Creatives You Should Know: Graham Douglas

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Droga5, New York copywriter Graham Douglas is responsible for one of the year's game-changing ideas, "Help I Want to Save a Life." The latest addition to pharm company Help Remedies' design-minded product line marries two things that should have met a long time ago--a package of bandages and a bone marrow donor kit. The pairing effectively turns the everyday nick into an opportunity to save a life: you've already cut yourself, so why don't you put your lost AB- to good use?

After receiving no response from larger pharmaceutical companies, Douglas approached Help Remedies directly with his idea, which fortunately, fit right into the company's philosophy of simplicity. "I was immediately impressed with the simplicity of the idea, how it worked with human behavior instead of against it," Help Remedies co-founder Nathan Frank told Creativity after the product launched in February. "This is probably the main thing we try to do as a brand, which is why I think it matched up with us so perfectly."

Once the product launched, drenched in silver body paint, Douglas played the role of a bloody knife in a hilarious, absurd online film to promote it. Douglas' own twin brother's plight to find a donor inspired his years-long search for a solution, which he eventually landed on with the help of the class he taught at Miami Ad School. All this, done on his free time.

On the clock, Douglas' efforts are no less moving. He was one of the Droga5 team behind the agency's foray into insurance, for Prudential, including the pensive "Day One" campaign directed by Eneone that follows retirees on their first day off work. "We saw that 2011 was the very beginning of the biggest cultural and economic shift in the country's history," he says. "The Baby Boomers were starting to retire, in the middle of the worst recession in a century. Needless to say, this is kind of a big deal—and, no time for another campaign with grey-haired models on sailboats or bathtubs on the beach bullshit." The campaign seeks to portray a "real, honest side of retirement,the good and the bad, and start a larger conversation started about what it is to retire today in America."

Douglas also worked on Prudential's poignant "Sunrise" launch spot, which tracks a single sunrise from multiple locations across the U.S. The idea was inspired by a stunt his fighter pilot grandfather used to pull with his buddies. "My partner, Katie [Potochney] and I were sitting around trying to crack it, and I told her about a story my grandpa's recited a thousand times. He said that sometimes they'd take off just before daybreak and try to 'freeze the sunrise.' They'd dial in the speed of their aircraft to exactly the same speed as the Earth's rotation. And they'd just stay like that. For hundreds of miles. Just sitting at Mach 1, taking in this beautiful, perpetual sunrise."

Douglas, who also previously worked at Publicis Dallas and 180 L.A., originally had no plans to get into the business. "Advertising snuck up on me," he says. At first he studied to be a musician at the University of North Texas, known for having a top jazz program. "For a while I had a suburban, white-bread dream of being a jazz sax player," he says. "Turns out I didn't have enough soul."

Or perhaps music wasn't the best way to channel it. He ended up taking an ad class to fulfill a communications credit "and loved it," he says. "I've been stuck ever since."

"I think Graham lacks some of the cynicism that you come to expect when you are talking to someone in advertising," says Help Remedies' Frank. "It is always refreshing to work with someone who has integrated their own personal passions into their professional life."

Currently, Douglas is putting finishing touches on work for the Tap Project and just started on a new effort for Puma. As for his personal projects, Help I Want to Save a Life is doing well. Although Help co-founder Frank says it's a bit early for analysis (the product launched in late February), March registrations at Bone Marrow Registry DKMS were up 115% and sales of Help I've Cut Myself (the bandages that are part of the package) are up 1900% over the past year. Douglas adds that retailers Target, Walgreens and Duane Reade have also placed orders for the product, which is going into its next round of production. Outside of bandages, Douglas is "still very involved in the bone marrow world" and is starting a non-profit with his brother to continue to help raise awareness of the cause. Beyond that, "like any bullshit copywriter, I have a couple of screenplays and TV treatments in various forms of unfinished," he says.

Graham Douglas--More to Know:

Biggest Creative Inspiration:
I think the people I work with at Droga5 are creative machines. Really. And not just creatives. Strategists, account folks, producers, everyone. Our jar of almonds is creative.

What He Does to Recharge his Creativity:
I take a shower. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But for some reason it's a gold mine in there for me.

Either that or I watch the worst TV I can find. I mean the real garbage. Swamp People. Steven Segal, Lawman. The Real Housewives of Anywhere. Cable news. Anything that's completely mindless.

Biggest Creative Influences:
At the risk of sounding totally cliche, I'm gonna say everything is a potential creative influence. Some joke you heard five years ago. The way a friend of yours says "cha-cooter-y" instead of charcuterie. Stepping in dog shit on the way to work.

I really don't think there's such a thing as an "original idea." I think if you trace the thread of the idea back far enough, you'll find it tied to some randomass experience.

Best Lesson About Advertising:
I asked my old ECD at 180, William Gelner, once, "What's the most important thing you've learned in advertising?" Without even a split-second of thought or hesitation he said, "Trust your gut." As always, I think I'll take his idea and claim it as my own.

If He Weren't Doing Advertising, He Would Be:

What Makes Him Laugh:
Pretty much anything my brother says. Or any movie on an airplane.

Check out the full list of Creativity's 2012 Creatives You Should Know.

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