A huge and exciting playground to explore.
The creative behind our most recent selection of Digital work is Luis Gaitán, CCO and President of Grey Mexico. Michael Weinzettl tried to find out more about Luis Gaitán and what drives him.
Hi Luis, you were born in Mexico but raised in Paris, France. Now you’re CCO and President of Grey Mexico. Would you consider yourself to be more Mexican or more French/European? Or just a citizen of the world?
I think I would bet on the “citizen of the world” one.
Mexico and France are deeply part of my roots and since my parents were born in those countries, I lived and grew up in both, they’re part of my story. I belong to both lands and cultures and the mix of both still has a critical influence on the person I am and the values that drive my way of thinking and living. But I also had the chance and privilege to live and work in Barcelona for several years, probably the most influential experience in my career, that corresponded to a time of my life in which I was seeking “my place” on earth. At that time, I knew it wasn’t France nor Mexico.
Please tell us something about the way you grew up.
In some way, my life has always been related to a story about leaving everything behind and starting again from scratch in a new land without connections nor external help.
First, I left Mexico when I was 12 with my mother and sister with nothing else than a couple of suitcases to start again in France having nothing: new country, new culture, new school, new everyday language, new life. 15 years later, when I realized France wasn’t the right place on Earth for me anymore, I left everything again and moved to Barcelona without any kind of personal nor professional contacts, just driven by intuition. And after five years over there, I went back to Mexico to start over again from scratch, in this case with the plan to start an agency. We can say that somehow giving up comforts, by choice or because life led me that way, had a direct impact on the way I grew up.
When and where did you first come into contact with the ad business?
My very first contact was in 1998 when I began to study advertising at college at Université Paris V in France. This is where suddenly I became the most passionate student in the world.
My very first job was in June 1999 in Ammirati Puris Lintas in Paris as a trainee copywriter.
I remember that a couple of hours before my first interview another senior student asked me if I had a creative portfolio to show during the meeting and I didn’t have a clue about what it was. So, I picked up some white sheets and started to draw ideas from scratch, without any kind of craft. I was interviewed by Didier Giner, at that time one of the most prestigious senior copywriters in France. Evidently, I had no idea of who he was. After looking at my “ideas” he just said: “are you aware that in this business the very first thing you need is talent?”. I thought it was over, maybe exploring the creative path for a career wasn’t for me. He walked me to the elevator and said: “I hope you’ll join us to have your first experience training as a creative”. Two weeks later I started at the agency.
What was it that attracted you about it?
To be honest, it’s not that I was thinking about working in this industry. As a student I was lost, as much as a young 20year-old guy can be regarding the future.
My dream at that time was to become a sound engineer. But there were very few public schools for that in France and I wasn’t accepted. My parents couldn’t afford to help me with a private school. So, after considering studying science and physics, I landed on a literature path. And a few months later while visiting a student fair, I discovered advertising as a career and suddenly it grabbed all of my attention. Because I realized I was the kind of guy that enjoyed watching ads on TV and in the streets. I had an Absolut vodka ad poster in my room. At that time agencies in France used to sign their spots with a tiny super in the corner of the screen, and I was the kind of guy that used to pay attention to which agency was behind each film, without even knowing this would become part of my life.
Was it a career goal for you from an early age?
Not at all. And nothing could suggest I would land in this industry.
Since I discovered it, each day, with every opportunity and job, I felt that I was iterating my passion for the creative work and my understanding of the business. And I feel grateful for that. I had the privilege to discover the work I love and to do it every day since I started without having never lived it as a work.
When did digital enter your world and how?
This happened in March 2007, when after working several years in “traditional” agencies in Paris as a creative copywriter I moved to Barcelona and landed in DoubleYou, the pioneering and referent creative Spanish agency in the interactive, digital, and technological landscape at that time. My digital culture was so poor that I tended, as most of the industry at that time, to reduce it to banners and portals. I remember that my French peers used to tell me that I was crazy and giving up my career. But I felt that was the place and moment to explore something completely different. And suddenly I discovered new concepts and talents such as writers, interactive designers, coders, thinkers, motion artists and so much more: an amount of people working together exploring new kind of stories playing with new formats and languages, putting the user at the core, seeking experiences with a beta-tester mindset. For a guy like me coming from writing ads, this was a blast. And a huge and exciting playground to explore. This changed my career forever.
