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Meet the 40 Over 40 honoree: Jeff Benjamin

Meet the 40 Over 40 honoree: Jeff Benjamin

Jeff Benjamin is chief creative officer of Tombras.

How did you feel when you saw your name on Campaign’s 40 Over 40 list?

I felt amazed to be in a group of so many inspiring people. I’m lucky to actually know some of the other people on the list and I’ve just been huge fans of their ability to invent and reinvent themselves. And to not stop. If you were to talk to any one of them I think you’d feel like they were just getting started.

Sum up your journey to where you are now in fewer than five words?

Bold experiments.

Three qualities you need to be successful and achieve longevity in the creative industries?

Curiosity. Participation. Tenacity.

Worst thing about the crazy last few months? Any silver linings?

COVID has been a time machine - not just for our industry. But all industries. The exponential changes we’ve seen - industries dying, business models being completely reshaped, new companies and ways of working being born - were all inevitable. It’s been energizing helping our clients and ourselves navigate through this change - coming out even stronger.

Best use of creativity you’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Does the Taylor Swift album count? Non-COVID related, I loved what Fortnite did. Both the film AND the legal/policy challenge.  I don’t know how that fight with Apple will end - but for a while now I’ve been curious about how publicly challenging policy can work as hard as marketing. 

What needs to happen to make the industry truly diverse?

We ask clients to be brave, open, trust, and take risks when it comes to ideas - but we don’t apply that to ourselves when we think about talent. Fear and laziness are holding back our industry. Had it not been for a bold creative director (Lino Ribolla) who took a chance on me - there’s probably no reason why I’d be in this industry. I left college never officially studying design or marketing. I didn’t really have a portfolio. I’m not sure what he was thinking. LOL. But I think he trusted my potential and made a brave hire. We need more of that.

Purpose in business: A flash in the pan or the fundamental basis for the future?

Purpose has always been a fundamental part of marketing. At times we lose our way chasing gimmicks and temporary trends. What always gets us back on track is returning to a brand’s purpose and finding ways -  unexpected, breakthrough, valuable ways of bringing that purpose to life.

If we took your team out for a drink, how would they describe you?

I actually just asked a teammate and he said something crazy about a bloodhound dog and drooling. I hope this was his genius way of saying I have a way of putting people at ease to be their best creative selves.

Describe one piece of work you produced in the past 12 months that excites you?

I love the MoonPie Moonmate Alexa App we launched at the beginning of the year. A virtual roommate to help you get through quarantine, that even pays you rent in the form of MoonPies. It was born from a Mayo Clinic study that found laughter’s role in boosting immunity, and an insight that people were breaking quarantine because of loneliness and boredom. That was smart thinking - but I was blown away by the agency’s ability to rally together and actually make it. With no one in the same room, hundreds of coworkers generating conversation topics and answers, Engineers figuring out the AI… the tech that went into these things is was pretty sophisticated. The team studied the best Alexa AIs… what they did great, where they fell short, and how could creativity and humor advance what had been done to date. It was a pretty incredible feat. I hope it points to where Tombras is going.

Who's your biggest inspiration? And why?

Rick Rubin. I watched a documentary about him working with Johnny Cash and it completely changed how I thought about listening, creating, managing, and motivating.

What advice would you give to someone entering the industry? Any tips for success you'd like to share?

Stay open. After all these years as a creative, I’ve come to realize there are a lot of really great answers to a brief. And they’re all correct. Any number of answers to a problem can lead to greatness. The most important thing is to commit to one and give yourself and team the runway to make it great.

What’s in store for the future of your brand – and the industry in general?

More bold experiments.

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