Havas Co-Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Jason M. Peterson has a million followers on Instagram, is pals with A$AP Rocky and wants to steal McDonald's business. The 48-year-old former skate rat from Phoenix (Havas Chicago boasts a half-pipe near its data desk) discusses all that, plus his secret to hiring great talent.
When I met you, you said you'd rather be featured in HypeBeast than Ad Age.
For sure. Advertising right now is in this creative fucking nowhere's land. I want to be a chief creative officer that's tapping into what's going on in culture, art, music, fashion, design in a real way, versus being an advertising creative director. I'm much more famous in Highsnobiety and Complex and Hypebeast as a photographer than I am in Adweek and Ad Age.
Talk about that. You have a million Instagram followers.
If you're not really tapped into social in a real way, you don't know what the fuck you're talking about. The advertising solution to digital advertising was creating the banner ad, which is a fucking joke. You've never clicked on a banner ad, because you have an IQ, and no consumer you want to attract ever has. And that's our main advertising vehicle? That is fucked up as an industry. That's not why I got into this.
What's your favorite platform?
I love Snapchat. Dude, I'm 48 years old. I have a 17-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter. It took me forever to understand how Snapchat works and that's why I love it. I love it because it just proves out that I'm old and stupid. What I love about Snapchat is that those guys are just fuckin' pirates. They don't give a shit. They'll weather any kind of storm, which they're kind of in now because of Instagram grabbing some of the highlights of their platform and operationalizing them. I love Instagram because it taught me what social media really is.
First of all, it's not advertising. Social media is sitting down, having a conversation. And to have a successful conversation you better be listening as much as you are talking.
Your clients are these brands Like Reynolds and Hefty—not exactly hip. Your Instagram and your general vibe is pretty hip. Is there any tension there?
A bit. All brands need to find their voice within social media or they're not going to be in existence any more. I'm not arguing versus traditional mediums and television and billboards. Those will serve a role in it. But unless a brand really has a social voice, unless they stand for a set of beliefs, unless they're a social brand, they're not going to exist two years from now. Most CMOs are scared. Most CMOs are admitting to us that they don't know what the fuck they're doing.
So what do you tell them?
I want to move from creatives to creators. The Apple "Shot on iPhone" campaign changed our fucking industry. It's a wake-up call that nobody listened to. I sat in a movie theater and watched this beautiful slow-motion black-and-white footage of a waterfall and I said, "Fuck that's amazing." And it said, "Shot on an iPhone." And I said, "Fuck our industry's done."
Is it done, though?
I don't think it's dead. I'm an advertising nerd. I believe in advertising. The problem with our industry is we're the first to talk about innovation. We're the first to talk about what's going on with the consumers. We're the last to do anything about it. It's because we're crippled by the way we make money. For an agency to make a video that's going to go on Facebook for a client, at best if they pull favors with a production company, it's going to be $100,000. For a video that's going to be on Facebook? When your competition is kids making dope videos on their iPhone? People don't hate marketing and advertising. They hate to be disrespected. So how do we act like those kids with iPhones?
Good question. How do you?
I hire kids who are just like Casey Neistat. Because of my social clout, I can go, "Hey I'm hiring people at Havas, come walk around and take photos with me," and fucking 500 kids show up who don't know anything about me as the CCO of this ad agency.
You yourself aren't 20.
I'm fucking old, dude. I'm an old man. But I can teach these kids advertising in 15 minutes. I'm convinced that experience in the industry is the worst thing you can have. Half the time when we're doing something I don't fucking know if it's going to work, but we're going to fucking do it. Because I'm sick of doing it the same way.
How do you teach advertising in 15 minutes?
Advertising and creative is simple: It's something that moves you. It's something that makes you laugh, makes you feel something. You know what I say to these kids? I go, "Imagine you're just talking to your friends. How would you say something interesting to them?"
Who are your dream clients?
Here in Chicago we're all about iconic American brands that have lost cultural relevance and I want all of those. In some ways I don't even believe in brand strategy any more. I could close my eyes and tell you the brand strategy for McDonald's. The problem is McDonald's is operating in this crazy defensive vacuum rather than being what's awesome about McDonald's.
So McDonald's would be a dream client?
Hands down. McDonald's is in my white trash American DNA
You work with Coke and Camel. You want to work with McDonald's. These are not necessarily the best brands for people's health. Do you care about that?
I do. Obviously I care about that. I'm a straight-edge guy: I don't smoke. I don't drink. Nothing. The thing about Camel is that they're the nicest clients in the world. And you're not allowed to target people that don't smoke. You're only allowed to talk to people that smoke other brands. I'm saying, "Don't smoke that brand. Smoke this one because it's cooler." People make their own choices about what they do. I made my choices.
You also run these events and little pop-ups and concerts that don't have anything to do with advertising.
God bless my CFO because he's been very patient with the crazy shit we've done here. Havas is a large advertising agency where we create a lot of work for multiple channels for clients across the U.S. At the same time I always had a vision to launch a different company, which we did two years ago. The Annex is an outward-facing, millennials-for-millennials young person's point of view on this. I did Vic Mensa's record release party. There's 950 kids in here going insane listening to his album for the first time.
What does that have to do with selling Reynolds Wrap?
It all comes around. It's about attracting talent, it's about creating content, it's about building and bringing these brands into these relationships we have with the culture. Ad agencies always bought their way into culture.
"Here, Beyoncé, here's a million dollars. Hold this can of Pepsi." We all know now—because we follow her on every one of her social channels—she doesn't drink Pepsi! Unless you're authentically within culture, brands are going to fail at it. Pepsi is a perfect case in point. Here's a client that says, "Oh we got it. We know how to do this with these young kids." Dude. When you get it wrong, your brand is dead. And if that goes viral, there's no recovering from that.
Research suggests that the only people who cared about the Pepsi Kendall Jenner fiasco were people in advertising.
Younger consumers hit up on it. It's a piece they were embarrassed of. It'd be like their parents trying to be cool. They're still my parents. I still love them. Just, don't do that again, Mom. That creeps me out.