Francisco “Pancho” Cassis
Francisco “Pancho” Cassis is Executive Creative Director of what is arguably Spain’s coolest ad agency, LOLA in Madrid.
Brands often impose what they think should be pleasure.
Whatever the case, LOLA was certainly Spain’s most awarded agency of 2014, and has this year won a total of eight Lions at Cannes, among them a Gold Lion for the Magnum “Transvestites” commercial, a Silver Lion for the Scrabble print ad, and a Bronze Lion for the film “Anagram Lovers.” Michael Weinzettl sat down in LOLA’s Madrid headquarters with Pancho,
an adman originally from Chile who worked there at Tropa Grey in Santiago. He subsequently moved to Spain to work for Leo Burnett Madrid in 2004, before going on to join forces with his old friend and colleague Chacho Puebla at LOLA four years ago to direct the creative output. Topics discussed in the interview include – amongst other things – the Latino way of doing advertising.
Hi Pancho, first question: You were on the Radio jury at Cannes this year. Thank God we don’t have radio commercials at Lürzer’s Archive but I imagine it must be really hard to judge radio spots from around the world. How hard in fact was it?
To be honest, I thought it was going to be tough but it really wasn’t that tough. While the rest of the juries were in a dark room judging all day, we were on these sort of beanbags in the sun with our own iPads. It was fun! I mean the system to judge the radio spots was made to be very fair: you have to listen to the whole commercial in its original language, then you listen to it in the translation. So that was really the toughest part – but it was an amazing experience.
Before I came here, I of course looked up the first of your ads to have been featured in Lürzer’s Archive and it’s from 2003, an ad for something called Via Uno, which you did while you were at Grey, in Santiago de Chile. So you’re Chilean originally?
Yes, well, I was born in Colombia but my family and everyone is from Chile and I was raised there and studied advertising there. Actually, my dad was an advertising copywriter. I was studying when one of my teachers, who was working at Grey, told me: “You know what, come and do a training with us,” and then I stayed. Actually, one of the guys who trained me is Chacho Puebla, with whom I worked here in Spain at Leo Burnett, and we later became partners. He hired me and then we split. He went to Lisbon, I came to Madrid. Then we joined forces again in Madrid and we’ve been working together for the past seven years. He’s Partner and Chief Creative Officer of LOLA in Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon.
Do you have an explanation for the enormous surge of Latin creative talent that has emerged over the past 10 years or so? I mean, Brazil has had great print advertising for more than two decades, and Argentina got really strong in film. But now it’s all sorts of Latin American countries that seem to be coming up with really creative advertising …
Actually at this agency here, we have Colombians and we have Peruvians, we have a lot of Argentinians and a lot of Brazilian guys. I think it’s a kind of trend, like when you have a region where one country is really good, and it starts spreading. While the Brazilians were really good at doing print and craft, the Argentinians found a way of doing really good television but in the meantime Brazil has also become really good at integrated work and digital and you also get Argentinians that do really good print. The other countries, the smaller ones like mine, we found a way of doing good print. We knew we couldn’t get the big budgets so we said, “Let’s do something that we can control.” Take Peru, for example: they are not great in TV, they are not great in print, but they are great in ideas. So they do integrated stuff, and the same thing is happening with Ecuador, and also with Colombia. When one country in a region starts doing very well, the rest of them get into the track.
From Grey in Chile you then went to Leo Burnett in Madrid. So that was your first stop in Europe. How long were you there?
I came here in 2004 and stayed at Leo Burnett until 2011, and now I’ve been with LOLA for four years.
So LOLA did not yet exist when you came to Spain?
