Aaron Walton reflects on the Lexus series 'Verses & Flow'

Kicking off our program honoring Black History Month, the Walton Isaacson co-founder recounts the long-running series that gave a voice and platform to Black storytellers

Published On
Feb 01, 2021

Editor's Pick

Aaron Walton, Co-Founder of Walton Isaacson
Aaron Walton, Co-Founder of Walton Isaacson

In celebration of Black History Month, each day Ad Age will be celebrating moments of creative excellence from the diverse talent pool of Black creators in the industry. Each week, a Black leader from the advertising and marketing community will serve as our guest editor. They will begin the week with a personal story about a project that played a meaningful role in their own history as a creator. The editor will then select a different talent for each remaining day of the week to reflect on a project of their own. Ultimately, the goal is to recognize the array of Black talents who make the work and industry sing—longtime leaders, up and comers, writers, art directors, designers, musicians and more. 

We are honored to have as our first guest editor Aaron Walton, co-founder and CEO of Walton Isaacson. In 2005, Walton teamed up with Cory Isaacson and Earvin “Magic” Johnson to open an agency with diversity, culture and innovation at its core. With clients including McDonald’s, Amazon, Kellogg’s and more, WI made Super Bowl and entertainment history when it brought its client Lexus together with Marvel’s “Black Panther” for the Big Game. Here, however, Walton reflects on another project for the auto brand that gave a voice and platform to Black storytellers. 


I love what I do. So, when I’m asked to shine a light on a single project, one that fills me with pride, it’s both challenging and clarifying. What am I most proud of? Work that has a lasting impact on brands and people’s lives. Work that is art and activism. I am also most proud of initiatives that bring together the brilliance of diverse teams across all touch points. When I apply that lens, it becomes easier to find that singular choice—it points to "Lexus Presents Verses & Flow."

 First created for Lexus by Walton Isaacson in 2011, "Verses & Flow" is a 30-minute celebration of Black excellence in the form of music and spoken word artistry. It ran for six seasons on TV One and received an NAACP Image Award nomination. "V&F" included a live interactive space for audiences to experience the Lexus brand, with cars and brand ambassadors on hand before and after the show. It not only had an impact on brand metrics and sales, but literally changed lives. 


The WI team developed "Verses & Flow" to attract a younger demographic to the brand. We spoke directly to young, Black influencers by giving a platform to the Black storytellers who have always played a critical cultural role. For perspective, Walton Isaacson became the Black AOR for Lexus in 2007 (adding LGBTQ and Latino segments in 2008 and 2009 respectively). Our very first campaign was focused on Black women. This vital segment had yet to be spoken to in any meaningful way by luxury automotive brands. Today, I don’t have to explain the power of Black women to anyone. After Amanda Gorman, the power of poetry and spoken word is also obvious.
My career, which started at Pepsi during the infamous Cola Wars, is rooted in pioneering branded entertainment. From the Britney Spears partnership to Marlon Brando ads, I have spent a lifetime connecting brands with artists in authentic and inspiring ways, ways that are on-brand for both. Many of WI’s team members also have this kind of non-traditional experience. We turned "Verses & Flow" into a powerful fusion of commerce and art where everyone wins—artists, audience, brand, agency. 
This past September, Prentice Powell, the only artist to appear on "Verses & Flow" for all six seasons, wrote a spoken word piece for a WI PSA project. The ANA’s Association of Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) wanted to leverage their #SEEALL movement to stand up against stereotyping and lack of representation in entertainment. In a spot that ran in The Emmys, Prentice’s powerful words are spoken by notable artists from diverse backgrounds, including Billy Porter, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daniel Dae Kim, Isis King, Jamie Chung and Nicole Scherzinger. Much like "Verses & Flow," the PSA speaks truth to power in ways that are always necessary but not always found in our industry. Making change—that makes me proud.