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Creatives You Should Know: A.J. Hassan, Leo Burnett Chicago

VP-Creative Director Is Key Player Behind 'Like a Girl'

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A.J. Hassan
A.J. Hassan

When Leo Burnett Creative Director A.J. Hassan first started applying for ad jobs in the late '90s, she believed it helped to not disclose her full name: Ayesha Jacobie Hassan. It was hard to pronounce, sounded "too ethnic" and was obviously that of a woman. Going with just her initials, "I ended up getting more calls back."

Whether she encountered female bias or not, Ms. Hassan, through advertising, has helped to make the world a better place for girls and women. In 2012, she helped to create Secret's "Mean Stinks," an integrated effort that aimed to tackle bullying between girls.

More recently, she was a key player on the Always viral hit "Like a Girl," poised to be a top Lion contender. She was the one who landed on the idea to ask young girls to enact on film what the pejorative phrase meant to them. "We were sitting around brainstorm with Judy [John, Leo Burnett Canada CCO/CEO]. I had an image in my head of someone throwing like a girl, then I wondered what would happen if you asked a girl what that meant. I bet if you asked, she would have no idea."

Since then, Ms. Hassan has steered a follow-up effort showing how girls have taken back the phrase to make it empowering. Next up is "Like a Girl 2.0," which Ms. Hassan described as a "natural sequel."

As for her approach to advertising, Ms. Hassan describes herself as "an eternal optimist. I think it's easy in this business to be told 'no' a lot, and to criticize work. I think the best environment you can set yourself up with is to always say 'yes, yes' and not tear down people's ideas. I think it's really important to doing good work, listening to my instincts, saying yes to ideas you feel are good, even if they're not your own and even if someone says 'no,' finding a way to make it a 'yes.'"

It's this positive outlook that helped her get her first advertising gig. After majoring in political science and minoring in writing in college, the Rochester, N.Y. native initially wanted to work in television. A self-described "cross between Peter Jennings and an entertainment person," she originally applied --and was rejected -- for a job on the Rosie O'Donnell show. But she ended up using her pitch letter to seek out work in advertising and landed her first post at Frankel in Chicago in 1997.

Looking back on her career, Always is "obviously the high point, and it really has become a new bar for me in terms of really understanding and grasping what's possible with creativity," Ms. Hassan said. "We always say creativity has the power to transform human behavior, but until you actually experience it, it doesn't sink in. I've seen real girls affected by this, and that's been the most rewarding part."

See more of the 2015 Creatives You Should Know.

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