Tim Tadder Shares A Fresh New Approach to Shoe Advertising and a Dynamic Creative Exchange

By Anne Telford

In keeping with the above headline, and in a direct contravention of my usual journalistic process, my recent interview with photographer Tim Tadder morphed into something quite different when his collaborator—creative director Michael Minter—fact checked the piece. He expanded the conversation from his viewpoint as a client, providing insights into Tadder’s approach and style that frankly added a whole new dimension to the post. His contributions are in italics.

Tim Tadder is known for outrageous creativity and deep collaboration. And he is at the vanguard of the trend for multi-content capture. “This is common now. We are being tasked with shooting motion and social [media] to give clients an arsenal of assets,” he says. The ultimate for Tadder is when personal projects morph into commercial projects.

“I would argue that Tim’s calling card is not simply as a master of craft, but as a visual innovator. He has an unquenchable thirst to try new things. Creatively, I want a partner in crime who is not only able to visualize an odd or hard-to-articulate concept but also able to bring it to life and elevate it beyond what was even floating in around in my mind in the first place. That’s what Tim does. His brain seems to flow seamlessly from the widest points of right and left. This is great for effective collaboration.

“There’s pretty much no detail or level that we aren’t willing to question each other on, poke at, or scrutinize. The passion for the end result is shared…and heightened with every conversation. Our collaboration extended well beyond the creative product. We thought about the utility of the creative units and how we could turn a photo concept into a wider franchise of compelling content…such that every level of the project became an extended marketing opportunity. For me, that makes Tim not simply a creative collaborator but also a business partner. He cares about what we are trying to accomplish”.

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Tadder’s latest endeavor plays to all his strengths, and involves the kind of freewheeling exchange of ideas he thrives on. He first met creative director Michael Minter in 2005. They did a shoot and enjoyed working with each other. “We talked over the years and tried to come together on a project. Then he got a new position, and a bigger budget,” Tadder relates. “We spent a year coming up with this project. It’s such a cliché to say, ‘We’ll work on this little project and it will work into a great opportunity.’

“Usually, the upshot is ‘Thanks a lot,’ and you never hear from them again. This small project that I did with him 10 years ago, I knew this creative person was different than any creative person I’d ever worked with: I thought of him as a genius,” he says. Tadder was also searching for a way to create something impactful. “It also took 10 years for the time to be right for that, to create something significantly interesting. You do get to plant seeds in this business and sometimes they do produce fruit.”

The fruit in this case is the launch of UNEEK, a new product franchise for KEEN, a popular brand at REI. “They are homogenous with guys jumping over streams, and climbing mountains outside of Portland,” Tadder says.

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“UNEEK presented an opportunity for a brand like KEEN to disrupt the status quo imagery permeating the outdoor industry. We knew the world wasn’t thirsting for yet another shot of a guy jumping over a log or a girl hiking past a stream. We wanted to bring some self-expression and charisma to the outdoor world…and simultaneously connect our brand to the broader lifestyle market. For KEEN, the outdoors is ‘any place without a ceiling’ and UNEEK is proof positive of this. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone, comfortably. We see UNEEK as a way to earn new fans and to bridge our heritage in outdoor performance and innovation to our expanded future in lifestyle footwear.”

“This product is a global play for being a hip fashion brand,” Tadder claims. “We’re going to create a statement with our creative to have people who would never connect this artwork that we created with a brand like KEEN. One of the taglines for these images is, ‘You don’t have to write a book to turn your life into an epic novel’.” The campaign is aimed at the youth market, tapping into the millennial ‘you are as unique as you want to be’ message. “That was the goal or the challenge, these images that spoke to the direction the brand wanted to go, but eye popping, eye stopping imagery you can’t help spend time with,” he says of the bright, contemporary feel of these surrealistically styled portraits.

“This work reflects a strategy to connect with a generation of people who cherish social currency above all. Millennials don’t want to hear how great your brand is. They want you to acknowledge how great they are. That’s an important distinction. Our goal with this campaign was to do just that. While every other brand is telling them what to do and who to be, we are simply saying: ‘be yourself.’ You get a trophy just for being the amazingly unique human you already are…thus the meme-friendly taglines like ‘You don’t have to be an artistic genius to make your life a masterpiece’ We don’t just want to disrupt. We want to start a conversation and engage. This approach will allow us to connect with new fans who might have otherwise dismissed KEEN as simply a traditional outdoor brand. We want them to connect on an emotion level to the values we live by. Self-expression and fearlessness are key values expressed in this creative, and frankly by Tim himself. “

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Tadder remembers, “It’s been a different creative process because you’re usually given a comp and you go out and create it. This one is about ideation. I probably spoke to Michael 100 times about this, acting like the agency.”

“Agreed. The pace of marketing is faster than ever before. Agencies slow things down, run up costs, and deliver ideas that are just safe enough to keep your business. By taking this approach, we could be completely authentic in our ideation. The same people owning the strategy are the people executing the creative—meaning our nimble collaboration. That’s why it works. We cut out the suits and account executives and made meaningful and effective art.”

Minter previously helped build the Sanuk brand, a company that made a sandal/shoe out of a cloth fabric. “He was able to take this weird looking shoe,” Tadder says with great excitement in his voice, “And he was able to create a culture of people that identified with this product. We came back together to create social currency around these statements, [like] ‘you don’t have to hang in a gallery to make your life a work of art’. Challenging taglines to create a community of people that believe in the product and what this brand might become. I find that most people hire me for unique challenges like this; they want something iconic.”

“True I helped build the Sanuk brand…but to be fair I joined when the company was a $4 million sandal-only business and helped build it to $100 million. It was sold to Deckers Outdoor Corporation (who owns UGG) for over $200 million. I’m not sure these facts are important for this article…but the key point I believe Tim was trying to convey is the fact that early on we had no marketing dollars. We literally designed/created/shot everything ourselves—all product, all marketing. I reached out to Tim with zero budget. The only thing I had to incentivize him to work with me was a solid idea and a spirit to collaborate. We had a great time and always wanted a reason (and a budget) to do it again. We found that opportunity with KEEN UNEEK.”

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Minter’s Cut & Paste campaign for Sanuk was easily adaptable to digital platforms, animation, mobile applications, and viral content production. “I see so many brands and businesses plagued by the separation of product design from marketing communication and retail experience,” Minter writes. “My expertise is bringing these critical creative platforms together into a brand-first symbiotic relationship that is informed by brand strategy, instinct, and consumer insight. Ultimately, I just love to see great ideas come to life.”

That’s what he and Tadder foresee for this collaboration. Tadder describes the ultimate goal: Ads that are simple, impactful, beautiful, complex. In the case of UNEEK shoes, the subject matter makes you want to know, why are there blue bunnies on the ground? Or a sumo wrestler on a pogo stick?

“We wanted to create a show us who you are vibe. That’s all part of their social media strategy of how they want to roll these ads out. Minter had the budgetary freedom to move forward with the campaign and present it when it was done. He ended up being the hero.”

“Bottom line: This project was a case study in effective collaboration and a case study for how a creative partnership can blossom over time. The work has been extremely well received and will serve as the backbone for KEEN’s biggest marketing campaign to date. I have zero doubt that Tim and I will work together again many times in the years to come. Tim brings the same level of passion to projects big and small.”

“It was a super rad experience,” Tadder concludes. “We did eight ads for eight different types of shoes. It was successful enough to get another round.” Cue bell for round two.

To see more of Tim Tadder’s print and video work, link to Tim’s website here.  To see the entire campaign, link here.  And, be sure to follow our blog (see above) so you can get posts as soon as they go live.

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