Tête-à-Tête Tuesdays with Molly
Since Father’s Day just passed, and you happen to be my father, I thought it would be appropriate to interview you. Jack Aaker started out at Wells Rich Green worked at JWT, Grey, BBDO and had his own business. He is currently a senior creative at the Kaplan Thaler Group.
Can you tell me a little bit about where you’re from and how you got into advertising?
I’m from a small town in Minnesota and went to college in Minnesota. During my Sophomore year, I saw a picture of a beautiful woman on the cover of my father’s Business Week: Mary Wells Laurence of Wells Rich Green. They were creating the best advertising at the time; Benson & Heges, American Motors, Alka Seltzer, etc. So I wrote her a love letter and got an airmail special delivery reply. She didn’t train juniors and advised me to stay in school. Then she me gave a piece of advice that I tell every creative person who wants to get into advertising -“When you see a bad ad, how would you make it better? Just think what you can do in every single way to improve it.” And I started noticing advertising around me and re-writing it. After college, I came to NYC with $300 and got a job as a mail clerk at Wells Rich Green. Three months later, I became a writer by submitting my work to writers at the agency who also taught at SVA and Parsons – but back then there were very few schools for advertising – and people actually had the time to mentor me.
You’ve worked in advertising for over 30 years. Can you give my readers some advice on how you’ve dealt with the ups and downs of the business?
It’s all about resilience. Realize you’re going to have setbacks and rejections as well as victories. Don’t ever give up. It sounds trite but it’s the truth. I have been fortunate to have a creative partner for over 20 years. We’ve formed a strong bond so we can balance and motivate each other to keep trying. We’re hard on each other, but always supportive. The great thing about advertising is that there’s always a new problem or situation. Because things change so quickly, usually bad situations pass. (And great situations can disappear overnight!) I’ve always worked with great people and always try to be honorable. We keep our promises and deadlines. We care very much. When you have that sense of professionalism, it reflects back on you and you get to work with people who are professional and honorable as well. People become more important than the situation.
Describe the most exciting, unique, crazy and interesting shoot you’ve been on aside from recording and directing Antonio Banderas on Nasonex.
Going to New Zealand for Flomax. We had to cast a line of 90 men with 15 principals and 9 of them had to speak on camera. The concept was a long line of men stepping forward in an airplane hanger to show that they’re not alone with their disease, not afraid to talk about that they were going to the bathroom all the time. We couldn’t find the right location in the USA so we had to choose between Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand. It turned out there was a brand new hanger in the Auckland airport built for the richest man in the country. It was beautiful and a perfect half circle. We cast in Toronto, Vancouver, Sydney, Wellington and Auckland trying to find people who could speak on camera in an American accent. It was a casting epic. The talent was great. When you go out of the country, it’s incredibly important surround yourself with people you can trust because there are always unexpected problems. You have to prepare for every possibility of what can go wrong – and then something happens that you couldn’t have imagined. You have to be flexible, but more importantly, you have to remember clearly what you want and stick to it when everyone is trying to compromise on money, talent, legal, etc. My partner and I also shot a memorable commercial for Puerto Vallerta tourism – but I can’t give that story away. We’re going to turn it into a movie. Let’s just say that we nicknamed the commercial director, who was mandated by certain officials, Juan More Tequila. Crew call was at 7AM. Crew showed up at 9. Tequila break was at 10:30. You can’t make this stuff up.
Well, I for one will never forget being on the set of a Duncan Hines commercial at 4 years old with chocolate chips raining from the ceiling. Maybe that’s why I chose a career in advertising. What other careers have you considered?
I was going to be a clinical psychologist – but I fell in love with advertising. After I came to New York, I was a volunteer for a suicide hotline and was trained in active listening. It’s been vital to my career.
Aside from getting a creative brief that includes a basic guideline of what you should create, you’re basically starting from a blank page. How do you start the creative process? Is there a certain time of day you find you’re more creative?
I work as part of a team and I tend to focus on all the details and see if they lead to something big. My partner (art director) focuses on the big picture and ignores the details and we just start talking. We talk about things that intrigue us, questions we have about the product, questions consumers might have. We try to fit into their shoes whether it’s a product or service. And we always start with the idea. What’s the end line? Key visual? The feeling that we want to leave people with? How can we be unique? Clever? Get people’s attention and persuade? The idea has to work everywhere - not just in television and print, but all executions in all media have to flow from it. I like getting up really early and hitting the computer instantly. It’s when my ideas aren’t affected by my rationality and come straight out of my brain without second thoughts or editing.
A lot has been said about how advertising has changed over the past 30 years with the inclusion of digital, social media, and other forms of advertising. What has stayed the same?
What has stayed the same is that there’s always a connection to humanity. There’s a connection to peoples’ likes and dislikes. And even though those likes and dislikes change over time, you’re always trying to connect to them and get an emotional response from people, from peoples’ humanity.
And finally, how do you feel about your daughter(s) following in your footsteps?
Well I think it’s an interesting career. Unfortunately, the whole model of making money has changed. The media has fragmented and the internet has reduced costs and therefore, fees. So, the question to ask is how we’ll all support ourselves in 5 years. On the other hand, advertising is always changing. That’s why it’s interesting. Every day is something different. There’s a new competitor, a new app, a new way to influence people. It’s constantly being on your toes. And I’ve learned about things that I never expected to learn about - everything from computers and phones to pharmaceuticals and peanut butter. I’ve become a more interesting person because of it and I spend time with some of the most delightful, engaging and intelligent people one can imagine.