Indelible: John Samels on Lasting Creative

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Words by John Samels, Creative Director

As childhood neuroses go, you could do a lot worse than a compulsion to photograph everything before you forget it. Call it half adolescent bewilderment, half obsession with counterculture. I had no choice, I had to preserve it. The weekends spent getting chased out of downtown plazas by police for skateboarding. The basement punk shows. All of what made life exciting.


I was a pink-haired 14-year-old running around terrified that my memory would suddenly be wiped. Time seemed to be moving so quickly, I constantly raced to keep up. (It was more fun than I’m making it sound here.)


My Mom’s 110 Film camera isn’t much by today’s standards, and let’s be honest, wasn’t much by 1993 standards either. But it was a start — it put me on a path. What began with taking pictures of my friends soon turned into a daily ritual of capturing pretty much everything. The view from my first floor apartment in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. Shadows cast by skyscrapers. Old folks on the city bus.


Fast forward a bit, and my obsession turned into study. I got a better handle on photo, video and other media. I realized I didn’t just want to capture things so I would remember, I wanted to create things that others would remember. So I tried it all — short films, animation, painting, sculpture, screenprinting. Memorable to me, but unlikely to anyone else.


This all led me to graphic design, which changed everything. It felt like a combination of all of those things. A medium in service to something larger. A communication tool that speaks for me and for others. It’s potentially more ephemeral than those other art forms, but when it’s done well it’s also got a higher likelihood of being remembered.

“Memorable” is everything. In our industry, we can measure impressions, but are impressions the yardstick for success? If two billion people see a pop-up ad, a post, a spot, and immediately forget it, have we done our job? Data is no match for “memorable.” It won’t be quantified. But we know it when we see it.


A pop-up ad. A post. A spot. Here and gone. In this endless ocean of impressions, we have a unique opportunity with out of home advertising, to make something worth remembering. People can get up close and touch the color, the texture, the larger-than-life typography on street-level walls. The interaction can happen from a distance, or it can be up close, life-sized. For as long as the viewer wants. It becomes a visual landmark on peoples’ daily commutes, and they can take something new away from it every time they pass by. And there is something about experiencing visuals like this within a city, how these visuals live so naturally among their surroundings. Less ad, more ecosystem. Permanence is at a premium. Out-of-home stands apart now more than ever.


And in 2021, out of home is a rare collective advertising experience. We scroll alone, we read alone, we stream in twos or threes. But go walk past a mural. You are having the same experience as countless others passing by. The same sounds, the same smells, the same weather, it’s shared. It’s its own kind of collective storytelling. We laugh harder in the movie theater. We sing louder at the show. The more there are of us, the more the memories stick.

Working in out-of-home, I’ve been given the opportunity to guide pieces that are beautiful, memorable.

– John Samels

Working in out-of-home, I’ve been given the opportunity to guide pieces that are beautiful, memorable. They find the cracks in the walls to bypass newsfeeds and hours of pre-roll, to grab attention and settle in. Out-of-home breaks through because it has permanence. The best out-of-home enriches the lives of the people who live, work, or simply pass through the areas it inhabits.


I hope our clients — all brands for that matter — see the same opportunity in creating out-of-home. And the responsibility that comes with it. To make statements supporting others in need. To support positive change. To contribute to beautiful landscapes. To respectfully influence the overall feeling of a city. To just do some good. Any advertising can sell. But 99% of advertising will never do all this.


Because 99% of advertising is somehow both rushed and polished to within an inch of its life. I want to make unique pieces. Gritty but clean. Serious and fun. Perfect yet human. Thoughtful work. And yeah, hard work. Work that says:


We believe in what we’re saying here. Take this with you. It’s worth remembering.

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