Our judge for the Digital section of this issue is João Coutinho, who works at Y&R in New York as North America Executive Creative Director.
New York is the world’s purest expression of diversity and equality.
To date, the native Portuguese has done stints in four countries: Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and the United States. Global and local brand campaigns he has worked on include – to name but a few – Volvo, Canon, United Nations, Audi, Coca-Cola, Vodafone, Burger King, Unilever, Philips, Bosch, P&G, and States United To Prevent Gun Violence. In the interview that follows, Michael Weinzettl lobs a few questions at the award-winning creative.
Hi João. First of all, many thanks for selecting the Digital work for this issue. You grew up in Portugal, if I understood things correctly. What was your very first experience of advertising there that you remember?
I started my career in a garage. Me and two friends from Porto, my hometown, we started an ad agency called ZOO. Filipe, one of the partners, had his parents’ garage empty and we moved over with our Macintosh computers and all the video cameras. We were in our first year at college, but already hungry to do stuff. Our core business was making flyers and posters for a club called Indústria. We also did tons of logos, visual ID for brands, and sizzle videos for local businesses. After one-and-a-half years, Tiago (the other partner) and I got an offer to do an internship at Ogilvy in Lisbon, and we left the company.
Did you think at the time that you’d wind up in the ad industry? Or what were your plans? What made you change them?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect. I loved to build stuff, from Lego structures to Subbuteo stadiums, I was all the time drawing objects, car prototypes ... curiously, I wanted to be an architect but I never drew any buildings … My son is only five years old and reminds me of me when I was his age. He loves to build stuff and is super-creative. He grabs boxes, cords, plastic and all the stuff you can’t imagine to build very cool structures, mixed with Playmobil toys. I ended up in advertising mostly because, by the time I had to go to university and needed to decide what to study, there were two shows on TV that influenced my decision. The first one was called “Thirtysomething.” It was a story of two friends who ran an ad agency in Philadelphia (I’m not sure about the city). I liked their lifestyle a lot and it was the first time I saw a creative industry as being as interesting as architecture. The second was a show on Portuguese TV called “1000 Imagens” that showed the best ads in the world. From those brilliant British Hamlet Cigars (“Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet”) to that epic Citroën spot with Grace Jones landing on an aircraft carrier … I discovered a profession with more creative versatility than architecture. I could be a designer, a writer, and a director at the same time. I could influence and change
people’s lives – not permanently but in a different way.
And what was your first experience of advertising outside the traditional media – things that, today, we’d group as digital?
Back in 2009, when I was running Lowe Lisboa with my ex-partner Susana Albuquerque, we had a beer client that owned 1% of market share. The target were college kids avid for nonsense entertainment. For a couple of weeks, we put together a mixed team: creative team + producer + screenwriter + director, who together wrote the 20 YouTube episodes. It was a very cool collaborative experience. The show had three main characters: Este Senhor, a transgender butler who fell in love with the gardener, Adolfo, and SamThe Kid, a famous Portuguese hip hop producer. The show was first streamed on the beer’s YouTube channel, and it was so successful that Sic Radical, a Portuguese cable channel for that audience, streamed the show without charging a single euro. It lived in the digital space, but it wasn’t a website or an app. What I know is that I still have it on my portfolio and rate it as one of the favorite things I ever did. We had tons of fun during the eight months of production.
How did you start out in the ad business? What is your background?
I went to college in Porto, did five years in marketing and advertising. I also did one year drawing at Universidade de Arquitetura do Porto, though I’m still terrible at drawing, but it helped me see how to fill the space on an empty page. After my entrepreneurial experience with ZOO, my first job was at Ogilvy Lisbon.
You have worked in Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and the United States. What are some of the differences in the attitudes towards non-traditional advertising – or even just the way of working – that you have noticed?
Portugal and Spain, besides being neighbors, have a similar work culture, despite many cultural differences. In Portugal, the market is very small. Most agencies are not structured to run regional or global accounts. There’s a lot of talented people but, as a nation of explorers, its talent tends to leave the country in search of better opportunities. In Spain, the industry is bigger, there’s more money and people work harder – and party harder as well. Brazil is the sanctuary of advertising creativity. I was shocked at the amount of talented people working at Ogilvy. Brazilians start very young, and their dream is to work in a big agency in São Paulo. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. The “Madmen” over there become celebrities. They have TV shows, they appear in gossip magazines … the ones who become famous are like rock stars. Brazil has been producing the world’s best creatives for decades in a row. In the US, I’ve only worked in New York, and it’s my favorite place to work of all the four cities. It’s where I feel more identified with the work culture. New York is the world’s purest expression of diversity and equality, and that translates into the work environment. You get rewarded for your talent and hard work. It’s where you see the merit culture in action. It’s pretty organized, and you have your work produced by the best in the world.
