Last year we (Creative Social) were honoured with the task of helping Lürzer’s Archive in establishing a digital section for the first time in their history. The first version can be downloaded here. Since then there have been a number of Socials who have been featured in the magazine and over the rest of this week, we will be replicating their interviews as a taster for a set of interviews done by our very own intern, James Kirk over the coming weeks (now that the blog is finally back up – sorry for the downtime).
First up is Fernanda Romano who is currently enjoying time off after her stint as Global Creative Director, Digital and Experiential at Euro RSCG Worldwide. Anyway here is her chat with Michael Weinzettl about her career to date and the criteria guiding her choices of digital creation for that issue:
L.A.: Hi Fernanda, could you first of all introduce yourself please?
Fernanda: My name is Fernanda Romano, I am Brazilian, born in São Paulo. I am the Global Creative Director of Digital and Experiential at Euro RSCG and currently live in London, UK.
L.A.: How did you get started? When did you first get interested in digital media?
Fernanda: I got interested in the internet when I was still a kid. I had a friend whose parents were scientists and they had access to the web at home, before the commercial internet was launched and before browsers existed.
I found it fascinating that they could connect with their fellow scientists in Germany in real time using a computer to share information and files and it got me curious. The minute Netscape came out, I was showing it to my whole family. I don’t know that I ever thought I’d work with it.
L.A.: And what did your earliest involvement in this arena look like?
Fernanda: My first agency gig was, funnily enough, at Euro RSCG in Brazil and I remember trying to convince everyone that the internet was cool and interesting, and they were quite dismissive of me. I quit and spent the following three years working in web companies.
I met some really cool people, had the most amazing experiences. And when I took the job at DM9DDB in Brazil, I went back into the ad world with a very different perspective on ad people and on the communications business. My first job in a pure-play was in a big Latin American portal called Starmedia.
This company IPO-ed and did a second offering. At one point, it was valued higher than GM. My job was to integrate content into the portal. Vertical and specialist websites we partnered with – some of which the company was investing in – had to become part of the offering of the portal. It wasn’t enough to put a bar at the top with the Starmedia logo and its basic navigation. The content had to be integrated, so as to generate cross-navigation. Say you were reading your email, reading the sports news or looking for a band.
Maybe there was something we could link from that page to this specialist country music website. That was my job. Get them to stay with us longer. Stickiness. It taught me about the company’s operation from the inside. It taught me a bit about programming. But, most of all, it exposed me to a different breed of creative people. The not-arrogant ones who created billion dollar companies instead of one-liners. And they were quite fun to be around.
After this job, I worked in Distance Learning, another portal – this one focused on youth – and then the last one was iBest in Brazil, the launch of their free ISP and portal. It was a fantastic experience. We built and launched two portals in three months. It was intense and an amazing opportunity and, at the same time, exhausting and, to me, the first time I realized it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do … which was how DM9 convinced me to go to the interview. At that point, I had very little respect for the ad types and their arrogant ways.
They fancied – some still do – themselves as artists who should be hanging at the MoMA or Tate. Published authors whom nobody had yet discovered. And Brazil has loads of those. When I joined DM9, for the first six months I got home and asked myself wtf was I thinking. There was this copywriter there – now we are friends, he denies ever having said this to me – who once looked at me and said: ”So, what have you created before?” I felt like saying: “Two companies, and you? A few lines?
Maybe a couple of thirty second jokes?” It was hell. And hell was populated by a bunch of wannabe intellectuals who thought they were English in their writing, only born in the wrong geography. I was responsible for the internet team. We were ten people and, although we were losing money, the clients continued to demand our work. Meaning: they didn’t understand the value, therefore couldn’t attach a fair price to what we did. But they did value the web and its relevance and they kept asking for more.
I don’t know when it hit me. I don’t know if it was because a lot of the creatives were nasty to me. I don’t know if it was because when Nizan (Guanaes) came back to the agency and fired my whole team I was then forced to work with all those people who thought I didn’t deserve to be there.
I don’t know if it was because I started to make it work, and the more we made it work, the more fun it was, and when we sold to Blockbuster that they needed to go from 00 % invested on the web to 300 % of their budget – and this was done by Nizan Guanaes and Paulo Queiroz, at the time President and Media Director respectively – we had our first shot at really changing things. I guess I am stubborn.
