Get on, Put on: An Interview with John “JP” Petty, III

“I want to make sure that the accessibility in my voice is forever present in the lives or worlds or universes of the generations to come.”

A Philly native and Lincoln University alum, JP was the Head of Social for Wieden+Kennedy’s New York office and is now the Executive Creative Director for the Portland office. He has worked on numerous successful marketing campaigns such as McDonalds’ “Famous Orders” and the launching of the Ford Bronco at the height of COVID. In this interview, JP discusses what led to him pursuing a career in marketing, as well as his “get on, put on” mentality that pushes him to unlock doors for future generations.

The idea of a career in marketing is, ironically, not marketed too great. When did you begin to realize that marketing was something you were interested in and something you wanted to pursue professionally?

I grew up in Philly at a really interesting time. I remember being an irresponsible adolescent in my bedroom when Allen Iverson was at his peak as a Philadelphia 76er, and the work that let me know that this was something I would be interested in was work for his signature sneaker from Reebok: the Reebok A5. The commercial that they produced for this sneaker was one that was shot like a music video. It was beautifully shot. It was in black and white, Allen Iverson is doing his thing, obviously, super swagged out, Jadakiss is rapping a verse that is essentially a script, and Trackmasters did the beat. This shit was like my favorite song, man. The thing is, I saw myself in it so much; it felt so reflective. It was disruptive in a positive way. At that moment, I felt like ‘Oh, man, that’s amazing that somebody had this brand, somebody responsible for this work sees me or is creating a space for stories that I fuck with heavy.’ I’m seeing myself reflected in a space and place that doesn’t typically make room for somebody like me. And so it was in that moment where I decided that was the type of work that I ultimately wanted to do. It was super creative. It felt innovative at the time. And it reflected a culture that I subscribe to.

It’s hard to imagine or recall a surplus of options to explore marketing as a youth. Growing up, what outlets or experiences allowed you to explore marketing as a career path?

I consider myself a creative person, but I was always surrounded by creative people. And the thing that I realized quickly at a really early age is that everybody has ideas, but the difference between getting those ideas or having your idea be heralded as a great one, or something that could change the world is execution. I wanted to help people take their ideas out of their head and place them into the real world, whether that was a fashion show or album rollout or a perspective via a blog post.

To me, the appeal in marketing is rooted in its free-flowing nature and the ability to just be creative. What would you say is your favorite aspect of marketing?

Being able to connect with people and do the things that I said that Reebok ad did for me. For so long, the marketing and advertising space has been like a closed-off boys club, and the work reflects it. But the work that we do is an extraordinary responsibility that has an outcome of shaping generational worldviews, so you have to be very conscious of that as you come to the table and throw out ideas. You got to know that your ideas are coming from a place with an inherent bias based on your background. My way of thinking is going to find its way in these boardrooms and in these meetings, and when that’s an exclusive place with a narrow perspective, the outcome is that the streamline of thought becomes very narrow-minded, and that’s a dangerous place. So my favorite element is diversifying the input of that, so that the output feels more responsible, it feels more collective, it feels more inclusive. And so that many people can kind of see themselves in the stories that we try to tell through marketing and advertising.

You’ve worked on numerous successful ad campaigns throughout your career. What would you say is your favorite ad or campaign that you’ve been able to work on to be a part of?

So we built this platform for McDonald’s called Famous Orders. And we did one with Travis Scott, and more recently did one with Saweetie, those are my favorites. I feel like those are the campaigns that come super close to that campaign that inspired me to get into the game, right? Like, you see Reebok fucking with Jadakiss, Trackmasters, and Allen Iverson in this way. And it’s like, ‘Oh, shit, whoever worked on this understands, this is what I care about. They see me, they see what I place value in, they see the type of language I use, or the music I like or the people that I call cultural heroes.’ I feel like Wieden+Kennedy and McDonald’s gave birth to a version of that with the Famous Orders platform. I’m really really proud of that and I love how the culture responded to it. I feel like it was something that we could all really be proud of both at Wieden and McDonald’s. But in addition to us, people who saw that work and consumed it, I hope I had that same effect on some 10 year old or some 11-year-old in their bedroom or their basement who saw that work and is thinking to themselves ‘Damn, I want to be a part of something like that one day.’

Advertisements have the ability to do more than just sell. They can inflict change and motivate people. Has there ever been an advertisement or marketing campaign that you’ve been able to work on that has had a positive impact on the world or a specific social issue?

I was really proud of some work we did closest to the top of quarantine. It was called ‘One of Us.’ The McDonald’s organization has people from a bunch of backgrounds who all want to make their impression on the brand. They know their communities really well. They know their neighborhoods really well and the people that they’re serving. And so they all have a perspective on the world. And sometimes that perspective isn’t always aligned. But the effect that George Floyd’s death had on the entire world was so poignant, and they really entrusted Wieden+Kennedy to help steer their branding and direction that would ultimately make the world a better place because of the catalyst that were George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and even Trayvon Martin. This was super important for them. And so I loved being a part of that, because it said to me that our clients felt safe enough to be vulnerable in that space, and know that they had a role to play, even though they could be written off as a fast-food restaurant. And taking action for the black community, making a statement on behalf of them, and letting them know that in McDonald’s you have a sense of support. So I love that. I think that was really dope.

You’ve been teaching at the LIU Roc Nation School of Music, Sports and Entertainment. What is one sentiment, or one idea that you hope each of your students is able to take away from your course?

The takeaway that I hope that they all get is that their backgrounds, their perspectives, the way that they see the world…it all matters. They shouldn’t discount or try to hide any of it to make their way into the workforce. We do this weird thing as professionals where the minute we cross the proverbial threshold of our jobs, we take our human hats off and try to put these work machine hats on. And we might change our vibe in some way, shape, or form; we change our energy. Maybe we code-switch. That is not allowed. We should not do that anymore. Bring your entire self to work and don’t take the human hat off because it’s going to be your background, your perspective, where you grew up, what you think is cool, what you think is lame, all of that should inform whatever you’re working on. Whatever industry you’re in, whatever category you’re in, the input needs to be diversified so that the output is more inclusive, the output is more welcoming. It’s more inviting. That’s the only way we advance this shit. It’s super important that they remember that and take that away, and then when they graduate, they never forget it. And then they pass that shit on to their next classes. I hope they have that key, I hope they pick it up.

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