The Other Side: Christopher Vega
I had the honor of sitting down and chatting with Christopher Vega last month. He was recently named on the 4A's list of 100 People Who Make Advertising Great. Chris is also the founder of The Concepting Class aimed to help minorities start a portfolio and get into the advertising industry. Oh and how could I forget that Chris also has won the Young Innovator Award! Take a look at his thoughtful words below.
Christopher Vega is a copywriter in San Francisco, CA. You can view his work at http://www.chrisve.ga/
On Growing up in Santa Catalina
I'm from a place called the Santa Catalina Islands. It's a little island off the coast of Los Angeles, close to Long Beach. It's about 30 miles off shore, so it's far enough away to make it hard to get off, especially when I was a kid, I almost never left. I went to Stanford after 18 years on the island.
My family, for the most part, is from Mexico City or other parts of Mexico. My parents came to the USA when my older sister was still young. They wanted to give us a better chance at life. They had pretty nice jobs back in Mexico, but gave everything up so we could have a better opportunity here in America. When they moved to the island they only knew my mom's sister who was living there for some reason. I guess that's a thing with immigrants, they move to wherever their family is even if it's a really stupid place. I don't know why anyone would want to live on that island. It's really pretty, but it's like a pretty prison. You get trapped there really easily.
It was just us growing up, my two sisters and my parents. My parents started out working as cleaners. My dad was a janitor and my mom would clean houses. So it was really a pretty stereotypical Mexican immigrant story. Eventually my dad ended up managing the entire tour company he was a janitor at. I think he might be the president of the company. He basically runs the company for the guy who owns it. I have no idea how he went from janitor to running the company, but he did it. My mom was cleaning houses and somehow on the way became a social worker. The island has a weird demographic. It's more Mexican than white. So my mom could help people pretty easily because she spoke Spanish. Now she sells art for a pretty big artist who has done portraits for the Pope. They went from something in Mexico, to nothing here, and then back to something.
My older sister also went to Stanford and my younger sister is at Harvard. It was a bit like a big fish in a small pond scenario. We were some of the few kids who actually tried in school. The public school system was awful where we were at. It's hard to get resources on an island, to convince teachers to come out there and live on an island where they sign their life away. You can't do anything without taking a ferry to the mainland. It's definitely a different backstory than most people.
There was literally only Mexicans and white people on the islands. I remember one Chinese family and one black guy in school. It's a very isolated place which is not easy to live in. I had the same friends and knew the same people from when I was a kid to when I graduated.
On Starting His Career
I went to Stanford because I really wanted to get off the island. We had one movie theater that would play one movie for several months twice a day. We had very few things. Going from that to Stanford was great. I wanted to go to a big university and learn new things. Pretty much everyone I knew at Stanford was really smart, talented, or both. I studied psychology and music.
I was doing research on media and advertising in different cultures. I ended up coding different responses to advertisements and watching a bunch of advertisements. Eventually I decided that I actually wanted to work in advertising. I interned as a copywriter through a program called MAIP. It felt right, doing something creative.
On Diversity in Advertising
I didn't really have a lot of diversity in my life so MAIP introduced me to a bunch of people from different backgrounds. When you target a people group, you need diverse people working in it. The Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad is a perfect example of when you don't have diversity. You can misrepresent the people and make something that doesn't talk to the people. I don't think it's that hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes, but apparently sometimes it is. It helps things be more authentic and real. Advertising needs to have truth. People won't hate advertising if you say something true and are a little more human. Studies show that diverse groups are better at problem solving. A diverse group would be able to come at things from a different angles and bring different approaches to see many possibilities compared to people who are all the same. It makes sense as a business to have people who represent the cultures that you're trying to communicate with. It just makes sense to reflect the overall population. Why would you only have one group of people try to reach everyone?
On Starting The Concepting Class
You can look at any industry and there's a lot of talk, but don't do much for diversity. Very few places are actually doing things about diversity. Retaining diverse talent is probably just as big of an issue as getting people in the door. A lot of people complain and don't do anything which is just as bad. People need to just start doing things that will actually make a difference rather than just talk about it. That's why I started the Concepting Class. I was one of those people who kept talking and not doing. I felt disingenuous if I didn't do anything.
[The Concepting Class] is a portfolio class that runs for 8 weeks every summer. I give the students spec creative briefs, working with BBDO strategy people, and every week students will present their ideas. It's a free class for diverse creatives. We have guest teachers and speakers such as the CEO, CCO of BBDO and other creative directors in the industry from all over. The main reason I started this is because I know portfolio schools cost a lot of money, and some places don't even give you a degree. I started wondering if people could afford this coming from a minority background who don't have as much money. It's definitely a major roadblock to getting diverse talent in the industry. If we could give diverse people access to the industry then we can start seeing diversity reflected in the media, and ultimately into culture in general. I'm happy that I can help people because a lot of people have helped me.
It wasn't that hard starting [the Concepting Class]. It was mostly about having an idea and actually doing it. I guess as a creative I'm used to starting from nothing and making something out of it to seeing it through. I learned not to be afraid to do something. If you fail, oh well, do something else.
On Microagressions as a Mexican-American
You can definitely see tension [in the country]. Not too long ago, Charlottesville happened and a woman died. Thankfully I'm in a city which acts as a haven and there's not a whole lot of racism and bigotry that I see personally, but it's definitely out there. Especially with this presidency enabling these actions. It's always been simmering, but now it's exploded. There are weird things that happen every day and are annoying. Every Cinco de Mayo is really weird for me. Everywhere I work they always have a Cinco de Mayo party and I am always either the only one or one of two Mexican people in the office and we feel weird because here we have people throwing a party who are, for the most part white, while we're the only people who have somewhat of an attachment to this holiday. It's not even a real holiday in Mexico and to have it here be an excuse to drink and act super racist and wear stupid hats and mustaches. It's probably one of the most annoying times of the year for me. I don't want to have to deal with this, but I am pretty lucky to only have to deal with annoying things like this. There are a lot of problems in this country, and I don't know if I can do a lot about it personally except hope that the little part I play impacts the whole.
It's not about being politically correct, it's about not being an asshole. Just try to be nice. Think about others as humans. I feel like much of the world's problems can be solved if we were all just a little nicer and considerate. Have a little more empathy, that's pretty much it. It's pretty easy.