“Skip this ad” is our worst enemy.
Argentinian Javier Campopiano, Chief Creative Officer at FCB Garfinkel New York, has been in advertising for 17 years. He started out in business in 1997 running his own small design and communication boutique in Buenos Aires. Three years later, he was hired by Ted Royer – formerly ECD of Ogilvy Buenos Aires, now ECD of Droga5 – to work as copywriter at Ogilvy Buenos Aires. There, he worked for key brands as Motorola, Kimberly-Clark, Hellmann’s, Parker, Fanta and Sprite. During this time he participated in several global projects, including the global pitch for the Hellmann’s brand that Ogilvy won in 2003. He was promoted to creative director in 2003. After stints at JWT / El Hotel Buenos Aires – the hothouse boutique and regional hub created by the network to provide creativity in global projects for Unilever brands like Knorr and Sunsil – he joined Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the network’s most creative offices. In February 2010, he left Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi to take up the position of Executive Creative Director at Draftfcb Buenos Aires and, as of early 2013, Javier has been CCO at the network’s New York agency. Michael Weinzettl met the – locally and internationally – much-awarded creative (El Círculo de Creativos Argentinos, FIAP, Sol de Iberoamérica, El Ojo de Iberoamérica, The One Show, Clio, Cannes) at the launch party of Lürzer’s Archive’s 200 Best Ad Photographers at the ADC in New York, and in the following interview talks to him about – among other things – the course of his career and the differences between working in Latin America and the US.
L.A.: Hi Javi, you didn’t start out in advertising by joining an agency but by founding your own design and communications agency in Buenos Aires back in 1997. It was not until three years later that you joined Ogilvy Buenos Aires as a copywriter. Isn’t that a rather unusual way of getting into the business?
Javier Campopiano: Maybe the most unusual part of it is how I started my own small shop: I was an IT guy for a Mac seller, that was how I paid my college. I met the guy that would become my partner fixing – or actually trying to fix, because I stank at doing that – the Macs at his studio. We started talking often on the phone, as his computer kept having problems, and that is how he found that I wanted to be a copywriter, and eventually gave me my first freelance assignment. A year or so after, we were sharing a place and doing really well in terms of money – though not so much in terms of creative opportunities with the kind of clients we had. That’s why, after a couple of years, I decided to put a book together and start rounds to see if I could get into a big agency. I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Ted Royer at Ogilvy and to be offered a spot as an intern. No money, of course.
L.A.: Also, how did you get interested in advertising in the first place? I know that, in Latin American countries, admen are often looked upon as stars in their own right… Who were some of the creatives you looked up to when you started out in the business?
Javier Campopiano: There was a show back home when I was a kid, “El show del Clio” (The Clio Show), that showed the best ads from the rest of the world. I had been drawing, painting and writing since I was little and, somehow, watching those ads made me think that I’d like to do that. Then I forgot about it for a while, stopped doing any creative thing when my parents started what would turn into one of the most entertaining divorces between two lawyers, and came back to it when I was failing badly at my first year in law school. By that time, Agulla y Baccetti had come into the picture. They were the best Argentinian agency and, although the name is probably unknown outside of the country, their reel still can blow anybody’s mind. It was the reason why I – and many, many other people – wanted to get into an ad agency. Their stuff was more interesting than the TV shows themselves. It was bold, sarcastic, flamboyant, modern and popular at the same time. And, yes, the founders of the agency were rock stars, but the work they created is just legendary in our industry.
L.A.: How did your career evolve after joining Ogilvy?
