Creature Feature: An Inside Look at the Award-Winning Seattle Shop

SEATTLE—I am in Seattle to discover where the brand transformers work. And how they work different to achieve better results. Jim Haven, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Creature, is my willing and hospitable guide.

Haven and Co-founder Matt Peterson started Creature in 2002 and have since seen the agency grow to 50 people in Seattle and 20 in London. Creature is a well known shop in creative circles, having done outstanding work for Pacifico Beer, Nike, Starbucks and many others over the years.

At this time, Creature is preparing to debut its first work for Fort Worth-based clothing brand, Dickies.

For every client we want “irrefutable ideas, something that’s never been done,” Haven says. He admits it is a “North Star goal” and that they don’t always get there. Naturally, lofty goals require strategic thinking and the ability to execute, which is why Haven is excited to show me the agency’s home for “living briefs.”

In the basement of their refurbished Capitol Hill industrial chic offices, a fifty foot long wall where the agency’s strategists work out client problems is dominant. “It’s our secret weapon,” Haven proudly states. “Nothing is sacred. We solve problems visually and challenge things in real time.”

The strategic mapping done on this wall helps lead Creature’s creatives to better understand and solve “The Beautiful Problem,” and move from obstacle to opportunity.

“There’s a leap of faith that every client takes,” Haven explains. “Great creative requires clients to make that (leap).” The wall helps clients understand the our process more thoroughly and exposes them to “waterfall moments along the way,” so in the end recommended solutions aren’t a surprise, but a natural outcome of the system.

Back upstairs in the partners’ shared loft office, I ask Haven what makes one agency “creative,” while others, even those with talent in the ranks, flounder. “Hard work, luck and naiveté — those are the things that it takes.”

“In some ways, you have to believe in this kind of dream and pretend long enough for it to become real,” Haven suggests. “Matt and I talk about this. The laws of physics apply to life. You end up in the direction that you’re looking. So you want to always make sure that you’re looking in the right direction. Your mind and body will follow any doubts you have. That’s why I say, ‘instead of confidence, naiveté,’ because if you analyze what you’re up against — all the obstacles that get in the way of good work — you probably wouldn’t get up and do this.”

One obstacle Haven points to is the mindset of some big Seattle-based clients. He references Jeff Bezos’ famous quote, “Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service,” and suggests that the focus of many big clients Seattle is squarely on building a better product. Personally, I see Creature doing the same thing, and when you end up making a better product, the marketing it wears tends to fit like a bespoke suit.

Interestingly, Creature does some storefront marketing like crosstown hot shop Wexley School for Girls, which helps give both shops greater presence in the market. Peterson says, “We want to contribute to the neighborhood. We’re closer to the street, not up in some building.”

This is what advertising needs more of, in my opinion — practical idealists working side-by-side with other merchants. It’s the necessary feet-on-the-ground piece that helps make the lofty ideas come true. Think about it, an agency up in a corporate tower is physically on the client’s page, and the ideas generated therein often reflect this. But an agency that is part of the fabric of the community, it is tapped in to what people are thinking and doing.

Previously on AdPulp: Using Kegs As Canvases, What Will Pacifico Think Of Next?



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.