Karl Dunn joined FCB West in July 2014 as SVP, group creative director. The award-winning creative shares his favorite places to live, where he finds inspiration, and what he wishes he had known at age 20.
How did you get into advertising?
When I was 21, I was in New York on a holiday. I got spotted by a modeling agency and offered a contract. I had fallen in love with the city, but wanted a better way to stay there. So I went back to Sydney, got into ad school, graduated, worked in an awesome agency for 18 months and then moved to Singapore to do a cash run on the way to New York. Twenty years later, I still haven’t worked in New York.
You’ve lived in a lot of places during your career. What is the biggest takeaway from all of your travels?
You can’t have a global brand anymore. You can have a global product and a global idea for the campaign, but you have to let a product find its own way in every country. For example, I was global creative director on MINI Cooper. In England, MINI is about British pride; in Italy and Japan, it’s for the style masters; and in China, it’s the mistress car – and you have to embrace all that.
Where has been your favorite place to live?
People also always ask me where my favorite place to live has been. Japan for its artistry and an introduction to Buddhism; Berlin for the Germans whom I felt immediate kinship with; Amsterdam because it’s so achingly beautiful; Hong Kong because it was everything I wanted Asia to be; Africa for its freedom and the best attitude to race I’ve ever encountered; Singapore for letting me run wild in my 20s; and California because it has been a dream come true. So in a word, my favorite place has been everywhere.
What is your next big adventure (even if it is just in your head)?
I wrote screenplays for 10 years and, though I came close twice, I never had a film made. My next thing is to write a novel. When you type “The End,” it’s the end. Not the start of years of rewrites.
What piece of advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Relax. Everything is going to be fine. That, and buy Priceline stock.
Why are you excited to join FCB West?
I have a great partner in Julie [Scelzo, SVP, creative director of FCB West]. I get to lead an iconic brand. I love San Francisco and I wanted to join a network on the rise.
What is your favorite brand or campaign that you have worked on?
Fresh off of two Cannes Gold Lions on Nike and brandishing outsized egos, my partner and I rocked up at TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris in South Africa. Instead of BMW, Land Rover, Wonderbra or any of the famous accounts the agency had, we were handed a department store called Edgars. It was in the crapper; no brand voice and on the brink of receivership. In six months, we made 15 TV commercials and a truckload of print for them and turned the business around. We won no awards, but we saved people’s jobs. That’s the first time I understood what it was to have a relationship of trust with a client. I have Reg Lascaris of TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris to thank for that lesson.
Where do you find inspiration?
In anything that I haven’t seen or felt before. It can be the turn of a phrase in a book, a way that someone is wearing a piece of clothing, a strange custom in a new place I’m traveling, in stories people tell me about their lives, in watching birds fly and how they swarm in unpredictable ways, in a great image or a line of dialogue in a film, in design that is brilliantly simple and useful, in song lyrics or a great hook or an inventive rhyme. And, sometimes in a late night drinking bourbon with friends.
What is the TV show you are watching now that everyone else should see?
The last thing I watched that I loved was The Returned. It’s a French show about people coming back to life with no memory of being dead, set in a small town in France. The writing is so subtle, the acting so beautifully underplayed, the mystery of it so engaging. Oh, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Can they get an Emmy nomination already?
What are your hobbies – aside from traveling?
Writing is my first love. But I also play bass and cycle. Cycling is the greatest thing you can do in spandex. Bass playing isn’t.