Pablo Rochat is quickly gaining recognition as one of the most creative people on Instagram. His aesthetic — which Rochat describes as “lo-fi, high-fun” — hacks mundane cultural ephemera and injects a signature dose of playful humor. His idiosyncratic memes and pranks have earned him wins from Cannes, FWA, SXSW, Webby Awards and inclusion in AdWeek’s Creative 100 list for 2019.
Rochat began his career as a creative for Goodby Silverstein. From there, he developed a method for fusing his advertising expertise with a singular brand of humor on Instagram, where he currently has nearly a quarter of a million followers. Check out his feed for posts that hover between gleeful absurdity and brilliant satire.
In this interview with Creators Are Us, Rochat walks us through his creative process, muses about the future of his brand, and recalls some of his favorite pranks. Have you heard the one about the Shot on iPhone campaign that features not-so-great selfies? If not, then dear reader, dive in.
Zack Seckler: How did you start out creating quirky content?
Pablo Rochat: I studied graphic design in college and after graduation I took a graphic design job. At the same time I was putting funny videos and memes online as a hobby. And so my goal is to kind of combine the design and the humor that I was posting online, which is the perfect place for that because advertisers communicate and entertain an audience in a clear way. So basically I just applied to places in San Francisco where I always wanted to live and I got a job at Goodby Silverstein where I started as the designer and worked my way up to art director.
Then you went from Goodby to Tinder, right?
Yeah, in between those two I had joined this startup in San Francisco to create marketing for them and then that company was acquired by Tinder, where I learned more about how a brand operates internally. I started an Instagram account, and from there I started to get opportunities to create content for brands. At a certain point I was making enough money to be independent and that’s when I left and started my own studio.
So you were making enough doing what?
Creating commission content for brands. They had seen funny things I was posting online. People are spending a lot of time on Instagram so I focused on creating content on my own account. And everything kind of launched from when I started to do these interactive story games on Instagram. I created games on Vine because the function of Vine was similar to Instagram – stories where you can press and hold to pause the video. After Vine died I put it on Instagram Stories and people seemed to react and engage with it more than any other thing I posted. I started to collaborate with other accounts and over time build an audience big enough to where brands started asking me to create that type of content for them.
And how’s that been going?
It’s going great. I never really thought about starting my own thing but it turns out that there’s just enough business inside of me to be independent. I’m still learning that part, but it’s going really well. I can’t complain. I’m lucky that Instagram has such a strong audience that I can explore my own ideas and develop business from people just watching it.
So do you have employees? Is it just you?
I have a business partner who helps me manage client relationships, contracts, and negotiations. Other than that, it’s just me creating everything.
When you’re working with a brand, do they say, “Hey Pablo we saw this. We want you to do it with our brand and put our logo on it,” or do they commission you to come up with a new concept from scratch?
It happens a couple of different ways. One is where they’ll see a post that they really like and they want a version of that. Then I enter their brand or their voice into a type of creative asset that I’ve already made and then I license or let them buy that from me. But mostly brands come to me with specific briefs and specific deliverables. So let’s say they’re launching a product and they need a certain amount of Instagram ads or YouTube pre-roll. Then, they ask me to pitch them ideas and I’ll produce the ones that they like. So it’s a pretty simple process. I crank out a stack of ideas and show it to them. They pick and choose which direction they like. And then I will produce it – mostly using Photoshop and After Effects.
With what you’re doing, it’s so cerebral. There’s so much of the creative process that’s really part of the transaction, versus just the visual product. When you receive a commission, how does it work with budgets timelines?
So it’s kind of like the Wild West out there in terms of not knowing what to charge. I’ve started at a slightly low price and then slowly worked my way up to where enough people are saying yes and I feel like I’m offering a fair market price for the value that I bring. And I like to make it as easy as possible for the brand and the client, so I just have a flat rate per post.
Do you factor in the brand following and the audience exposure at all?
Sometimes I will lower the price if the brand is able to credit me in the content because that’s giving me exposure to a new audience. But other than that – unless it’s like for a non-profit or certain clients like that – I charge the same. It’s the same amount of my time for a client who has ten thousand versus ten million.
Is there a structure to your creative process? How does it work?
I very much rely on having creative ideas and brainstorming in order to further my career and pay my rent. I have to put myself in a place where ideas can happen. And so a lot of that is just like basic health. I don’t eat a bunch of crap because I’ll get tired the next day. I’ll make sure that I get good sleep and good exercise. A lot of my creative process is focused on putting myself in a good position to have creative ideas. When I’m in a good place to come up with ideas, I make sure I generate not just one idea if they’re asking for one video. I need to generate like 10 ideas and force myself to explore ranges, thoughts, and approaches so I can feel like I have properly explored the creative process to come up with the best idea.
Do you get inspiration from visual content? Are there any kind of resources that you use for jumpstarting?
I’m always browsing the internet so I feel like I always have a catalog of inspiration that I’ve come across. But a lot of my creative work is twisting the mundane in weird and interesting ways. Sometimes just looking at boring things is inspiring because I need something to fuck with in order to come up with a good idea.
A lot of your work seems to start with mundane things and that’s part of the charm and the brilliance of it. Do you ever start working on an idea and then just stop mid-production because you feel like it isn’t working? How often does that happen?
Like every day. It’s not always ideas on paper that get cut. I like to test things fast to see if it will work in animation or as a polished image, so I’m always cutting things when I start producing. Sometimes I start producing something right away just to prove myself wrong and move onto the next one. It’s important for me to see it as a final product before I can even decide if it’s good or not.
