Maya Peterson

The Advertising World’s ‘Millennial Whisperer’

Maya Peterson loves getting to the bottom of things, so much so that she says she could have been a lawyer or detective. Instead, she’s the director of culture and creative insights at Viacom, a role where she applies her innate curiosity to make sense of cultural shifts. Some call her the “Millennial Whisperer,” and her carefully researched insights have been invaluable to the world’s biggest brands, like Taco Bell, GM and Microsoft.

What’s your biggest accomplishment to date?

“In late 2016/early 2017, I produced a documentary. Before that project I had no experience as a producer. Which is crazy. I was on another team at Viacom called Scratch—a millennial insights and strategy consultancy that developed brand strategies for clients—I was an MBA, a consultant, a Wellesley woman, a sister, a daughter, a friend but never a producer with a capital ‘P.’ The documentary is based on research that my team conducted. It’s about culture—how it’s shifting because of our proximity to one another. And how this culture shift has changed how we construct our identity, our expectations of intimacy, and decide who has influence. It’s a project that am super proud of, and we have now produced a whole content series that continues to build on the foundation of the documentary. Who knew? I’m also a producer!”

What does being a woman today mean to you?

“In our current cultural climate, I see what being a woman means more clearly than I ever have. It means advocating for basic human rights that I assumed in my youth that women would always have. It means taking custody of my identity from the structures and cultural narratives in place that historically define and confine women. And it means learning to take care of myself, because living at the intersection of being a woman and person of color in 2018 takes an emotional toll.”

What advice do you have for other women working toward their own dreams?

“Your career is a journey that may take you down many unexpected routes. Don’t be afraid. Apply for things you may not get, get involved in projects you think you are not ready for, and when it seems impossible—do it anyway. Wherever that destination is that you land when you finish that project or the impossible gets done, you will look back on what you accomplished and think, Damn, I did that. And feel confident that if you can succeed at that, you can do anything!”

Favorite podcast?
Desert island question: If you could bring only three things, what would they be?

“Sunscreen. I realized belatedly that having more melanin in my skin does not inoculate me from getting wrinkles or skin cancer for that matter...lather up, brown ladies! My smartest, most practical friend who can answer all my questions and help us get off the desert island—so probably Alexa. She’s so reliable. And some Casamigos tequila. I assume there will be limes on this island?”

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