Karl Backus

Karl Backus

Working with people of different disciplines and perspectives only enriches the outcome. Karl Backus , Adjunct Faculty, Advertising , The Art Institute of California—San Diego, a campus of Argosy University
What would you say is the defining moment in your life when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

I was auditioning for a Red Lobster Commercial in NYC. At the time I was an actor. 
The commercial was so terrible, I thought, “I could do better than this.” So, I went to school at the Portfolio Center in Atlanta. In the first few semesters, I realized that I really was very good at communicating a marketing message that touched on human truths. My third semester I won several awards for Advertising and Design. It was in that moment, I knew that I would be a creative for the rest of my life.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?

I treat my creative classes as micro agencies. Everyone in the class has to do the research and help plan the advertising/marketing program for the client. As we move through this process, I act as both creative director and client. After more than 20 years in the industry, I am keenly aware of the fears and objections clients tend to have. So, my students have to justify each and every choice they make to assure me, as the client, that the program and creative solutions they have developed will actually work to solve the marketing problem.

Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?

For Intermediate Ad Campaign, we work on travel and hospitality clients. The students are challenged to understand the internal motivations of people looking to vacation. We look at the psychology behind how we make choices and decisions and gain an understanding that every product, place, and service helps to fill an emotional desire on the part of the consumer. 

What role does collaboration contribute to students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project?

My goal is to prepare my students as much as possible for the “Real World.” And the truth is, in marketing and advertising, you will be collaborating on everything you do. I design my classes to be collaborative and cooperative. Working with people of different disciplines and perspectives only enriches the outcome, so we work on hearing one another’s idea. And then we work with videographers, photographers, programmers, illustrators, to help execute the concepts—depending on each of these outside creatives to bring their expertise and contributions, without losing site of the original concept.

In your opinion, what is the single most important thing you impart to your students to help them succeed in your class and in the real world? Alternatively, what is the most critical advice you would offer any student as he / she embarks on a creative career?

I work with my students to help them understand that advertising is not just art. It is using art and words to communicate a specific message which will, if done well, spawn a specific response from the consumer. 
My advice is always make something original. Don’t just try to make something that looks like a piece of marketing. Make something that is original and intriguing. Make something that is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Try to live 15 minutes in the future—be a creator of the next idea.