New Wave Creatives

Piecing ideas together, playing computer games and pioneering cults: Decoding David Wigglesworth

The Grey London ECD on constantly creating, obsessively watching TV and disrupting adland's foundations

By Olivia Atkins

Upon joining Grey London earlier this year, former Droga5 London creative director David Wigglesworth was tasked with working across all of the agency's clients and making "90 per cent of the work 10 per cent better and 10 per cent of the work 100 per cent better," according to the agency's president and CCO Laura Jordan Bambach. No pressure then.

With an assortment of career experiences beneath his belt, Wigglesworth has proven he's hot property in adland. He's worked at Sony Music, St Luke's, Fallon London and Dentsumcgarrybowen but it's his passion for TV and pushing the cultural zeitgeist that sticks out. Combining fun with creativity, he's embraced the challenge of working within creative chaos and enjoys the constant pursuit of getting controversially-creative work over the line.

Driven by his love of creating content - regardless of the format - and his commitment to buck trends and expectations - Wigglesworth is emblematic of a modern day creative leader. We sat down with him to find out what fuels his process and how he maintains inspiration.

Creative Salon: David, what does creativity mean to you?

David Wigglesworth: Any creative industry leans towards the production of a tangible output. My mum is an artist and she sits in her den all day and paints and paints. Even if no one in the world sees the pieces of art that she’s creating, she’d still do it. Musicians are the same; they play and record songs all day long. Some get big, but some never leave their bedrooms. Filmmakers are centred around creating content. There’s a desire to be seen and heard. The actual creative industries always have the goal of creating - and that shouldn't be any different in advertising. Our thought process should always lead to some kind of tangible output for us to feast upon.

Happy creatives are usually always making stuff – that’s the embodiment of creativity for me. But that's probably where our creative industry loses its way a bit. Often in our creative journeys to make something great, things can get corporate or creatives can get bogged down in red tape, process and endless feedback loops. The second that starts to overtake actually making things for clients, that's when misery seeps in.

CS: What role did creativity play in your childhood?

DW: I was obsessed with watching TV, playing computer games and making music as a child. I was never good with numbers; I was always a visual learner and loved drawing.

My mum always painted and my dad always put on stupid comedies; I spent a lot of time watching Bill Murray films. I remember my dad’s first video recorder. There was something really cool about how tech emerged throughout my childhood and its significance. When I got my first video recorder, my mates and I instantly made movies. They were never going to go anywhere but it was just fun to create something. I love the craft side of work and piecing ideas together to create a final output. It’s a real collaborative sport and seeing the team figure out the detailed intricacies is always exciting.

OA: Who would you credit as inspiring or shaping your journey?

DW: Probably subconsciously, Bill Murray. I was obsessed with his delivery and sarcastic sense of humour. My dad was very much the driver of comedy in my life. From a young age, he constantly put things on that we shouldn't have watched. My parents weren’t well off when I was young; we grew up on a council estate and sometimes times were tough, but no matter what happened, my dad could laugh at what was going on. He lightened the mood and that’s gone into everything I do. If you can laugh about what's happened at work, that always makes a situation better. Or finding the fun in a project.

My older brother is the opposite to me and super put together. He lives in New York yet somehow despite our differences, we both ended up in advertising. That gentle rivalry keeps me on my toes. We haven't ever worked together but we chat through everything and have very different styles.

CS: When you first entered the creative industries, what were your ambitions?

DW: My mate pulled me onto the advertising course in Leeds and then dropped out. I’ve got a real drive to achieve. Even after the course, I was obsessed with going to London and calling up agencies. I would get a lot of £1 megabuses to investigate my options.

I'm never fully satisfied; there's always something I’m working towards. Maybe one day that will settle, but at uni I was determined to get to London and once I made it here, I wanted to make award-winning work. I’m always relentlessly pushing to making great work and constantly trying to prove myself - which doubles up as motivation.

You need similar people around you to get your way of thinking through. It’s not necessarily a barrier, just worth keeping an eye out for meeting characters with the same mind-set and pursuing that chemistry.

CS: What you do to nurture your creativity?

DW: I was always obsessed with making my portfolio great when I was younger. And it forced me to do whatever I could to stick out. I’d always question if the work was something I wanted to share with my friends or put my name to. That’s still what excites me today. Sometimes the bureaucracy of work means you have to prioritise the client but it’s about finding ways to service them while making the work you want.

I hate advertising. I’m not a classic ad man and I don’t memorise awards entries. Personally, I’m interested in film and heavy metal screamo hardcore. I was always in a punk band and fighting the system. Music is a big inspiration; I'm also into illustration and Japanese culture. I always find it dangerous when people bring ad references to the table.