You’ve won so many awards for your work internationally. What are some you are proudest of and what were the projects behind them?
I feel humble and grateful for every accolade and award I had the privilege to receive, being always very aware that this is never an individual achievement but the result of hard work by different groups of people and talents that pushed together to make ideas happen. And even if it’s always nice I prefer to be cautious about it. Awards are part of our industry, but I think it must be a consequence of the work and not a numeric objective. From that perspective, awards are not an obsession and it should not be a matter of volume. Here I would mention two projects that were important for Mexico. The ColorMaps project for PPG Comex that was the first and still the only Gold Lion in Cyber for the country. And “People are the places” for Aeroméxico that was the only Gold Lion in Cannes for Mexico in the last festival before the pandemic, an idea that offered people the possibility to change the logic of geography by allowing them to replace destination cities with the name of the people they were visiting to and reflect this on their real plane tickets. Both ideas seemed very simple, but it took a couple of years to bring them to life working hand in hand with Google.
Digital has become the most important communication ad platform for a brand! Do you agree?
It’s a key part if we look at it from a media perspective and consi-dering how the access to the internet and mobile devices grew globally. But to this point I would ask: what is not digital nowadays? We tend as an industry to make the difference between digital and the rest, but I don’t think people out there, whether you call them users, consumers, or people, do it. I don’t think people comment on ads like “have you seen this incredible digital campaign?”. People may remember great stories and ideas, no matter if the screen or media they discovered it through is digital or not. Technology is a fantastic tool to make stories bigger and expand their reach and experience possibilities for users, but without a great idea, it may remain just more invisible noise for the people.
How do you see the survival chances for print advertising in the future?
I think print advertising is more alive than ever, the main difference is that its exposure has been revamped and iterated. If we “reduce” print advertising to newspapers and magazines we could think its future may be complicated. But if we look at its essence, the powerful impact of an image, we could consider that Instagram for example, and social media are great platforms that people have in their hands. Working with my teams, anytime we have a brief that involves social media I demand we take care of the ideas and executions as if they were living in print, with the same level of creativity and craft.
How did the measures against COVID of the last year affect your work and your private life? What did they mean for advertising in general?
It’s been the most challenging times we had to face as humanity and as an industry, and it imposed new ways of living and working that we all learned to deal with to move forward. After the tremendous feeling of uncertainty and angst we all felt as human beings, we discovered that as an industry – and that’s a privilege – we can operate remotely, and this is something the advertising industry was very skeptical to try before the pandemic. On the private life side, it has been exhausting, on one hand I’ve been grateful to be with my wife and kids all the time but on the other, facing the challenge to multitask and handle remote school connections, meetings, cooking and all at the same time among the rest. Even looking at the glass half full, we are all exhausted. In terms of work, for advertising, we have this incredible chance to keep working remotely but all that we do, everything, is based in human and personal chemistry. Being reduced to operate and communicate via Zoom, Teams, Meet, Webex, Skype etc is certainly functional but it punishes the chemistry at the crucial part, when we cook up strategies and creativity, but also in the quality of interactions with our clients and partners. And for me, chemistry is everything.
Have we gotten back to normal by now? What is the situation in Mexico like?
I think it will be a new normal, and never a return to what we all lived previously. That’s the way it is, and we must assume that. We are far from moving away from face masks, gel, and active protection measures, and this is for everyone. In Mexico we’ve been locked for more than 500 days now, and we don’t see when this is going to end. The numbers here are dramatic, and unfortunately the country doesn’t have the structure nor the public policies to make it better or plan a more positive future. The number of Mexicans that live every day with informal jobs and the economy is so huge that the government has been unable to oblige people to lock down, this is something that never existed here. For most people, the choice is between having nothing to eat or taking chances with the risk of COVID. So, they do what they must do to survive and provide what is needed for their own families. That’s terrible. Government leadership and vision will never be something we can rely on nor trust over here. So, everyone who has the chance to work remotely and stay safe in Mexico shall feel grateful for that and keep being positive regarding the future. Mexico is a country that has always moved forward thanks to its people, their enthusiasm, ingenuity, and hacker mentality, and this will not be the exception.