Even the savviest of semioticians might have a hard time decoding the sources of inspiration informing John X. Carey’s approach to Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches,” the most watched Internet commercial of all time. Carey drew his ideas from a diverse and unexpected set of creative touchstones, from social impact documentaries to Jane Austen, to create the commercial in which a police sketch artist draws two portraits of a series of women—one based on their descriptions of themselves and another based on a stranger’s perceptions.
Carey, who grew up on a Missouri farm and transferred to ArtCenter’s Film Department after studying art, literature and mythology at the University of Missouri, continues to rely on his background in liberal arts as a creative wellspring. “My whole treatment for ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ was full of images from Pride and Prejudice,” says Carey. “That whole book is about women sitting around their house dealing with emotional issues as filtered light streamed through the windows. That’s why I wanted to set this piece in that big light-filled loft.”
Carey’s first taste of national acclaim came courtesy of Voices from the Field, a Designmatters documentary he made about HIV prevention programs in Zambia. “It was an eye-opening experience,” recalls Carey. “I’d make a funny spec commercial and it wouldn’t get any views and then I’d make an emotional doc and it would get 100,000 views. People are craving meaning in their content.”
Carey is a fan of emotion, human-interest topics, cinematic ascetics, and intimate character stories. His work has been featured by The New York Times, The Today Show, CNN, TIME, Forbes, ABC News, and many others. Carey has partnered with top agencies like Mullen, Grey, Wieden+Kennedy, 180LA, 72 and Sunny, Saatchi & Saatchi, Digitas, Ogilvy, and DraftFCB. He has helmed campaigns for clients like Coke, eBay, Samsung, Dove, Guinness, Google, Hershey's, Goodwill, and, Anit-Drug. Industry recognition includes: 2014 DGA nomination, 2013 CANNES LIONS TITANIUM GRAND PRIX, 2013 One Show Gold Pencil, and more.