Creative Insights: The Company We Keep's Stu Hipwell on understanding people

By Ruby Derrick | 13 February 2024

Creative Insights is an AdNews series investigating and uncovering the secrets of the creative side of advertising.

Stu Hipwell: executive creative director at The Company We Keep

How did you fall into the industry? Was it deliberate or a misstep?

It was definitely deliberate but like many creatives, it wasn’t my first choice. I really wanted to be a political cartoonist or graphic novelist (but as you can imagine, making a living from it is difficult to say the least). So graphic design (and later creative direction) became the obvious choice for me as it’s the only career that I found where I could bring in a decent income and still enjoy being creative.

What’s your secret sauce for commercial creativity?

Understanding people. I don’t really think of it as a secret sauce but more of a forgotten sauce. At the end of the day, we are telling stories – no matter what the medium. It’s not rocket science. You must know your audience, what inspires them, motivates them and what’s relevant to them. Creative needs to align authentically to the audience. This is the only thing that matters. No matter what new disrupting technology emerges, without truly taking the time and focus to understand the audience – you really limit your chances to connect with them and meet your clients’ objectives.

What’s the biggest hurdle now for creatives?

AI. AI is a technological disrupter just as social media was and the internet was before it. With it comes a lot of amazing opportunities but it is also extremely seductive. As creatives, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. But there is a real danger that our creative will become weaker if we forget the most important thing, the audience. AI is an amazing tool, but it is a tool, we can’t forget that. The question is, how are you going to use this tool to forge a deeper connection with audiences? AI is not the first and guaranteed not to be the last disrupter that creatives will face in their careers.

Do you wear the black t-shirt uniform or are you a nonconformist?

I feel most comfortable in the black t-shirt uniform (although navy is more my colour). To be honest, I don’t really think much about what I wear. I prefer expressing myself through the creative. So, I guess I dress to not draw attention to myself but to the work that I do.

Can commercial creativity only take place in a room full of people in black T-shirts?

Definitely not! Creativity thrives on diversity. Different backgrounds and viewpoints drive passionate debate – which produces stronger and more robust creative. The secret is to give the creative process structure to get the most out of diverse creative sessions.

What was the latest campaign that you worked on that you really enjoyed?

I’ve really enjoyed working on experiences such as Luxottica’s Sunglass Hut Summit. I had a lot of fun working with the California Luxe themeing we gave to the creative, it felt optimistic and energetic which was refreshing in this climate. But the project I enjoyed most and that felt most rewarding was the creative strategy for the Take 3 For The Sea rebrand. Working on such a complex branding brief was challenging – which I absolutely loved. And it was so rewarding seeing the new brand come to life through the amazing talent of our incredible design team.

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