Javier Campopiano: I did the whole road – from intern to creative director – while there. Learnt a lot of good and bad behaviors. Maybe stayed too long, five years. At some point I knew I had to move, and then something that I see now as a turning point happened: I was invited to join JWT, which was led at that time by some of the best former creative directors of my admired Agulla y Baccetti. And it changed the way I understood creative. Even though I had managed to do some great work at Ogilvy, the place didn’t have the strong creative culture it has these days. These guys, on the other hand, were changing the place from the inside. They were on a fierce, relentless pursuit to give a strong and creative voice to every brand – and they were amazing storytellers. I didn’t have any of those skills. So I had to go back to my notepad and my pencil and prove to myself that I could learn some of that craft. When, later on, Maxi Itzkoff and Mariano Serkin invited me to join Del Campo Saatchi & Saatchi, I was better prepared. That was sort of my MBA. Absolute focus on the purest ideas. Creating brands from the execution, less speechifying, less ideology. The idea has to speak for itself. When I look back, the funny thing is that, even though I am aware of having some decent amount of talent, I would have been nothing more than a mediocre writer if I hadn‘t met all these people. They had a conviction that I lacked until I met them, and that was the biggest piece of learning for me.
L.A.: During your first years at Ogilvy Buenos Aires, you worked several times with Neil French, one of advertising’s most colorful and fascinating characters. What was your impression of him? What was working with him like?
Javier Campopiano: Neil is in the Copy Book, which was the Bible for me for a long time. Along with the copies of Lürzer’s Archive, that book has been with me in the bathroom every day. So you can imagine, meeting him, working with him, being close to him, was like meeting Maradona. And he was Maradona, not a hint of a disappointment. Neil is a force of nature, with a quality control based on his superb taste for advertising. He nicknamed me Kevin, still calls me that when we talk; he thought that I looked like Bacon. My mates at Ogilvy at that time turned that immediately into Kevin Panceta, which is the translation for bacon, and that does not sound cool at all, of course.
L.A.: In 2010, you became Executive Creative Director of Draftfcb Argentina, which two years later became the most awarded Argentinian agency at Cannes. Before that, you were at other major agencies, including Del Campo Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the most awarded agencies in South America. What was it about Draftfcb Buenos Aires that persuaded you to join them?
Javier Campopiano: The chance to lead, as simple as that. At some point you want to follow your own gut feeling, to take your own risks and chances.
L.A.: Do you have an explanation why, at some point over the past twenty years, Argentina (and, later, other Latin American countries) became really brilliant at advertising when, for a while, it was really just Brazil that stood out in South America? And how come Argentina became particularly strong in film – while Brazil was mostly influential in print?
Javier Campopiano: My uncle is a classical guitar player. One of his pieces of music is the most played in the world for a contemporary author. He lives in Spain. In Argentina, he owned a video club. That is the explanation. Art is not the best way to make a living down there, so many seriously talented people who, in other countries would be doing art, in Argentina end up doing advertising. And regarding film and press, and pop culture (which, in my opinion, feeds creatives more than art), each country has a different way of creating and consuming it. Brazil is all about soap operas. It is huge. Of course they do great TV shows and movies, they have amazing film directors (“Central Station” is one of my favorite movies ever, and “Mandrake” one of my favorite TV series), but on a day-to-day basis, their visual work is greater than their storytelling. Brazilian work in press and poster is just mind-blowing. My friends from there told me that that is due to the high rates of illiteracy the country had in the past, and that was what forced them to create work that could be attractive and simple to understand without words. Argentinians… we are much more complicated. We need zillions of words to explain anything. We like to talk, to overthink. Storytelling is natural for us, probably because many times we have to explain to ourselves things that happen in our country that are beyond understanding, and we always manage to find an explanation. In the latest years we have refined that craft, and made it more international, as many agencies started to create global work. That added to our work the layer it needed to travel better.
L.A.: What is your assessment of the state of ad creativity in Latin America compared to the US right now?
Javier Campopiano: It’s a tough question. Latin America is leveraging the level from countries that were not on the creative map some years ago, like Peru and Colombia. Some of the best pieces of work are coming from there. And they are doing it for big clients. Which is what you don’t see so often here. Don’t misunderstand me, this market (US) is the real deal; it’s where the big bang happened for us as an industry. But what you see on TV lately (and I spent two Super Bowls here already) is not on the level of the great creative work from past years. This last Super Bowl was full of self-centric ads – America was the main topic. There is a recession feeling, irrespective of whether this is, technically speaking, a recessive market or not, and that is making the marketing strategies and the executions look defensive instead of bold or brave. It is a boring answer, but that’s what I see on TV.
