Mastermind behind ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ on leaving an uber successful tenure at Saatchi & Saatchi NY to take the reigns at FCB Mexico
During this year’s Super Bowl there was one campaign that stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Saatchi & Saatchi New York and Tide’s super cheeky hijack of every Super Bowl ad archetype sent social media into meltdown. There were reportedly 640 media stories written about it. We’re also waging that it could do pretty well later this month at Cannes Lions.
But less than a few months after the dizzying success of the Super Bowl - and overall achievement with Saatchi’s, revamping the creative reputation of its New York office - Javier was tempted away from the agency. His decision to join FCB Mexico was inspired by an underlying itch to return to “home” - more in the sense of language and culture (he is Argentinian) and a long-term affection for the FCB family, where he was until joining Saatchi & Saatchi. FCB’s Global CCO Susan Credle had joined the agency after Javier - also known as Javi - had left. “One evening of conversation, and I thought, ‘How do we get him back?’” she said in the press release announcing his hiring.
Freshly settling into life in Mexico City, Javier spoke with LBB’s Addison Capper.
LBB> You had an incredibly successful tenure at Saatchi & Saatchi, revamping the agency’s creative reputation in the US. With that in mind, what was it that tempted you to leave?
JC> Maybe I am just crazy, or one of those people that can´t stand success. But no, seriously, there are so many levels to this answer. First of all, for family reasons – my wife and I had been considering coming back to Latin America for a long time. So, despite the great run I was having at Saatchi, we were already open and considering the chance of starting the move back home at some point – defining home in a broader sense, more from the language stand point than from a specific country.
We were considering some of the main markets of the region, even Spain. That’s when Carter Murray and Susan Credle entered the scene. They called me with what they defined as a “crazy, amazing opportunity” - though they were sure I would not be open to hear about it, as I was doing all this really high profile work in New York. But I was actually open to hear about it. And as I started to learn more about the market and the opportunity, I grew even more interested and enthusiastic.
And scared, of course. It was a huge change. That scary feeling was key. In my decision-making process, I tend to consider fear as a good sign. It usually means that I have something new in front of me, something I might not know how to handle. And I kind of like that, and it’s worked so far for my career and for my family as well.
LBB> Your joining of FCB is a homecoming of sorts – you were with the agency before joining Saatchi’s. What is it about the network specifically that you enjoy being a part of?
JC> First of all, they are amazing people. It’s the network that gave me my first opportunity as a CCO, back in Argentina. They believed in me and my ideas, and they helped me enormously along the way to find my voice as a creative leader. They even brought me to the USA when my English was so bad that I’d constantly say ‘study case’ instead of ‘case study’, but they wouldn´t stop supporting me, and that first experience in New York was key to understanding how the US market works. Eventually I put all that into practice these last four years at Saatchi.
Feelings aside, over the last years they´ve been doing a pretty amazing and consistent job to give a stronger personality to the network, improving the creative product dramatically and focusing on keeping and attracting the right talent to the network. I think it’s because of all those reasons that I’ve kept in touch with some FCB people, and I’d always stop by the boat in Cannes to see them and have a nice time. We’ve never really lost connection, and that’s one of the main reasons this happened now.
LBB> Your move to FCB Mexico is interesting after spending time in the US for quite a few years now. I know you’ve touched on this already, but what are your thoughts on the advertising market in Mexico right now? Are there any aspects that you’re particularly excited about?
JC> I am humbled by the amazing culture of this country; from the food, to the arts, to the size of the businesses they´ve built. Some of the biggest and more famous brands in the world have been created here. Having said that, I strongly believe that the advertising landscape is still far from having reached the ceiling, there are a lot of opportunities to take what is already there to greater heights. Mexico has everything to become a global creative hub and I truly believe that we, from FCB Mexico, can collaborate for that to happen in the short term.
LBB> And, more personally, what was it about Mexican life that was tempting for you?
JC> The people. They are warm and kind, with a really ironic sense of humour. They are smart and open, and you can always have a good laugh at any given moment. The truth about this country lies on the street more than in any other place. As I mentioned before, I love the amazing culture and the craziness of Mexico City. I wasn’t ready to go from New York to a quieter place, and this city has a pretty great level of intensity to compensate for the change. That’s how I feel after spending only a few weeks here, so it is already really promising.
LBB> What are your plans and ambitions for FCB Mexico and how do you plan to implement them?
JC> Talent is going to be my priority, I want to reinforce the current team with people from all the backgrounds and nationalities; I want to replicate the kind of highly diverse team of people I had at Saatchi New York. Ironically, sometimes in Latin America we tend to do what we sometimes criticise – unfairly – about the USA, and we are less diverse than we could and should be. Why aren’t more people from Sweden or from South Africa – just to name two amazing markets for our industry – working in advertising in Mexico or Argentina? I’ve experienced first-hand how diversity makes for better ideas, besides being the right thing to do – and I really want to make it happen here as well.
