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The HydraHeads that make up the organic machine that is Giant Hydra aren’t in it for the glory, but it doesn’t hurt when glory falls upon their clients thanks to their efforts.

Such is the case last Friday night at the 2012 Marketing Awards, arguably Canada’s most prestigious advertising award show. Toronto agency Red Urban and production company Untitled Films won multiple awards for its work on Little Trees air fresheners, a project that received a healthy helping of Giant Hydra magic.

“Ocean”, one of two spots within the Mark Gilbert-directed project, was awarded Gold in the Other Broadcast—Single category, while the other spot, entitled “New Car” won Bronze. Together, the spots also won Silver in the Campaign category.

Congratulations Red Urban and Untitled, and well done to the HydraHeads! We can’t wait to see where this leads, both on other projects and other accolades.

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Welcome to Views from the Hydra Tank, a collection of interviews from the very creatives and strategists that make up the globe-panning pool of HydraHeads within Giant Hydra. While a team of HydraHeads works as one solid, integrated unit, that unit is still made up of individuals of different skills sets, nationalities and of course personalities. This column aims to shed light on those personalities.


The talent pool within Giant Hydra runs wide and deep, with all sorts of skill sets ready to be unleashed on an important project. There are many art directors and copywriters to consider when putting together a team of HydraHeads, but few have the gift of being both in their professional lives.

Such is the case with David Houghton. David brings twenty years of creative experience to Giant Hydra, both as an art director and as a copywriter — a “two-headed hydra”, if you will. Over that span of time he has racked up tons of awards, from Cannes and One Show to New York Festivals and ADCC.

David also adds considerable executive heft to the Hydra Tank; most recently he served as SVP, Creative Director of Y&R Toronto, before deciding to go back to his creative roots, making cool stuff instead of just guiding cool stuff.

David is an avid cyclist and traveler, and recently went trekking by bike across India and the Himalayas. We had to interview him quickly about his thoughts on Giant Hydra.


Giant Hydra: Prior to joining the ranks of Giant Hydra, you were a creative director at Y&R Toronto. Describe what being a CD was like for you, and why you chose to step back from that role.

David Houghton: “As I moved into the CD role, I dealt more and more with things that were less and less creative. Administration. Finances. Human resources. Signing dental claim forms. Of course, that’s true of a CD at any sizable agency. All very good grown-up stuff but not the stuff that I’m passionate about. I had fantastic creative teams to work with at Y&R and the experience taught me very clearly that what I liked best was being close to the work, mentoring and collaborating with other creative minds.

Giant Hydra: What initially drew you to Giant Hydra?

David: “ I’m interested in exploring agency models and creative tools that break with convention. Giant Hydra seemed like an interesting concept, and an opportunity to connect with a diverse group of interesting people.”

Giant Hydra: Giant Hydra operates a bit differently than a traditional agency. What was the learning curve like?

David: “The learning curve was quick, because everything is spelled out explicitly in the intro videos. Once you’re on the site working on a project, the process flows smoothly from initial ideas, or Seeds, to more developed concepts that are shared by the entire group.”

“That kind of collaborative effort doesn’t require everyone to be in the same room – or even the same country. It simply requires people who are inventive, smart and open-minded.”

Giant Hydra: When you’re in a Giant Hydra project, do you ever feel the urge to put on your creative director hat and guide the process, or is it easy enough to “just” be creative?

David: “I have strong opinions about which ideas are the best, and I use my powers of persuasion to make my case. But ultimately it’s up to the CD that’s leading the project to make the final decisions, and it’s not difficult to respect that.”

Giant Hydra: What has been your favorite thing about Giant Hydra so far? What has been the greatest challenge, in terms of comparing it to a bricks and mortar agency experience?

David: “My favourite thing has been planting a Seed and seeing other creative minds seize on it, develop it and nurture it into something really great. That kind of collaborative effort doesn’t require everyone to be in the same room – or even the same country. It simply requires people who are inventive, smart and open-minded.”

“The greatest challenge has been, in some cases, the sheer volume of raw ideas. Sometimes a group will generate so many options, particularly in the early stages of a project, that it’s difficult to sort through them all with the kind of acuity they deserve.”

Giant Hydra: What advice would you give to HydraHeads being selected for their very first project?

David: “I’d remind them that the point is not only to generate your own ideas, but to build on others’ ideas. To identify and develop the potential in someone else’s idea is a valuable part of the Giant Hydra process.”

