World-renowned artist Fabian Williams stood out at Advertising Week New York while speaking about Creative Representation Matters, alongside veteran marketers. He was joined on stage by Sherri Daye Scott, senior vice president of marketing and communications at WABE, and Chris Breen, chief creative officer at Chemistry, who worked with Williams on the “Big Facts, Small Acts,” campaign aimed at encouraging Black communities in Atlanta to mask up at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Katie Kempner founder of Kempner Communications moderated the conversation.
“The idea came up to put masks on murals,” Williams said, speaking to the Atlanta campaign he orchestrated with Scott, Breen and their teams. “At first, I was a little concerned because I wear a mask…but my work is primarily in the West End [of Atlanta]…there’s a lot of different factions of Blackness that have different reactions to the COVID crisis. Some people didn’t believe in masks, others did.”
What was billed as a conversation on how brands and agencies are finding new ways to meet their audiences and the power of real representation in creative development, turned into a clear and resounding message from Williams on what brands must not overlook if they want to engage culture authentically and powerfully.
Breen’s team presented Williams with more than one hundred lines of copy for a mural, all of which the artist rejected. Then Williams came up with “Survive,” and from there everything else fell in place. The campaign was lauded by the media and was well-received by the community, as documented by CNN’s coverage entitled “Black artists put face masks on street murals because ‘we’re not seeing visual cues of a pandemic’.”
While on stage, Williams offered up solid advice on what’s necessary for brands to know for a fruitful and respectful partnership with artists and other creators like himself:
The artist brings the audience insight
I feel like it is scary for corporations to introduce new ideas because they worry about how the audience will take it. But a lot of times where the artist is coming from is the audience has already established what the real is. All you have to do is take it and put your brand on it. That’s what Nike does all the time. They just take the most authentic form of the culture and put their swish on it. All I try to do is give them the same sort of reality and have them just partner with the idea. You don’t have to add any sugar or preservatives to it. Just take it. Take that, take that.
Share your knowledge
Being a local artist, there’s where a lot of these trends that catch on worldwide come from. There’s so many things that emerged out of the Atlanta culture that I just be in the middle of and don’t think about how it’s reverberating around the world. So when companies come and post those opportunities, we don’t necessarily know what to charge for it but y’all do. So put us up on game. Share the knowledge and we will share our magic. It’s really that simple. It’s an exchange.
Quoting Cuba Gooding, Jr from “Jerry McGuire,” Show me the money!
Let me see what the budget is. One of the worst parts of doing commercial campaigns is this guessing game of I’m working with this brand; I know there is a budget but what is it so I can properly plan? If I know what I can measure in terms of financially, what kind of commitment I can give to the project, and then who I can bring into it. That will help me exercise the idea and work with the client in the best possible way. Just give me freedom to create.
If we can start this era of transparency: where everyone is like “this is how much we’re going to use,” money wise and “this is where we’re going to spread it to.” It don’t take a lot for us to do good work we just need to know that we’re not taken advantage of. As long as that’s on the forefront, y’all gets all types of amazing creativity.