OA: Do you have a favourite piece of work that you've created?

DW: As a couple, it’s probably the Setapp work because we worked so hard creating something stupid that people outside of advertising would love. It still makes me smile; the client was up for doing something interesting.

Another one we had fun on was the Cadbury’s Creme egg, Have a fling with a Creme egg series. I'm obsessed with Old English director Brian Baderman, who represents bygone advertising. He shot England in all its disgustingly terrific glory; real people from the street rather than perfect illusions. He had a great view of the world. We worked with him on a film series that was meant to look intentionally horrible but the client didn’t understand our vision.

CS: How would you describe your approach to problem solving?

DW: As a creative, you're constantly trying to find something to fight against to make the work interesting. I’ve had projects where we’ve pushed against the client, which made the process so painful. It’s our quest to create something different and standout, but when the goalposts are so far removed, it will never be a good piece of work if it’s going to be pulled into the boring middle place. So we changed tack and decided to approach jobs from the client’s perspective and start campaigns from their requirements – allowing us to interpret and over-deliver their needs.

OA: What excites you most about working in the advertising today?

DW: Honestly, I don’t think much has changed since I was a kid. I was born in the 80s but I was mainly a 90s kid, spending time in front of the TV watching Ren and Stimpy, Fresh Prince, Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle etc. I’d get back from school, turn the TV on, eat some crisps and be there until I was forced to go to bed. There were so many great shows for kids that your life revolved around the programming. Advertising was just a part of watching all these great shows. I was subconsciously seeing ads without realising; and if an ad ever caught my attention for being stupid, silly or interesting, I’d remember it and tell my mates about it. It was something to talk about; it probably captured my short attention span. Not much has changed since then; what drives me creatively still is creating something I want to tell my mates about. That's the subconscious goal.

CS: What do you think the industry can do to raise its creative standards?

DW: The longer I’ve been in the industry, the more I'm noticing how seriously it takes itself. At its core, we’re always trying to be disrupters and steal attention that isn't ours to steal. Somewhere in the quest to identify whether purpose-driven work or life-changing work succeeds, we’ve forgotten to enjoy the creative process. Obviously good causes happen in the industry, but day-to-day, we’re taking things too seriously. When I was looking at advertising as a kid, the serious stuff wasn’t what was memorable. Repositioning creativity and joy to sit at our centre helps keep creative sparks alive and excited.

CS: So what would you say are the biggest challenges you face as a creative leader?

DW: Probably taking ourselves too seriously again. Sometimes stress or pressure of working with big clients, having big deadlines and budgets can set in that sense of seriousness and it becomes quite hard to have fun. Obviously, I've got a personal penchant for silly, stupid and surprising work that lightens up your day. Everyone loves to do stuff that feels fun, entertaining, weird, surprising or innovative but seriousness tends to seep in.

I question how to help teams create the right space so that they can have fun. I’m in a position now where I can oversee things from a different angle and it’s my job to protect our creativity. If I feel that the teams are getting stuck into serious without space for light relief, I might give them something that doesn’t lead anywhere – just so they have a fun outlet to work on. If it becomes great, that’s wonderful; if not, it's just fun to kick around and works to reawaken the team.

We all have bills to pay and clients to please. But we do need to reprioritise the joy. It’s like musicians who get massive when they’re just 16 and suddenly they’re right in the thick of the music industry, bought by a huge record label who input on every song until they slowly start sounding more manufactured. We need to learn from this process and tap into our 16 year old versions of creativity; it’s a lot more pure. Teams need to have space to have fun and feel silly again – especially around serious work. we also need to improve client communication and find a way to get them to trust into creativity again, and take risks.

CS: What have you learned in your career so far?

DW: COVID might have killed it a bit, but having that weird insatiable hunger to achieve something has helped; it means you’re eager to grasp everything and push forward. I remember in the early days, grabbing briefs out of the printer because I was so keen to make fun stuff and grinding away relentlessly to be across everything. Now I’m figuring out how to keep talented individuals motivated to keep throwing out magic. It’s a work ethic thing. It’s always served me well - if you're willing to put in the hours, graft and not get down when you get kicked, then you can’t fail. And people like good workers. I also like collaborating and leaning on other people’s expertise.

CS: OK, imagine the ad industry gets banned in 2023. What would you do with the rest of your life?

DW: I grew up as a Mormon, so I'm very well indoctrinated. I’d like to set up a cult where we basically home grow fast food and spend all day watching TV and 90s films like Terminator Two and Dumb and Dumber. The TV screen would be our leader and we’d be surrounded by burgers. We’d only wear pink.


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