JWT London executive creative director on his nomadic childhood, addiction to learning and his love for Spider-Man
Most agency creative directors dream of becoming filmmakers, and production is full of directors who escaped the agency. Lucas Peon, however, moved in the opposite direction. He entered the creative industries as a filmmaker in Argentina with a knack for visual effects. Since then he’s directed over 100 ads, jumped the fence and gone agency side, worked in creative and digital agencies in Buenos Aires, Miami, Cincinnati and London. For the last couple of years he’s called J. Walter Thompson London his creative home, where he now works as executive creative director. He’s written a fair few short stories along the way, too.
JWT London’s had a good year so far, winning The Macallan and Grolsch accounts and putting out work that stops you in your tracks for the National Centre for Domestic Violence and Stop Ivory alongside more light-hearted fayre like HSBC’s new platform featuring Richard Ayoade.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Lucas to hear more about his varied past and creative philosophy.
LBB> You've been a film director as well as a traditional creative director and a digital creative director. What's the thread of continuity that runs through your career?
Lucas> I’ve always said that one thing that I should be ashamed of is that I’ve never had a plan. Maybe that’s the reason for my career. I’ve always literally followed what excites me. Now I’m a bit more responsible, but when started in this career I was always attracted to learning and discovering new things.
I think that’s natural for all creatives. Not all creatives have had a zig-zag of a career like me. As a creative you want to get people to react to what you do, to feel things, surprise them, move them or entertain them. You do it for a while in one medium and then the minute it begins to be repetitive and you get to play with another medium. The sentiment is like a video game for me. You have a set of skills at level one and you make it to level two, get new skills, discover new weapons and learn new tricks and moves. And it just gets more exciting. The thread is that constant search for excitement. The need to discover and learn constantly.
LBB> Your role changed from digital executive creative director to executive creative director about 18 months ago. What was that shift like?
Lucas> I’ve always felt that that the ‘digital’ label is kind of weird. The minute you’re labelled a digital creative director in a team it puts you in a silo and you can’t think in silos. The consumer maybe used to think in silos, used to differentiate between online and offline. The ideas weren’t that connected. But in today’s world we move from the physical world to the digital world in a blink of an eye. We don’t even notice it. I think as a creative your ideas need to be able to make use of that journey. You can’t expect people to just experience your campaign in one medium anymore.
When we hire, we look for creatives that think absolutely integrated, with no barriers. The more they see across channels and understand the role that technology plays in the lives of consumers we’re trying to reach, the more their ideas will be fit for all these channels.
I came to JWT after spending a lot of years as ECD at digital shops. I was “digital executive creative director” and the job was to partner with the former ECD here and together we were supposed to make one. Even though he was the ECD and I was supporting him, we were truly partnering to make sure the company was producing great integrated work.
But my job was never in a silo. The title wasn’t great, but there was a real hunger to think integrated. I felt my job was to make sure that the range of thinking, the breadth of skills, the angles that our solutions took were coming in from every direction. So we wouldn’t solve every brand challenge through a TV script and a couple of print ads.
When my role changed there wasn’t really a huge shift in direction. The focus is to create work that consumers can interact with and experience in all the channels that they’re naturally in.
LBB> I heard you write short stories. What are they like and what inspires you to write them?
Lucas> Back in the days before digital I was lucky to be published and then after that I self-published my second book. It’s something I really love. I’ve always written short stories since I can remember. I remember making really bad comics. Then as a teenager I wanted to write novels and plays. I thought that was writing. But I found out I wasn’t naturally good at long stories because I’d get demotivated. I started with all this energy and in the middle I would abandon them and want to start a new thing. So short stories fitted my approach.
I started writing stories that I could start and finish in the same day. As I grew older I had less and less time and my style began to evolve into shorter and shorter stories. Sometimes they were just a paragraph or a couple of sentences.
I’m a huge fan of 1920s French Surrealism. They believed in automatic writing. They didn’t filter, they just wrote. Sometimes my stories are quite dreamlike or fantastical. I’m also a huge fan of Americana, Sam Shepard-type stuff - quite harsh and raw. That’s the style I guess. American influenced magic realism?
LBB> Where in Argentina did you grow up? What was your childhood like there?
Lucas> I didn’t grow up in Argentina. I was born there, but five months after I was born my parents continued with moving around the world because of my dad’s work. I like to tell people that he worked in the circus because it’s sexier than saying he worked for a car company. But it’s kind of the same. So he moved around all the time and I grew up in France, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, the US. I moved around every couple of years.
My childhood was not in one place, and maybe that’s impacted the way my career has been so varied. It was constantly full of new experiences. I was in constant learning mode, never the guy that knew everything. I was learning the language, about new people, the local culture. It was automatic. When I look back on it, it was living constantly stimulated, eager to discover things. It’s addictive. The minute that I’m in a place that I’m not learning anymore I miss that.
