Carissa Levine — Associate Creative Director, INNOCEAN USA

Carissa talks to TheNextGag about how is it to be working on the Hyundai brand, breaking new creative grounds, what her career dreams are and getting paid to write profanities.

Carissa Levine is an Associate Creative Director at INNOCEAN USA.

Carissa Levine has over 15 years of agency experience working on branding, broadcast, digital, social and experiential with an emphasis in integration, and has developed result-generating, award-winning work that has been recognized at a local, regional and national level.

Carissa began her career in Boston at Arnold Worldwide and went on to join Ignited, where she helped launch Activision’s high profile video game, Deadpool, and then digital shop Rosetta, where she worked on Samsung. She then joined INNOCEAN USA to take on one of the most notable automakers in the world: Hyundai.

In 2015, Hyundai’s first year as an official NFL sponsor, Carissa, along with her creative partner Jose Eslinger, led the creative behind two relatable and humorous spots, “D-Gate” and “Field Goal.” While editing these spots, they used their commute up the 405 to come up with an idea that would earn a coveted spot in Super Bowl 50. Their persistence and endurance prevailed when they beat out upwards of 600 agency ideas with the conception of “First Date” starring comedian Kevin Hart. It was a long six-months, but thanks to their unparalleled creativity, Hyundai became the first automaker, the first non-U.S. company and only the eighth brand ever to win the coveted #1 spot on USA Today’s Ad Meter. To date, the spot has received close to 15 million views on YouTube.

For the 2016 NFL season kick off, Carissa helped create two witty, fan-inspired spots, “Choices” & “Fishing Trip”, which celebrated fans and their passion for the game around the campaign rallying cry #BecauseFootball.

THENEXTGAG: IS IT BETTER TO WIN THE USA TODAY AD METER OR A CANNES LION ?

CARISSA LEVINE: The USA Today Ad Meter is amazing because it’s actual people (consumers) voting on what Super Bowl commercials stood out to them — and that is a very tough thing to do when big brands are willing to go to extremes as far as budgets and celebrities go. So, in that respect, it’s a huge honor to resonate and actually stand out on that stage.

But if I’m being completely honest, then I would say the Cannes Lion is still the bigger achievement; it’s a global stage and that means you’re going up against an even tougher and wider range of talent. That’s still on the bucket list.

TNG: TALK TO US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JOSE ESLINGER. WHAT MAKES THE TWO OF YOU A GREAT CREATIVE COUPLE ?

CL: Where do I begin…we are closing on seven years as a team — that’s nuts! At this point we have so many jokes when people ask about how long we’ve worked together and how we are as a team. Jose’s quick response is usually, “I’m the Bert to her Ernie.” The simple answer is we complement and balance each other where and when it counts. We have similar interests outside of work too, so there is a friendship and respect on that level. And when it comes to actual work, we love what we do. We love our jobs and appreciate how we get to spend our days. Jose’s mind is always moving so he’s a constant source of all types of ideas. I’m right there with him, but I think I bring a little more structure. I like making lists and organizing thoughts. There’s that balance. Together we ping pong thoughts and make sense of things. We enjoy the challenge that this type of creative problem solving involves. We are both competitive (in a healthy way) so we are constantly motivated and work as a solid team on anything that comes our way. And that competitive nature helps within the team because it also doesn’t let us get complacent. Over the years we’ve really grown to respect each other’s opinions and with that comes a real sense of trust, and I think that’s what ultimately makes a strong creative team.

There is an interesting balance that comes with overseeing teams and also still creatively contributing on other projects.

TNG: HOW HAS YOUR DAILY LIFE CHANGED SINCE YOU WERE ELEVATED TO THE ACD POSITION ?

CL: The biggest change has to be the increase in meetings. We usually have a few different projects going on with different clients so it’s a fun dance from room to room for briefings, creative regroups, internal regroups, client presentations, and sometimes it isn’t ’til the end of the day that we can sit and actually conceptually work for a while. There is an interesting balance that comes with overseeing teams and also still creatively contributing on other projects. I’ve personally loved stepping into this position and I know Jose has too. We’ve had some great mentors like Barney Goldberg, who’s been a great sounding board for our questions on team management.

TNG: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE BEING INVOLVED IN SUCH A HUGE FRANCHISE LIKE DEADPOOL ?

