Wieden & Kennedy's Neal Arthur on teaching 8th grade sex ed, the Beatles—and respecting everyone's problems
Neal Arthur is managing director of Wieden & Kennedy New York, the east coast arm of Ad Age’s Agency of the Year for two years running. The shop is responsible for making Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” a household phrase and for igniting the “corn wars.” It’s also created new work for Duracell and Ford.
In this episode of the “Ad Block” podcast, Arthur shares stories of his time as a teacher. His classes included kindergarten, 4th grade math, ethics, and 8th grade sex education—at a Catholic school. “There’s a weird sort of faux confidence in 8th grade that you have to have to make it,” he says. “You walk around acting like you’ve got it all figured out, yet you know nothing.”
As he continued to teach, it became apparent that he was really just there to listen and to model good behavior. “The only thing you ultimately tried to do was just make them aware that other people were going through this too,” Arthur says. “I think just starting a conversation and not having it feel taboo was actually the most valuable thing.”
Arthur also weighs in on his love of Nike’s “Mars Blackmon” ads, starring Spike Lee as his character from “She’s Gotta Have It,” Lee’s 1986 film, which was a big deal in Arthur’s household. “It was so interesting to see advertising, which is typically this—for the most part—dumbed-down art form, to speak in such a specific way to such a specific audience.” He also admits that he doesn’t like The Beatles, as well as one particular Golden Girl.