It’s not every 29-year-old who inspires this kind of naked emotion in his boss: “I’m deeply, and unforgivably, envious.” That’s the chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather’s Brand Innovation Group, Brian Collins, talking about new kid Christian Cervantes. As his dramatic name suggests, the designer has an impossible dream: to reawaken brands as familiar to us as our own faces.
Take, for instance, Coke. Cervantes forged a radical new campaign for Coke Zero, which is marketed to young men. “The word ‘masculine’ brought up images of dudes bro-ing out over ‘chicks’ and football,” he groans. “I wanted to do something a lot more subtle but still powerful.” He commissioned the British studio iLovedust to help create an iconography of playfully masculine illustrations (“exploding fire hydrants, sensual lips, predatory animals and their prey . . .”), adding silhouettes of snowcaps and ice fishermen to provide the necessary chill. “I had so much fun creating these little worlds within worlds,” he says, and notes that the freedom the creative directors afforded him made all the difference.
Another challenge was the re-imagination of Kodak’s thoroughly imprinted logo, a gigantic job Cervantes tackled right out of school with one other designer and a creative director. “My childhood memories are all documented by Kodak,” he says. “It’s more than a brand—it’s a significant cultural phenomenon, and I was given the opportunity to participate in the changing of the guard.” When he studied Kodak’s old identity, he saw not outmoded letterforms but a powerful nostalgia, which he incorporated into the type: A newly rounded a and its friendly associates, tucked between the high-tech k’s, become an homage to technology’s sentimental side. Cervantes and his team also created a colorful new visual language for the brand, based on the idea that however photography evolves, it will forever be married to light. As with all big-cheese clients, Kodak’s redesign required a necessarily long timeline. Cervantes says he has learned to love the process, and finds inspiration even in projects that never come to fruition. One of these, an (unused) makeover of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, makes the white stuff with the stodgy design seem almost cutting edge.
Cervantes made his way from a photography-mad Southern California childhood to the highest end of advertising via the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. One of his most enthusiastic teachers was Clive Piercy (head of Los Angeles firm Ph.D), whom Cervantes credits with steering him in the right direction. Piercy calls his former student a “totally hip cat” and notes admiringly, “He was pursuing both graphics and photography courses with equal interest. Apart from his work, the greatest compliment I can pay him is that I always feel more energized and hopeful around him.”
Everyone who encounters the tall, cheerful Cervantes seems to agree. Collins sums up his impressive range: “He can drive his ideas with visual as well as emotional power. This ability is remarkable, and I’ve only seen it grow stronger in his design work and his photography. But he’s as likable as he is talented.” In turn, Cervantes has a continued appreciation of his elders: “I can hear [Brian] in the back of my head saying, ‘What’s the story you’re trying to tell?’”