CL: For many reasons, this project has to be still one of my favorites. Activision came to us to launch their next big title at San Diego Comic Con, and we knew it would be a challenge to stand out at world’s biggest comic book convention — that is, until we were introduced to the star of the game: Deadpool. It was clear to our creative leadership that we could channel Deadpool, so we were basically given the reigns for this project. Jose and I took this incredible opportunity and created the wild and craziest campaign of our partnership. As you probably know, Deadpool is a mentally unstable mercenary. He’s very self-aware and brakes the fourth wall, so we created a campaign that used him as the actual pitchman behind his video game launch. His distinct and oftentimes disarming voice came through in all the communication points, which was super fun to write for. I was working on poster headlines and I remember thinking I get to write, “Shit just got real.” From the press release, to tagging over an “existing” billboard, to plastering his handmade posters all over the Activision booth, and ultimately crashing the Marvel Games Panel for his big announcement — everything was true to the Deadpool character. Behind the scenes was ten times crazier. This was a double top-secret game launch. We had to time the panel crash down to the second. Jose and I probably took 10 years off our lives from stress, but we did it. And it was awesome. Deadpool made his presence known, and his game launch was the “talk of the show” at Comic Con 2012.

TNG: YOU CREATED 6-SECOND VIDEOS FOR YOUR FINISH LINE CAMPAIGN. DO YOU THINK THAT CREATIVES CAN ENJOY WORKING ON SHORTER FORMATS ?

CL: I think creatives can have a lot of fun working on shorter formats. Those 6-second “Skip You” ads our team Alvaro Soto and Tricia Ting did for Finish Line are a perfect example of having fun and getting creative with a new space. We work in an industry that’s heavily influenced by new tech and ever-changing media formats so it becomes a constant challenge to do new and cool things with those changes.

TNG: HOW CRAZY IS IT TO WORK ON A SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL ?

CL: Oh man, a wild ride doesn’t even begin to explain it. Super Bowl is one of the most coveted projects to work on in advertising. So, when this opportunity finally came up, Jose and I knew we were going to do whatever it takes. There were many ideas in the concepting phase — our agency amassed over 500 scripts in the process. Ultimately, Jose and I landed with “First Date,” a concept that explores a very simple human truth — dads will go to all sorts of lengths to protect their daughters, and with the help of the Car Finder remote tracking function in the Hyundai, we got to see just how far one concerned dad would go. It was a surreal moment when we officially got word from Hyundai HQ in Korea that we were making a Super Bowl commercial! The director search was a creative’s dream. We literally got to make our wish list and for once had a shot at landing one. The upfront and the prep was long and stressful, but man, as soon as we got to set with our amazing director, Peter Berg, and our hilarious dad, Kevin Hart, it was a smooth and joyous experience from there on out. The four best moments were: finding out our spot was getting made, the day we shipped, seeing it air live on the Super Bowl and finding out it was voted #1 in the USA Today Ad Meter.

TNG: WHAT MORE WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE IN YOUR CAREER ?

CL: There are so many things. These days, there is so much crossover with product innovation, development, invention and advertising that we now have the ability to really make things. I want to create something that makes a major positive impact — that goes beyond ad meters or Lions (but those would be greatly appreciated too) and actually affects people.

TNG: HOW DIFFERENT IS IT TO WORK ON A CAR ACCOUNT VERSUS A REGULAR ACCOUNT ?

CL: I’ve really enjoyed my time working on a car account. There is a lot consistent work needed throughout the year — from car launches to sponsorships — so they’re definitely a unique beast. It’s much different from working on a service or packaged good because the good in our case is a large, expensive item that needs to be constantly factored into every idea. I think the finishing process is probably the biggest difference; so much time and care needs to go into the sheet metal. But one thing remains across all accounts — it always comes down to the ideas.

TNG: DO YOU BELIEVE THAT DATA INFORMS CREATIVE AND WITHOUT IT YOU END UP WITH A STALE IDEA ?

CL: I believe data can be a huge asset. I also believe it’s just one part of the puzzle. There are many important steps that need to be taken for data to truly impact the final creative, like how the data is being interpreted, how that influences a strong strategy, and how it informs a solid brief. All of those pieces need to work together to find ideas that really resonate with people.

Carissa Levine

INNOCEAN USA

Associate Creative Director

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