A Cameron Diaz pun is what first made me notice (and giggle at) the wonderful work of Durban based ad agency Modern Museum. On entering the Museum, their website that is, you are warned to keep your head inside the tour bus, but other than that, no strict rules seem to apply.
The first stop is their welcoming statement, “We’re not just advertising and marketing people, we’re curators. We believe in showcasing and collaborating with the best in order to craft work that suits our clients’ every need. In this, not only do we build a brand for our clients, but a legacy of excellence.” What follows is indeed a curated collection of excellent design and curatorial projects – all executed with refreshing dashes of colour and dare.
As I caught up with the Modern Museum team to find out more about their beginnings, projects and future plans, I soon realised that the Diaz pun was only the beginning of their wit.
Please tell us more about the start of Modern Museum – who, how, when, why and what were you doing before?
At the tail end of the last millennium, Neil Roake and Jenny Foord partnered to forge a small agency prioritising creative innovation in Kloof, outside Durban. They had both been working for bigger agencies before – Neil as a creative director on big retail brands – and decided they wanted to pursue their own creative vision. In doing so, they wanted work to feel fun again.
What is the story behind your interesting name?
The ‘Modern’ refers to the kind of work we do, which is always informed by the latest lifestyle trends and developments. At the same time, all of our work should possess a level of quality that would make it worthy of ‘exhibiting’ post-completion. Hence the ‘Museum’. We’ve had some strange phone calls, though.
How did you go about putting together a team of creatives and, once assembled, how do you keep the team working well together?
Our team structure ebbs and flows. Some stalwarts have been with us for years, while the youngsters, often fresh out of tech or art school, will cut their teeth with us and then broaden their horizons. That’s natural. We thrive on change and welcome it, staff-wise. The main thing is that our team members are always individuals with unique talents, who thrive on collaboration while also being able to quietly excel in their own right. Big egos are a no-no.
What have been Modern Museum’s greatest challenges and rewards?
We’ve been small and we’ve been big. The challenge for most agencies is to maintain a steady portfolio of key clients over several years. You have to nurture those relationships and not get complacent. The rewarding part is the infectious energy in the studio whenever we pull a particularly creative rabbit out of the hat.
Your work on the Chihuahua pop-up restaurant was one of our favourites. Please tell us more about this project.
We wanted a unique and fun venue for our client year end function, so we built one. We found the space, designed the interior, menus and decor and then thought … this is cool – we might as well keep it open for a month! Needless to say, the client party was fabulously tequila-drenched and the Durban crowd caught on and enjoyed the space too.
What projects are standouts for you?
We’ve worked on some of SA’s biggest retail brands and watched them grow – it’s great to work with clients right from the start, from initial logo design through to campaign concepts that get rolled out nationally. Neil’s cookbooks, and those we’ve designed for The Sunday Times, have won Gourmand and international newspaper subs awards. Our design-driven projects, like Chihuahuas, Freedom Café, Craft, Larney’s and The Space are very rewarding. We’re pretty excited about the freshness added to NWJ, and some of our tactical work for The Times. More recently, the launch of Space Man and the rebranding and relaunching of the Rand Daily Mail as RDM.co.za.
What is the most important question to ask a client at the start of a project?
Sell us on your dream.
Where does the curating element of Modern Museum come in and what inspires your curatorial process?
We want to be able to take on any project that inspires us, so we have leading interior designers, shop fitters, animators etc. on speed dial. All good friends, they complement our own skills and are always ready to partner up, with us acting as the project managers, or ‘curators’.
Can you tell us about any of the projects you are currently working on?
We’re strategising some big ideas for The Sunday Times this year; our own Space Man (just launched) is going places; we’re adding a fresh shine to NWJ’s store layouts – and there’s another Rand Daily Mail portrait on the way.
Plans and dreams for the future of Modern Museum?
Whether launching new brands or refurbishing them we want to be the go-to agency nationally for clients looking to shake up their market sector as much as we seek to shake things up creatively.
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