To say that Jonathan Plazonja is a rebel in the advertising world is an understatement. After founding Courage, an advertising agency that he describes as his “solution-agnostic collaborative of A-List multi-disciplinary talent (read grownups),” he rewrote the rules of advertising to best fit his creativity.
On October 22, Plazonja laid out the many straightforward rules of advertising to keen students and faculty, with topics ranging from character building to the technical aspects of advertising.
Inspired by the late Anthony Bourdain, he iterates that advertisers have to be insatiably curious: by staying hungry, being truthful, and believing in themselves. He also said that in order to be inspired by life, you actually have to live it.
One topic into which he delved was failure. Failure is not an easy thing to overcome, but it happens early and often, Plazonja said. He spoke candidly about growing a thick skin after collecting rejection letters in a box and using them as motivation.
The most invaluable interviews are ones that generate constructive criticism. Humbled by appraisal, Plazonja used the opportunity of listening to those who interviewed him right down to the scrutinizing details, which helped him improve his advertising skills.
He also stressed having a solid foundation of writing and design skills before pursuing an idea.
“Before you can break the rules, you have to know the rules,” Plazonja said. “Make the layouts rough and the ideas fancy.”
Throughout his years in the advertising industry, he has won many awards for his creative work. One of his most notable awards was the unprecedented Annual Hatch Award. Plazonja admitted that he has consistently had to “live up to that hype,” after his first major achievement in advertising.
He also discussed starting his Boston-based advertising agency, Courage.
“I should have done it 20 years ago when I had more time,” Plazonja said. The only tinge of regret that he displayed, other than having white hair.
Looking back at his childhood, the Brooklyn native labeled himself an advertising brat and a third-culture kid. By the time he entered college, Plazonja had moved to at least six countries and adopted the ability to “feel at home anywhere, and move seamlessly anywhere,” to which he credits his skills of flexibility and versatility in advertising.
Plazonja encourages his younger audience to be creative: The younger you are, the more creativity you have to “do whatever you want.”
To him, the only people who can interfere with your success are yourself, clients, double-dealers, higher-ups in a workspace, and most importantly, fear itself. Fear makes it hard for one to venture into new things once you’re in a comfort zone.
Advertising is a tough business, Plazonja said, and it’s only getting tougher. Hex adheres to a few rules that keep him grounded in an industry with so many challenges–including never having enough time, data infatuation, and the fact that the world changing at a much faster speed than people can keep up with.
“Younger people’s brains are being rewired by technology–and not always in a good way,” Plazonja.
His theory is that each of us has a bouncer in our brains to eliminate what we want to hear.
“We all have finely attuned BS detectors,” he said.
Passion projects are the best kinds of projects for advertisers, according to Plazonja. He has embarked on some personal passion projects himself, ones that have led him to win awards and earn recognition from the creative community.
In one instance, he used his enthusiasm for spreading awareness of animal cruelty and worked hand in hand with Citizens to End Animal Suffering and Exploitation (CEASE) to design compelling posters that challenged audience’s perspectives of animal cruelty.
As an instructor for Boston University’s Ad Club, he continues to bring his carefree yet tenacious attitude to the table, teaching his students the harsh realities of advertising.
“What you see on Mad Men is all true,” Plazonja said.
Jennifer Suryadjaja, Staff Writer
Jennifer is a junior at Boston University majoring in communication studies. Born in a small town in Central Java, Indonesia, Jennifer keeps her mind open toward moving and adapting to different cities. She is also minoring in sociology, as she is interested in understanding more about people and their behaviors socially. On campus, Jennifer is also a writer for the Daily Free Press and Spoon University, and she is a host on WTBU News. Her favorite activity is anything related to brunch or coffee.