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The Dreamers: Rosie Arnold of BBH on inspiration and 'social currency' in advertising

As part of a new series celebrating the people behind big creative concepts – the industry’s dreamers – Gillian West catches up with creative luminary Rosie Arnold, who shares her thoughts on inspiration and her respect for advertising that creates positive change.

“Most of the world is not interested in advertising,” says BBH deputy executive creative director Rosie Arnold. It’s an interesting admission from a woman who’s carved out an advertising career that’s lasted 30 years, winning numerous industry awards and creating iconic campaigns for brands including Lynx and Audi.

“Great work talks to humans on a level they love and understand. A good creative needs to immerse themselves in the world because that’s who you’re talking to. When you spend all of your time within agency walls, all you’ll do is reference other ads, and that’s not interesting to real people,” says Arnold.

“Consumers have other interests; you get much more relevant and much more entertaining work from living a varied life yourself.”

Practising what she preaches, Arnold tells us she finds inspiration “everywhere”, adding that she’s never been the type to sit in a quiet room.

“When I have a brief, in fact even when I don’t have a brief, the best ideas are definitely helped by getting out there and seeing things. Outside of advertising I have a real passion for art so I tend to visit lots of art exhibitions and find them to be super inspirational,” she says.

“If you see something that you love, you immediately want to rush home and paint or do whatever it is you do, but at the same time when you see something that’s rubbish, a little voice says ‘I could do better than that’ so you leave just as inspired. Even when something’s bad, it gives you another perspective on things,” she laughs.

Movies and theatre are her other passions outside of the office, with Arnold confessing to being “one of those annoying people who does a lot” be it walking, film, theatre or art when she has the chance. And inside it, her greatest pleasure as deputy executive creative director is inspiring one of her team. “I’m famous at BBH for having someone come into my office and getting very excited, going ‘Oh, have you seen this?’ and then pulling out one of the many books in my office, which is very old fashioned these days,” she laughs.

“I constantly show my team references of things I’ve found interesting. Though it might not always be appropriate, it’s always inspirational, and I love seeing people walk out of my room inspired.”

As she embarks on her fourth decade in advertising, Arnold is particularly inspired by where technology is taking the industry, with consumer trends, “the things that people are running around and showing one another”, becoming more technologically led. She references Microsoft’s ‘How Old Do I Look?’ craze as a great example of this.

“The thing that’s really exciting people at the moment is what they can do with technology and how immersive it can be. It’s changing the nature of advertising because people have a real choice in whether or not they see your work.” It’s a contrast to when she was growing up, she says, adding that people were “stuck” – “you had to watch the ads to watch the programmes.”

That audiences can now avoid advertising so easily places more pressure on agencies and brands to be engaging, says Arnold.

“You can now talk with your audience rather than just at them, so people will turn off if you don’t entertain or inform them. Hopefully this means the work will get better because there’s no point doing work people don’t love.”

Of the ads that she loves and wishes she’d worked on, Arnold admits to being drawn to creative that has a social responsibility such as Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’, ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ and Droga5’s ‘Help, I want to save a life’ bone marrow kit which she deems “spectacular and revolutionary”.

“I’m interested in work that does some good in the world as well as advertise. That’s the stuff I always wish I’d done because it’s social currency,” she adds.

“Dave Droga is one of the people who I look at – as well as everything he’s done within his company – and think ‘wow’. In 2011 they [Droga5] launched a programme to get more disabled people into advertising and they had someone with Down’s syndrome working for Droga5 in Sydney.

“Not only is the work that comes out of the agency superb, but the way he works is superb too. He’s at the forefront of social work and thinking of things that will do good, and that’s my real bugbear at the moment.”

As well as focusing on creating work that does good Arnold is also championing change for better within the advertising industry, arguing “what we really need is real diverse working environments” where different “ages, ethnicity and sexes are represented”.

“It used to be a white, male, middle-class business but the people we’re talking to aren’t all white, middle-class men. There are more interests out there than just football,” she jokes. “Every creative should be given the chance to work across different accounts aimed at different people from all walks of life.”

The Drum’s newest awards scheme, The Dream Awards, will recognise the big ideas behind the UK’s best creative campaigns. The deadline for entry is 19 June.

In addition to this interview, Arnold has also appeared in a film (below) as part of a series created by Lost Boys, featuring creative visionaries discussing the inspiration behind some of their biggest campaigns.