The Importance of a Core Idea: A Q-and-A with Anthony Chelvanathan, SVP/Creative Director, Leo Burnett Toronto
The Toronto creative lead reflects on the success of 2019 and the forces that conspire to create stand-out work.
Leo Burnett Toronto claimed a host of awards for its diverse campaign work last year, and the common thread for all was an undeniably good idea. Anthony Chelvanathan, SVP/Creative Director in Toronto, discusses the value of brave clients, the powerful link between culture, creativity and communities, and what hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years.
2019 was a big year for the Toronto office, with award-winning campaigns including Grinning Face Coconut Milk’s ‘Shake It’ and TD ‘Poster Bank.’ Both campaigns demonstrate the process of creating fresh visual concepts that are relevant in today’s culture. Whether you’re working on a new product design or shining a new light on an already-established brand, what do you see as the key to success in catching people’s attention?
It all starts with great clients—the ones with a sense of bravery. Often the initial ask from the client might not always be what is most obvious, so working to dig up the core idea is important. We attribute the success of these campaigns to having a smart insight, a little utility and whole lot of patience.
Speaking of shining new light on an established brand, you were one of the creative directors on the rebrand of Toronto Museum of Contemporary Art, which took home a D&AD Graphite Pencil. From your perspective, what barrier(s) did the campaign overcome with its creative solution, and what was the inspiration behind the idea?
The main barrier we found was that people always go to museums when they travel—but not as much when they are home. Beyond that, contemporary art can be complex and difficult for people to understand. Our goal was to turn the museum into a beacon for those seeking something different. The identity was born right out of the architecture of the building—it was an old aluminum factory and its columns taper with each floor you ascend, which was unique in itself and perfectly represented what the MOCA stood for.
You were also one of the executive creative directors on the JAT Holdings ‘Petal Paint’ campaign in collaboration with the Sri Lanka office, which took home four accolades, including the prestigious Innova Lotus and Lotus Roots awards that honor work for cultural relevance and embodiment of local values. How does this campaign demonstrate the relationship between creativity and culture, and how does creativity work to connect us through deeply held traditions and heritage?
Culture and traditions are often passed down from generation to generation through storytelling. So I think there’s a deep link between culture, creativity and communities. The idea of creating paint from discarded flower petal offerings at Buddhist temples—which was then made available to local artists to preserve and restore temple art—was a very creative way to preserve and pass along a cultural story. With Petal Paint, we were part of that story from beginning to end, blending our process with local traditions and helping people preserve them. And that’s the important part for me, being part of the story rather than piggy-backing onto one.
With such outstanding campaigns coming out of the Toronto office, describe what makes it unique in the Leo Burnett global network.
Leo Burnett Toronto has always been really good at design. It’s an integral part of our DNA in this office, as is always focusing on the idea. We also tell the story of the work we do particularly well through our case studies. And finally, we put a lot of time on craft. It’s what the world judges us on and that’s why it deserves the most time.
You’ve been at Leo Burnett for more than 17 years, which means you’ve seen enormous industry change with digital design evolutions and technological innovations. How has your approach to the creative process changed? What is the one thing that will never change?
Even after all these years, I feel the one thing that’s never changed—and should never change—is the focus on the core idea. All new media and technology really give us are other blank canvases on which to showcase our ideas. The rest is craft, passion, perseverance and a never-say-die attitude to great creative work.
Describe how Leo Burnett Toronto reflects the values and work of Leo Burnett the man, based on the following words. *You can choose one word that means the most to you/the office, or reply to all, whatever you prefer.
c. Creative Solutions
While all are important, HumanKind is what describes Leo Burnett, the man and his legacy, best. All our ideas have to go through the HumanKind filter, even today. And that’s always been the way our ideas have been judged.