L.A.: What made you decide to leave your native Buenos Aires and move to New York to become CCO of Draftfcb New York? What motivated you to work in a different continent and a very different working culture?
Javier Campopiano: The adventure. The lyrics of the song, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere... ” The work I always admired the most came from here, instead of England, which is the north for many Argentinian creatives. I can’t skip over the fact that I am doing it in a network that is reshaping itself. For me, that means the chance to leave my footprint, to have a strong voice and influence decisions, which is something unusual at this size of business. And the chance to give to my daughters something I would have loved to have as a kid, a hint of the world. It’s a seed you plant and is never going to go away. They will always know that there is a world outside, and that is a huge engine to move anybody.
L.A.: And what are some of the main differences you find between working in advertising in the US and in Argentina?
Javier Campopiano: This is a process-driven culture, and we are by nature more chaotic. It doesn’t mean that there is no process in Argentina, but we tend to be open to the idea that it might change once, or ten times if necessary. Something that shocked me at first was having calendars from my teams to meet with me. I was, like, what do you mean? I am there in that office. You guys let me know when you are ready, we sit down and we work! Now, after one year, I have to admit that, sometimes, it helps me because my schedule is much more complicated than the one I had back there, but I still rather like doing it like that. I end up changing all the meetings and dates, and I still go out to lunch, taking some of the teams with me to keep working – which is what I always did – but having that little break and walk that helps the brain to see something, or to hear something that could actually trigger something. And because eating in front of the computer makes me feel sad.
L.A.: One of the commercials you may be best known for is the Zombie Grandma for Zonajobs. Through the web it has gone global. But would that commercial have been possible to create in the US?
Javier Campopiano: Probably not. But it did run here and in many places out of Latinoamerica, because it was on the computers of people all over the world via YouTube. I am still shocked (and annoyed) by the fact that we judge advertising with different parameters than we use to judge TV shows or movies, or entertaining in general. Why? Because people go to the movies and advertising goes to people? That’s stupid. We have to sell, of course. But we are among the things people see. Period. The Zombie Grandma is a global insight – we all skip meetings and duties using that – or even worse – excuses when we don’t like our job.
L.A.: Comedy is such an important feature of your work. Is comedy the best way to approach the jaded consumer of today (who first of all wants to be entertained, whether it’s through a commercial or on the internet)?
Javier Campopiano: I use comedy in my life as a way of coping with, well, life. Having a sense of humor is the only way to deal with the hard stuff we all face every day, and the only real thing that makes human beings attractive. I can’t imagine my life without it. And comedy is a language in itself, a language that allows us to articulate complex reasonings and transmit cryptic product features. Having said that, I like to think of my work as having room for different expressions. I like to cry too. A lot. Especially in planes. I can cry like a baby watching a movie, to the verge of embarrassing myself in front of my family. Anything that can turn your defenses down is a good tool to open the conversation.
L.A.: You’ve won many awards, several Lions, and an Outdoor Cannes Grand Prix. How important are awards to you personally, and how important are they for the industry in general? And have all these ad awards become inflationary over the years?
Javier Campopiano: Yes and yes. I love awards. I don’t love the fact that there are more award shows per capita than ever. Going back to what it means to me, there is no greater feeling than having a piece of work that makes it to the streets, is loved by the audience, by the client, and by your colleagues. When any of those pieces is missing, it is a sad feeling.
L.A.: What fuels your own creativity?
