Q&A: Maria Devereux – ‘Creativity is the Economic Multiplier When it Comes to Building a Brand’

Maria began her career at Colenso BBDO, Auckland where she won six Cannes Lions in her first six years as an Art Director.

After a few years in Canada and roles at Y&R and Special Group he has returned home to Colenso. Her Pedigree ‘SelfieSTIX’ campaign won over 80 awards at awards shows around the world.

Here we talk to her about her very latest piece of work.


You have recently launched ‘Pre Check’ for the New Zealand Breast Cancer Association. What is it about this new piece of work that makes it special to you personally?

I enjoy the partnership we have with the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation. It’s built on a shared ambition to create ground-breaking work with the potential to save lives. We’re constantly challenging ourselves to find new and creative ways to educate women who are starting to switch off to the onslaught of charity messaging. They often assume they already know all there is to know, in this case it’s ‘I just check for lumps’.

But I can honestly say, before working on Pre Check, I didn’t know there were nine symptoms of breast cancer and I still don’t regularly check my breasts. So if this interactive learning tool can help me and other women give ourselves a 92% chance of survival through early detection, then that’s important to me.

It’s a technological tour de force. What were some of the technological challenges you had to overcome to get the haptics to combine with audio and visuals?

This project was not for the faint-hearted; it took equal amounts of pig-headedness and optimism. Our incredible Senior Digital Producer (Claudio Varoli-Piazza) and equally incredible production company (Assembly) looked totally perplexed when we explained we wanted to recreate the feeling of real breast cancer symptoms on a phone screen using haptic technology. Nothing like this had been done before and potentially for good reason. But, once our Creative Technologist (David Arcus) managed to build a basic prototype, we knew we might be onto something.


“When we’re moving to a world where I will talk to my fridge to get milk delivered within 2 hours, the difference will be the brand name you say before ‘milk.’ Brand is everything.”

The major technical challenge was to combine haptic feedback with a 3D textured surface. We developed hundreds of haptic points across the 3D surface, each triggering different types of feedback at different intensities and duration. These responses than matched them with the relevant breast cancer symptom. The next challenge was syncing the audio with the appropriate haptic feeling.

We needed to ensure that no matter what device you were on, the audio increased in volume – when the haptic triggers became denser, it was a sign that the user’s closer to the center of the symptom. In order to overcome this challenge, we built an algorithm to help manage how and when the audio was triggered. There were definitely some tired looking developers by the end of this project but as they say, if it was easy everyone would be doing it.

You won Gold at Cannes and at The Caples Awards in 2017 with Pedigree ‘SelfieSTIX’, a much more commercially-focused idea than Pre-Check. What sort of mindset do you need to switch from selling stuff for pets to saving lives – and back again?

My mindset is always to find the perfect creative solution to a problem. Whether your problem is dogs not looking at the camera when you want to take a photo or women not realizing there are nine symptoms of breast cancer, my starting point is always the same. What is the most creative solution to this problem?

Is it important to you that it should win awards?

Awards create awareness. In that sense, it’s incredibly important to me that PreCheck gets as much awareness as possible. The more women that download the app and get to know the nine symptoms of breast cancer, the more lives we’re potentially saving.

Is it important that it should win international awards?

Breast cancer symptoms are the same the world over, so if winning global awards gives us the chance to raise awareness of the nine symptoms of breast cancer globally then that’s fantastic.

Are ad agencies still in the business of selling stuff?

I think we often lose sight of this. Whilst we’re in the business of creating the world’s most meaningful brands, the process of doing so ultimately has to result in a positive shift in sales. We’d be hard-pressed to work in a client service industry if we weren’t actually servicing our client’s needs – to sell more stuff. Yet the biggest watch out are the ‘hacks’ to short-term sales, which are exactly that – short-term. You can get your brand on Tik Tok’s For You page overnight, but that’s not going to create something meaningful to your customers in the long-term.

I truly believe that creativity is the economic multiplier when it comes to building a brand in the long-term. And when we’re moving to a world where I will talk to my fridge to get milk delivered within 2 hours, the difference will be the brand name you say before ‘milk.’ Brand is everything.

You’re judging at The Caples Awards later this year. What is it about The Caples that’s different from other awards shows?

This 100% feeds into the previous question. If we’re not triggering a response from our audience, then we should quit. As a show that celebrates the most creative ways to unearth that response – be it a specific emoji, a coupon redemption, or heaven forbid somebody actually buys something – it is one of the most relevant out of all the shows.

If you want to enter your work in the Caples Awards, go here.

Patrick Collister

Patrick Collister

Patrick Collister is Custodian, The Caples Awards

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