2 Minutes With ... Anna Minkkinen, ECD at loyalkaspar
An Emmy-winning executive creative director at NYC-based branding agency loyalkaspar, Anna Minkkinen is a creative veteran with an impressive history in branding and design.
Overseeing creative campaigns and rebrands for clients including CNN, MTV, Comedy Central, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Marvel, Sesame Street and National Geographic, Anna has been a shining creative force in her field. Her versatile work spans across all media and platforms, including digital, on-air and large-scale experiential activations in stadiums and museums.
Anna's Scandinavian roots have not only informed her design philosophy but have drawn her to collaborative creative studios with an international flavor, spending a number of years as a creative leader at acclaimed agencies Trollbäck and loyalkaspar.
We spent two minutes with Anna to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations, and recent work she's admired.
Anna, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Andover, Massachusetts. I work in New York City but I live in Montclair, New Jersey, after many years of living in Brooklyn. Montclair has been referred to as "Park Slope West" because it's where some Brooklyn-ites have been known to flee when they realize they need more space. There are eclectic old houses, creative people, an annual film festival, an art museum and just enough restaurants to keep former New Yorkers from going crazy. I have trouble keeping up with my huge backyard but I love it anyway and I'm grateful every spring that the previous owner planted so many perennials.
How you first realized you were creative.
My father made his living as a musician and teacher. My parents were very DIY—home renovations tended to involve everyone. Halloween costumes were handmade, camping trips and holidays involved singing and guitar. I think when kids in elementary school started trading me prized lunch items for drawings I had made, I gained some confidence in visual art. My best friend growing up was (and still is) super creative so we fed off each other. We constantly made things—whether that meant crafts, forts, writing plays that we tried to convince our elementary school teachers to produce, or inventing our own language. I remember us getting totally obsessed with this middle school project we had one time that involved creating an ad campaign for a product we invented. We shot videos and drew the print campaign. We wrote jingles and taglines. I'm sure if I could look at what we made now it would be completely insane, but I think the gusto and drive I put into that project is not unlike what I do now when I get obsessed with figuring out how to crack a campaign.
A person you idolized creatively early on.
Some of my design sensibility was influenced by my Finnish background and Scandinavian design in general. From an early age I was surrounded by bold, bright Marimekko patterns. Finnish design generally tends to involve a certain level of austerity and simplicity, but it's not a cold simplicity. When it comes to Marimekko, it's modern and bold but it is also full of personal whimsy and exuberant splashes of color with a distinctly handmade touch in the design of the forms in every pattern.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
Being exposed to experimental cinema in college was hugely inspiring for me. In my first film class at Brown University, I shot film and learned how to edit and gained exposure to a whole body of work that I had never seen before. In a lot of ways, we were encouraged to deconstruct everything we thought we knew about mainstream cinema in order to open our minds to new possibilities. That was the first time I saw all the classics of experimental film and people using film and video to tell these highly personal stories. I realized that animation could be more than just "cartoons."
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
I love portraiture. I am disappointed in myself for not managing to get to the Met for the Alice Neel retrospective that happened this year. But hearing about it made me look at her work again and really appreciate her ability to connect with the people she painted. In terms of art that surrounds me every day at home, I should call out Adrian Tomine. In general, I have so much respect for graphic novelists, and Tomine in particular has managed to create images that feel so close to home it's scary, which has led me to buy prints of his work that hang proudly around the house.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
I'll mention two books. One is Sally Rooney's latest book, Beautiful World, Where Are You. I have found all her books really engaging, not only for the characters, but the nature of her deadpan writing style that really gets under your skin.
And although it bears very little connection to the above, I also should mention The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. In a similar way to how Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma from some years back made me think more about the food chain, this book made me think about nature in a new way. It stands out to me now because I find myself thinking a lot about our relationship to nature and how we're going to get out of the mess we've made on the global-warming front.
Your favorite fictional character.
When I was a young teen, I probably would have said a J.D. Salinger character. I don't know that I can say I entirely related to or understood Holden Caulfield, but I think the ongoing theme of what it means to be "phony" or authentic was something I thought about constantly in high school.
As an adult, I fell in love with the world and characters of Haruki Murakami. Even though the storylines are so hyper-real and mysterious, they also feel incredibly relatable and endearing when you experience them through these characters.
Someone or something worth following in social media.
