2 Minutes With ... Britt Nolan, CCO at Leo Burnett Chicago

On Allstate's Mayhem, The Lost Class and a Vanilla Ice haircut

Britt Nolan is president and chief creative officer of Leo Burnett Chicago. He joined the agency in 2009 as a copywriter. Since then, Britt has helped iconic brands form emotional connections that grow their businesses. He introduced the world to "Mayhem" for Allstate, launched #DoWhatYouCant for Samsung with the help of a flying ostrich and invited America to "Drive a Firestone." In addition, he brought Coors Light some much-needed "Chill," helped Country Time Lemonade win hearts and change laws and put van Gogh’s bedroom on Airbnb. He also sits on the board of Marwen, a school that provides free visual arts education and college and career programming for Chicago youth.

We spent two minutes with Britt to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.

Britt, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I actually grew up moving every few years. I lived in eight different cities before graduating high school. So, I guess the best answer is… America? Now I live in the suburbs of Chicago with my wife, four kids and two dogs. 

How you first realized you were creative.

My mom told me so. I actually can't remember ever not having "creative" as part of my identity. She'd be like, "You're a very creative person." And I'd be like, "Ok."

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Vanilla Ice. Well, maybe just his haircut. Yes, I rocked it. And yes, it was as terrible as it sounds. That's probably why I'm bald now. I was given the responsibility of hair and I blew it. 

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

I wasn't the most amazing student in high school. Particularly in English class. One of my worst habits was that I couldn't resist the need to entertain myself with my writing assignments. I didn't care about getting a good grade. All I cared about was making myself laugh.

Sophomore year of college, I was taking an English class where the professor would issue weekly vocabulary quizzes. It was a straightforward exercise. She'd give us a list of words, and we'd write the definition. Naturally, I treated these quizzes like a game of Balderdash. I'd just make up whatever definition I thought was funny and I'd turn it in.

Doing this in high school would earn me an F and a parent-teacher conference. But my college professor was different. One day, she asked me to stay after class. I was fully expecting a lecture about why I should take this class more seriously. But instead, she said to me "you’re a writer" and she started giving me books that she thought I'd like!

That conversation changed my life. She taught me that it wasn't wrong to be creatively selfish. And it's a lesson I've taken with me ever since: Do work that YOU love.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

Marc Rebillet. For so many reasons...

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

There was a two-episode series of Hidden Brain recently called "Reframing Your Reality." It's all about the power of mindsets. Your thoughts and beliefs actually change you physically and become your reality. I'm such a sucker for this kind of stuff. That's probably why I'm so perfect.

Your favorite fictional character.

Howard Roark.

Someone or something worth following in social media.

r/BeAmazed. Who doesn't love to be amazed? It's the most wholesome thing on the internet. So refreshing.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

Covid-19 made me appreciate how much fun it is to work in advertising. In one of those "you don't know what you’ve got 'til it's gone" kind of ways. Up until then, I thought I just loved ideas. But I really gained an appreciation for how much I love the process and the people.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on. 

Years ago, while we were doing the Mayhem campaign for Allstate, we did an idea called "Social Savvy Burglar." It basically involved pranking a real couple who had gone to the BCS National Championship Game by running a campaign where Mayhem breaks into their house and starts selling all their stuff in real time throughout the game. For real. 

I am super proud of Mayhem overall, but this particular initiative was the most difficult, terrifying and rewarding thing I think I've ever been a part of. 

Nobody involved had ever done anything like it and we had no idea if or how exactly it would work. The client killed it repeatedly throughout the process, but we just refused to let it die. We rewrote the entire thing multiple times, down to the last minute. When the game started, the excitement in the war room was like nothing I've experienced. It felt like launching a homemade rocket. In the end, it was a massive hit and it STILL almost cost us the account. I get a rush of adrenaline just talking about it. This job is a drug.

A recent project you're proud of.

I can't take credit for this, but I'm so proud of the team that did The Lost Class and I'm so proud of Leo Burnett for having the guts to support it. 

Our hope is that the awards we won from this work would inspire more creative people to help Change the Ref further their mission and change America's relationship with guns. And it really feels like there's momentum. I genuinely hope someone does an even better, even more effective idea for them this year. And that someday, we actually change gun laws to make America a safer place. The idea of being even a small part of that kind of progress makes me really proud.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

When Mini Cooper came out with "Let's Motor," it blew my mind. Sure it was a great idea, perfect strategy, brilliantly executed and all that. But more than anything, it was such an amazing statement about what an ad campaign could be. Revolutionary.

Someone else's work you admired lately. 

Burger King's "Confusing Times." There is so little work left in the world that is genuinely funny. I thought this stuff was pure genius. I’d put the writing up against any other comedy content out there.

Your main strength as a creative person.

I laugh at my own jokes. 

Your biggest weakness.

I really struggle with touchless faucets. I can never find the sensor. It's a real problem and the saddest part is that I don't even have a path to getting better. No clue where to start.

One thing that always makes you happy.


One thing that always makes you sad.

Billionaires. That, and Hotel California. 

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

Cooking. And eating.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives and marketers about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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