Staff Reporters
Aug 12, 2021

Creative Minds: Why Jon Austin quit rock-and-roll for adland

We get to know the Host Havas ECD through his answers to 11 questions. Find out what two careers he rejected before joining adland, why he thinks a bit of panic is a good thing, and which famous singer he dumped an entire tray of beer on.

Creative Minds: Why Jon Austin quit rock-and-roll for adland

Name: Jon Austin

Origin: New Zealand

Places lived/worked: New Zealand, Australia, UK

Pronouns: He/him


  • Host/Havas, Sydney, ECD (2017 - Present)
  • Host, Sydney, creative director (2013 - 2017)
  • DDB Sydney
  • Saatchi & Saatchi Auckland
  • DDB NZ

1. How did you end up being a creative?

I’ve always loved writing, so I opted for a degree majoring in journalism. After quickly realising I hated the structure and rigidity around journalistic, expository writing, I dropped out to pursue my other passion—music—thinking it would let me write and create with more freedom. Fast-forward a few years, and our band was playing a tour in Japan. Whilst it should have been a phenomenal time of my life, I found myself hating every second. Sure, I now had the freedom to write and create, but the chaos that surrounded it had become exhausting and depressing and was taking a huge toll on me. My relationships were deteriorating and my health was declining. So I went back to university in search of a middle ground—something that would offer a certain freedom of creativity, but with the structure and process in place to provide purpose and positive growth. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into our version of ad school, and here I am.

2. What's your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?

We can be guilty of operating in an industry echo chamber, so I’m a big fan of work that wins in the real world. In that context, my favourite piece would have to be a project we did for Air New Zealand called Summer Wonderland. It was a campaign that saw us creating a Christmas carol that did away with all the classic winter themes (which didn’t reflect a Southern Hemisphere Christmas at all), and instead represented a uniquely Kiwi Christmas. It reached Number 1 in NZ, and number 9 on the charts in Australia, but what I love about it is that it genuinely impacted Kiwi culture. It’s still being taught in a lot of NZ schools, and is even used as syllabus for English as a Second Language students.

3. What's your favourite piece of work created by someone else?

Brewtroleum. What a belter of an idea. While it set Export Dry up for their whole ‘Save the Planet’ platform, nothing has come close to beating it. I am fiercely envious of Simon Vicars’ brain.

4. What career did you think you'd have when you were a kid?

I was absolutely certain I was going to be a stuntman. My best friend growing up was a child genius. He would spend his time inventing various Bond-style gadgets like underwater breathing apparatus, flying bikes, and hornet-proof suits, and I would test them out. In retrospect, I did spend a lot of time almost drowning, breaking bones on out-of-control bikes, and getting a shitload of hornet stings, so maybe he wasn’t quite the genius I thought he was.

5. Do you work best under pressure, or when things are calm?

Definitely under pressure. We’ve gone from being a scrappy, independent agency, which requires a certain courage-under-fire attitude, to working through a merger with a global network, which requires a completely different kind of resilience. As such, I feel like I’ve just been conditioned to work better in the crunch. It’s something that’s certainly served me well with the industry speeding up and finding new ways to crunch timings and budgets and resources. Actor Catherine Tate once said, “nothing fosters creativity like hopelessness and a little panic”, and I totally agree. I love Hail Marys and long shots and last-minute epiphanies. Comfort breeds complacency, and complacency kills creativity. There’s nothing like frantically thinking your way out of a bind.

6. Tell us about the worst job you ever had.

I was a bartender at Planet Hollywood, which was fucking horrific. I primarily divided my time between wearing a Hawaiian shirt that only buttoned up halfway; doing the ‘P.H Rap’ for people weird enough to celebrate a birthday there; wearing the Planet Hollywood mascot costume, which felt like a blend of polyester and live ants; and spilling an entire tray of beer all over Christina Aguilera.

Be kind to people in hospitality, folks. They are long-suffering, unsung heroes to everyone except Christina Aguilera.

7. What/who are your key creative influences?

My high-school music teacher Mr Botting. As well as providing notes to get us out of class so we could hang out in the music room, he also fostered my love of music and writing. He would unlock the school and help our shitty teenage band record demos on the weekend. He would set up gigs for us around town. He’s genuinely someone that got me on the path that led me to where I am.

8. What advice would you give to 10-year-old you, if you could?

In two years you will get glasses, braces, and heavy-duty corrective footwear. It will be rough on your social life. So maybe don’t also take up rollerblading.

9. What's your guilty pleasure?

The Fast and the Furious franchise. It’s a worrying addiction for someone who is meant to be responsible for the creative direction of an agency, but I just can’t get enough of that ragtag bunch of LA street racers turned elite thieves turned international spies turned astronauts.

10. Tell us about your tattoo(s).

I had my first tattoo done in Paris when I was 16. At that age, I didn’t know what an actual tattoo gun looked like (or didn’t look like), so when the guy in the boarded-up hovel in Montmartre had to keep stopping to wind the rubber band on the sewing machine needle back up, I thought it was totally OH&S approved. After it healed, it was more scar than tattoo. Years later, I would do a bit of freelance copywriting for a local tattoo removal shop, just so I could get paid in tattoo removal instead of money.

11. What app could you absolutely not live without?

The humble Notes app. I have screeds of them that I add to while I’m out running or on a flight with no WiFi or when I wake up with a jolt at 3 am with a brilliant idea (fun fact: it’s never a brilliant idea). My notes have a shelf life of about 48 hours before they become completely incomprehensible and I have no idea what they were actually about. But I still can’t bring myself to delete them, and will often fondly scroll back through them all, wondering what the fuck I meant by ‘Kokomo tour, but in reverse’, or ‘You know what’s weird? The secret service’ or ‘Cher holder’.

In Creative Minds, we get to know APAC creatives through their answers to 11 questions—three required and the rest from a long list ranging from serious to silly. Want to be featured? Contact us.


Campaign Asia

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