Life on the other side: a heady brew of beer & storytelling
Ennis Cehic shares his post-ad life, working as the Brand Director of SAMPLE Brew and writing a book called Sadvertising. Interview by Siobhan Fitzgerald.
S: To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself? What made you get into advertising and how did you find the industry to work in?
E: Like many before me, I came into the creative industry not by choice but by coincidence.
I studied Marketing but after I got my degree, I didn’t know how to get a job in the industry. Instead, I went off and studied Creative Writing.
After a little while, I landed a job as a marketing assistant in a small consultancy that managed the marketing of property developments. However, we outsourced the creative to an agency that we shared an office with who developed the brands, the websites and the advertising. I hovered around them all the time, getting really curious about their process and how they developed these ‘creative ideas.’ Eventually as the office grew I moved into creative, where I got to start making ideas happen.
S: What was it that made you consider changing to client side?
E: There was never a conscious consideration to move out of the creative industry. I freelanced a lot as a brand developer and worked with different designers on a variety of corporate and lifestyle businesses. It just so happened that a beer brand (SAMPLE Brew) I created for a friend of mine, and for which I handled the marketing and brand management in my spare time was growing at a much faster rate than we ever dreamt off. In 2017 the opportunity came up for me to come on board full-time and I did.
That said, the creative industry still plays a critical role in my work. SAMPLE Brew is closely tied to the creative industries as we partner and sponsor design, art and creative events all the time. We also run a cool creative event series called Open Tabs in partnership with the Jacky Winter Group where we come to agencies for a free beers & ideas session. Advertising is also a core theme in a lot of the fiction and non-fiction writing I do.
S: Have you had to develop many new skills?
E: Numerous. I sort of wish I worked in every department while I was in agencies. I’ve always considered myself a creative hybrid because I dislike that society promotes specialisation over generalisation, especially in creativity.
Looking after the entire marketing of a brand requires you to be a complete polymath. You have to fearlessly and confidently do many things. I had to become someone who is competent and proficient in diverse domains, even the ones I hated the most; like budgeting.
S: What is a day in the office like for you?
E: It doesn’t involve drinking beer all day. We’re a small, highly responsive team that always push themselves to reach for great. We work strenuously on every aspect of the company and hustle all day long. We have a mantra of ‘getting shit done’ no matter what.
But overall, my typical day involves planning, writing and managing. There are so many aspects to marketing a beer that my day gets sucked away into many different things but most of my time is spent on developing campaigns, writing copy and directing the creative output of our comms with our phenomenal art director, Celeste Watson.
Oh, I also cop a lot of shit from my partners Arron Ollington and Matthew Rees, who have somehow found a very good way of making me tick.
S: Tell us about SAMPLE Brew. How did it all begin—and at what stage did you come on board?
E: SAMPLE Brew began its journey in 2014 when my architect friend, Vedad Huric decided to start his own architectural practice. He had always been interested in brewing so at the same time he also decided to launch a beer as a side project that would allow him to get potential clients into networking sessions so he could get work.
This is pretty much when I came on board. As Vedad was always surrounded by material ‘samples’ in architecture, he suggested we call it SAMPLE, and once we had this name down on paper, I began to give some serious thought to branding regardless if it was just a side project and not an official commercial venture.
As neither myself or Vedad were from the beer industry, we obviously had a very different outlook on what we wanted to bring to the market, and the people we wanted to drink our product. For example, we couldn’t understand why the beer industry was so male-oriented? Why it was so stereotypical? Why every brand had to possess an epic, mythological brand story about a pirate or a wolf?
I got Michael Longton on board, a designer (now the digital director at TCYK) who I had previously worked with on a few projects to design the brand in the most minimal, stripped-back way possible. I wanted to focus on design and a contemporary visual aesthetic in order to communicate a gender-neutral brand that is rooted in current-culture – something I had not seen in the beer industry before.
When we gave a few cases to some friends in the hospitality industry, we started to get more and more orders. Things just escalated from there when Arron Ollington joined us and we began to partner up with design and creative events around Melbourne. Vedad eventually went part time to grow the business, while I worked after hours on strategy, marketing and brand management.
