- Interview with Nina DiSesa
Robin M. Akert (Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College) interviews Nina DiSesa (Chairman and Chief Creative Office at McCann-Erickson New York) about the creative process in advertising. The interview focuses on the role of creatives (art directors and writers), strategic planners, account managers, creative directors and clients in generating an effective ad campaign from the initial idea through production. DiSesa discusses the MasterCard “Priceless” campaign as an example of the process. Other topics include how creativity is affected by specific management styles and corporate culture; how research data is used by creative teams; what makes an ad campaign famous; and the reaction of advertisers to the September 11 events. Throughout the interview, DiSesa plays commercials for MasterCard and other products to illustrate her points about the creative process.
I thought to begin I’d read a quote of yours that is from your biography here at McCann-Erickson. It’s a wonderful quote, very passionate, and even a bit provocative, so here it is: “Everyone says they want to do great creative but the real test is what are you willing to sacrifice to get it. I look for creative people who will generally sacrifice everything.”
Tell me what that means to you.
Well, I think everybody needs to sacrifice to do great creative, not just creative people, but I’ll just talk about a creative person’s sacrifice. Getting really great creative ideas that solve a problem, that’s the key. And it takes a long time. You have to get through all the obvious solutions, all the obvious ideas, and dig down to where the gold is, where people are less likely to go. And in fact, when you see ideas that are derivative of each other, and you think they must be stealing each other’s ideas—never, in a million years, would a creative person steal somebody else’s idea purposefully. What happens is they stopped digging too soon. They’ve taken a more obvious answer and the obvious answers are going to appeal to a lot of people, or at least, be apparent to a lot of people.
In their subconscious memory, as it were.
Yes. Whenever I write something really quickly, I immediately say, probably a million people will have thought of this because I didn’t think hard enough or deep enough. So there’s a sacrifice in terms of time. It takes time to get really great creative ideas. Now, in advertising, we don’t have a lot of time. It’s a different art form. Nobody told Van Gogh or Picasso that he had to finish a painting by Thursday! But creative people are always being given deadlines. You have to think very fast, think deep, think good, and be on time. It’s very hard to be a creative person in a business like advertising. So you have to sacrifice a lot. I remember the first fifteen years in this business, I rarely took vacation or I was under the gun on something. And so I just worked all the time. I think really good creative people have a passion for the craft and they really are driven towards getting great work.
And they have to have a great deal of dedication. It sounds like one’s personal life at times has to be sacrificed.
I tend to discourage the people at the agency from sacrificing their families and personal life. I did it because I really didn’t care. I didn’t get married for the second time until about nine years ago, and so I didn’t have a husband in my life, and the other men in my life were easily balanced. But when you have a spouse, or children especially, you can’t put that on hold. So I try to have a balance with the creative people here so they don’t get divorced and have their children grow up without them. And that’s even more pressure. I had a woman here, a great creative director, the woman who did the MasterCard campaign, Joyce...