HILLARY COE ON DRAG RACING, FLYING JETS, & HARRISON FORD
We spoke to WNW Member #2984 Hillary Coe about her experiences modeling, drag racing, flying jets, hanging out with Harrison Ford, empowering women through advertising, and looking to the uncharted territory of virtual reality, augmented reality, and home connectivity. Yes, she's done all of that. Which made us wonder if she's dipped her toes in cloning as well. And which of these endeavors Hillary was in the middle of when she took the time to chat with us. How fast was she going? Did she have Harrison guest answer a question? (Is it virtual reality or augmented reality that allows us to pretend to do all of this cool shit too?)
Tell us your story! Who is Hillary Coe and how did she get here?
I am a creative director, a hands-on designer, and a technologist. I build experiences, the products that bring them to life, and the stories that make the world fall in love with them.
Growing up I was (and still am) fascinated with technology and traditional art. I studied digital media in college (visual effects, motion graphics, film and advertising), which allowed me to seamlessly work across all mediums of the creative field. This includes film production (Anonymous Content), creative production (Hornet/Famous) my own creative agency (BoxEight), advertising (Chiat/TBWA/Media Arts Lab) and the creative tech world (Google).
In addition to my professional career, I hold a world record in drag racing. I appear on the cover of the world’s largest fashion magazines, and push myself both mentally and physically by climbing mountains, jumping out of planes and learning to fly.
Growing up, what did you want to be?
I wanted to be an astronaut. I fantasized about space and discovery of new worlds as I ran around the backyard in my underpants. I still romanticize the unknown up there, but with a slightly different lens now and more clothes on.
"I want to lick the gelato from Milan in late Summer with the violin gypsies and Parisian chainsmokers dancing on ships as they twist through Fjords under glowing northern lights."
Do your parents understand what you do for a living?
I used to chase my father around his agency when I was a kid - learning the letterpress and what that big Avid box machine did. I owe a lot of my storytelling to his never-ending openness to creativity. My mother is still upset I don’t make greeting cards.
What are some cities you’ve lived in, summed up in one sentence?
I want to lick the gelato from Milan in late Summer with the violin gypsies and Parisian chainsmokers dancing on ships as they twist through Fjords under glowing northern lights.
What's a dream place you’d like to move?
I would be satisfied never settling anywhere and always exploring. My inspiration pulls from the experiences outside of where work lands me, and I find it absolutely essential to my work (and growth as a human being) to seek that out.
You’ve been a successful creative director, designer, technologist, drag racer, model, and the list goes on. How does having such varied experiences impact your work?
I have this need to surprise, disrupt and hopefully inspire people to see things differently. If I wasn’t applying this to the rest of my life I would be dishonest.
How does one experience inform another? Do you apply insights from drag racing, flying jets, and modeling to your work as a creative director?
The psychology behind me seeking out those “experiences” is the same tension that drives me to constantly reinvent the way I tell stories. “Girls can’t race”. Bullshit. I spent every weekend for 2 years tossing wrenches with the right team until we broke records and made history. I see storytelling in this brilliant technological age the same way. There is nothing we can’t do, we just need to be smart, not fear change and have a damn good Creative Technologist backing us up (I recommend Hai Nguyen).
Are there any fields you haven’t conquered? If not, then next question. If yes, what are one or two things you always wanted to try your hands at but haven’t yet?
I want to invent new fields and conquer them. I want to take the sparks of magic in new platforms and shape them into the flaming powerhouses I see them becoming. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, home connectivity….there is a huge list of areas for creative influence yet to be defined. It is an exciting time to be a creative.
“Real Time Advertising” won pretty much every award that ever existed. What was your involvement? Did you and your team know that you were onto something groundbreaking during development?
Twitter was winning and we were tired of every brand wanting to “re-create the Oreo moment” during live events. This was a perfect example of reinventing the way we saw advertising to meet the challenges of an ever-changing social environment. My creative role allowed me to imagine how this project existed in the world and how people used it. Ex: How could Nike provide an innovative experience on users' second screens when Messi scored a goal? Display ads were no longer something pushed on a user, they started a real conversation. That is the power of real-time advertising - it reflects real life as it happens, just like social media.
The adidas campaign “all in for #mygirls” addresses gender stereotypes on and off the proverbial field. I'm sure you have something to say on the topic of gender stereotyping.
The adidas campaign was very important to me - beyond my quest to tell real, authentic stories of girls all over the world kicking ass and taking names. Women who exist in male-driven worlds (including advertising) are rarely shown the perspective of other females fighting that same battle. I grew up a tomboy and seemed to be the only girl within 15 miles who liked to skateboard and swim in the ocean. If I had access to girls who shared those same passions I wouldn’t have felt so isolated- something a lot of women now feel in the workplace. The adidas campaign set up a community for girls to locate and set up their tribes online. I highly suggest to any young woman in advertising: find your tribe.
"If I had access to girls who shared those same passions I wouldn’t have felt so isolated- something a lot of women now feel in the workplace."
Harrison Ford still hasn’t finished building his WNW profile, but we still think he’s super cool. Did you get to meet Harrison and all of the voices behind the Conservation International's "Nature is Speaking"? Who most exceeded your expectations, or most surprised you?
I am truly inspired by how passionate and involved Harrison is toward this environmental crisis (he’s on the Board of Directors with Ed Norton). I respect all these actors: they have the eyes and ears of the world and volunteer that power for the sake of doing something good. One of them recorded a version based on a famous line they are known for and I wish we had permission to release it.
I’ll be sure to remind Harrison of his profile incompletion.
Do you have other causes you’re especially passionate about, that you’d love to work on in the future?
Any with truly good intentions. There is no better feeling than taking the skills and passions I have and applying them to ACTUALLY make a difference in the world. I just finished some work for the UN Climate Conference, and currently I’m lending a hand to XQ: who are rethinking the education system by empowering the right people to bring schools into the 21st century. Keep an eye out.
Inspiration & Advice
Who are some other WNW members you admire, and why?
Blake Kidder - One of the craziest creative minds I have worked with
Tim Geoghegan - Because he’s not afraid to cross dress on a casual Wednesday
What’s the best advice for a creative that you’ve ever heard? Do you have a favorite quote, or personal mantra?
If a problem you are trying to solve doesn’t work within the constraints of the brief, the platform or technology--change the constraints. Be prepared to go to bat for it.
Learn. Don’t get comfortable. Know what’s out there. Find out who is doing cutting edge work. Watch lectures, go to conferences, attend dinners even if you aren’t particularly social. LEARN to be social.
Things you would tell your high school or early twenties self.
Stay weird and don’t drop out of that C++ class.
"I highly suggest to any young woman in advertising: find your tribe."
Bonus Round :)
What do you do when Not Working?
I’m learning to fly. Once you ride in an F-16 you’ll never look at the sky the same way again.
What song always gets you in the creative zone?
I’m not sure about creative zone but this question reminds me of that Kenny Loggins song I used to play before races.