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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Lavinia Garulli

Isobar Italy’s Creative and Strategy Principal on her innate storytelling tendencies, early career as a ‘cool hunter’ and studying under French philosopher Gilles Deleuze

5 Minutes with… Lavinia Garulli

Lavinia Garulli leads Isobar Italy on both creative and strategic fronts, which is one of many indications that she’s not like other senior figures in the advertising industry. Having worked for eight years at Milan digital shop Bitmama, Lavinia joined Isobar early this year and since then the Dentsu Aegis Network agency has been winning accounts such as KFC and insurance brand Linear.

Not only is Lavinia a creative and a strategist, though. She’s also had a career in arts journalism, maintains a passion for philosophy and likes to write down her lucid dreams.

LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with her to find out more.


LBB> Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like and how do you think it shaped you as a person?

Lavinia> I grew up in Como in a very big family, four sisters and two brothers and me just in the middle. It has been for me – literally –  an extraordinary experience, out of ordinary, and sincerely hard to explain to most people. I believe I’ve been very lucky because I had the chance to learn to work in team, learn to respect others, and also enjoy differences, in a female-oriented space. It also shaped my relationship with what you could call ‘the authority’, – first symbolised by parents – in a special way, giving me a touch of anarchy, irony and parody.


LBB> What do you remember about your early thoughts on advertising? Were you interested from an early age?

Lavinia> I was in primary school when it all started – actually, probably even sooner. When I was child, I used to create serial plots to play with my brothers and sisters, such as ‘Monsters in the Garden’ or ‘Blood Traces’. At school, all my teachers asked me to read my essays aloud, in front of the class… I think I’m born storyteller.


LBB> How did you end up working in advertising? Was it deliberate or more of a happy accident?

Lavinia> I believe advertising has been my final destination since the beginning, but I discovered it by a happy accident. After university, I started to work for one of the most prestigious contemporary art magazines – Flash Art. I was editor - focused on net.art and video art. That’s when I got in touch with JWT as a ‘cool hunter’. So, I discovered the world of agencies. 


LBB> What lesson or piece of advice do you wish you'd had earlier in your career?

Lavinia> I don’t like to be spoiled! I believe in advertising there’s not a lesson you should have learnt at the beginning. If anything, you should be open to be surprised. What really matters for me is lessons I could learn in the future. This is what I like the most in this kind of job, keeping learning lessons. And it’s never too late, our job is future driven!


LBB> Your role encompasses both creative and strategy at Isobar - that's quite unusual. How do you think combining both affects the way you work?

Lavinia> Probably unusual but absolutely crucial! It’s something that typifies and marks out my personal path, and at the same time it’s a distinctive, positioning element for Isobar. It’s what I call a virtuous circle or, if you like, in philosophical jargon, hermeneutic circle: creativity is groundless without a strong strategy and strategy is sterile or repetitive - and ultimately ineffective without disruptive creativity. If the creative director is at the same time the strategy principal, it’s the agency’s DNA that works in this way. I think that’s really pivotal and distinctive for Isobar, in order to achieve what we call turning a brand into a 'lifemark': a brand becomes a lifemark when it’s able to impact and change people’s behaviours, in their real lives. And this is a matter of creativity and strategy working together.


LBB> Which recent projects are you most proud of and why?

Lavinia> We’ve just released a campaign for COREPLA, the Italian consortium for plastic harvesting and recycling. The campaign is aimed at raising awareness about an “ecology of information”, against the fake news. I think this theme is gaining momentum, crossing environmental, economic and democratic issues. It started as a social campaign and ended as a print campaign, in partnership with [Italian daily newspaper] Corriere della Sera. Finally, social is not a channel, but an attitude: make people talk about something!

LBB> You recently won the KFC account. Congratulations! What's the brand like in Italy and what are your main aims and ideas for it?

Lavinia> Italy is the most challenging market to launch a food brand like KFC! Italian food standards – in terms of quality and variety – and the expectations are really high for a global, fried chicken-based, fast food chain. In Italy food is no less than god, at the centre of our culture, our social sharing and conversations. But the good news is that Italians are polytheists: strongly rooted in our cuisine tradition, but open and keen to encounter new food stories. This is why working for KFC is such an interesting and exciting challenge, from a creative and strategy point of view. KFC has just arrived and still enjoys the 'aura' effect of an incoming brand, especially for the young millennials. Trying to engage this kind of target audience, so rebellious to traditional advertising, is another part of this challenge. Our goal is tapping in to the Italian culture to make KFC a 'RED' brand: Relevant, Easy and Distinctive. In other words, a lifemark! 


LBB> Which aspects of the creative (or strategic) process are most enjoyable for you?

Lavinia> Working in a team and brainstorming are the best parts of my job! But I have to admit that I love everything: the thrill of impending deadlines, the excitement of searching for insights and thinking day and night, the joy of crafting and shooting, and social conversations with consumers: the definitive check of the effectiveness of our campaigns!

 

LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?

LG> I think that creativity should feed on sources completely different from advertising. Definitely my “maitre à penser” is [French philosopher] Gilles Deleuze and his view of critical thinking as disruption of common sense and conventional wisdom. In addition, his lessons on capitalism and schizophrenia and the economy of signs provide intellectual tools to read the contemporary scenario for strategy. I had the chance to meet him and follow his courses at Paris VIII and it changed my life.

 

LBB> What are your main aims and ambitions for Isobar in the coming year?

Lavinia> What I would like to obtain for Isobar – or help to obtain – is getting on top of mind for marketers (in the challenging Italian context) as a partner to face digital disruption in communication, becoming the agency you would like to call to lead public opinion and make your brand relevant and memorable. I think that this should be the pivotal role of Isobar at the core of the Dentsu ecosystem, strategically conveying the right message, to the right people, at the right moment. 


LBB> What do you like to do in your spare time? Any current obsessions?

Lavinia> I love practising lucid dreaming and often feel a strong need to write down the stories I see in my dreams. So, my current and recurrent obsession is writing – and selling – a pilot screenplay for a movie. I’m also interested in serial storytelling, as a series structure impacts on screenwriting. Binge watching is another obsession. But since all these activities are monitor-based, something I need to do is stop and go out, into the wild, and restore my harmony with nature. 

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