Whether they realize it or not, residents of the South Dallas neighborhood Oak Cliff, have more than likely caught a glimpse of the ubiquitous Matt Bull. The scooter-riding, pepper-haired marketing guru sat down with us to discuss the current state of advertising and brand imaging, UFO sightings, Nigeria and his big picture vision to help more people do good.
Matt Bull swears he’s encountered UFO’s three times in his life. While all three sightings vary, the details of each remain disturbingly convincing.
So convincing, in fact, that for years Matt has spent his free time researching UFO sightings - a hobby requiring enough hutzpah to carefully sift through mounds of fake and unbelievable information to find quality research on the subject. Data that includes heads of state regretting the decision to withhold information from the public, testimonies from astronauts and secret meetings at the pentagon.
“That first sighting just rattled me and made me realize that regardless of whatever I saw, the universe was a whole lot bigger than I had ever allowed myself to imagine. It just made me really aware of what a small life I had been living up to that point - a small, self-centered, insular life and I just couldn’t shake that thought,” he says.
If you ask Matt Bull about his beliefs in the cosmos (and we really suggest you do), you’ll quickly learn two things - he’s not afraid of tackling a difficult topic stigmatized by a lot of fake and phony information, and perhaps even more importantly, he’s at peace with living in a universe a lot bigger than any of us can fathom. These are two qualities that give him authenticity in the truest sense of the word. Long before the word authentic became our favorite hashtag, Matt Bull learned the art of “being real” with himself.
In the world of advertising, Matt will be the first to tell you there’s a whole lot of crap out there, and unfortunately, to get to the good stuff, you sometimes need an iron stomach and a good dose of patience. The process of placing the story above the product, however, is worth it, and it’s something that continues to shape the way Matt creates.
After years entrenched in the big-agency marketing world, Matt joined up with some like-minded folk and founded Kickstand - a cause strategy agency located in the heart of Oak Cliff. Still in it’s inaugural year, Kickstand combines advertising and brand promotion with the desire to help contribute to something authentically good. The company is in many ways the amalgamation of both Matt’s craft as well as his desire to motivate people to do more with their lives than buy stuff they don’t need.
Three years ago, Matt and his wife, Ashley, decided they wanted to broaden their perspectives as a family. After finding an orphanage in need of help in a small town in the middle of Nigeria, Matt took a sabbatical from his job. Then together with Ashley and their three kids, the Bull family headed into the unknown world of small-town Africa for three months. They returned to Dallas with a lot of take-aways - including, but not limited to, a fascination with chickens and a deeper desire for real community.
“It’s impossible to even put into words what a life and mind-altering experience that was and how beneficial it was to us as a family,” Matt says. “The big lesson for me that summer was just how much I have this desire to be useful and work to do something better, but the single best thing I have to give anybody is presence. That was really all I had to give anybody that summer, but it was a gift to them.”
But back in the U.S., Matt found himself once again immersed in a world of needless consumption, and at work, he was faced with re-defining his career priorities.
“So I came back and I was working in my office and surfing the web and I saw this, ahh what car company was it? It was a luxury car company - and the tagline was, “The power of presence.” It was an ad that ended with that tagline and I was like, ‘I gotta quit. This is the worst.’ Even the spiritual lesson I got out of Africa can be turned into advertising,” he says laughing.
Nine months later, Matt left his job to freelance. He knew he needed more time to figure out exactly what he wanted to do and how to use his talents within advertising to do it. Matt’s tongue in cheek style is bold and unapologetic. His copywriting and marketing has the unique quality of making people belly-laugh in the midst of re-thinking well-established perspectives. Matt‘s first solo job went viral, and the work that followed kept him busy and in the press for the next three years until he helped start Kickstand last fall.
It’s here where Matt feels like he’s truly moving closer to creating meaningful messages. As big brands find it more and more profitable to connect themselves with a social cause, Kickstand aims to help these brands not only choose a relevant cause wisely, but to also give both their employees and customers an authentic reason to care.
“It’s not a new thing but it’s being used in some new and interesting ways that get us excited,” says Matt.
And while Matt and his colleagues are happy that doing good continues to grow in popularity amongst big name brands, that’s not the reason they’re interested in it.
“It’s almost like table stakes now and people see that they have to have something they support,” he says. “The challenge is finding the companies that are doing something from an authentic place because they believe it and then helping them do more and have a bigger impact…and tell that story. And tell that story in a way that isn’t just advertising what they’re doing but inviting people to be a part of it.”
For most of his career, Matt says he produced work to please “The Man.”
“That was not a fulfilling way to go about my job.”
Now, Matt sees companies are doing the same with cause marketing to counteract the pressure to please buyers with “good.” When this remains the only motivator, what’s left is a sleek but shallow message describing an initiative that doesn’t have the power to cause any substantial change.
Yet on the other hand, Matt knows the intersection between meaning and quality is just as elusive as it is important. He says you can do something meaningful from a point of authenticity, but without quality delivery, you lose out on engaging people at a deeper level.
“You have to figure out a way to tell that story of doing good that feels authentic from top to bottom but is still interesting and captures peoples attention in a 140-character world,” he says.
People crave the deep connections created by authentic emotions - something Matt wholeheartedly believes results from doing good, and something he advocates for beyond just the clever messaging and advertising he is gifted in. His cleverness isn’t a marketing scheme and his motivations aren’t based in deceit. Matt truly remains convinced people want to help solve real problems more than they want to just buy luxury cars. The facts are there, and Matt’s not afraid to continue sorting through the junk in order to prove them.