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Creative Director Creative Havas Chicago

Havas Chicago’s CCO on creating culture through human truths


By Kyle O'Brien, Creative Works Editor

March 11, 2020 | 7 min read

John Norman came to Havas Chicago a year ago as chief creative officer with the idea of making a culture of high design and storytelling through human truths. With a team now in place, Norman has brought his years of experience from The Martin Agency, Translation, TBWA\Chiat\Day and Wieden+Kennedy to a city that he says is built on design and architecture and that suits his creative style.

John Norman Havas Chicago

John Norman, CCO of Havas Chicago

“It’s one of the most creative places in the world…what I like about Chicago is that they have this roll-up-your-sleeves kind of mentality and I kind of grew up that way…but they have a very high art and design culture,” Norman tells The Drum.

That culture bodes well for Norman, who says he is someone who is good at crafting and making culture.

“I love storytelling, I love high design and high craft and design thinking,” he says. “Chicago has always been a great hub for incredible, strong advertising ideas, which, from my point of view, means great concepts right now. And if we can channel great concepts and bring them to life in new in new ways, that's a real plus for us.”

At Havas Chicago, he states that the team has a focus on building “meaningful American brands” and that the agency is committed to that through its craft and culture.

He considers modern advertising to be what he describes as “big platform ideas” that work across various channels, including TikTok and what Facebook and Instagram are doing with augmented reality.

“There's all kinds of really new platforms, and where we can make a difference, and at least where I tried in my career to make a difference, is not to just do something technically for technical tactical sake, but to do something that has a real meaning and a real reason that you see the idea of the medium,” he says.

In his previous roles, Norman launched and led Coca-Cola’s ‘Open Happiness’ campaign and the ‘Happiness Factory’ franchise of spots, along with many World Cup campaigns, including the groundbreaking ‘Write the Future’ work for Nike.

“The biggest thing is to find a deep human truth and make it simple to understand and make it have a meaningful impact on the product or the brand belief…the way we like to work is to build greater platforms so that it's an agnostic media approach. And sometimes the big idea may be led socially, or may be led through a specific channel or platform.”

Norman states that the industry now has so many new ways to communicate, with so many different channels, that it’s an exciting time to be in the industry.

“People like to say advertising is dead. I just think it's being transformed into more mediums. It’s like having more paints and more paint brushes and different types of artists tools in your box,” he says.

Ideas over tactics

“People, by nature, get enamored by the new bells and whistles, and take in tactics and technology, (which) sometimes wags the tail of the idea. Having been to Cannes ritually, you're starting to see a shift…back into big ideas. Our clients that I've talked to about their problems and their barriers to growth and success, they're all very thirsty for big ideas first, and they're getting smarter. They see when things are just tactics. I think that's where we can really exercise our strength,” states Norman.

Norman sees TikTok as a fresh way to use technology as a creative tool, which was something he saw back when Crispin, Porter + Bogusky broke the mold with ‘Subservient Chicken’.

“They used technology in a very creative way where you actually felt the emotional connection human truths of the Burger King way… the ‘have your chicken any way you want it’ idea come through over the technique. TikTok is just waiting for that to happen…A brand is going to come along and do something – it could come in-house it could come out-of-house it could come from a big or small creative shop – but somewhere, someday soon someone's going break something really big and iconic with TikTok,” he states.

Norman says he likes when people launch a campaign with new technologies or new platforms, like Facebook with AR, because it creates a whole new storytelling channel.

“The way to sell those things, in my experience, is to have a Facebook rep with you and to help sell that with the client. I'm a firm believer of knowing what I don't know, which is a lot. So, I like to bring in other experts to help sell the idea,” he says.

Data usage

The other thing that Norman is excited about the industry is the better use of data by creatives. “I really do believe in my heart that, and I've never stopped believing it, even when the debate of data versus creative and all that was going on…where you kind of felt like you had to choose, (but) give me a great creative that's never wanted great data.”

Ideas clients crave

Norman knows that clients are craving bigger ideas, and he sees smarter, more clever and meaningful ideas that he admires lately in the creative marketing universe. “It's fresh for me. I like seeing work I wish I had done.”

To stand out in the industry, Norman says agencies like his have to do something disruptive, because there's so much so much content and so much information out there that an average or bad idea will only produce advertising “pollution”, so modern creatives need to be more clever than ever.

“It’s surrounding yourself with people that are better than you. And it's coming up with a really simple human truth. What carves through everything is that when you make people feel something, they actually will do something. And I really believe that technology is there to help us make people feel something. I don't think it can be the thing that makes you feel something, I think that has to come from a human – a deep human shared truth with the product or brand,” he says.

To get to those human truths, Norman not only has his Chicago crew, but also the entire Havas team, including Paul Marobella, chairman and chief executive at Havas Creative North America, and Harry Bernstein, chief creative officer at Havas New York. They have a global creative council that Norman counts himself privileged to be a part of, which helps with the “creative navigation” of the group.

This is part of the Havas Village concept, which was built over a three-year-period to foster internal collaboration within Havas across a number of locations, which Norman says works well for all involved. He adds that he wants to help Havas Chicago eventually get to a place where it’s recognized “for something” like comeback agency of the year. But until then, he’s content in helping steer it as a new modern agency.

Creative Director Creative Havas Chicago

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