S: SAMPLE Brew is arguably as much about branding as it is about taste. How have you gone about developing the brand?
E: I’ve always considered branding to be existential. We have to dig deep into purpose to find the reason for which something exists and create a believable business idea out of an abstract thought. It’s such an omnipotent process.
And since I’m naturally very metaphysically inclined, the question ‘why’ has always played a key role in what I do, both in practical and personal creativity. Thus ‘why a brand exists’ is fundamentally the most important thing for me in branding, as everything stems from a purpose. I believe without a believable purpose or persuasive positioning, a brand gets muddled. With SAMPLE Brew, I was in a unique position to exercise this belief without constraint or oversight by old thinking and typical methodologies from agencies. I went on this extensive research spree to understand the alcohol industry, and came across phenomenal academic reports. This informed a lot of my thinking and we decided on defining our purpose first before we do anything else.
We always saw beer as a connective medium that connects people and sparks new ideas. So we decided on this as a brand foundation. We wrote down that we wanted to ‘inspire people and be the supplement to greater experiences, ideas and creativity with Fine Beer’ and this brand purpose is still alive today as it was the day we wrote it down. It informs every aspect of our company, our ethos and our communication.
We also discovered that today’s beer drinkers weren’t looking for extremities, all they wanted was a good combination of taste, quality and design, something that deeply reflected how we felt as well. These three pillars essentially came to underpin everything and we positioned our product range as Fine Beer to reflect these principles of taste, quality and design. We had a meticulous focus on balance in brewing and design to ascend beer to a new distinction, get it away from being a cheap drink, but put it higher next to whiskey and wine.
S: How does SAMPLE’s positioning of ‘Fine Beer’ differ from craft beer?
E: We consider Fine Beer a hybrid segment of the craft and commercial world of beer because it’s purely about refinement, balance and design.
All of our products are carefully developed to reach equilibrium in taste. Just as our look & feel is minimal, so is our brewing methodology because extremes are easy, getting something balanced well with all the flavours is hard. We also always use all-natural ingredients and a design-led image to appeal to modern tastes.
S: In addition to your work with SAMPLE Brew, you’re also an emerging writer of literary fiction and non-fiction. How do you balance these worlds?
E: I have been writing since my early twenties. It’s always been a huge part of me. Thinking about who we are and what it means to be human, who am I? why am I? all these things are forever on my mind, and with time writing kind of became this outpouring of my inner discoveries.
Balancing SAMPLE and writing isn’t something I think of too consciously though. I just get on with all the work I want to do. When I’m in the office, I work. When I’m not in the office, I write. Both things are wired deeply with my passion, and once you find space in your mind for the passionate things you love doing, they pour out of you, and you no longer think of time, or when to actually do it, you just do it, unquestioningly.
S: You’re currently writing a short story collection called Sadvertising. Is this based on your life in the advertising industry?
E: Yes and no. It’s fiction, but I tend to describe fiction as ‘release from biography’ because we are products of our environments and our imagination draws ideas and stories from reality.
While a lot of the work has been deeply inspired by my agency days [especially CHE Proximity], it’s now a body of work that is exploring the wider margins of the global creative industry. The experiences I had greatly impacted on my psyche. I didn’t realise how obsessed I have been (and still am) about the way advertising functions in our societies, psychologically and cerebrally.
With sadvertising, I want to highlight some of the universal facts and circumstances about creative life. I’m using the creative industry as a collective motif to explore today’s key issues; race, gender, identity and culture because the advertising industry always has to know the trend of popular opinion, thus it’s uniquely positioned to closely understand the zeitgeist. Sadvertising however isn’t just about realism. It is further illuminated with surrealism and fantasy, that somehow, I think allows me to sedate the existential dread I felt during my days in adland.
Get SAMPLE Brew in your office. SAMPLE Brew has an ongoing opportunity exclusive to creative service providers in Australia and they’ll deliver any case of their Fine Beers directly to your office. It’s the best way to reach your creative peak!