LBB> How did you get into filmmaking? Was it always an interest of yours?
Lucas> I always liked films. But I was always writing, making music, painting. I did everything, badly. So when the fun was up and I was at the end of secondary school and it was time to make the scary choice of what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, I thought film might be the perfect thing to study because it’s like a box where you can use everything. I felt confident because I could use all these skills to create films.
I was living in the US at the time and I moved back to Argentina to go to film school because university there is free. I actually got a break quite early on. While I was studying I worked as a visual effects artist, mostly for the advertising industry. It was right at the moment when there was a changing of the guard in filmmaking, where visual effects were beginning to be more accessible. Every script had visual effect because it was the new thing to do. I was quite good at filming and at special effects. A creative director thought he had a script that I’d be the ideal guy to direct. I didn’t think so, but I’m glad he insisted because it went really well.
That gave me a career really. For a while I became a film director. I directed over 100 TV spots. Babies, dogs, politicians, candy bars - the whole range. There was no specialism. It was a time of tremendous stimulation, constant learning. And once the learning stopped I began to feel I was missing something.
LBB> And from there how did you come to the realisation that you wanted to go agency side?
Lucas> When you’re a director ,creatives come with scripts and at the beginning you’re super happy. But after a while I wanted to write my own stories. So I went agency side. It was the best move I could have made because I was not only writing stories but helping brands succeed and that got me really excited.
LBB> Having worked in Argentinian, American and British agencies, how would you compare those markets?
Lucas> The short answer is there isn’t much of a difference, as boring as that sounds. In general what we do doesn’t relate to countries. The ideas we come up with tap into people - human truths and essence. And we’re all very similar around the world. Everybody in the world is on Amazon, everybody uses Instagram, everybody reacts to the same things, everybody thinks Uber is convenient, everybody is environmentally conscious.
Strategically we’re tapping into the behaviours of foodies or other tribes and that’s everywhere in the world. We talk about creating culture or sneaking into culture under the bed or something. There are local sides to culture and you have to respect that, but in general the differences are not that big. The difficult thing is to do great work and it’s the same thing no matter where you are.
LBB> The ads JWT London made to raise awareness about domestic abuse during the World Cup were instantly arresting. What is the key to coming up with such great ideas in the simple format of just an image and some copy?
Lucas> We’re really proud of that work. There’s one thing that we are all aligned on at the agency: we need to be making work that makes the nightly news. That’s the lens that we have. We’re fighting for attention in the same feed as the news that people care about and the entertainment that they seek out. And if we don’t make the news at least we’ll be the thing that people talk about on social media.
You can only do that through really carefully crafted work that arrests you, makes you think and makes you feel something that you’ll remember. I think the campaign for the National Centre for Domestic Violence was the result of that. The team that came up with it did a fantastic job focusing on an insight that is really tough and they executed it in a way that’s simple, makes you look, makes you feel and makes you remember. It’s not much more complicated than that. In an ideal world we’d be able to be that tight and powerful in every single piece of communication we do.
LBB> The agency recently won the Grolsch account. What are your ambitions for them? It’s quite unique beer brand.
Lucas> We’re over the moon about winning Grolsch. It’s the excitement of the creative opportunity it brings. The ambition is quite simple. We want to make it amazingly famous again because it’s a brand that is really well known and has great potential. It’s a really unique product, very distinct. I think Grolsch is instantly different from all the other beers. It’s also growing all over the world. We want to make sure it gets the recognition it deserves. It’s such a beautiful brand that it shouldn’t be too hard.
LBB> What other work have you recently been really proud of?
Lucas> The work I’m proud of recently is what we’ve done for HSBC with Richard Ayoade. I’m really excited about it. It was a campaign that really stands out in its category. It gives a whole new platform and tone of voice for the bank. People are reacting amazing well to it. We couldn’t be happier with it.
I love the work we did on Nespresso for other reasons. It’s beautiful, honest and authentic work about a brand that can talk very straightforwardly to its audience and doesn’t have to dress up as anything else. It can be authentic.
I think also some work I love is some of the brave work we’ve done for Shell. We did gravity light a while back and more recently we created The Coffee Line - buses that run on coffee.
LBB> Finally, I heard you're a fan of Marvel. What's your favourite character in the Marvel Universe?
Lucas> Spider-Man. No hesitation. Peter Parker is super cool. I always liked him since I was little. And Spider-Man is obviously amazing. Being able to walk up buildings, fly over the city… One thing nobody’s talked about is the amazing aim he has with his webs. He never falls, never misses.
I like the new actor. I loved Tobey Maguire. Then the one that was in the middle [Andrew Garfield], I wasn’t too much of a fan of. But now Tom Holland is really cool. I’m loving the Spider-Man movies. But what I really love is Spider-Man in the comics.