No, no, no. LOLA is only six years old. LOLA is a great idea from Lowe. It was founded by Fernando Vega Olmos. He was the owner and founder of Vega Olmos Ponce in Buenos Aires, one of the best Argentinian agencies of all time, especially in film. His vision was that Latinos had a better ability to connect with people. We are very unorganized, we are always late, we have our siesta. There is a strong tradition of enjoying life but we really do have a way of connecting with emotions. And he thought that this way of working would work really well with global brands. So he spoke with Lowe and said we should create a global hub that is Latin. That’s why the name is LOLA – it stands for Lowe Latina. Lowe had a lot of big clients in South America – Axe, for example. So, he said, let’s do a hub in Madrid. We’ll have the Latin creatives but living in Europe, with the possibilities we have here, and the budgets, but creating for Latin America. And it worked out so well that we won the global account for Magnum, the ice-cream, and then they just kept growing and they didn’t just stay on this Latin American track. We actually don’t have a special regional Latin American account, we now handle global accounts. We have the global account for Magnum, Cornetto, SEAT… I think the agency succeeded because of the Latin way of building a global brand.
That Magnum film which won Gold in Cannes this year, you cannot show that all over the world, can you?
No, no, that’s a specific film that is just used in specific countries. What we do – and sometimes it’s not as much fun as we want it to be – is that we work on two-year briefs. So, for example, we’re working on 2017 and in that kind of schedule we have different timings. In some markets we had a campaign for the 25th anniversary of Magnum, which wouldn’t make sense to show in a market in which the brand is only 10 years old. So to come back to the “Transvestites” commercial that won a Gold Lion, that is for a more mature market, where the “Be true to your pleasure” motif could be shown in a clear way.
Are there more Magnum spots featuring that theme?
No, it’s the first one but we’re working on a continuation. We’re shooting in October so we’re on the second one and how to make the platform bigger. It’s Unilever and it was a brave step for the client, a huge bet on an idea. They’re really happy because it was done amazingly well. Everybody loves it …
And everyone gets it?
Yes, everyone gets it and it was brave for a brand to talk about your own pleasure. Many times, brands impose what should be pleasure. You know, pleasure should be an island where you spend your days in a hammock doing nothing. And we say, no, pleasure is different for everyone. And we started with a really extreme example, but it’s an amazing example with people who are part of our culture and have their own way of seeing pleasure.
You could never show this in Russia, though!
No, no, of course there are many countries where it’s still impossible to show it. But the good thing is you make a statement as a brand. And anyways, with the internet today there are no isolated markets. People just log on to YouTube and see something and, if they like it, they share it. We had three million views after only a week. Many celebrities in the US shared it, some of the most famous drag queens in the US came out in support of it because they liked it so much. Of course you cannot show it on TV in Russia, but now, with the internet, who cares?
Because nowadays you have other ways of exporting ideas …
Yes, and the people are the judges. You don’t care so much about research, you don’t care so much about the awards. People like it or they don’t like it. It’s simple, I think.
What did you think of the awards in general this year in Cannes?
To be honest, this time – for the first time in eleven years – I didn’t spend so much time looking at the work outside Radio as I was judging until Wednesday of that week. Normally, I’m the kind of freak creative that goes to Cannes from Sunday to Sunday. I’m in the Palais the whole fucking day. I don’t go to the beach, even though my girlfriend doesn’t believe me – she thinks it’s a trick. But this year was the first time that I couldn’t see it all. I saw some stuff on Thursday, Friday, and part of Saturday. I saw a lot of stuff in promo, I saw a lot of stuff in media. but I didn’t have the time to see it all. Actually, what I did I just cut out of my head Press and Outdoor. I saw a little bit of Outdoor, the special solutions category, but the rest felt a little bit old, to be honest. To be looking at print ... the way agencies are still using print like it’s a competition in retouching and Photoshopping instead of good ideas. I started looking at Press and perhaps other people who went there had the same feeling, but you start to look at the first category, which is food, and there were four ideas – repeated. One idea, twice with two different brands, second idea, repeated twice with two brands, etc. etc. I was, like, “Fuck this, this is wrong!”
So it’s all become about execution?
It’s sort of about execution and I could not find any ideas that would interest me. Maybe there was one, the smart, which I loved… maybe it was German. The smart with the extra to make the length of the competition’s car?
It was French, the smart campaign by CLM/BBDO Paris.
