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5 Minutes with… Alvaro Dopico

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The CEO at M&C Saatchi Chilanga on his career journey so far, the end of aspirational advertising, and creating a Santa Claus hotline, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

5 Minutes with… Alvaro Dopico


Alvaro Dopico has a storied history in the LATAM region - working across Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia, and his native home of Uruguay at different points. Now working in Mexico as CEO at M&C Saatchi Chilanga, the creative leader has a borderless approach to work and focuses on the commonalities and shared experiences that bond people internationally. 

For Alvaro, two key features for a leader’s success in the commercial and creative spaces are emotional intelligence and transparency - this means being open about everything, including mistakes and failures - so that respect is earned, rather than imposed. Alongside his creative partner and CCO, Manolo Techera, he has nurtured a culture at M&C Saatchi Chilanga that promotes these ideals and supports all the company’s talent, such as its female creatives through the ‘Mujeres Creativas’ initiative.

After he celebrated five years at the agency this summer, LBB’s Ben Conway decided it was the perfect time to catch up with Alvaro and discuss his journey in the industry to date and some of the work he is proudest of. The CEO discussed everything from cowboy films to a magical Uruguayan Christmas spot - as well as the need for advertisers to “take part in” and stimulate culture.



LBB> What creative content inspired or interested you most when you were growing up? Do any TV shows, films and ads stand out to you?


Alvaro> As a child I used to watch John Wayne movies, it made me feel that I could also be like a cowboy, full of the possibility of adventure. I still have that feeling today! When I started studying advertising, the subject that inspired me the most was the art and aesthetics of the 20th century. I always remember the difference between my first time at the MOMA in NYC and the second. After having studied the subject, it was like visiting a completely different museum - it was like the art had opened up before me.

The clincher though, was putting ‘shots’ in the VCR and being able to see the world through a screen. I remember watching the commercials over and over again, the best advertising in the world laid out right in front of me. Today, what inspires me is people and their different ways of living and seeing life, travelling, tasting new flavours and  trying to understand how other people live. That’s my inspiration.



LBB> When did the possibility of working in the advertising world appear to you? How was your journey into this industry? 


Alvaro> I am from Montevideo, Uruguay, a country of a little more than three million people. On my first trip to Buenos Aires, my first experience of a big city, I was amazed by all the neon billboards. I had a Kodak camera that my mother had given me, and the only thing I took pictures of was the billboards full of brand advertising. 

Later, while in the first semester of my advertising degree, Saatchi & Saatchi opened a contest to send a creative duo to Cannes Lions to represent Uruguay’s young creatives, so my study partner and I put ourselves forward. We won the contest and when we went to the agency to present ourselves, one of the creative directors asked me if I wanted a career in art or copy.  Sure of myself, I answered, ‘I want to work in account services’. The look of surprise on his face was incredible.

From that moment, doors opened for me to work in copy and so there I was, dressed in a suit and tie saying to myself, ‘This is a great opportunity, but I want to work in account services’. Finally, the opportunity to join an independent agency in Uruguay came, and from there, my journey took me to agencies such as TBWA, Leo Burnett and Y&R. 

In 2007, the opportunity arose to go and live in Guatemala, a country that gave me the chance to be a regional director at DDB and BBDO - something not so common in this part of the world. I managed 26 markets, more-or-less living inside an airport lounge. Then Y&R came back and they took me to Colombia, and a few months later I arrived in Mexico, the place I’d always wanted to end up. After stints with Y&R, Grey, JWT, and Marcel, the Saatchi brothers looked for us to open an M&C Saatchi office in Mexico. As my business partner, Manolo Techera, would say, it's like the Rolling Stones inviting you to play with them on stage - there is no way to say no!



LBB> What’s the most important lesson you received early on in your career? How does it influence you and your work today?


Alvaro> To keep your head out of the clouds and stay in touch with reality. Often, working on the 18th floor distances us from reality and people. Sometimes we all lose our grounding, the trick is to return to earth and not get dizzy - to understand that what we do doesn’t define us as people. This is how to be successful. Return to your core principles and values and they won’t steer you wrong. 

Right now what excites me is seeing different ideas tied to real insights; ideas that can help shape reality; ideas that help brands work towards a slightly better world for all of us.



