Pascal Duval Takes Purpose from Agency to Brand to Production

'I am a maker, not a marketing person that wants to sell you something'

Reinventions profiles people who've made big pivots. Meet Pascal Duval, who's completing the full cycle of economically driven creativity: from agency side, to brand side, to production with Halal Studios, all to bring purpose back into process.

What were you before?

The first time I worked "brand side" was at G-Star. Before that, I always worked at or for agencies, or directly for clients as a freelancer. One of the highlights was working on RAW for the Oceans with Pharrell and creating something more purposeful. 

I left G-Star to join ASOS in London. I saw an opportunity, or at least felt a drive, to translate their purpose into something more relevant than just selling the product—giving it a story. We created some amazing campaigns that represented this: "Go Play," a beauty campaign showing there are ​​no guidelines or limitations when it comes to expressing your individuality; "More Reasons to Move," showing twentysomethings exercise as more of a social and cultural activity instead of competition; "My Style Is Never Done," where we see Jazelle Zanaughtti transform into diverse personas and alter-egos, showcasing that we are not made of one thing, but all carry multiple identities and can express ourselves endlessly. 

I think brands like ASOS should push their brand at all costs, but also be responsible for the world we live in and translate that into action. I felt the sense of mission slipping away within the company, with growth taking over more than necessary, so I started to look for a new challenge. 

During this period I started painting again and this gave me an outlet which I think also gave me the focus to reflect and rethink. I was contacted by VanMoof to become their new CCO. At first I could not make a connection—I really did not see myself moving from fashion, lifestyle and culture-driven areas to advertising bikes. However, it was sitting in the traffic in L.A. on a sunny shoot day that made me see the opportunity—getting people out of their iron boxes and onto bikes. It was bigger than working for an e-bike brand, more about the power of biking in general. So I started as CCO, to creatively help sharpen their purpose and translate this into campaigns. 

We launched the S3 and X3 successfully at the start of lockdown with the first digital product launch, together with digital studio Resn and Builders Club. Due to corona, we had to shift all our thinking in a matter of weeks and created a campaign which was successful in every way, positioning VanMoof as "the Tesla of bikes." By working from a strong purpose-driven platform, we had the opportunity to create very varied campaigns, all with the same message of getting people from four wheels to two: We melted a car, put a frog on the seat, and had a girl riding forward through a world in reverse.

What triggered your reinvention(s)?

When immersed in a brand's world, I think you become part of the brand and its behavior, which is a strength and a weakness at the same time. You can really dive deep into its reason for existing, but also sometimes you need to step away and out of the bubble. It is refreshing to have a variety of brands demanding that you think differently, to get new input and create new connections. 

In the end this works serendipitously—cross-pollination starts to happen. The other part of the reinvention is that I believe in essence. I am a maker, not a marketing person that wants to sell you something. I want to think in ideas and work with people that challenge those ideas or bring them to new heights and together create a synergy—greater than the sum of its parts. When you have multiple clients, you can do that in multiple ways. Sometimes a film, a photoshoot, sometimes a bespoke product or event. 

What did the first steps look like?

To unlearn. I really needed to do painting because painting is self-expression and needs to come from the heart, whereas commercial work is the opposite. You create something for a brand that represents them—not you. On the brand side, you are the client, even if you have an in-house creative hub. You are the one who dictates what needs to go out, and what needs to be said. 

Now at HALAL Studios, I am not the client but I am taking clients' requests and their briefs. Which almost feels new. As much as you are fully immersed on the brand side here, you are only part of that brand for a moment. This means you are not the "know-it-all" and that also creates this urgency for brilliance that makes it exciting. So, part of you needs to unlearn and adapt to this way of creative thinking. 

What was one hard obstacle to overcome?

I don't think there was a hard obstacle to overcome. Even though you have experience, every agency, client, brand and project is different, and you need to respond in different ways. This comes with falling down and getting up again, then doing that again the next day. In the end that obstacle becomes part of the process, part of the journey. As a friend once told me, "You are the bounce back boy"—when an idea is crushed, I brush myself off and come back with two new ideas. And then repeat that as long as necessary.

What was easier than you thought?

HALAL is like family. To work with them as part of a team is new for me. As a client, we worked together for years—for example, when I was at G-Star, ASOS and recently VanMoof. One of the partners, Gijs Determeijer, is a dear friend, and we always wanted to do something together, but the timing was never right until now. Setting up the creative hub that is HALAL Studios, together with Caroline Hagoort, and adding strategy and concept development to the company is very exciting. So far it actually feels quite natural to dive into this adventure together with the whole team.  

What's something you learned along the way that other people, hoping to do something similar, should know?

"N'avoue jamais." Loosely translated: "Never give in." It is the hardest thing as a creative, and even harder now I paint more frequently, but you have to believe in your ideas and never give in. Try not to compromise. But at the same time, be open that these ideas can be executed in many ways. In the beginning I saw things being done my way as the only way, and it took quite some time to unlearn that, to let other people in and help craft them, elevate them. That would be part two of this question, and I mentioned this before, but "unlearning" can really open you(r eyes). I'm still learning and working on both. 

Did anyone or anything inspire you along the way?

I had a few amazing gurus who popped up throughout my career and are still dear friends that I might ask for advice. I think music and contemporary culture have always been an inspiration for everything I have done.

What has fundamentally changed for you?

I guess not a big change but it is the difference between working for someone and working with someone.

Do you think you could go back/do you want to?

I don't think it is about going back. Where I am at the moment is part of a massive learning curve. I see this as part of my creative director role and pursuing my career as an artist. I think both are part of my endless dream—this crazy pursuit and the drive to create.

Tell us your reinvention song.

I listen to so much different music that a song would probably be a playlist. But if I have to choose: The Stone Roses, "I Am the Resurrection." This song has reinvented me many times.

How would you define yourself now?

I have always felt I work like a chameleon, a bit part-player in a world if you like, bringing energy without disrupting that world, then sucking that up and translating it into an idea. In that sense, it does not really matter where I am or what I'm involved in, whether it's getting people out of cars and onto bikes, setting up a creative studio or painting a canvas. 

Reinventions is a questionnaire series with people who are making pivots in their lives. If you're going through a reinvention and would like to be interviewed for the series, please get in touch.

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Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.

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