I have to admit that I don't spend a lot of my personal time on social media. I spend a lot of time on screens for work so it tends to be more appealing to spend my spare time planting things or tuning my daughter's cello than making an Instagram page for myself. That said, I do appreciate places like @fubiz for visual inspiration, there is lots of inspiring international creative there.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
Well, work didn't get any less busy during Covid times. We had a number of long-term branding projects cooking when the pandemic started, so things didn't slow down. But it was a weird and interesting thing getting to see where our clients live and what their dogs look like. And there wasn't as much shooting, which I missed. I think the biggest challenge was the sense of personal space and time blurring into work every day.
Now that these Covid times have dragged on a bit, I've found myself increasingly frustrated by the denial of science, whether it's regarding the vaccine or climate change. It's not just Covid that upsets me, but the crisis we have now around believing in any common truths. For the sake of my kids, I'm feeling this increasing push to want to work more on projects that inspire people to dialogue and think more about the future of this planet. My job is to be a communicator so I'd love to use that skill as much as possible to make a difference.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.
It's hard to define myself on the basis of any one project because I have worked on a very broad range of them, and I think it's the variety that keeps me going. That said, I will mention two projects that I had fun making. One of them was this series of campaigns promoting an original documentary series called Decades for CNN, made by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. My favorite season was the '70s because I just felt like our use of Polaroids as this iconic framing device worked really well thematically, and I loved working with Chris Webb at FXWRX to create something that felt very much of the era.
The other fun one that comes to mind is a campaign we did for Marvel called "Find Your Power." When we started the project, it reminded me of the time I worked with Sesame Street some years ago in terms of facing the pressure of developing creative around these absolutely beloved characters (but I will say, despite the pressure, working closely on set with characters like Grover, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster and Big Bird was an experience I will not trade for anything). The Marvel project wasn't for any one movie, but for the brand more generally. It was focused on fans and what they get from these characters. It was a whirlwind experience to meet a lot of people from Marvel, both out in L.A. and in the New York office, and diving into the mythologies of the Marvel universe. I spent a lot of time thinking about why people love the brand and superheroes in general. I loved the idea of making a campaign mostly about how these characters make the real fans feel, especially in a time when comic books are really opening up to a broader and much more diverse representation of heroism and power.
A recent project you're proud of.
I have to mention two projects, since they happened simultaneously, both in the midst of Covid-living.
Seeing the work we did on a fun and successful rebrand of Comedy Central a few years ago, MTV asked us to work on a global brand refresh. It was a daunting task working with such an iconic brand, but in the end, we created a system that really makes sense for who the brand is today, drawing from the core DNA of a brand that people love but also working for the platforms where youth culture lives now.
The second project is the launch campaign I worked on for the CNN Original Series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. This was the first project I got to shoot during Covid times, and it was a joy to work on something that was so much about celebrating life, travel and lovingly created food. I really enjoyed this process of designing the combinations of colors, textures and settings that would represent each region of Italy in our tabletop shoot. It was also fun having an excuse to buy a gigantic parmesan wheel, some of which we got to take home.
Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.
Michel Gondry was definitely an inspiration to me. He was someone who, like me, seemed to love both live action and animation, and his imagination knows no bounds. I'm fond of clever in-camera visual effects and his masterful use of them is just inspiring. Plus, there is just something so earnest, funny and human about his sensibilities.
Someone else's work you admired lately.
A couple of photographers whose work I have admired over the last few years and who I have drawn inspiration from, particularly as I've thought about shooting talent, are Chris Buck and Autumn de Wilde. No matter how famous the celebrity, somehow Chris Buck's clever visual wit just shines through, and Autumn de Wilde's sense of style and color is just uniquely gorgeous and surprising.
Your main strength as a creative person.
When I finished college with a double major in art and English, I thought I was being indecisive, but over the years of working in this industry I have realized the strength of this combination.
For me, great design and great campaigns come from a real marriage of copy and visuals. My interest and drive in both of these areas has really helped me both develop ideas and sell them.
Your biggest weakness.
I am not good at sitting still.
One thing that always makes you happy.
One thing that always makes you sad.
Feeling like I've neglected my family.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.
One reason I do what I do is because I get to do so many things. I get to write and direct live action. I get to be involved in design and animation. I get to create immersive experiences. If I weren't doing advertising, I'd probably still be a creative, but I would just be more focused on creating more of my own original content, and ideally content that does something good for this strange world we live in today.