And at DM9 I met my match. At some point, I fell in love with it. I started enjoying it, saw the value of it, and even started to like some of the people around me. I still think most creatives in Brazil – and many in the UK as well – in traditional agencies really need some therapy and need to understand we are all just salespeople. And that a commercial or a poster doesn’t define us. “Business impact defines us.” I think Sergio Valente said that to me once.
It feels incredibly good to make our impact tangible through a piece of communication, be it a film, a press ad, a radio spot or a website. It feels good to be able to tell your mum and dad: “Look, this thing here. Yes, I did it!” It’s much more complicated to explain to people that you convinced, after one long year of work, a global multinational to run one campaign without traditional media.
Because that isn’t the creative’s job, right? That isn’t what earns you the seat at a Cannes Lions or One Show jury, right? Wrong! I guess the internet proved one thing: anybody can have a good idea. Not many people can make that idea become something.
L.A.: Who were some of the creatives you admired when you first got into the ad industry?
Fernanda: We are six billion, going on seven billion, people on this planet. Do we really think that just those ten thousand of us who meet at award shows are smart? Really? How many brilliant people are out there right now and they don’t give a rat’s derrière about what we think defines us as good creatives? Of course I admire and respect and idolize the brand names of our generation in creativity.
Of course I feel honored that, in my short lifetime, I got to meet some of the guys who are my heroes in this industry. But, and I hope they forgive me, I admire them more for what they have done than for what they have thought about. Being in front of Keith Reinhard, Jacques Séguéla, Alex Bogusky, Bob Scarpelli, John Hegarty, Nigel Bogle, Marcello Serpa, Nizan Guanaes, Sergio Valente, Fabio Fernandes, Fernando Vega-Olmos, Hernan Ponce, Rémi Babinet, Stéphane Xiberras, Matthew Bull, Bob Greenberg, Mark Wnek, Chuck Porter, Pablo DelCampo, Rich Silverstein and Jeff Goodby was like crossing off the names on that list everyone has: the top X people I wanted to meet. They are brilliant, they are charming, they are fantastic.
Yes, they have had some wild and amazing ideas and they will have more of them. But that isn’t why I admire them. I admire them and I felt honored to have met them, have had a chat or two with them, because of what they did. They have built fantastic agencies, convinced people to stop smoking, not to drink and drive, to exercise, and support causes.
They have elected presidents, launched new currencies, invited people to fly, to drive an electric car, to run more, to smile more. By doing that, these people have helped massive companies like Coca-Cola, P&G, Unilever, Kraft, GM, Nike, Ford, VW and others to sell more products; and countries like Brazil, Argentina, the UK and France to have more jobs, to keep inflation down, and make people happier and healthier.
No, I am not insane. Neither am I an idealist. This is what advertising ultimately does. If you don’t believe me, do some research. Yes. Amongst them there are quite a few Grand Prix and memorable pieces of content. But, most importantly, there are quite a few Fortune 500 companies doing pretty well on the stock market.
L.A.: And what about the new generation, in the digital field? Who or what is there to admire?
Fernanda: Way too many people. Because the new generation, the generation that came into their jobs by launching a new digital agency or production shop, did a whole lot more than they thought about doing. Everything I admire about the guys in the list above is what defines this newer generation. They are doers.
They are less about having the brilliant idea and more about executing it. But the best thing about this new generation is that they realized two things: they don’t need Coca-Cola or Nike to ask for stuff from them. They can just go ahead and do it. For themselves. They can use their brains and creativity and the means available to them to build the next big companies. Or small ones. They don’t really worry about it too much. They can detect an opportunity for a new product, an app, some content, and they can just go and produce it. They are quite artsy, this new generation, and they inspire me every day.
So it is unfair to put a list together, because I am bound to forget someone. And that’s the beauty of the new generation: we really do hang out together and we really do share our work with each other. If I must name someone, there are a few people that have become very important in my professional life, even if we are not super close and don’t – sadly – get to have a drink every week or even every month.
Mark Chalmers and Daniele Fiandaca for founding Creative Social and creating the richest experiences I’ve had, alongside other creative people from all over the world thus far. Flo Heiss because he is one of the most generous creative people I have ever had the pleasure to talk to.
Laura Bambach and Ale Lariu for founding SheSays and taking their time to help women thrive. Rafa Soto for the innumerous times he looked at my work and helped make it better. And PJ Pereira for setting an example to me. But there are loads more. Really. These people are the guys changing everything every week and every month.
