Susan Hoffman on an accidental life in advertising

We speak to the Wieden + Kennedy CCO and advertising legend about how the industry that she fell into has changed over the last 40 years, and why she believes hierarchy is the enemy of creativity

“I learned advertising on the job, to be honest with you,” says Susan Hoffman. “When I started out, I wasn’t good but I got good because I worked hard, was curious, and importantly had a lot of support.” You won’t find many advertising luminaries as humble, or refreshingly candid, as Wieden + Kennedy’s storied chief creative officer.

Through her work at Wieden’s, Hoffman has helped orchestrate some of the most culturally significant advertising of the last four decades – from Levi’s Go Forth, to Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, to Nike’s Revolution. She’s also spent much of her career nurturing the next generation of talent, having held creative leadership roles in every corner of the independent network. It comes as no surprise then, that she’s the recipient of the Cannes Lions lifetime achievement award this year.

Hoffman’s affiliation with Wieden’s dates back to 1984, when she joined the recently formed agency as employee number eight. She is the first to admit that she fell into advertising; having shown little interest in excelling at school, she ended up at the University of Arizona where she wanted to study art. “I was going through the catalogue and there was one page of art, and it was called ‘commercial art’, so I didn’t have a choice,” she laughs.

Top: Amazon Prime ‘Tache campaign by W+K London. Above: Susan Hoffman