"Nike’s like a drug," Sree says. "You keep saying, 'I can do another one, an even better one.’"
Regrets are to be expected; at Wieden he helped to craft numerous Nike stunners, including spots for the "Why Sport?" and "What Are You Getting Ready For?" campaigns, not to mention the elegant "Move." There, he also underwent a creative renewal of sorts, an experience that later resonated in his work on the "Play" campaign, which includes "Tag." When he arrived at Wieden, from DDB/Sydney in 1997, the Singapore-born Sree immediately went into overdrive. "I was at Wieden + Kennedy and I was afraid of being found out for the hack that I truly am," he says. "I would just work myself to death and I couldn’t sleep until I cracked it, and I was literally scaring off partners. So I was told, 'Stop, ease up, just enjoy it.’" Sree readily complied. "I just became the laziest slob ever and I’d play videogames all day. And you know what? My work improved by like 100 percent." Last year, the lesson echoed throughout his work on "Play" with writer Mike Byrne and ADs Andy Fackrell and Monica Taylor. "It just seemed that now society is ready to realize that we can actually ease up and enjoy ourselves, but at the same time get more done and be more creative," says Sree. "Play" originated in those curious, copy-heavy print ads that instructed nine-to-fivers on the finer details of playground games, and the Frank Budgen-directed spot sprang easily from one describing the game of tag. "It sounds really silly but we just thought, OK, let’s do a TV ad off of it, and we wrote it in literally half an hour."
In retrospect, Sree’s career comprises a series of bold, fateful moves. The London-raised creative actually started out designing magazines in the U.K., but was "really bad" at it, he says, so at 26 he decided to return to school to study advertising at Kent Institute of Art & Design. Months after landing his first ad job as an AD at O&M in London, he was laid off. Exploring the healthier Singapore market, he met Jim Aitchison, at the time the CD at Batey Ads, who "didn’t want to hire me as an AD because I was a crap art director," Sree recalls. "So he hired me as a writer and that’s when my career took off. It petrified me, but it made me work really hard." Soon enough, Sree and then-partner Andy Fackrell were snatched up by DDB/Sydney, the last stop before both moved to Wieden.
Sree is amped to prove himself all over again at Burnett, which has seen a spate of other award-winner signings since Brit Mark Tutssel moved from the London base to become vice chairman/deputy CCO. Sree says he had been mulling over a move for a couple years and finally reached a decision after completing "Move." "Nike’s like a drug," he explains. "You keep saying, 'I can do another one, an even better one.’ But after a while, it’s like, OK, I’ve done Nike, I’ve done Nike and I’ve done Nike, and as much as I love Nike, I’d like to see if I can do something else."
It’s hard to predict what account will give Sree his next fix. For now, Tutssel has Sree and new partner Jeff Labbe (the former TBWA/Chiat/Day AD behind lauded campaigns for Fox Sports and Levi’s) testing out the vibe on the agency’s newly revamped creative floor. Not surprisingly, Sree the admitted game junkie has the hots for Nintendo, which would be a fitting segue from his slacker-in-training days at his former shop. Will he miss Nike, and the agency that has propelled him so far? "Definitely, yeah. But hopefully we’ll be too busy to really think about it."