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Big Machine's Sean Owolo: How Design Can Influence a Movement

by Kareem Taylor  |  09.12.2016

Can design define a movement? If we consider the “Peace” symbol, or the Obama “Hope” poster, or the HIV/AIDS red ribbon as movements, then the answer is yes.

  This means Sean Owolo has a point. “I would like to create a symbol that captures America’s desire for unity and peace in our streets.” Owolo, an executive producer and partner at LA’s Big Machine, believes it’s time for the entertainment marketing community to use its artistic prowess for some good.

  As the Black Lives Matter takes form into an influential movement, it becomes an undeniable topic begging for artistic communities to take part. Temporary moments matched with an iconic image can sometimes spur a resonance deeper than previously imagined. “Something that captures the Zeitgeist” is how Shepard Fairey would put it. Owolo is taking cues from Fairey, and has sparked an initiative at his own agency he believes will produce such a piece. The goal? To create something that captures the message and tone of this time in America.

  In an interview with Owolo, we talk the role we as creatives can play in socioeconomic issues, how ideas form and why artists should pick up their pens again.

  DAILY BRIEF: When did this idea come to you? The idea that there needs to be a symbol to spotlight the fight for social justice in America.

  OWOLO: These last four to five months I’ve been outspoken. Our industry is full of people that market to networks and to millions of people, and we’re the marketing arm for all of TV. Yet, we often get caught up in making promos and spots. That creativity gets lost and never gets used as much as it could be from a social level. I’m wrestling with the fact that as much as I’m friends with Jesse Williams and have done things with Black Lives Matter, I’m still bothered.

There is criticism you’ll get by virtue of that name. It isn’t inclusive, but it is for progressive-minded people. When my grandmother was marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., there were a bunch of white people marching too.

  You look at the “Peace” sign, and how iconic it was. It was a design assignment.

  Our community can help in coming up with a visual solution, logo, saying, an idea for a PSA or a spot. Is there a slogan that’s more inclusive? Is there a design? It falls on marketers who are on the front lines making campaigns.

  Can this design idea come from anyone?

  The idea can come from anyone, but I would love for Big Machine to take the charge. Let’s think through some solutions. Maybe it’s a real smart video. Lets get behind the idea. Right now you have [San Francisco 49ers quarter back] Colin Kaepernick sitting down, and some people agree or disagree. Some people take exception to it and once again, it’s because no one is taking the lead. [Kaepernick] is protesting the use of force and power to oppress people. This hasn’t changed. Been that way since NWA. Even with people taking issue, it’s because of the method.

  What’s the thought process that gets us to an image? Is there a philosophical creative direction? Shepard Fairey often says “I don’t get permission. I just do it.”

  Shepard is a phenomenal artist. His artwork and style is iconic and that helps, but I always thought the word “Hope” was as big a part of that artwork and campaign. The hope it could be a better future, so this country might be at a place where it will elect a Black president. The word is almost more powerful than the image, but it’s the perfect blend. That is 100 percent a process. One of the things we’re doing is asking ‘is there a word that encapsulates where we are right now?” Is it optimistic? Maybe its “enough” or “frustration.” People are flustered and feeling hopeless. We threw up a chalkboard of words that it might be.

  The Black Lives Matter movement has existed for a few years, in our community. Why do you think it’s reaching a “tipping point” at the moment where everyone is starting to care?

  Jessie Williams’ speech at the BET awards (video above). He was such a mainstream voice for it. It changed how visible Black Lives Matter became.

  When it comes to design, the most important is that it needs to be inclusive of everyone. Some of the optimism I do feel. Even when I look around my office, theres a very diverse mix of all cultures in our office. Designers from India, Cuba. It’s not a black or white thing. It’s just a human thing. What’s that word? What’s that campaign? Something that speaks to being inclusive for everyone. Obviously, the TV industry has been predominately white. Its okay. It is the America we live in. The reality is that things that are oppressive won’t change until the person that’s not oppressed cares about it. To me, that is as important. Everyone gets involved.

  How do you imagine this will impact people in our business?

 

  Not that it will become the standard bearer for where we’re at. Let’s stop the systematic oppression of people of color. You hope that everyone feels comfortable rallying behind something. From an art standpoint, you always know something is working when everyone’s embracing it. That’s when you know something’s effective. That would be the most ambitious thing you could hope for. Like anything, maybe something gets created. Maybe Big Machine creates it, maybe someone else creates it, and it influences people. If you do a piece of art and it speaks to five million people, great. If it speaks to five people, great. That’s art.

  Los Angeles-based Big Machine is composed of design-driven evolutionary storytellers who help their clients effectively communicate in the world of broadcast and branding. Sean Owolo is partner and executive producer.

Kareem Taylor leads new business development and growth strategy at Substance Global. He is based in the LA office. He is also the author of “Get Your Life!,” the book that teaches creatives how to turn their ideas into a career. He writes popular blogs on marketing, sales and leadership at KareemTaylor.com. A graduate of PromaxBDA and Santa Monica College’s Promo Pathway, Kareem counts CNN, Taco Bell, Sony Pictures Television and AT&T as his clients.

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