFrog have included Microsoft, Blackberry, Heineken, Smart Car, and Sam’s Club.

Previous agencies where I’ve served as a Creative Director: Lowe/NY; BBDO; Ammirati & Puris; Scali, McCabe, Sloves.

Over the course of my career, I imagine I’ve encountered every challenge and solved every problem a client or the marketplace can throw at me. I’ve succeeded across virtually every category - from technology to snack foods, from airlines to running shoes, from booze to banks, from diapers to deodorants. I've worked with clients in the US, Canada, UK, Dubai, Mumbai, Korea, Brazil and Georgia (the country, not the state).

I launched a Heineken campaign across more than 65 countries, and am currently leading a multi-platform global campaign to redefine Emirates Airlines.

I've launched new brands in new marketplaces (Virgin Atlantic and Axe, for example, in the U.S). I've re-launched brands and returned them to relevance (Jim Beam just recorded its first sales growth this year, after two decades of steady decline in the U.S.). And my work has won major industry awards across all categories - television, print, digital, and social media, for brands like Scion, Smart, Jim Beam, Nanhi Kali, Virgin, Schweppes, Xerox, Axe, and Rolling Stone.

I’ve judged most major award shows, chaired the ADC Show, been on the boards of The Art Directors Club and The One Club, and have taught at The School of Visual Arts.

I’ve successfully done the big agency thing, the small agency thing, the start-up thing; and loved them all for different reasons."

Kevin answered a few of our questions: 

How did you get into the business?

I was studying graphic design at The School of Visual Arts, and took a Copywriting course, more out of curiosity than anything, really.  But I absolutely loved it, and decided then to switch over to an advertising program. I spent that summer working like mad to get a portfolio together, and the first agency I showed it to, I was hired. It wasn’t a great shop, but I had my start.

How would you describe its evolution for the past 25 years?

You could write a whole book answering this question, but I’ll try to summarize. When I came into the business, it was a pretty simple (though by no means easy) creative process. You figured out what a product did, and then you banged your head against the wall trying to find the most creative way to express it. Tv, print, radio, outdoor. In a way, it was pretty limiting and repetitive. That was part of the challenge, and part of what made it so satisfying when you made a breakthrough tv or print ad. Then came planning, and things started to get a bit more complex and interesting, as agencies started to really think more about consumer behavior and their relationships to brands. Then the media channels opened up, guerilla marketing, live experiences, street theater – which created all kinds of new creative possibilities. Then technology - digital, social, mobile– redefined what it meant to be creative. You had to be smart, multitalented, technologically savvy, and relentlessly up to date on culture, innovation… and, by the way, still have the creative chops to plug original ideas into all of that. Now we’re moving even further into blurring the lines between what’s advertising and what’s just cool content. The opportunity truly is everywhere, but the challenge is much greater, too. You have to be smarter, faster, more in touch.  You can never rest. Because by the time you learn something, anything, there’s something new to learn.

What is your definition of a “Cultural Movement”? Is the concept applicable for any kind of company/brand?

A Cultural Movement occurs when you uncover a passionate idea on the rise in culture, create a natural connection between that idea, and your brand, and give it momentum in the marketplace.

Traditional strategic thinking begins with uncovering a cultural truth – teenage guys want to get laid, body odor makes you self-conscious, men want to feel like real men. A Cultural Movement begins with an idea ON THE RISE in culture, something that’s current, and has momentum – people today think the government doesn’t care, men are tired of all this metrosexual shit and getting back to what makes a guy a guy, women are growing disenchanted with the definition of beauty forced on them by marketers and the beauty industry.

Could you tell us about three remarkable Cultural Movements examples? 

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty; capitalized on the growing disenchantment with fashion and marketing’s depiction of beauty, and gave every woman permission to feel beautiful.

Frito-Lays’ True North snacks – In full transparency, this was one of our own - a healthy nut-based snack targeting 50-plus year old consumers. At a time when (especially older) people were rethinking their career and life choices, and wondering about their legacy, we inspired our target audience to “find their own True North” – their one true passion in life. We chronicled and shared their stories, and gave them a place to connect online, and inspired thousands to seek their calling, and find meaning to their lives.

Obama’s presidential campaign of 2008 did a brilliant job of capitalizing on young people’s disenchantment with government and the establishment, and created a grass roots campaign for change, focusing on digital and social media, and a campaign idea, Change We Can Believe In, that promised new hope and a different, more in-touch world view. 

What are the ingredients for a successful Cultural Movement? Do you have an example of a cultural movement “gone bad”? 

A grievance, which leads to an idea on the rise in culture. A natural (believable) brand connection. A place for the two to meet and share their passion.  A platform for the idea to be heard.  

Cultural Movement gone bad? The first one that comes to mind wasn’t for a brand, per se; it was the Occupy Wall Street Movement. They had the right grievance, the perfect timing, a forum to speak and rally millions behind their cause. They had everything a Cultural Movement could ask for, except a clear message. What, exactly, did they want? That’s what killed them.

Is there a brand or company that has made you part of/ engaged in its cultural movement

Chipotle. That brand reached out to me at the perfect moment – when I, and so many other people, were reading books like Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, feeling betrayed by the food industry, and seriously thinking about where our food comes from. Their message of responsibly raised ingredients (especially the four-legged ones) was, and is, the right message at the right time in American culture.

Do you have a role-model in the industry? Did you have one when you started your journey in this industry?

Many. When I started, it was all the great writers – Ed McCabe, Tom Thomas, Patrick Kelly… I always try to learn from those better or more experienced than me, and I’ve had the privilege or working for and with many great people who’ve taught me a lot – John Hegarty, Ted Sann, Lee Garfinkel, Sam Scali, to name a few.

What makes you go further and make advertising? 

I just love solving problems, whether creative or business, preferable both at the same time. I get bored pretty easily, have a hard time presenting ideas I’m not totally jazzed about, and get really excited when I, or we, come up with something great. I just love that feeling. I’m addicted to it.

What inspires you?

Could be anything, and often the little things. The details. A beautifully written line in a book, a perfectly framed scene in a film, the idiosyncrasies of people, the way a couple might be interacting while they argue on the subway, the banter of an overly friendly cab driver, the smell that hits me when I walk into a new restaurant, a great building I never noticed before, the speed of New York, being in a new place for the first time, passionate people, crazy people, being frightened, street art… it’s all around me, and it’s all good.

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*Couldn't find it. Please send it to me (elena [at] aderwise [dot] com), if you have it!

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