Javier Campopiano: All I can put into my head. Inputs. About anything. It doesn’t need to be arty, fancy, modern. It just has to be substantial. Pauses are the other part of the equation. You probably have heard this from many creatives, but many times the machine does its work when you stand up and go to do another thing, and then all you were putting inside starts to take shape. And fear, of course – fear of all the things you can be named when you produce mediocre work.
L.A.: And what do you suggest to your teams when they’re looking for inspiration for their work?
Javier Campopiano: Have an opinion. That is what many people here in the States call “passion” when they are referring to the way I work. Many times I tell them: “I am not passionate, I am angry!” and it’s sort of a joke, but there is an inner truth to that, which is that I have a strong opinion about products, brands and strategies. If you have to work for a cookie, and your target are moms, you have to have an opinion about it. About being a kid, about what that cookie meant to you when you were a child, about what you think your mom felt when she fed you with it and you were so happy. Why do we need so many things as adults to get to the same level of happiness we used to get to with just a cookie? I digress, but that is what I mean: Get involved! It is not just a cookie, it’s childhood we are discussing!
L.A.: What, to you, are examples of brilliant advertising out there at the moment?
Javier Campopiano: I felt tones of really bad envy for the work of BFG9000, about changing the names of the storms to the names of the congressmen that didn’t pass the climate change bill. Still makes me angry.
L.A.: What is some of the work you’ve created, or been involved in, over the years that you’re most proud of?
Javier Campopiano: “Zombie Grandma” is probably the best TV spot I helped to create. I still like it a lot, unlike many things I’ve done. “Teletransporter” will always have a great place in my heart, because it was one of those pieces of work that are celebrated by the audience in such a loud way.
L.A.: What is your take on print advertising and how it has taken a backseat to film and digital nowadays? Does it have much of a future?
Javier Campopiano: The Cyber Grand Prix in 2013 was created at Draftfcb NY, and it is a print campaign. A responsive one, yes, but still a press campaign. And when we think of a tweet, why are we judging it any differently from the way we judge a headline? There is a need to kill things in our industry because we believe that we’ve always gotta be the next big thing. OREO Daily Twist says that may not be. That you can still find a nice way to talk to your audience using an ancient tool. I don’t like predictions; we have too many problems to attend to right now. The most important one is that we have to have really good ideas to do stuff that people will not skip if they have the alternative. “Skip this ad” is our worst enemy, and even if we do something awesome, why would someone want to see it more than, say, three times? Again, OREO is a good example. People were actually waiting for the Daily Twist every day. But having such a great idea every time is not easy.
L.A.: What advice would you give young people who want to get into the ad industry? Is advertising a good place to be in nowadays?
Javier Campopiano: It is a great time. It is scary. We are an industry that has to change to survive. The best things happen on occasions like this one. Being part of that is a great opportunity.
L.A.: Can you tell us about some of the creative projects you’re overseeing at present?
Javier Campopiano: We just created the FDA’s first youth tobacco prevention campaign. It is a huge effort, in which we even helped to create the brand, named “The Real Cost.” And I am really proud of one of the latest things we’ve done for the Jamaica Tourist Board, a nice simple idea called the Bobsled Song. We took advantage for the bobsled team qualification to the Winter Olympic Games (and without the budget to be official sponsors) and created a song that matched the length and shape of the race track, to be played during the race. When the song says “To the right,” the bobsled goes to the right and so forth. It’s so simple and hilarious at the same time. And it got really, really huge. To the point that NBC synced the song live the day of the race with the Jamaican team running. It was one of the top stories of the Games using one of the coolest assets of Jamaica: rhythm.
L.A.: How do you unwind, relax?
Javier Campopiano: I have two children, and I would love to tell you that every moment I spend with them is relaxing, but it is not. So whenever we can, my wife and I love to go out and have long, long talks in just any decent restaurant with a nice bottle of wine. We criticize our families, we listen to other people’s conversations (she is a therapist, so that is a sort of professional tic for her), and at some point of the night I forget about that thing that was bothering me and I am able to say, “Tomorrow we’ll see.”