Yes, so simple! I loved that one. But the rest, there was so much I felt was wrong. Like small brands doing a €50,000 retouched image for a print ad. I felt that was so wrong. That’s why I was kind of happy with the Outdoor Grand Prix for the iPhone campaign. I think it’s intelligent to give the Outdoor Grand Prix to a classical outdoor execution with a clear idea. And I’ve seen that campaign all over the world. I’ve seen it in the States, in Spain, in London, and it’s real and it has a clear benefit. It’s not an expensive retouching affair or another car talking about GPS or talking about Park Assist. But on the whole there were some good ideas to be found in Cannes this year. I would say some brands and some agencies are pushing too hard into this “world thing.” Which is okay, and we at LOLA are true believers that brands should have a purpose, but when brands try to save the world just to save the world, and what they do has nothing to do with the product, it feels a little bit weird.
Isn’t that what Benetton did 20 years ago, tearing down the wall between advertising and reality?
Yes, and then it was shocking, but now if you do something like handsoap and your message has nothing to do with hands or soap but something lofty about saving the world, this is very strange. And, this year, I found a lot of work that had no relation to the products they were trying to sell. Volvo is a good example of how you do something for safety …
You mean the Volvo “Life Paint” from Grey London. It won the Grand Prix Design and Grand Prix for Promo & Activation.
Yes, that relates to what Volvo is. Volvo has been all about safety ever since the 1970s. I think what they should do in Cannes is try to reduce the categories. Or at least see that the same idea doesn’t win so much. When I see that the same idea wins two Grand Prix I go, like, “Listen for a second. If this is the best idea in Direct Marketing, how can this idea also be the best idea in the world for Promo? It makes no sense.” Perhaps we need to combine categories, maybe Promo and Outdoor, part of Outdoor, should be taken out of Outdoor and just be considered as Promo. There are too many awards for the same idea. We as an industry need to award more work and let people see more work. In the end, you have seen Life Paint six times, the Iron Fish 11 times, and two or three more ideas a lot. And the funny thing is, I always go around the exhibition with my creatives and we comment on the things we see. And we saw some work I would have been proud to have in my portfolio that didn’t even make it onto the shortlist. So we’re just not seeing enough of what’s good out there. What we get is the Iron Fish and Like a girl – amazing ideas to be sure – but they get 20 awards when there is more out there.
Tell us about the piece of work you’re proudest of as an art director – sorry, I mean copywriter?
Copywriter! It’s much simpler to be a copywriter!
Yeah! (laughs) Much simpler than being an art director, yes! You just write it and you go home – while the art director has to do this amazingly difficult part of the job. Every time an art director complains like: “Oh shit, I have to stay late to work on this!” I tell them it was not a draw, that you chose this profession, now stick with it! (laughs)
But nowadays in most agencies, the teams do the work together, an art director and a copywriter. Don’t you have this here at LOLA?
No, no, we do have teams, but sometimes we just have an art director and copywriter. Sometimes, it’s a digital art director and copywriter. We don’t have many fixed teams, it really depends on the job. We do have some teams, though, because when we were at Leo Burnett Madrid we tried this open approach, which was a little bit chaotic. When you open up the brief to everyone, no one feels responsible, no one feels the absolute pressure, you know like, “If I don’t do it, no one else will.” So we tried to fix that by having teams that have their accounts assigned but then some of the good briefs we open to all teams. But to come back to your question: The work I am proudest of as a copywriter is one we did back in Santiago at Grey with Chacho in my first year there, and we won a Gold Lion for this as a trainee team. It was for the police and what I like about it is that, even today, my parents sometime get an email from a friend saying, “You need to see this!” And it’s a campaign that is about 12 years old. It was aimed at people to buckle up in their cars. It was a guy in a wheelchair and when the traffic lights were red, the guy in the wheelchair approaches a car. But instead of asking for money, he gives out a flyer that says, “I didn’t use my seat-belt either.” It’s a video that has been going around for ages, and maybe that’s one of the things I’m proud of. Maybe because it was at the beginning.
Sounds like a really early case study.
But now that you say this, it’s terrible (laughs). It’s one of the worst case studies! There is just a super in the beginning, a super at the end, and in between you have real footage of the guy in the wheelchair … That’s all it is. Terrible if you see it as a case study. But I like it because the idea is powerful. It’s still powerful and it still surprises people, and it was one of our first jobs with Chacho at Grey.