Giant Hydra: Let’s go back in time to when you were a big agency CD. Knowing what you know now about Giant Hydra as a HydraHead, would you have used Giant Hydra on an agency project?

David: “Absolutely.”

Giant Hydra: What would you tell your friends that are still agency CDs about Giant Hydra?

David: “Giant Hydra is a very specific tool: a creative department inside your laptop. Fire it up, and you have an international group of skilled thinkers who focus intensely on your project for a short period of time. Not every project needs this kind of approach. But some, like tight-timeline projects or new business pitches, benefit from it.”

“Look at our current situation. Since the recession knocked the stuffing out of the economy, agencies are often working with the minimum number of creative staff. At the same time, some very talented people have gone to the freelance side because they enjoy the flexibility it brings. Most importantly, we’re in the creativity business, in the midst of a technological revolution. Giant Hydra brings ideation and technology together as well as any tool I’ve seen. I’m proud to be one of the heads on the monster.”

Want to see some of the magic David has worked on? Please visit his website at Want people like David and other HydraHeads to work magic on your own projects? Contact us at

Ignacio Oreamuno

The world might not end in 2012 as the Mayans predicted, but you don’t need an ancient calendar to see that the traditional way advertising is created, and more specifically the way ideas have traditionally been created, is quickly becoming extinct.

In the good ol’ days of advertising, the joined-at-the-hipster duo of copywriter and art director was the most efficient way develop ideas into a campaign. Whether they were locked in an office together, in side-by-side cubicles, or sharing a table at the local coffee house, these two people were expected to change a client’s fortunes, or at least come up with something decent for the agency reel.

But in 2012, not only are we starting to see a decline in paired teams, I believe that the two-person team is about to go extinct.

A campaign is no longer a campaign.

It used to be that an advertising campaign was an idea glued together by two elements, a pretty image and a catchy tagline. A campaign might include a TV spot, a magazine or newspaper ad, a little radio and some web elements, all feeding off of each other and growing in a manner that two people could handle. They could take a simple idea, add a joke and slap it across multiple media.

However, in recent years, the definition of “campaign” has changed. Nowadays a TV, print, radio and web campaign also has a big launch event, mobile apps and games to engage people on the go, social media seeding, and sometimes even package and product design, architectural elements like store designs and more. In a lot of cases the same ‘campaign’ is not connected via art direction or taglines, but by strategy. As such, the traditional set of specialists are no longer suited for creating the campaign of the future — or even the campaign of the present — because it is impossible for them to posses a solid knowledge of the possibilities each media holds.

…the traditional set of specialists are no longer suited for creating the campaign of the future — or even the campaign of the present…

Giant Hydra solves that dilemma by allowing multiple people from around the world to work together, building on each other’s creative and strategic ideas. There are only so many ideas that a traditional duo can create with their skill set, but when you bring together nine or ten people, ideas grow exponentially. In very little time, a small idea can become a gigantic idea with legs, all because those nine or ten advertising professionals bring very different expertise and experiences to the table. And they do it around the clock.

All advertising creatives have felt the ominous weight of the great white wall, that blank sheet of paper in front of them that they are ultimately responsible to fill with brilliance. In traditional creative teams, a competent partner helps to alleviate some of that pressure, but in a larger group of people, this pressure melts away and is replaced entirely by fun and camaraderie. The “mass collaboration” nature of Giant Hydra allows you to put a germ of an idea on the table, then step back and watch your peers across the world in the UK, Brazil, India, Singapore — wherever — develop that seed in a ton of different ways and add more fuel to the fire.

More people is also more fun. When I travel around the world, I’ve met a lot of HydraHeads who have revealed to me that the most inspiring projects of their careers have been with Giant Hydra, working alongside a bunch of other people. It’s strange to hear that an online environment can be so fun, but I think we can all attest to the fact that virtual worlds and communities have taken over most of our social lives, and that relationships, laughs and the joys of teamwork can be felt via digital means as intensely as within a roomful of people.

And of course, a “roomful of people” is another way that an agency could try to do more than a two-person team can accomplish. In fact, agencies do these all the time; the hapless participants derisively label these sessions “gangbangs,” and the most common outcome is a large Chinese take-out expense report. No such worries within the Hydra!

Many other industries have been transformed by the web, but advertising has resisted. I don’t think that will last much longer. As much as the advertising industry likes to think of itself as innovators, ad agencies are followers as much as anyone. As soon as the big shops… or the smart shops… or the small shops take the first trials and take the plunge into mass collaboration, everyone else will soon follow.

Either that or the Mayans will get us.

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