BY NOW WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE ALMOST SINISTER IMAGE OF 60's ERA MADISON AVENUE SUITS SITTING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, CONCOCTING SUBLIMINAL MARKETING CAMPAIGNS AND ENGINEERING TOP BRANDS THAT THEY THEMSELVES WOULD ESCHEW. BUT THE SEISMIC SHIFT IN MARKETING PIONEERED BY THE INTERNET ERA HAS EMBROIDERED CRACKS IN THIS FORMER EMPIRE, AND A DIFFERENT TYPE OF CREATIVE COMMUNICATOR IS ON THE RISE, ONE MORE INTERESTED IN CRAFTING A CONVERSATION BETWEEN COMPANIES AND CONSUMERS — AND ONE MORE LIKELY TO DON JEANS THAN A TIE.
Phil Chang is just that type of dissident. The self-described “advertising and brand-building guy” works to help the people and brands he respects “do what they do better,” whether that’s partnering with artist CJ Hendry on the charity component of her infamous — or blasphemous, depending on who you ask — dipped Nike Air Mags project or collaborating with larger brands to help them navigate advertising in the digital age.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU WISH YOU COULD GIVE YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF?
Don't let being scared of sucking at something prevent you from learning and practicing that thing. I'm painfully aware of this neurosis, but it has been the hardest thing to fix throughout my adult life.
WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
When everyone involved in a project feels like they benefitted equally from it. This means that working together allowed us to achieve things we couldn’t individually — true collaboration.
A SONG FROM THE FIRST ALBUM YOU OWNED
A SONG YOU HAVE LISTENED TO 10 TIMES IN A ROW
YOUR FAVORITE MEME
YOUR MOST PRECIOUS OBJECT
WHAT JOB WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE DOING IF NOT THE ONE YOU DO NOW?
1) Anything for the Star Wars franchise, as it revs its hyperdrive up. As a lifelong fan, I'd love to help sharpen the cultural impact of that property's brand partnerships.
2) Anything for Lego.
3) It’d also be incredible to work on promoting NASA and Space X’s deep-space initiatives.
4) In alternate lives where I’m more courageous and disciplined: marine biologist (dovetails with one of the greatest episodes of Seinfeld and lifelong fascination with submersibles and marine ecosystems), architect (dovetails with one of the greatest multi-episode gags in Seinfeld and lifelong fascination with rad buildings), comic book creator, world-building for video games... I’m sure I’m missing a few.
YOUR LIFE PHILOSOPHY
A SCENE YOU WISH YOU COULD LIVE
A SONG YOU'RE EMBARASSED TO LOVE
A SONG FOR YOUR FUNERAL
WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO CHANGE ABOUT YOUR INDUSTRY?
Change in advertising is something I think about a lot, because the whole industry is currently experiencing tremendous upheaval. This flux state can mostly be attributed to online media platforms giving TV an expiration date. Just think about explaining TV to kids 10 to 15 years from now... There was a meme that went around describing that very conversation: "It was like parts of the Internet, but it was in this huge box you couldn't move. You couldn't choose what you wanted to see OR when, and every 15 minutes, you'd have to watch some idiot talk at you about shampoo or car insurance."
As it stands, however, the advertising industry is still predicated on this dying platform because that's where establishment clients continue to spend media dollars. There are various factors responsible for this myopic and cyclical decision-making that I won't ramble about here, but we're effectively watching the band play on as the Titanic sinks. Very few (if any) agencies, production companies or other flavor of creative shop have adopted models that respond to how/where/why consumers interact with media today.
High-value clients have changed as well. If you ask anyone in 2016 to list 10 companies that are essential to their lives, six or seven will most likely be tech-oriented (Uber, Instagram, Facebook, Spotify, Airbnb, Seamless, etc.). Needless to say, unicorns and would-be disruptors behave very differently than the power players of yesterday (Coke, P&G, General Mills, AT&T, Amex, etc.), and their approach to marketing/brand is no exception. I'll spare you the details (email me if you're interested in chatting), but there's an irreconcilable dissonance between the priorities of this new breed of client and how ad agencies make money. I've been witness to enough cringey "negotiations" (where it’s like everyone’s speaking different languages) to last me a lifetime.
That said, I'm not asserting that the industry is hurtling towards oblivion; advertising will survive as long as we have to pay to obtain things. There is, however, a significant course correction approaching and the people who’ll suffer its consequences aren’t partners who've sold their agencies to holding companies or PE shops. Those guys’ll watch shit go down from anchored yachts while their vesting periods spool out. The people who will bear the brunt of this change = employees. That really sucks.
There are a few new-ish creative companies attempting to address this sea change in compelling ways. Some are raising, partnering with, and/or transitioning into funds. Others are trying specialized personnel configurations that are nimbler, smaller, and more modular than the bloated-for-margins-sake orgs agencies are now. A few are rallying behind directors, producers, etc. who are independently wealthy and renowned, hoping their clout will reverse the leverage clients maintain over service businesses. I'm looking forward to seeing how these bets play out and continue to worry about my place in whatever system proves tenable down the line.
A SONG WITHOUT WORDS
A ROAD TRIP SONG
MARILYN MONROE OR BRIDGET BARDOT?
YOUR FAVORITE GIFS
A SCENE THAT HAUNTS YOU
DO NOT - I repeat - do NOT watch this if you haven’t seen Incendies. Instead, GO WATCH INCENDIES!
IF YOU COULD HAVE DINNER WITH ANYONE ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHAT WOULD YOU TALK ABOUT?
We'd go get dim sum somewhere with a round table for 12. It’d be me listening to Ricardo Bofill, Larry David, Elizabeth Warren, Vin Diesel, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Regina E. Dugan, Sade, Nicolas Ghesquiere, Lee Chang-Dong, 4th quarter Obama, and Rei Kawabuko have the greatest conversation of all time. Oh, and 3 Stacks would show up late, so he'd have to squeeze in between Sade and Liz, but we'd save him a lo mai gai.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR LIFE WILL LOOK LIKE IN 20 YEARS?
I’ll finally own this building. The exterior and ground floor parking lot will remain exactly as is, while the top two floors and roof will be turned into the illest multidisciplinary studio of all time.
A SONG THAT REMINDS YOU OF YOUR PARENTS
A SONG YOU HAVE DANCED TO AT HOME
A FOOD YOU COULD EAT EVERY DAY
This is the highest-end tonkatsu offering at Butagumi in Tokyo. I beg you to try it before you die.
WHAT DO YOU REGRET?
I sat next to Marisa Tomei at two consecutive brunches in LA last year (Sycamore Kitchen and Sqirl, respectively). She was wearing the same fire-ass denim jumpsuit both times. I was too shook to say anything. Now look at the catastrophe my life has become.
THE LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED ON NETFLIX
I’m plowing through season one of Love (I know you asked for a movie but it’s a Netflix exclusive so it counts!). I’m glad that Hollywood and post-Hollywood are realizing that Gillian Jacobs = guaranteed success. She carries the shit out of everything she’s in.
THE UGLIEST SITE
Unimaginative is way worse than bad, so 96% of startups’ sites. Considering they’re built by people who say they care about product, it’s nuts how boring first contact between said product and users tends to be.
A FEW MORE FAVORITE GIFS