In this interview, Kevin Lynch – a Creative Director at Oatly – shares with us his expertise. We talk about inspiring creativity, key beliefs behind Oatly’s successful campaigns, engaging an audience, and much more.
Oatly is one of the few examples of how companies can build a successful and consistent voice and personality. Therefore, to understand what is behind Oatly’s campaign success, we reached out to none other than one of the talented Creative Directors at Oatly’s Department of Mind Control: Kevin Lynch.
The Swedish brand is recognized for its signature chucklesome billboards around cities, catching the attention of vegans and non-vegans alike. Furthermore, their original and relatable copy has contributed to positioning the company as the leading oat milk brand.
Read on as Kevin expatiates on his role and background, work culture, what makes a great campaign, key beliefs at Oatly, how to connect with your audience, and much more.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started and get where you are?
I got into advertising by sucking at everything else.
My university path began in marketing. I got kicked out of business school and went into psychology. I found that fascinating but it required me to read books that do not have Cliffs Notes, so I headed into journalism. I wasn’t exactly adept at that either, but as part of my major, I had to take an advertising course, and I discovered advertising contained the most interesting parts of my three previous majors – the branding/business side, the audience/persuasion side, and the storytelling/craftsmanship side.
In hindsight, advertising was the obvious career choice.
My professional journey has taken me through Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and now to the charming hamlet of Malmö, Sweden.
2. You have been Creative Director at a big agency, in addition to founding your own creative consultancy company. What common practices have you taken with you?
New challenges are my oxygen.
Sure, there are always practices you’ve picked up, shortcuts you’ve learned, and contacts that you’ve made which make you more effective as you take on new jobs.
But I always look for roles that have a healthy dose of “hey-I’ve-never-done-that-before.” In Chicago, my jobs were about learning to be an entrepreneur or growing teams. In Hong Kong, the challenge was finding that delicate balance between regional needs and global demands. In Shanghai, I had the opportunity to establish the foundation of a brand that had been around since 1912.
By taking on totally new challenges with each role, you don’t benefit as much from previous experiences. But you do end up with a broad suite of strengths – not to mention some great stories to tell.
Creativity is more impactful if it’s the center of a company’s culture rather than the name of a department.Kevin Lynch
3. As Creative Director at Oatly, what does your day-to-day look like?
I know the stock answer is, “There is no normal day.” But in spite of the unpredictable energy you find at Oatly, there is indeed a sense of order. It’s Sweden, after all.
The day usually starts with an early call to Australia, one of the markets I work with. The first few minutes consist of everyone saying “Good morning… no wait, good evening… wait, what time is it there again?” Everyone laughs politely, every single time.
From there, I connect with my Swedish colleagues, often over a coffee. By the way, have you ever tried coffee with Oatly’s Barista edition? I was totally just paid to say that.
In the afternoon, I usually meet with a couple of the other markets I work with – The Netherlands and Spain – on current and upcoming projects.
And thanks to the immense respect our organization has for the creative process, I spend the rest of each day doing what everyone wishes they had more time for: Exploring trends, reading current events, diving into creative inspiration, and chatting up partners who might make for good future collaborators.
(NOTE TO SELF: Should I also mention I set aside time each day to disregarding deadlines?)
(REPLY FROM SELF: No.)
Having a healthy respect for the power of each discipline is another way of bringing the best out of everyone.Kevin Lynch
4. How do you inspire creativity and leverage the skills of your team?
I would credit Swedish culture with helping to get the best of our team. Sweden tends to be quite egalitarian, which means when a multidisciplinary team at Oatly gathers together, everyone arrives with the knowledge their role is important.
I also take a collaborative approach to creative development. A whole project could grow out of a social media observation, a unique partnership, or a PR insight… Having a healthy respect for the power of each discipline is another way of bringing the best out of everyone.
The last thing I’d mention is a ritual I imported from my days in Shanghai: Each Monday morning, I send out an email about something I found inspiring from the week before.
On a good week, the note helps set a productive tone among the team. On a bad week, it gets reported as spam.
5. What has been your favorite project(s) so far? Why?
My favorite marketing isn’t actually marketing – rather, it’s when marketing becomes an extension of the brand itself. Which is why I loved the Red Cube Project for the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC).
