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Brent Choi’s secrets to spotting emerging ideas before they’re cool

Armed with an Ivey business degree, Brent Choi took an unconventional path to CEO, focusing on creative for 20 years. Today, as CEO at Angry Butterfly, he leads a high-performance agency team in strategy, creative, and delivery alongside his co-founders.


How do you define creativity in the context of your industry, and how has that definition evolved over time?

The broad definition of creativity in advertising hasn’t changed – finding unexpected ways to solve business problems. That being said, how creativity is applied is ever-changing, not just in emerging platforms, but also in how different audiences consume media. This has our industry working hard to help our clients disrupt while maintaining their brand values and still be native to the platform. Although I think it’s fair to say that creativity, depending on who you ask, is being valued differently. Some clients really look for creativity and see it as a true game-changer for their business. Others are looking for small ‘c’ creativity and work with best practices and the media plan to ensure reach, with their brand having strong attribution.

How do you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to identifying emerging trends and innovative ideas in your field?

Having diverse teams – age, interests, ethnicities, etc. – is critical to ensure we are at the forefront of cultural shifts. This includes the latest in tech, but also demographics and mindset trends as well. Some may chase the latest and greatest, but the tools are there to be right at the precipice as new realities hit the early majority. Identifying these cultural moments can make or break a campaign. We also experiment and encourage exploration to ensure we are ready for what’s next. But our strategy team, which is made up of anthropologists versus traditional ad planners, really gives us a unique view of culture and where it’s heading.

Can you share a specific example of a project or campaign where unconventional thinking led to remarkable creative outcomes?

Our recent campaign for the Jane/Finch Community Centre called “Bill it to Bezos” (gold and silver Cannes Lion recipients) really required a deeper understanding of the Twitch platform, but it was more than that. The mechanic was an important starting point, but then the creative twist to find an enemy was a brilliant way to engage the community and give ‘earned media’ the hook to create momentum. It was truly a great example of left-brain-right-brain working together to solve a challenge for our client.

How do you balance the need for creativity with the practical considerations of budget, timelines, and client expectations?

Part of creativity is how we work through practical considerations. As the saying goes, “Creative is not a department.” How we think about ideas is so important, but so is how we bring them to life. Creativity needs to be present throughout the journey from idea to production to media to course-correcting things in-market as well. As a Canadian agency, working with tighter considerations is what makes our industry so strong. I had the pleasure of working in the U.S. for three years, and the discipline Canadians need to work within really teaches us how to be creative every step of the way. I’ve literally been in U.S. creative meetings where the team has the starting point of an idea, and their solution was to hire a big-time director to create the campaign with a famous song.

In your experience, what are some of the most effective strategies for fostering a culture of creativity within a team or organization?

Celebrating creative thinking is the starting point for sure. At Angry Butterfly, having all of our founders being from the creative and strategy side helps, as our focus is always built from great ideas. The challenge in running a business and fostering creativity is that creativity really needs air, meaning allowing teams to have both time and the ability to fail – to feel safe to explore ideas that aren’t fully baked or may at first seem off-brand or off-strategy. It’s so important to allow creative teams to head down different creative pursuits and not rush them to stop at their first client-friendly idea. Of course, we are often under incredible time pressures, so sometimes we just need to pick our spots.

How do you measure the success of a creative campaign or project, and what metrics do you consider most important in evaluating its impact?

Different clients and different campaigns all have different KPIs. No one is more important than the other, but for example, brand campaigns are meant to accomplish different things than, let’s say, an email acquisition campaign, so we need to make sure the correct KPIs are in place. A tactical sales campaign would have different KPIs as well. The tricky part is when clients say they want everything. When that’s the case, sometimes defining the roles of different mediums can help ensure we aren’t cramming everything into each execution, hoping to check off every box. At the end of the day, we have to help our clients be successful. Often, it’s connected to sales results. Thankfully, more and more clients have learned that long-term positive sales results work hand in hand with the building of a great brand.

The Globe is the official Canadian representative of Cannes Lions — the world’s most prestigious and coveted advertising and marketing awards. Since its first outing in 1954, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity has been bringing the creative communications industry together every year at its one-of-a-kind event in Cannes to learn, network, and celebrate.

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