Liberal arts smarts, the creative brain, and the culture of advertising circa 2013
By John Syme
Britton Taylor ’98 came to Davidson “intrigued by the basic promise of a liberal arts education.”
A decade-and-a-half later, he is living the dream in Portland, Ore., as an award-winning advertising group strategy director at Wieden+Kennedy. A top job of his: the Old Spice “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign with the sexy guy on the horse, which garnered the Grand Effie for effectiveness and the Grand Prix for film at Cannes Film Festival. Taylor is also proud of the success Old Spice has built in social media, as AdAge named Old Spice “The Most Viral Brand of the Year” in both 2010 and 2011.
“Not too shabby for a deodorant,” said Taylor, who is on Adweek’s 2012 list of “Top 20 Young Influentials Under 40.”
Taylor finds the ongoing explosion in advertising form and content as intriguing and promising as his liberal arts background. Or maybe because of it.
“If you’re not confused, you’re not doing something right, because you’re not curious enough,” he said in a wide-ranging, rapid-fire conversation by phone from Portland. “We just have to learn to be comfortable with the confusion!”
Taylor learned that kind of nimbleness and flexibility liberal arts style.
At Davidson, he initially fared “extremely horribly” in chemistry, then found he could “read and write English exceptionally well” (after a “wake-up call” F on a paper courtesy of Elizabeth Mills). He wrote for the Davidsonian, helped lead the Union Board and the Artist Series the year Spalding Gray visited campus, read Ulysses straight through with Zoran Kuzmanovich’s Joyce and Nabakov class, wound up loving calculus with Robert Whitton, and interned during his senior year at Price McNabb Advertising in Charlotte.
“That piqued my interest,” Taylor said. “I was drawn to the personalities and characters, people who think differently, people who wouldn’t fare well in a typical office environment…goofballs and wackos.”
He became one himself by way of a postgraduate gig scooping horse poop at the Olde Towne Carriage Company in Charleston, S.C., alongside classmate David Aycock ’98, who was assigned to the “pee truck” (“Number One and Number Two,” they were) and a year teaching seventh-grade English (“Seventh-graders are just mean”). The latter experience led him to a career counselor for guidance, followed by a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter, and on to Wieden+Kennedy.
So, what does a “group strategy director” do?
“It’s kind of like being the left side of the creative brain,” said Taylor. Creative briefs are his stock in trade, relating audience descriptions and messages desired by clients to the creative team. Then, they all gut out the flesh and bones of Super Bowl ads and viral videos that (hopefully) will have people hunched over the virtual water cooler that is the smart phone circa 2013.
“The great thing about marketing today is that there are so many platforms,” said Taylor.
He notes that one thing hasn’t changed: “The people who tell the best stories win.”
Photo Courtesy of Britton Taylor