So once you send in a deck and then they approve an idea, do they give you a lot of notes? How involved do they get?
There’s a range of types of feedback. Sometimes I produce exactly what they were looking for and other times I’ve had projects go on for months that I thought were great in the beginning, but there was so many decisions that had to be made on the client agency side that it just morphed into something else over a period of time.
Have you ever had any legal issues with using existing content?
No, I haven’t yet. What’s important is that I purchase and get the proper licensing for all the materials that I use because I don’t want to get in trouble and I want to pay the person who took the photograph and I want the client to know that they’re getting something that’s fully licensed.
On the topic of legal, you’ve had your work stolen and repurposed. Burger King seems to be the biggest one that’s happened. Can you talk a little bit about what happened?
I’d rather spend my time making new work than chasing down people who stole old work. I don’t really talk about it publicly because I don’t think that my audience is really interested in me complaining about stuff. I did the Burger King thing because I had a fun prank in mind and someone sent me a story where Burger King had made as an advertisement in Europe that was clearly kind of an idea taken from an account. I knew this was not a coincidence because the brand was following me on Instagram.
No. After a couple days, they reached out saying they were into it.
So you create content for Instagram on a daily basis?
I try to post a couple of times a week at least, but I’m always generating ideas. I’m still trying to figure out how often I should post. Should I post the idea that I think is 80% there because I don’t have content that day or should I wait until the next day when I can make the content better? It’s always a balance between quality and quantity.
Do you ever feel weighed down or suffocated by the need to create content? Like, “Ugh, I just don’t have the energy today”?
Oh yeah, all the time because some of my best ideas have come when I didn’t even want to have an idea. And so I’m willing to push through or do my best to overcome whatever fatigue I might have to put in the work because I’m doing what I dreamed about doing. I’m just so grateful for the opportunity I have now that it motivates me to keep fighting even if I’m not having ideas or if I’m tired. But I’ve definitely burnt out a couple of times this year. It’s a challenge but I’m just so crazy happy that I’m able to produce independent work that it outweighs any kind of struggles along the way.
What do you see yourself doing in five years? Is there other stuff out there that you want to do?
Basically I want to be where people’s eyeballs are, so I’ll continue to be on Instagram and other platforms. I still use Twitter and LinkedIn, but I focus on Instagram at the moment because I feel like that’s where people are spending most of their time. In five years, I don’t know what the projects are going to look like. I imagine they’re going to be a lot different because I get very bored easily if I’m repeating myself creatively.
What about your studio? Do you ever see yourself growing that and adding animators?
Potentially. I haven’t done that yet because I’m afraid of losing my voice in the work if there are other people working on it. I’m afraid of becoming a manager and leaving the creative process.
Let’s talk about some of the non-Instagram work. I love the Shot on iPhone. That was hilarious. Can you talk a little bit about how that idea came and the actual execution of it?
Yeah, so at Goodby I partnered up with another Art Director, Fabio Benedetto, who has become a really close friend of mine in San Francisco. And we’re always thinking of prank ideas. In San Francisco there’s this Shot on iPhone campaign everywhere, all these beautiful pictures shot on iPhones, but we have iPhones and we take shitty selfies. So we made our own posters telling a little bit more of the truth: not all photos are great. So we basically put up posters next to Apple’s posters showing kind of shitty pictures that people have taken on an iPhone.
Were they pictures that you created?
No, we found them online. We just ripped people. We actually got one in trouble because the prank got way bigger than we thought it would. We just wanted to make some people laugh in San Francisco so we just kind of took images online without permission. I think one of the shitty selfies that we used with like a reality star in Brazil. We went on TV asking Apple to pay her money.
And what about the TED Talks 4/20?
TED Talks is about beautiful ideas being presented so we thought, OK let’s give people who are not scientists and psychologists and thought leaders a platform to give a TED Talk at the 4/20 Festival, the huge marijuana festival in San Francisco where everyone is messed up. And so we built our own little stage there and let people give a TED Talk.
Do you have any other favorite stunts that you’ve done?
Yeah, the Apple Store jumbotron where me and Fabio drew a big dick across four monitors. So basically we drew a dick at our office on Photoshop. We separated it into four images and at the Apple Store you can access your email on the computer so we just downloaded each of the four images on separate computers and one by one made them full screen, stepped away, and there’s just a big dick at the Apple Store. So that was like a 15 second shitty iPhone video that like got millions of views.
Are you still doing pranking type stuff in the real world?
Yeah, Fabio and I hang out all the time and we love to do pranks so we have some ideas that we just need to go out and shoot. I want to do more of that.
What about as far as inspiration just more generally? Are there TV shows, actors, comedians, people that inspire you?
I really like I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robbinson. Tim and Eric and Eric Andre. Tim and Eric is classic. I like when everyday people create or capture a funny moment and put it online – even if it’s just one piece of content in their life that’s just ridiculous. That’s what inspires me: not someone who has a career in comedy but someone who just took a hilarious picture of their dog or someone doing something crazy on the street – just everyday moments inspire me the most usually.
Do you have any advice for people out there, online content creators who work in the comedy, subversive comedy genre?
Patience is big. I developed a big audience over a year and a half and it’s been a grind every day and sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m making progress. I think it’s good to have a daily practice of thinking and plotting and planning your next piece.
Interview by Zack Seckler
Edit by Christopher Karr