Not only is Max Lenderman an executive creative director at GMR Marketing, where he has won numerous awards, but he is also an author of two books, the latest of which is called "Brand New World: How Oligarchs, Paupers and Pirates Are Changing Business."
Apart from his successful career, Max Lenderman is also a sought-after public speaker, which makes him spend most of his time in airports and on airplanes.
13 Questions with Max Lenderman
1. How do you keep your work on the cutting edge?
As an executive creative director, one is expected to accomplish (or at least attempt to accomplish) two things: create a sense of inspired purpose for the client’s objectives, and inspire a sense of creative purpose to the ideas that one’s team can come up with. This requires a total recognition that the big idea can come from anywhere, and therefore, the cutting edge is a playground in which we can all play.
I think there is a growing acceptance that creativity lies more with perception and acuity of a documentarian and journalistic sort. Observance is critical. Otherwise, you totally miss the so-called cutting edge altogether.
2. How do you reset yourself to become creative? Do you have any rituals?
During the day, I go to museums. Having an office equidistant to the Chicago Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art is a blessing. There is a café across the street from the Art Institute called the Russian Tea House (Because the Russian Tea Room sued) where old-school symphony musicians gather during the late day for a light meal and a quick, cold shot of vodka.
Watching these cats after pondering a Kandinsky should make anyone think about things creatively. At night…it usually starts with a bottle of Mourvedre and ends with perhaps another.
But the most important ritual is opening the notebook. The physical act of opening a book, flipping to a blank page, clicking a pen open, sharpening a pencil – that should be the clarion call to get down to business. I always have at least one small notebook on me. Often it’s a Moleskine. But lately I’ve been using Field Notes (fieldnotesbrand.com), a Chicago-based "it" brand that makes great little notebooks that fit anywhere. I like them so much that I reserve only the good ideas for their pages.
Seriously: a good Moleskine or Field Notes notebook makes me write--and therefore, think--better.
3. What is an example of a time where you have thrown away an existing idea to force yourself to find something new?
Here’s the rub: if you ain’t doing it already, you ain’t going to be doing it for much longer. This world is a massive, throbbing, bee-hive disco ball of ideas. India has 380 universities (Canada has 66) and 11,200 higher education institutions that produce about 6,000 PhDs, 200,000 engineers and 300,000 science graduates and post-graduates. You could safely say that there is some ground-breaking s**t going down there.
China is the biggest blogging market in the world. It is also the biggest IM market in the world. It will certainly soon be the biggest crowd-sharing market in the world.
Every existing idea is primed to be thrown out and reinvented. One of the reasons I researched and wrote my latest book, "Brand New World: How Paupers, Pirates and Oligarchs Are Reshaping Business," is because I realized that inspiration, creativity and revolutionary thinking wasn’t necessarily reserved for New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin or Toronto.
I think there is an enormous amount to learn from the way marketing and consuming is conducted in the hyper-developing countries like Brazil, Russia, India, and China. And we need to take these lessons to heart and apply them here in our own businesses. The exciting and dynamic marketing tactics that are emerging and maturing in the hyper-developing world must be both a window and a mirror for us all.
There are profound lessons to be learned from marketing beyond our own borders because it’s entirely possible that everything interesting in marketing and advertising is actually happening in the so-called Third World.
4. How did you get involved in writing and what motivates you to continue?
I served in the Peace Corps as a water driller in Chad. It was there that I decided that writing – or any form of communication and knowledge transference – was to be a crucial tool that I would use to approach and deal with the world around me.
When I got kicked out of the Peace Corps, I flew to New York City and got a bunch of gigs as a magazine journalist. I guess taking some journo classes at the New School paid off. When I got back to the States, Rudy Guiliani was "cleaning up" the city and I was hell-bent on writing Babel-esque short stories about it, and playing in loud but totally irrelevant bands, writing totally crappy slogan-laced punk anthems. Is it any surprise I’m now in advertising?
So writing has always been a way for me to understand and thrive within an industry, culture or movement. I use the act of writing to understand the things around me, and my place among them.
5. How significant are the topics of cool hunting and trend spotting in the world of writing?
Every non-fiction author has to invent a trend in order to sell the idea. Every editor is looking for the next new trend to sell a book about. I’d say the topics of cool hunting and trend spotting is pretty damn important in the world of writing.
6. How do you define a trend?
A trend is a collective admission of something that everyone can intuitively understand and appreciate without knowing why they do so. What makes a trend truly palpable is when this collectivism is content to be part of the mainstream, instead of staking its worth on being on the fringes of pop culture.
7. How do you define cool?
That’s like asking how do you define Willie Nelson. Or Bob Marley. Cool is cool. But I do know this: only "uncool" folks define what "cool" is, not the other way around.