L.A.: You and your team from DM9DDB won three Cyber Lions back in 2004 and the Cyber Grand Prix in 2005. What was the digital landscape like back then?
Fernanda: Totally different.Broadband was starting to be popular, there was no Facebook, and the monitor we glued to the wall, with which you could interact real-time, was a “revolutionary” use of Flash 5. Or was it 4? Banner ads were still a good category for us to send work to, because clients in Brazil were buying loads of it, and we were allowed to play with banner ads. When you are running ten million impressions in a campaign, who’s to say you can’t experiment with a hundred thousand here and there?
And if the banner starts performing, you can increase the frequency. Not everyone’s mum and dad were online yet and we could be a bit riskier in our creative. At the same time, there was no money for production. We were poor. Everything is different now. Broadband is default. There’s loads more money. The CMO wants to see investments in digital. Half the money goes into search. Facebook is massive. Twitter became truly relevant. People are existing in real space and cyberspace at the same time.
The message needs to exist in a continuum, and specialist shops are starting to either struggle or become the leads in creative and strategy. Technology gimmicks don’t cut it anymore. “A man that smells like your man could” does – in more than a hundred versions. It’s back to concepts and art and engaging copywriting.
With one twist: all your brainy cultured intellect won’t be enough to have a chat with a fifteen-year-old who writes OMG and has $ 157 to spend on whatever it is you are trying to sell. You need to be able to chat. “Mad Men” no more. Even if we love them and romanticize them, they couldn’t hold this conversation. But we must.
L.A.: You have kindly selected for us the digital work you consider to be the most interesting at this moment. Can you tell us about your criteria for inclusion?
Fernanda: The work I selected was chosen based on two reasons: it either inspires me to do something, or it made me think I wish I had been part of it somehow. Simple as that.
L.A.: What, in your opinion, are the major changes in web-based communication we can expect next?
Fernanda: I think the changes in web-based communication are that we will never answer this question again. Archive will become a super-rich iPad app. Are you guys working on it? I’d love to help – and there won’t be any more differences between Fernanda Romano on Facebook and Fernanda Romano in her living room typing away on her computer with a massive flu. We will be one with our digital selves. So will brands.
Which means every hyperbole we created to convince people to use one deodorant versus another will need to also exist in cyberspace, and it will become the truth about that brand. After all, we are nothing but the projection of ourselves. So are brands. And whoever says it’s the truth and nothing but the truth is either an idiot or never read a good book in their life.
The truth is relative, my friend. I think this is the biggest impact of what we are all calling social media. The fact that nothing can be hidden anymore. The ultimate need for transparency means that we need to be even better storytellers. Call the “Big Fish.” This is a job for him.
L.A.: What, to you, is brilliant advertising in “traditional” ad media such as print and TV?
Fernanda: Sony “Mountain”(PlayStation) was brilliant. Actually, so much work on PlayStation is brilliant. Body by Dance for Nike in Argentina was brilliant. Honda “Grrrr.” That Vodafone campaign (“Mum, I’m gay. Dad, I’m pregnant”) in the UK was brilliant. “Think Small” for VW was brilliant. The body of work done for Havaianas is brilliant.
Harvey Nichols OOH and print from the UK and from Dubai (last year) is brilliant. FedEx in Mexico. Absolut is brilliant. And what makes these brilliant is that they are simple and compelling stories. That, to me, is what makes great advertising.
L.A.: What are some of the challenges a traditional ad agency faces when trying to comply with clients’ demands for a stronger emphasis on digital? As your job at Lowe New York was building an integrated creative team, I suppose you are the perfect person to ask …
Fernanda: People are the problem. And the solution too. The challenge is there for traditional people, for old minded people (that’s how I like to call them). Those who think they’ve got it all figured out and refuse to understand the world has changed, people have changed, and technology is a good thing.
You know what annoys me the most? The internet and social media and this tech-talk they don’t understand threaten them but they drive super modern cars and, at the first sign of a migraine, they take Excedrin rather than put slices of cucumber on their eyelids. It’s technology,too, dude! Only you don’t think about it that much. The opportunity is to bring in some new people. Some people who haven’t created any one-liners before.
