If there’s one important trait a strategist needs, it’s a desire to learn. A hunger to soak up knowledge and cultural quirks. Renata d’Avila has been doing exactly that since she was persistently nestled head-first in books during her childhood.
Nowadays, Renata is the chief strategy officer at FCB Brasil. An account manager at first, Renata discovered her passion for planning after she was invited to help out on a pitch for a tech client of her agency at the time. She fell head over heels and put the wheels that would get her to the strategy department in motion.
Renata's 22-year career has involved stints at bigger agencies, such as FCB and Lew'Lara\TBWA, as well as helping found local creative boutique Santa Clara and leading strategy for Fbiz, Brazil's largest independent agency. Her work for the likes of Nissan, Gatorade, Samsung, NIVEA, Absolut, Visa, Banco de Brasil and Sky TV has landed 10 Cannes Lions, 10 Effies, the only IPA award given to a Brazilian agency, a Jay Chiat award, and a number of recognitions from regional and local shows like El Ojo Iberoamerica.
LBB's Addison Capper caught up with her.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? How did you feel about advertising?
Renata> I grew up in Rio de Janeiro and spent my teen years in Brasilia (Brazil’s capital). I loved to read and you would always find me with a book (my friends used to joke about it). I also was a very good student and loved to dance. I’ve always been interested in the power communication has in shaping ideas and behaviours. That eventually led me to a communication undergrad, and advertising followed from that choice. I still can sing a couple of famous jingles from my childhood.
LBB> How did you become a strategist? And what were the key decisions along that route?
Renata> I began my career as an account person. During that time, I got really involved with a tech client and was invited to help on a tech pitch. That was the moment I fell in love with strategy and planning and realised that I wouldn’t be fulfilled in account services anymore. I asked the planning VP to move to his department, and three months later he offered me a position that had just opened. Planning departments were still in their infancy in Brazil, so we were a very small team and I had the opportunity to be mentored directly by him and by the research director.
LBB> What was the transition like from being a planner to leading a team of planners?
Renata> I was lucky because I made this transition with young leaders by my side as peers, so we were all learning how to lead our teams and an agency. We relied on each other a lot and developed a very collaborative way of working. I also had an amazing and supportive team that made me feel very comfortable even in those moments I was not 100% sure. Having this supportive network was key for me, especially because I was pregnant when I became a head of planning.
LBB> What are your thoughts on the role of the strategist in Brazilian advertising? And how is it evolving?
Renata> Planning and strategy have become more and more important in advertising in the last 15 years. Every couple of years there’s a survey with the biggest and most important clients and brands and we can see in numbers the evolution of the area. More than that, the relevance for clients of having a strong strategy discipline in their agency is plain to see.
Keeping in mind that in Brazil the agencies also have media in house, strategists have a very holistic role, building bridges and catalysing the whole strategy (creative and channel). I believe in a very collaborative role that allows us to build a strong strategy, capable of delivering meaning and sense of belonging that connects people and brands, but also of delivering relevance and context that drives conversations and commerce in today’s world.
LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, what do you find the most useful resource to draw on?
Renata> I think it boils down to people: understanding what moves them, how they feel, what they are talking about. In the end it’s about how we can influence and shape ideas, so to really connect with the human truth is fundamental. Maybe it’s a cliché, but, then again, it’s a cliché for a reason.
LBB> What's the knottiest strategic problem you've ever had to find an answer to and how did you work through it?
Renata> Having many clients over many years makes this a tough pick. One of the knottiest problems, though, was taking Nissan from an unknown car maker to a household name in Brazil circa 2011/2012. We answered it by first understanding that as a small player we had to be bold. People didn’t know Nissan was a Japanese brand (which was an important seal of quality for Brazilians), there was no design appeal to the brand’s models and the advertising budget was, obviously, much smaller than the ambitions. We decided to dovetail the industry’s best sellers, making direct comparisons between our models and features (which we knew were stronger) and those of the competition’s. But to make it work we needed a holistic approach, a clear challenger point of view, creative pieces that would generate conversation (keep in mind it was still social media’s infancy back then) and a media strategy able to make us visible enough to be noticed. We decided to bet big on small: air on broadcast TV during non-traditional car days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) during a single week a month – but, and here’s the catch, aiming for as much reach as we could for a bold and provocative spot unapologetically mocking the competitors and then taking the conversation digital. It worked, too. We kept it going for almost a year, raising brand awareness and sales. Crucially, we made the competition angry enough to react and engage (and even try to block us), amplifying our voice. ‘Going viral’, this became one of the most successful campaigns in the country. This strategy cleared the path for the Brazilian Nissan plant and the sponsorship of the 2016 Brazilian Olympics.
LBB> I love the work FCB Brasil did on Black Characters for Revista Raça. It performed well at Cannes too (kudos!). What did you find most interesting about that campaign?
Renata> The most interesting part was the translation of Raça Magazine’s mission statement to digital. The Magazine was born 30 years ago to bring visibility and give a voice to the Brazilian Black community – which makes up half of Brazil’s population. We took it digital by building a tool that allowed Raça to annotate third party tweets and link them to content from Black thinkers, politicians, artists in a context-dependent way, giving voice and space to them and making the conversation richer. Because of its ‘hacker’ nature, Black Characters does this while simultaneously shining a light on the challenges Black voices face and the need to fight for that. (Read more about the work here.)
LBB> Another campaign that did well at Cannes is ‘Mike’s in a Beer World’, which you worked on with FCB New York. What can you tell us about that campaign? And is it common for you to collaborate with other offices like this?
Renata> We work in close collaboration with a lot with different offices such as Chicago, LA and London, exchanging insights, collaborating on global campaigns or even developing specific projects.
Regarding Mike’s, respecting the local understanding of the consumers was an important step, because the real challenge went beyond launching a beverage; we had to break through a beer culture. In Brazil (and most of Latam), beer is the go-to drink in most of the social occasions and kind of an ‘entry ticket’ for gatherings, so it wasn’t enough to introduce the drink. We needed to introduce a new mindset: that it was okay not to have a beer, and instead have a Mike’s.
LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?
Renata> It’s that spark in the eye and desire to build strong stories that normally comes as a natural curiosity about people and things. Also, an attitude of openness that allows for both attentive listening and asking fresh questions. In strategy we need to keep learning and moving.
I guess that covid has brought about two main changes. The first is paying even closer attention to our talent’s mental state and overload. It’s always been important, but we all know the token that the pandemic took on our mental health and how it raised our awareness of it even further. The second is having the tools and methods to keep nurturing the talent and the bond among the team in a hybrid environment, with a lot of the work being remote.
LBB> Culturally in Brazil, what are the biggest events and trends driving conversation and marketing?
Renata> As in many markets, embracing diversity is a huge trend in the market. We are an extremely diverse country, but we still face many challenges in fully embracing it, so brands have been playing an important role in normalising the differences and breaking taboos. We still have a long road ahead of us.
We are also one of the top three countries in social media usage globally - we call ourselves the meme nation, and WhatsApp connects every social class. At the same time, broadcast TV is still huge and Globo [TV network] commands massive audiences. This back and forth between TV and social media is the main force shaping behaviours and conversations. Of course, we are in an election year and politics is driving a lot of the trends and conversations.
LBB> What's the thing you're most proud of in your career so far?
Renata> Of my history of fostering collaborative ways of working (with the teams, peers and clients) that allows a stronger result and a dynamic process.
LBB> Outside of work, what inspires you / what do you enjoy getting up to?
Renata> Books (fiction and biographies) and travel. I guess I’m still the girl that is always carrying a book wherever she goes.