LBB> It was your five-year anniversary at M&C Saatchi Chilanga over the summer - what has changed at the agency and in the industry since when you first joined? 


Alvaro> My goal is the same as it was on our first day, to make M&C Saatchi Chilanga an irresistible force in our market, galvanising the industry as we grow.

In terms of changes to the industry, this is ongoing. We need to understand that the world is moving from the mall to Amazon, the future is ‘phigital’ - the union of the physical with the digital.

The big challenge has been to open an agency like M&C Saatchi in Mexico as a start-up, without any clients, and with credentials that spoke of what we believe in,  not what we had done in the past. We never touted work we had done individually in a past agency. Everything has been about creating something completely new. Sometimes we have failed, and sometimes we have achieved more than we thought possible, but the journey is always worth it. Our goals have not changed, they are fueled by the passion with which we get up and work every day - because we love what we do, and hopefully it shows.



LBB> What are some of the projects you’ve worked on during your time at M&C that you’re especially proud of?


Alvaro> We are not ones to talk much about the past, we always say that if you want to know an agency ask them to show you their most current work. Our latest ‘Toyotathon’ campaign for Toyota Mexico is a great example of this. 



When everyone is trying to sell you something, Toyota is giving something back -  that's fresh air no matter whether you see it on an OOH in the street, in the cinema or on a display. [It was] great teamwork with an amazing client. And if I have to name another, the campaign we carried out for 17 markets with Sannisimo, a Grupo Bimbo brand, has a lot of work that we are proud of. We are an agency that gets very involved in the client's business, asking the right questions so we can do the best job possible—and our clients value it.



LBB> What makes a great leader? Who were the leaders that shaped your leadership style - and what did you learn from them?


Alvaro> In my career I have observed many leaders, and what I have learned during these years is that a good leader always tells the truth, even if it’s not the easy route to take. If you always tell the truth, you don't have to remember what you said.

I believe that respect is earned, not imposed. And most important is the issue of emotional intelligence. You can be the President of Presidents but without emotional intelligence, you will never be a good leader - just a title on a door.



LBB> What was the project or piece of work that you felt really changed your career?


Alvaro> The Project with which I realised that we can change realities was for the state telecommunications company in Uruguay, Antel. I remember that a brief arrived that was for a campaign to greet the customers and suppliers of the company via email. We had just done a campaign for Christmas full of snow, when in Uruguay it never snows, and I thought, ‘What are we doing?’.

A few days earlier my 8-year-old nephew had told me that Santa didn't exist, to which I replied that it wasn't true. With that in mind, the creative team created one of the best campaigns I've ever been a part of. We created Santa's cell phone number… On December 19 we aired the campaign and the ‘Santas’ worked 24 hours straight - the phones did not stop ringing. There was not a single prank call, they were all trying to tell Santa to bring a trench coat because it was going to rain on the 24th, or just talk to him. It was incredible. I will always remember my nephew's face when I told him that I had Santa's cell phone, and that we could talk to him. 

That Christmas was magical. To this day, that campaign is done every year in Uruguay so that everyone can talk to Santa.



LBB> What are the topics and trends - socially, economically or otherwise - that are affecting life in Mexico right now, and how are they affecting your work and how you communicate with your audience?


Alvaro> In many aspects I think they are the same as in the rest of the world. Inflation that, although manageable, is getting worse; the pandemic left many people destitute along the way; closed businesses etc. Mexico is embedded in the centre of the world and everything that affects it affects Mexico in one way or another. Perhaps having the United States as a neighbour makes this much less noticeable from the outside.

From the standpoint of our work, I think that more and more people are expecting a taste of ‘real’ reality from advertising - to talk to them about what is happening in their lives, and do it frankly without stereotypes that end up leaving people feeling disconnected.

I think the era of aspirational advertising is over. We must be a part of people's culture. Take part in it, and be stimulators of it.



LBB> Outside of work, what do you do to decompress or stay fresh? And what do you think it is that drives and motivates you in work and in your life?


Alvaro> Going for a run every morning is good for my head and I often find solutions along the way. What motivates me most is my family, my wife Saralí and my four-year-old daughter, Maia. On a professional level, there’s still so much to do that I haven’t done yet. That is motivation enough.



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M&C SAATCHI Chilanga, Fri, 18 Nov 2022 16:21:00 GMT