DDB NZ’s Damon Stapleton and Shane Bradnick prove that a nimble agency in a small market has the freedom to be more creative and push the industry forward.


Punch Above Your Weight

It may be small, but the New Zealand market certainly packs a creative punch.  The country ranked sixth at Cannes this year and DDB New Zealand continues to be among the best, ranking #1 on Campaign Brief and named Campaign Magazine’s Best Digital Agency in Australia and New Zealand.  Having ideas is not the hard part, according to CCO Damon Stapleton, caring about them is. The belief in the power of ideas and persistence to craft the impossible is evident in their work. Damon Stapleton and ECD Shane Bradnick reunited at DDB New Zealand in early 2014. Here they provide a glimpse into how a small market agency consistently competes on the world-class stage.

You guys had worked together before joining forces again at DDB New Zealand. Is it sweeter the second time around?

Damon Stapleton: Not only is it sweeter, our salaries are far higher. When we started I carried a bag of spark plugs with me at all times because my car was stuffed and Shane used to wear Scrubs from a hospital because they were the cheapest clothes he could buy.

Has your past experience had an impact on your approach to the work today and the way you lead your creatives?

Shane Bradnick: Both our careers have often been about doing a lot with very little. So we always look for the best idea because that cuts through than just money.  And this is also what we try to inspire our creatives to do.

Damon, you were born in Australia and Shane, you’re South African, and you’ve both worked in both of those countries prior to coming to New Zealand.  What makes these markets stand out?

DS: I think what is unique about New Zealand and South Africa is the audience demands more from their advertising. They want to be entertained not just informed. From a New Zealand perspective, the simple answer is speed. There is less red tape, more bravery and a strong desire from a country of only 4.5 million people to make world-class work. These ingredients make a very special creative place.

Let’s talk about Damon’s Brain. Your blog consistently seems to hold up a critical mirror to the industry in an attempt to save it. If you could solve one problem for Adland, what would it be?

DS: I would get our business to have some confidence again. We apologise a lot, but forget some of the most fantastic talents are in this business and that should be celebrated. The other thing I would look at comes from a quote, I think the late great David Abbott once said, “Shit that travels at the speed of light, is still shit when it arrives.” I would focus far more on the quality of what people are getting, rather than how it gets to them.

You’ve garnered a lot of awards in New Zealand the last few years. What have been the biggest contributors to your success?

SB: Clients demanding great work. Creatives never giving up or accepting mediocrity. A strong belief in our ability to overcome any obstacle and a stronger desire to compete globally.

Your work reflects an understanding of how to use technology to really reach people across multi-channeled campaigns. Does this grow out of the way you structure your teams or integrate across departments?

DS: I think our view is technology serves the idea or fulfills a need. We make everything and everybody equal before the idea, including technology. That drives our structure.

SB: Every problem is different so having one structure for us doesn’t work. We run creative a bit more like Lego. We decide what we need to build and go from there.

Bernbach said he could teach his teams advertising; what he looked for in creative people was a deep insight into human nature.  Do you believe this has changed or evolved? What do you think defines creative talent today?

DS: No, I think Mr. Bernbach was correct. Advertising may have changed in the last 50 years, so you have to teach yourself a few new things, but what hasn’t changed is connecting and talking to people. And it never will. Why somebody feels, laughs or believes is part of the unchanging man. I think many in our business today forget that advertising is meant to connect with other human beings. If you can’t do that as a creative, the rest doesn’t really matter, does it?

Follow Shane & Damon on twitter @SWBradnick and @d_stapleton or check out Damonsbrain.com