What is your take on print advertising? Does it have a future?
Is there a future? Yes! I was happy to see some stuff at Cannes, and at other festivals sometimes you see some print that is not so much worried about the Photoshop and the execution, and more concerned with the idea. I think print and outdoor – and the iPhone 6 campaign is a good example – will keep doing the work if the brands are brave enough to do something interesting in this media but also if agencies decided to do something that is not only for the award shows but for a real purpose. Maybe we feel print is dying because we don’t see enough of those award-winning ads out there in real life. You know, for LOLA we don’t want to fight the print-fight. We do print when someone asks us to …
And you win at the awards for it too!
Yeah, yeah, we won for the Scrabble campaign. And last year we won with one of our beloved brands, Nomad, a skate brand, one we’ve been working with for seven years. So we do print but we do print when the brief asks us to. In the case of Scrabble, for example, Scrabble players actually read, they like reading. So that’s why we did the print version of the “Anagram” film. We know they like reading, they like sharing, even if it’s a jpeg. It’s an interesting print to see in a magazine. What we don’t like to do is this super-complex art direction with Photoshop about a metaphor of what Scrabble should be. We said no, when you talk about Scrabble, use words. And in that sense the posters for the skate brand, Nomad, last year were the same. They were in-store posters and they just needed to raise the pride of the skaters vis-à-vis other sports. And, again, it is print that has a purpose. Skate brands do a lot of posters so there was a clear purpose in doing this. So we do print but we never fight to do it. We never get to a solution through print.
What about the digital question? Some agencies have their digital department while others outsource the digital work, and then there are some where they virtually expect every creative to be able to write code.
In our case, we used to have a digital department but we broke with that when we found that it’s almost impossible to create an idea and then just have it executed by the digital department. So now we mix, we have digital creatives in every team, but we actually ask everyone to think digital and to be involved in the day-to-day reality of digital. We can’t have someone who says: “Oh, I’m creative and I don’t know about digital. Someone else will take care of that.” But we’re not into the craziness of trying to make everyone write code or program and stuff, because it’s not what we do. We’re here to have ideas and then someone will fix it. It’s hard for me to believe that a good architect needs to know how to lay bricks and mix cement, and to know how long it takes to dry, etc. That’s bullshit. I don’t think you need to be able to write code to be a good creative. It’s expecting the whole creative department to know how to shoot a film. Someone will know it better than you. You need to know what you can do with film, you need to know that there is a 3D, you need to know that you can shoot against a green screen, you need to know the possibilities. But a good idea is a good idea, whether or not you know how to write code.
How do you get the inspiration for your work? What do you do to generate an idea? Do you have a special method for it?
It feels a little bit like a cliché but it’s one of the first things my dad, who was a creative, told me: “Creating an idea is nothing more than mixing stuff from different baskets and giving them a new meaning.” So what you need as a creative is to have these baskets filled with stuff. So it may sound obvious but in order to be a good creative you need to read a lot, you need to be really curious about popular culture, you need to see all the TV series, you need to see films. This is how to fill the baskets you use to mix stuff. That is my, perhaps a bit clichéd, but totally real advice. And to arrive at the idea you just try it out. One of the things we say here is, “The more often you shoot at the goal, the better your chances of scoring.” You may not score all that often but it’s our form of approach. Sometimes, when we get blocked I say, okay, let’s start and let’s just shoot everywhere: How about this with celebrities, how about this with superheroes, what about this in animation? So you start opening paths and, sometimes, something feels more interesting and you stick with that. But it’s about shooting a lot. Sometimes you get into this state – it happened to me a lot when I was younger – that you say: “Oh, this is terrible, it’s not worth writing it down.” So you never go forward, you’re blocked. So just say the stupidest thing you can think of and write it down. Then you can see that it’s stupid but it opens a lot of roads, different paths, and you might end up throwing away 100 ideas that are shit, but at least you know which 100 ideas not to go back to. For me, that’s one of the key things: to try a lot.
Anything you would like to add, something that is close to your heart?
Real Madrid! Real Madrid will come back this year and we’ll beat Barcelona! (laughs).