When it comes to clients, we will be very aggressive about growing, both organically and through new business. Mexico is a really open market in that sense, and there are opportunities constantly to meet prospects and pitch for both great local and international brands, as many of them have their regional hubs based there. We are looking forward to take full advantage of this.
LBB> I’ve got to ask you about It’s a Tide Ad – it was by far the most talked about and successful campaign from this year’s Super Bowl and is already winning big at industry award shows. What can you tell us about how that campaign came to be on such a huge stage?
JC> It’s good advertising in its purest form, and it is not trying to save the world, as many brands are – allegedly – doing these days. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that; I love some of the great examples of that type of work, like ‘Fearless Girl’ or a recent Levi´s campaign from our San Francisco office. But I feel that when you have a great product and a big stage, if you can tap into what the brand does well and start from there to come up with a smart idea, audiences will still love seeing that old magic trick happening in front of their eyes.
That’s what made people fall in love with advertising many, many years ago, and that’s what built such a strong advertising culture in a place like the USA – because it’s problem solving at its best. In this case the problem was, ‘how do you win the Big Game just talking about clean clothes?’ The solution was a ‘hack’; it was clever and a little bit arrogant, but at the same time, undeniably true. People root for these kinds of ideas. They side with them and they expand them – because they make them feel a little bit smarter and part of something cool.
LBB> As you were developing the campaign at Saatchi’s, were you aware or expecting it to have the impact that it did?
JC> I was terrified. I wasn’t thinking about success - I never do, I am Argentinian. I was thinking that what could go wrong was that the key thought behind the idea might have been too intellectual for the Super Bowl – but it was too late because we had already shipped all the commercials. But then the first reactions to the long form ad started on Twitter, and I of course switched to a more winning mode, and I felt great and confident again.
You never really know. This is show business, and no one – ever – really knows what’s going to work or not. I’d had a great time shooting it, I had met some of my advertising heroes, like the Old Spice guy and his horse, and I was ready for that to be the peak. I was, of course, hoping for the campaign to be a massive success like it eventually was, but if I told you that I knew that that would happen, I’d be plainly lying.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you? Would you say that you had any childhood traits that suggested you’d work in creativity?
JC> I grew up in Buenos Aires, in a house run by two lawyers who wanted to be anything but lawyers. My dad was a photographer and my mom a classical dancer, before they both somewhat decided to go for something safer. But they kept a foot in the arts side, especially with music, literature and painting. Therefore, I started drawing and writing when I was a child. There were all sorts of books and plenty of records. And they had their law practice at the front of our house, so there were plenty of noisy family arguments – usually related to some inheritance distribution – coming from their studio as well.
I was pretty much what I am today. I have always had a dark sense of humour and I would express it in comic strips that I’d both write and draw. Later on, I’d find that I could sell some of my drawings, jokes or paintings to adults, and that’s probably when I found out the seed of advertising inside of me.
LBB> How did you get into advertising in the first place? I believe your first role was as part owner of a small boutique in Buenos Aires? What do you remember from that experience and what did you learn from owning your own company so early on in your career?
JC> I was an IT guy for Macs when I was at college – that’s how I paid for my tuition, alongside some help from my mom. That’s how I got in contact with advertising agencies in the first place, as all of them would buy Macs. And that’s how I met my friend Fernando, a great designer and the guy who would eventually become my partner in that small boutique.
What I learned there was how to interact with clients, as we were both playing all the possible roles: planning, account, creative, designer, receptionist. It made me better, in that many of my peers were exclusively doing the creative work. And it got me free eye surgery for my short-sighted condition that I’ve had since birth, as one of our main clients was a pretty famous eye clinic. They convinced me to try the product, and I haven’t worn glasses ever since. It works.
LBB> Who or what inspires you?
JC> I’ve found out along the years that I can only be truly creative when I am in a great mood. I know, it sounds so obvious. But that’s not an easy thing for me. As I might have mentioned before, I am Argentinian. We tend to be more on the dark side. So all the things that help to lighten up my mood, like music, books and art in general are really helpful for that; all those things help me to connect with a higher level of consciousness, so I can be in the right mindset to do our prosaic job.
I’ve been pretty sensitive about movies and music since I was a child; both affect me in a way that clearly helps me to come up with ideas and, more importantly, ambition. When I see or listen to something that moves me, I immediately want to recreate that feeling. I want to make something that can make me feel that again. It’s what I call creative envy, and as a highly competitive person I recognise that ‘I wish I had done that’ feeling as one of the most powerful and effective fuels at hand.
LBB> What you do you like to get up to in your downtime?
JC> Coffee and silence.