8. Do you need a culture of innovation to create something that is cool?
You need a culture of innovation in order to survive. Period. I’ve traveled to a lot of places. And in traveling through the hyper-markets, I find that the culture of innovation around the world is based on the same human aspirations and trepidations that we share with our fellow global citizens.
The breathtaking economic growth being witnessed in hyper-markets like Russia, India, China and Brazil--and the Ukraine, Vietnam, Columbia, Hungary and the Philippines--is one story. Another is how everyday people in these countries are adapting to it, how they are living their commercially-engaged life, what they are into and why they are into it.
Billions of people are entering a brand-centric marketplace for the very first time. For the very first time! The stories of how brands, companies and consumers are doing it will, hopefully, provide a glimpse into the future of marketing throughout the world. That’s what I’ve been writing about lately.
9. What is the best way to create an infectious idea, product or service?
In order to stay relevant within our own society and marketplace, marketers must inexorably become bolder and more inclusive. That’s the curse of the song-and-dance act. So to stay relevant--or at the very least tolerable--our insights must be more empathetic and our tactics should be more innovative.
Brands--and the marketers that serve them--will need to unequivocally become virtuous forces in the marketplace. Those that can’t offer up a clear and meaningful benefit to the global consumer will be rejected.
Marketing in the future will be personal. I don’t mean targeted. I don’t mean customized. I mean personal. Marketing in the future will be something that is shared between people rather than directed at them. And it will be a force for the global good, an industry that inspires people instead of annoying them.
10. What is the key to innovation?
My friend Bobby Pawar is the chief creative officer at Mudra DDB, a shop in India that has a reputation for outstanding creative work and reliance on home-grown talent. I had met Bobby in Chicago, when he was group creative director at Energy BBDO, the Chicago arm of the BBDO empire – itself the crown jewel in the Omnicom portfolio.
Bobby has a penchant for wearing fashionable t-shirts under unique blazers, chain-smoking when creating campaigns and pushing his creative teams into uncharted and therefore award-winning areas. He punctuates his sentences with poetic profanity, which endears me even more to him. And his spot-on insights and strategic thinking endears him to his clients even more so.
I met him late one night in the Taj Mahal bar, where we quickly reverted to our old Chicago habits of drinking lots of Johnnie Walker Black and lighting each other's smokes while running our mouths off about the state of the industry, Bobby said something that made my mind reel:
"Every Indian thinks of himself as global," Bobby said in between sips and puffs.
India has seen GDP growth of 6 percent in the last 2 decades, and a growth of 9 percent in the last 3 years. The economy is expected to grow by an average of 9 to 11 percent over the next 20 years, making it the second fastest growing economy in the world.
India is the 12th largest consumer market in the world today, and is expected to become the world’s 5th largest consumer market by 2025. India is also composed of 29 states and 6 union territories. There are 18 officially recognized languages in India. About 114 other different languages are spoken there. There are 216 mother tongues in India, with a total of 900 different dialects. But there are also more than 100 million English speakers in India, about twice as many as live in the United Kingdom itself.
To put it in perspective: 1 in 5 people in the world are Indian.
Indians are global, indeed. With so many different languages and myriad cultural sensibilities, it is a microcosm of a global culture. Never mind the fact that Indians bring back global culture back to their shores; we’re talking about within the Indian borders themselves. For all intents and purposes, India is a country of different countries.
Nevertheless, marketing creative that has relied on human insight over cultural ideas has bridged the differences. As Bobby Pawar continued with his thought, it began to make sense. And the implied emphasis on an experience-based marketing culture began to emerge.
"Demographics are tossed out the window. You have to look at mindsets," he insisted. "What are these people are aspiring to?"
With the types of demographic numbers for middle-class advancement proposed earlier, it wasn’t too hard to imagine the aspirations shared by the majority of the emerging Indian middle class. They are not very much different from ours:
•A better future for our children.
•Security from extremism, both domestic and international.
•Spirituality, or at least a spiritual grounding for existence.
•Food, water, shelter.
•A faster way to get to work.
•A better place to work, instead.
•A world where ‘the color of a man’s skin is of no significance as the color of his eyes.’
•Admiration, and luckily, love.
•Compensation for our sweat.
•A little bit of hanky-panky.
•A little bit of a party.
These things are wholly transferable. These are things as marketers that we should celebrate. Existential human insight is what will drive global brands of the future. Cultural nuances will certainly take precedence, but the compulsion to be a global citizen will drive the thinking of creatives across the world. The world is flat. And so is the marketing.
11. What are the most important trends you see in the writing industry?
Are there any? I wasn’t aware.
12. Professionally, what do you want to be doing or studying in 10 years?
I’d like to learn how to draw.
13. What are your most important hobbies?
I play soccer. Football. Futbol. I am convinced that none of the poets and pundits are wrong about the beautiful game: it truly is life.
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