To celebrate the opening of their Modern Wing, the AIC created “500 Ways of Looking at Modern” which was a year-long series of exhibits, talks, and events. The marketing for it fit right in: We created 500 red cubes (which echoed the visual look of the AIC’s new logo) and hid them all around the city. Each cube had a URL and password. When people found the cubes and went online, they were given an art assignment to do/post/perform, and the best of the assignments became part of an exhibit in the Art Institute itself.
I think about how the discovery of one of those red cubes broke the tunnel vision that we build up going through our lives each day. And I believe that’s exactly what happens when you visit the AIC – you become more aware of your environment and open to the unexpected. Hence, the marketing became the brand.
To top it off, the Red Cube Project was a highly collaborative, multi-disciplinary project involving dozens of colleagues, and it benefitted a cultural institution I love, and a city I love. And if that wasn’t enough, it was also one of the best client presentations ever.
We presented to the leader of the AIC who, up until we spoke, was expecting to see a few social media posts and maybe a billboard. When we finally finished sharing the highly complex, somewhat risky campaign idea, he said, “Why WOULDN’T we do this?”
And then he walked out of the room.
6. What do you think are three qualities a great creative campaign should have?
1. A great campaign breaks laws – it screws with an assumption you have; it says/does/shows something that’s not supposed to be said/done/shown.
2. A great campaign creates (or enhances) assets that last long after the media buy ends – it could be as small as a phrase or as big as a cultural movement.
3. A great campaign leaves room for the audience – think conversation, not campaign.
4. A great campaign ignores the brief. Not always, but almost always.
7. Oatly is known for its simple yet funny and unapologetic shareable advertisements with a back-to-basics approach. What do you consider key to the success of these?
There’s not really a rule book at Oatly. We take pride in being “consistently inconsistent.” But here are a few beliefs that seem to be widely shared:
- People are more likely to change their minds through laughter than lecture.
- The more complicated the approval process, the shittier the work.
- You can’t change the world without sparking a few disagreements along the way.
- Assume no one is listening – you’ll almost always be right.
- Creativity is more impactful if it’s the center of a company’s culture rather than the name of a department.
I’m sure there are more, but those are the first ones that come to mind. I think the lesson overall is, marketing can be easy if you let it.
Care about your audience more than you do about your brand.Kevin Lynch
8. From a creative standpoint and your experience, what is your advice to connect with one’s audience?
You don’t work for agencies.
You don’t work for clients.
You work for the audience.
It’s their attention you’re asking for, their lives you’re interrupting. So work for ideas that will inform them, inspire them, make their lives better. At the very least, give them something funny they can tell their friends.
Care about your audience more than you do about your brand.
Keep in mind that taking this approach will, at some point, likely get you fired. Be honest though. You didn’t really belong there anyways, did you?
9. What is something that you would like to experiment with in the near future regarding creative direction?
I’d like to invent a new language. Maybe I should explain.
Today, everyone feels like they know how to do everyone else’s jobs. Parents know more about education than teachers. Doctor diagnoses are doubted until webMD offers a second opinion. And regional peace accords could surely be reached if only a country’s leaders would take the advice of that post from @slashbastard_3822. Marketing is perhaps most susceptible to amateur opinions because we use words and pictures – tools that most humans are familiar with.
If we want to regain respect and authority, we need to learn from wine sommeliers.
Sommeliers are held in high esteem because they speak a language no one else understands. What does “soil-driven” mean? How much cedar is in a whisper? What exactly is a “flinty” wine and can’t I just get something that goes with pizza? Even the title “sommelier” sounds inaccessible. (As proof, that word has now been autocorrected for the third time in this response.)
We marketing professionals need our tannins, appellations, and negotiants. We need a lexicon that creates discomfort in others.
“This Super Bowl commercial has notes of glorgen with a zesty semilach.”
(PAUSE) “Oh yeah… I really like it.”
“I knew you would.”
We would like to thank Kevin Lynch for his time for this interview and his insightful standpoints on successful creative direction. If you liked to hear from him, stay tuned for incoming interviews with more industry experts on our blog.
In case you missed out, check out our previous interview on Art Buying with Birgit Meinhof, from Carlnann.
Are you also a creative director in the food industry? How do you build an innovative creative campaign? Let us know in the comments!