Surely the greatest compliment you can give a creative regarding their body of work is, "Ugh. I hate you." As in, "Ugh. I hate you for being so good." Or, "Ugh, I hate you for being so smart." Or, "Ugh. I hate you for being the one who made that ad I still remember from 10 years ago."
So, yeah. We hate Chris and we think you will too once you see his work. He's done work that's both memorable and effective for companies like Apple, Volkswagen, Snapple, Twitter, and DirecTV. And his creativity has been awarded by the One Club, the Clios, the Cannes Film Festival, and even the FUCKING Emmy’s.
HE'S GOT AN EMMY, Y'ALL.
Oh, and he's written novels. Not a NOVEL. Novels. Plural.
Throw on top of all this: the woodworking skills necessary to turn a bunch of trees into an elegant cribbage board and, yeah:
Chris Ribeiro. We hate you.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
Honestly, ageism is something I never saw coming. I was either too naïve or too busy. It just wasn’t a thing when I was in my 30s and 40s. I mean, I saw Lee Clow coming into the office every day and never thought, ‘what’s with the old guy?’ I only thought ‘how can I work harder? 'how can I get more talented? how do I get to be the old guy?’ I came up believing that talent and experience could overcome anything forever. Deep down, I still believe that.
"If you can’t write html and create motion-graphics and if you don’t have six-figure followers on ‘Insta,’ don’t bother showing up. I don’t know if that’s ageism, but it sure does suck."
Is ageism something that’s affected you? What are some of the challenges you faced as a person who was getting older in the business? Do tell.
I don’t know for certain whether ageism has affected my career or not. Don’t get me wrong, I think it has. I just can’t prove it. But there sure is a lot of circumstantial evidence laying around.
I think the challenges of getting older in this business are not terribly different now than at any other time. People who came in post-MTV thought the people who came before were dinosaurs. Ditto with pre and post internet. Now it’s pre and post Netflix. Or pre and post Snapchat. Same, same. What is different though is the shocking lack of value today for ideas…concepts, big thoughts…whatever you want to call them. It’s all about execution now. If you can’t write html and create motion-graphics and if you don’t have six-figure followers on ‘Insta,’ don’t bother showing up. I don’t know if that’s ageism, but it sure does suck.
Used to be, 90 percent of the process was concepting. Until you nailed that, there simply wasn’t anything to execute. And when you did, you hired experts to bring that idea to life. I didn’t need to know to how to take a Panavision camera apart and put it back together again to add considerable value to an agency or a client. These days it’s ‘post first, ask questions later.’
"All that experience and a good amount of time has made me a better, much wiser creative. Right now, that and four bucks will get you a latte at Starbucks. Sad, but true."
Tell us about your own creative journey. What are your thoughts on where you are now, compared to your mindset when you were in the beginning of your career?
Career-wise, I lucked out with my timing. I started in the early 90’s when advertising was in a whole new pop-cultural ascension. I mean, it was pop culture. I had a knack for it, and I wasn’t going to let anyone out-hustle me for sure. But I was also in a lot of the right places at the right time. I was surrounded by great creative constantly. It was everywhere. And fortunately, a little of that rubbed off on me. It was the best time to be alive and working in the ad business. Now? I’m not so sure.
When I started, you’d hear these stories about George Lois threatening to throw himself out a 40th floor window if a client didn’t buy an idea. Or Jay Chiat walking out on a new business pitch if he thought a client didn’t deserve the creative they were being shown. You learned to value the work above all else. I really ran with that. There were times I wish I hadn’t. Times I should have been way less rigid. I believe great creative comes from conflict. And that fighting for what you think is right is important. But the hall-of-fame greats knew how to disagree without being disagreeable. I had talent and a lot of passion, but I just plain wore some people out. The work might have ended up being great, but it was only worth it for a few days. At best. All that experience and a good amount of time has made me a better, much wiser creative. Right now, that and four bucks will get you a latte at Starbucks. Sad, but true.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Reality has nothing to do with it. Being successful as a creative in advertising is a gift. It’s always felt like living in a really good dream to me. If I’d ever made a decision based on the reality of the industry, I’d have never made it to where I did.
"Until A/I completely takes over our jobs, the only way to learn craftsmanship is from someone else who knows how to do it. A person. An experienced person."
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
This is going to sound dickish, but what I think young creatives can learn from their elders is craftsmanship. Not just in writing or art direction or design. But in presenting ideas. In how to read a room. How to make a smart, extemporaneous reply to input or questions from a client or a manager. Or how to give good input to talent, or directors or editors or producers. It’s all craftsmanship. And it’s quickly becoming a lost art. Until A/I completely takes over our jobs, the only way to learn craftsmanship is from someone else who knows how to do it. A person. An experienced person.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Don’t count on loyalty. It just doesn’t exist in the business anymore. For ages, creatives routinely left agencies every two years on average to get more pay and better opportunities. Now, the tide has turned, and agencies are the ones doing the churning. If you think you’ve paid your dues, put in your twenty years (or ten or five or forty) and your company is now going to watch your back because they made a mint off your contribution, well, ain’t gonna happen. Either make yourself indispensable every damn day or change careers now and be done with it.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
Professionally, I have no idea what my future holds. The truth is, I love advertising. As a result, I never bothered to pick up any other marketable skills. I think the pendulum will swing back to ideas and experience. I’ll just need to lie in wait, and hope it happens before my kids pick up too much student loan debt.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Honestly, I think the industry still has quite a bit of solving to do on sexism and racism, so I don’t see ageism being a priority, nor do I think it should be. Having said that, the only thing that will drive change…the only thing that ever drives change in advertising…is the market. If clients were demanding older, experienced ad people, agencies would be falling all over themselves to provide them. In that sense, I guess what agencies could do better is create that demand instead of constantly chasing the latest popular staffing whims of clients (Hire some Millenials!’ Huh?). That’s what we do right? Create demand? Not that long ago, clients wanted the name on the door to be sitting in the meeting, and rightly so. Now it’s whatever name is trending on Twitter. How did we let that happen?
Unions are tricky. They are absolutely critical in most sectors, and they solve a lot of human issues. But they don’t work everywhere. There should have been a creatives union decades ago. But we missed the window. It’s too late. Why would advertisers suddenly start paying us commensurate with the billions of dollars of profit we create when agencies have been giving our services away for a percentage of client spend since the 1960’s? Anyway, unionizing as a way to combat ageism would only backfire. You should be able to fire crappy employees whether they’re 25 or 65.
"Mentoring and supporting young people has become my favorite thing. I never forget what it was like to be them and what I wish someone had taught me."
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
The older you get in this business, authorship and personal glory matter less and less. You realize as creative director that your name goes on everything in your purview at the end of the day. That allows you to give everything away to the creatives that work for you. Mentoring and supporting young people has become my favorite thing. I never forget what it was like to be them and what I wish someone had taught me. You never know, you could make positive comment in a meeting and end up launching a superstar career. It happens.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
In general, I see inspiration everywhere. It’s part of storyteller’s training. On a personal level, I get more inspiration from my two daughters than anyplace else. Professionally, Lee Clow. No contest.