Creative All Star: Matt O'Rourke

After three years at Portland’s Wieden+Kennedy as an interactive creative director, Matt O’Rourke joined Deutsch LA as executive creative director this past summer to co-lead the agency’s digital efforts with Jerome Austria, also an executive creative director.

And he’s certainly well qualified for the job. O’Rourke has been a star in the digital space for years, coming up with all sorts of fun and creative ways to promote his clients. Highlights from the time he spent at Wieden+Kennedy include that interactive Old Spice Muscle Music video that has former NFL player Terry Crews playing music — with his muscles! — and the Oreo Separator machine designed by physicist David Neevel to perform the crucial task of splitting Oreos into cookies and crème.  

When he was a creative director at Boulder’s Crispin Porter + Bogusky, O’Rourke devised that clever Jell-O Pudding Face Mood Meter and that ingenious interactive Burger King Whopper Lust video that rewarded people with free food for staring at a Whopper for a certain amount of time without getting distracted — a task that is more difficult than it sounds.

Going further back in his career, O’Rourke helped launch the digital department at McCann Erickson in New York City when he was a creative director there over a decade ago, working with Joyce King Thomas (now president and chief creative officer of McCannXBC), who he cites as one of his mentors. 

Given all of his success in digital, you might assume that O’Rourke would be one of those fanatical types who talks your ear off about the future of advertising being in the digital space, but he isn’t like that at all. O’Rourke is actually a big picture guy who sees the value in, well, every element of creative output from television commercials to billboards. 

That said, he believes in cohesion between traditional and digital. To that end, he hit the ground running when he joined Deutsch, teaming up with executive creative director Brett Craig on the Taco Bell account to ensure that the brand’s efforts in traditional media and digital media are being wed. “We really fight hard to get our teams heads’ around coming back to us with ideas first and then translating those ideas so that we can execute them anywhere,” O’Rourke says.

A recent example of that approach is Taco Bell’s “Everlasting Dollars” campaign, one of the first projects O’Rourke worked on after he joined Deutsch LA. To promote the fast food chain’s Dollar Cravings Menu, Deutsch LA put 11 $1 dollar bills into circulation in 11 cities. The agency made note of the serial numbers on the currency, and those serial numbers were shared via the Taco Bell website so people identify the specific bills. Anyone who finds one wins free Taco Bell for life. “What’s cool about this is that ‘Everlasting Dollars’ is an idea. I can make a TV ad about that, I can make a billboard, I can make a viral video, I can tweet about it — I can make anything based on that idea,” O’Rourke says. “So that’s what we push for — we push for people to come back with ideas.”

While he loves technology, he isn’t driven by it. “If walking down to the beach and writing something in one hundred foot tall letters because the beach is in the flight path of LAX and seeing the writing on the beach is going to get people talking, it’s the best place to share that message, and that’s where I’m going to do it,” O’Rourke says, stressing, “it doesn’t have to be all about using new technology. I mean, technology is awesome, and there are a lot of amazing things you can use it for, but I would never make anyone that works for me be held to a specific technology.”

Speaking of the people who work for him, O’Rourke corrects himself, noting that he likes to think he works with people, and he stills hold tight to a lesson Joyce King Thomas taught him years ago. “Supporting talent is the biggest part of our job, picking out the creative talent and then just supporting it completely and totally,” he says.

O’Rourke is also a big proponent of supporting not just your own team but being a fan of your colleagues in the advertising industry as a whole. “When you get to a more senior level, you realize that when one agency wins, the whole industry wins. Yes, one agency winning a piece of business means another agency lost a piece of business, but it means that advertising is getting money, and it means that the industry is creating work, and it’s creating jobs,” he says. “That’s one thing I really want to try to get young people in this industry to understand early in their careers, to realize that taking care of each other and lifting each other up whether you work together or not is a good thing. Competition is really healthy, but it doesn’t mean you hate the person you’re pitching against.”

Take a look at athletes for inspiration, says O’Rourke, who was a competitive ski racer through college, competing in events including the Junior Olympics. “There’s no better iteration of it than watching two boxers beat the shit out of each other for 11, 12 rounds, then hugging and talking afterwards. They respect each other,” O’Rourke says. “I think advertising could use a lot more of that for sure.”

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