Harry Bernstein is not your typical ad man. That much is clear when you meet him: bearded, tie-dyed, and bolo-tied, Bernstein looks more like Jerry Garcia than Don Draper. Many a profile has been written about Bee’s unorthodox approach to marketing and advertising — his offices are filled with meditation rooms, candles and crystals; Havas’ office has an analog room filled with books and vinyl records, and weekly farmer’s markets. On this week’s episode of HYPEBEAST Radio, we caught up with Harry Bee to hear a little bit more of the philosophy underlying his approach to leadership and advertising.
Bee’s humble beginnings in the advertising industry date back to a high school internship. After getting his foot in the door at various New York agencies, Bernstein worked on many memorable ad compaigns, including Boost Mobile’s “Where You At?” campaign and Vitamin Water’s infamous TV spots from the early 2000s. “Celebrities were kind of a running theme to a lot of my work, which led to my moment.” That moment? A conversation with Young Jeezy at Atlanta’s legendary fish-fry spot, Spondivits. “Jeezy basically said, ‘My fans don’t care about TV. They care about my lifestyle, what I’m drinking in the club.”
A lightbulb immediately turned on for Bernstein. Shortly thereafter, he quit his work on TV ad spots and started The 88 (now known as ANNEX88), a digital-focused agency that quickly attracted a much cooler clientele: adidas and Supreme were among Bernstein’s early clients. The agency’s ability to adapt to the ever-hastening Internet earned ANNEX88 a reputation as the “Snapchat Agency.” His approach is rooted in a philosophy of holistic and conscious creativity. “I don’t focus on the media part of social media,” says Harry. “I still focus on the social party, and that’s what gets me psyched—beyond any platform. To me, it’s the ability for a conversation—whenever something happens in culture—to hit the right nerve. It can kind of infiltrate your life from so many places right now.”
“If I could take a year off to do my own thing, I’d make a documentary about algorithms.”
Despite being one of the pioneers of so-called influencer marketing, Bernstein says he is constantly fighting algorithms. “If I could take a year off to do my own thing, I’d make a documentary about algorithms.” His fascination with algorithms and cultural conversations goes hand-in-hand with his knowledge of streetwear. “The reason why Kanye is able to break the Internet all the time is he’s not looking at his Google Analytics to see what his most popular—he’s naturally in tune with whatever you wanna call the zeitgeist of culture and he can spark a flame. That comes from gut. You have to find people that have that gut. And understand it.”
Check out the full episode above to hear Harry talk about his plans to open an Internet rehab, his conscientious creativity and his idea of cultures as ecosystems.
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