Sean Combs' Creative Director on Working with Diddy and Cîroc's New Campaign

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Reeves, right, and Blue Flame SVP Erin Harris
Reeves, right, and Blue Flame SVP Erin Harris  Credit: Courtesy Blue Flame

Sean "Diddy" Combs—or some may better know him as Puff Daddy—has hired Rana Reeves as the new creative director of his agency Blue Flame, a creative shop that has been around since 1999.

Reeves, who most recently set up Storey, a content division of production company North Six, will co-lead Blue Flame alongside newly promoted senior VP Erin Harris. Both Reeves and Harris are reporting to Dia Simms, president of Combs Enterprises, but Diddy leads the agency from a creative perspective. Reeves will be based in New York, but will travel often to Los Angeles.

Ad Age chatted with Reeves about the agency's new Cîroc French Vanilla campaign, his job interview experience with Diddy (which was likened to appearing in a royal court), his creative vision for Blue Flame and more.

This interview has been lightly edited for flow and readability.

So, how did this role with Diddy's agency come about?
I met up with Dia Simms and I've met Sean a couple of times through a couple of other people before that and Dia put me forward for the role and then I had my first interview with Sean in May, which was when he was getting ready for the Met Gala.

How did the interview go?
It was good. He reminded me very much of a Japanese emperor going to war. He was sitting on a chair getting ready for the gala, so there was a barber doing his hair, he had a vitamin drip and he had a facial and he was on one call and had another call waiting and there were four or five people lined up with stuff to show him. It was so royal – that's the only way I can describe it. It felt like an old school court of the king. I showed him my work at the time and he asked me what my approach was to creative.

What'd you say?
It's about using popular contemporary culture to make societal change and that's what attracted me so much to an opportunity to work at Combs Enterprises and for Sean. He is part of culture and traditionally my bosses have always been part of the agency world or the corporate world. Sean is an in incredibly successful business man, but he also sits at the epicenter of a lot of contemporary and popular culture. He has one foot in the world and one foot out and it's an incredible thing to see. I've had times where brands sat like that, like PlayStation and Beats by Dre, but not an individual entity. It's like a sun seems to be orbiting around Sean.

How is he as a boss?
He's great. You know that phrase "You can't teach an old dog new tricks?" It's just not true. I'm 42 years old and in this industry I'm kind of old now, but I'm learning so much off of him, like his approach to lighting and editing. The guy is a marketing genius, so it's like every experience with him I'm learning so much and for someone who has been doing this for 20 years, it's great to feel so new again.

Sean is in the 30-second spot for the new Cîroc French Vanilla launch, along with a number of brand ambassadors. What's the purpose of that?
Basically, the end tagline is "Welcome to the Family," and the whole idea is that Sean is kind of welcoming [hip hop artist] French Montana, who is the ambassador for French vanilla, to the family. When I presented this idea to Sean, we presented three visions of Sean. There's Puff Daddy, who is the raconteur, throwing the parties that defined a generation. There's Sean Combs, and Forbes just voted him one of the 100 greatest living business minds, and then there's Diddy and that's who you see on social – the family man, the man bringing cross-societal change. Family is at the heart of everything that Sean stands for, so the idea was to take this group of people who inspire culture and make culture and bring them together to welcome French into the family.

Tell me more about French.
French has had an amazing year. He's a Bad Boy artist who is on Sean's label. He's just had a billion streams on Spotify, and French evokes for Sean what is the American dream. French came from Morocco to the Bronx to where he is now – that's part of the America Dream.

The spot feels like a music video.
There's a music culture vibe to the creative, but Instagram has changed everything in that you see all facets of people and all sides of who they are. Sean is simultaneously a business man, family man, a creative and mentor, but the personality and feel of those expressions can be very different yet they can all play out across Instagram. What you'll see is a sense of that across the content. There's the 30-second lifestyle celebratory version, but within the campaign there are mini-documentaries, words of wisdom, comedy – it traverses a whole conversation as if you're having an actual dialogue and relationship with French and Sean.

Is this ad running on TV?
Yes, it's running nationally and it runs today in two NBA games and it'll go through March 2018.

Is this campaign a reaction to Cîroc's volume being down 13 percent during the fiscal year?
This campaign is about launching a new flavor and continuing to talk to our current consumers and new consumers.

What's the target demographic for the new French Vanilla flavor?
It's essentially multicultural millennials. Cîroc has been around for about 10 years, so people have grown up with it. It was a category lead in terms of the innovation with the relationship with Sean and now it's about a whole generation on top of that.

What's Sean's goal with Blue Flame? Is it to win Cannes Lions?
The goal is to effect culture in a positive light. Sean doesn't need to win anything – he's pretty much won everything there is to win. He talks about this culture of "me to we" and bringing culture up to make millionaires. It's about using popular and contemporary culture to sell, but also to spread a message and I don't think the two need to be separate.

Where do you want to take this agency creatively?
The stuff I'm learning from Sean about how to truly move culture is incredible and the different levers that do that and the opportunity to take that ethos to brands and reach youth -- and by youth I mean people younger than me -- and drive that message. I fundamentally believe that contemporary, popular and brand culture can be used to create messages that are positive. It's a fairly divided time at the moment and people don't take their cues all the time from politics and the news – they take their cues from popular culture, so the opportunity to use brands to talk about coming together is what excites me.

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