People from a different background and culture, maybe even country, and mix them with the people who are there. Darwinism will take care of the rest. At DM9, we earned our respect with work. At Lowe, I applied some of the tough lessons I had learned and, by mixing teams, I helped some people – not all – open their minds to new stuff and to the fact that we keep learning. Always. At JWT, I had the opportunity to meet and work with some very talented people, but it was less of a “change the world” job. It was more focused on a few clients.
L.A.: Your job title at Euro RSCG sounds interesting: Global Director of Digital and Experiential.
Fernanda: At Euro, the job title was created for me. Honestly. Doesn’t mean much. Words only mean what you deliver and I think that the “Let’s Colour” project I worked on and lead for AkzoNobel with Euro Worldwide is what “experiential” means.
Tell me something – I’ll forget. Show me something – I might remember. Make me feel something – I sure will. The days of telling people something are gone. Now it’s time to help them feel it. Touch it. Even if it’s in cyberspace and there isn’t anything tangible to touch. We need to reboot our brains. There’s a new OS out there and we must try and run it.
L.A.: What is some of the work you have been involved in you are most proud of?
Fernanda Romano: The work I am most proud of to date is “Let’s Colour” for Dulux / AkzoNobel. But I am proud of the work I did for Blockbuster in Brazil. I am proud of the team I built there, and of all the work we did together. I am proud of the Music Recommenders documentary I did for Nokia.
I am proud of the work I did for Special K in the UK. I am proud to have been a teacher at Miami Ad School for over two years. I am proud of the columns I wrote over ten years for Bluebus in Brazil. Of being part of the Creative Social book – our first. We will do more. All this is my work. And I am really proud of it.
L.A.: Would you say that digital is not just a channel or even media; for an increasing number of people, it is just a part of life?
Fernanda: If I could, I would kill the word “digital” for good. It’s the wrong word. Digital is zero and one. How can we honestly name any communication “digital?” I mean, don’t we have more imagination than that as an industry?
L.A.: What about the role of print advertising in the future?
Fernanda: I think it’s dead. Sorry. Dead. Yes, gone. Maybe not today or next year. But in ten years nobody will be printing anything. So, yes. Dead. Which doesn’t mean we won’t keep creating stuff for what we now call “print.” Only we won’t print it. And it will, most times, but not always, be multi-dimensional. So, yes, print is dead. But being able to communicate visually simply is not.
L.A.: Where are you based now? As Global Director, you must be traveling a lot. Do you encounter differences in attitude towards digital in the countries / cities you’ve worked in?
Fernanda Romano: I am now based in the UK. Yes, there are different attitudes towards what we call digital channels in different markets, but the openness is there. Maybe Brazil is still in need of a final revolution given the lobby of the big media groups, but everywhere else there’s no more debating the need for it.
Of course in the US it’s much more evolved. In the UK, there’s still a lot of resistance and I suppose the industry is as to blame as the clients. We are still trying to pull tricks out of our hats and doing viral videos. Not all of us, of course, but many of us. All in all, though, I guess the openness is there.
L.A.: Where does the inspiration for your work come from?
Fernanda: My inspiration comes from people. From the streets. From books. From the web. I spend a good amount of time online, I read like a maniac; I read anything. I take my time to observe people in the streets and I like public transport for that. I love art, and digital art inspires me a lot as well.
L.A.: What is your attitude towards advertising awards – of which you’ve won so many – such as Lions, Pencils, etc.? And are scam ads as big a problem in digital as they used to be (or still are) with print and film advertising?
Fernanda: They are really important. There aren’t that many diplomas in advertising, you see. If you tell the CEOs of big companies that you studied in Harvard or Oxford or the HEC, they are bound to start the conversation showing a bit more respect, but if you tell them you went to Central St Martins or SVA, they might not know what that is.
On the other hand, because we are so good at advertising ourselves, when we say we won awards, they open their eyes wide and it sort of can have a similar effect as the MBA. Sort of. So, yes, the awards are important; we need to work hard and try to win them if we can. As for scams, I think it’s becoming so much more difficult to fake anything and so much easier to make things for real.
Good things. Smart things. In digital, you can run anything and not necessarily have to buy media for it, as is the case now with running films online. But that is a double-edged sword. What if your “fake” ad actually gets famous? Was that what the brand really wanted to do? That said, I don’t think scam is more or less of a problem with any specific channel. Stills from the “Let’s Colour” project for Dulux / AkzoNobel created by Euro RSCG Worldwide.