What is some of the work you’re proudest of?
Immortal Fans for Sport Club Recife. “Doador do Sport” is an ongoing campaign that, thanks to Ogilvy Brazil, Recife Transplant Center and the club, keeps saving people’s lives.
The year 2013 was a very special one for you. Can you tell us why?
It was! Ogilvy São Paulo won Agency of the Year in Cannes and I made my contribution by winning a Grand Prix and 7 Lions. These awards brought me to the city I always dreamed of working in.
What are some of the projects you’re working on right now at Y&R?
Right now, I’m more focused on the New York office clients. Very involved in a new client that we just won, Altice, a French telecom. We’re producing the first big campaign after they bought Optimum Cable and Suddenlink. Little by little, I’m getting involved in all the brands we have in North America. Xerox is launching Set The Page Free, a collaboration story written by and between famous authors. We’re producing a very cool campaign about inclusion for the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary. Dell and Pepperidge Farm have great stuff in the oven as well. I also have an ongoing project across all the departments to improve the creative output, with a business focus. Great work attracts business and, in the end, everyone is happy – clients included.
You’ve only been North America ECD at Y&R since May of this year. What were some of the challenges that attracted you to leave your job at Grey in New York?
Grey New York is by far the best agency I’ve ever worked at. Tor Myrhen took the ugly duckling that no one wanted to touch and transformed it completely. He left almost two years ago, and the creative culture is stuck on the walls. They have great and talented people working in every single department. Y&R is a great creative brand that has been around for almost 100 years. It’s a network where the good work and awards are not dependent on a couple of offices, but come from all the different regions and countries. When Leslie Sims (North America CCO) arrived, the biggest clients were gone. She had to focus on winning business, and to then focus on the creative. When Leslie and Tony Granger asked me if I wanted to help them to put Y&R on the map again, it’s the kind of a challenge where you can’t say no. It will take its time, but has everything to work out. I found a place with great people, very open, and excited to change.
You’ve won lots of awards at Cannes – Grand Prix, Gold, Silver Lions – and many other distinctions for your work. Do you feel that you’ve been awarded justly for the work you did or were there projects you would have preferred to have been awarded for?
I think my portfolio reflects justice. What’s been awarded was justly awarded. I have other projects that I feel equally proud of, but they just weren’t good enough to win. Fair enough. There are tons of great campaigns that never won a Cannes Lion, like E*Trade’s “Baby” and many others. Great, but not fresh or game-changing enough to bring the metal home.
I think it was Grey Singapore that was at the center of a scandal last year at Cannes when they entered – and were awarded for – an app that was supposed to spot shipwrecked refugee boats in the Mediterranean but that simply did not work. What was your take on this? Was it something that shook up Grey International then? And what do you think are the lessons one can learn from that?
I saw that work on the Global Creative Council and I really liked it – it got one of the highest scores. In fact, I don’t think it was true that it didn’t work, but I don’t have enough background to talk about it. A lot was said in the media, that more and more write things without checking sources. But these types of events happen more commonly with print ads. That same year, there was a Bayer print scam that got pulled off the awards list, because the client didn’t approve or even see it. This is a business and we’re all grown-ups. The same rigorous criteria we have when judging the work we should also apply when submitting it.
As a magazine that features mostly press and poster campaigns, I have to ask whether print ads have much of a future – or will it soon all be digital?
When I started, there was print, radio, outdoor, and TV. As an art director, seeing your work printed in a magazine was a big sensation. I don’t remember the last time I saw a print I did in a magazine, and I have to be brutally honest with you, I don’t think print ads have much of a future. The format, yes, it will continue bigger and bigger on digital and out-of-home, but not the printed paper ads. People will still buy magazines, mostly travelers, doctors and dentists.
What do you like doing in your free time?
Like almost 99% of humans, I like to spend time with family and friends. I love to walk around the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn with my family, or alone taking photos and making stupid videos. I like to go out for dinner and drinks and not wake up very hungover so I can run the next day. Basically, after almost four years living here, I’m still in love with this city and everything that comes with it.
How do you get inspiration for your work?
It sounds boring but, on a daily basis, I read Creativity, Adweek, and Creative Review. I also watch all Cannes, D&AD and One Show archives. I like to read Contagious and Lürzer’s Archive when they come out. I think it’s very important to be updated on what’s going on in our industry. I laugh with Bill Maher, Jimmy Fallon, and stupid Instagram stories. I consume music, documentaries, movies, shows, and TED talks. I follow some people on Facebook and Instagram that inspire me to be a better person, like Obama, Pope Francis, and Humans Of New York. I like to walk around the city, see how people behave, talk with friends and family, in search of human insights that can later translate into an idea for a brand or a personal project.