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DDB Spain’s Cristiana Zito: “Data Without Emotion Won’t Give You Anything Useful”


The agency’s head of strategy tells LBB why true creativity can never be linear, the importance of feeling rather than observing, and what makes Barcelona’s creative culture so special

DDB Spain’s Cristiana Zito: “Data Without Emotion Won’t Give You Anything Useful”

​​Nouri Films, the Barcelona-based production and service company, has partnered with Little Black Book to sponsor the site’s Spanish Edition. As part of that, over the upcoming months we will be spending time with some of the most exciting creative talent the country has to offer.

Today, we speak with DDB Spain’s head of strategy Cristiana Zito. Cristiana’s career path reads like a love affair with creativity - from being allowed to stay up late to watch ads from around the world as a kid, to rediscovering her passion upon graduating University. Today, she crafts effective strategies for one of Spain’s biggest agencies. In this conversation, Cristiana reflects on making the move from Milan to Barcelona, what makes Spanish creativity stand out amongst the crowd, and how overcoming frustration can often be key to creative success:

LBB> I understand you studied economics whilst at University - did you always know that you wanted to apply that knowledge to the creative industry in some way? 

Cristiana Zito> Yes, although I loved my chosen subject I have always considered myself to be a ‘creative’ person and I wanted to have a career in the creative industries. Having said that, my role as a strategist means that I’m somewhat adjacent to creativity. 

But it’s always been a part of my life and the way I think. In fact, I have strong memories of growing up in Italy and watching “Galá della Publicitá” (‘The Advertising Gala’ in English) which celebrated the best commercials. And there was also “La Notte dei Pubblivori” (‘The Night of the Advertisers’), originally from France, which put on a similar show. I remember asking my parents to stay awake so that I could watch those programmes. There was an award given out on those shows, and I told my parents that I would one day win it. 

However, as the years flew by, I kind of forgot that memory. Until the day I graduated from University, my professor asked me what I wanted to do. At that moment, it all came flooding back. I decided to apply for a masters degree, for which I spent one year in Milan, and then I was able to join an agency and begin my career. A few years later, having worked at DDB in Italy, I made the move to Barcelona where I remain today. So maybe it hasn’t been a concrete idea which stayed with me every step of my childhood and early adulthood, but it was always in the background. 

LBB> And fast-forwarding to today, how would you describe the advertising scene in Spain at the moment?

Cristiana> Well, due to the Covid situation there’s still a sense of uncertainty. The last winter especially was quite difficult, and a few agencies had to lose some talented people. But, as a result of that, many of these people are now starting up their own projects and I’m excited to see what comes of that and what it brings to our creative culture more widely. 

And at the same time, it has to be said that Spain performed brilliantly at Cannes this summer. We won almost 30 Lions which is a large number for Spain. For me, the most important thing which can be said about the industry here is that it is not still. It’s moving. It’s not always easy - but things are happening. 

LBB> Given the recent success with awards, would you say that this is something of a high point for Spain’s creative culture? 

Cristiana> I think Spain has always been a fantastically creative and vibrant country. I came to Spain in 2011 and the first two or three years were very hard as we were in the middle of the worst financial crisis in the country’s modern history. At that time, the landscape was dominated by big multinational companies with a few famous local agencies in the background. But now this scenario is changing. Some of the big companies are closing, and local projects are booming. The result has been positive for the country’s creative output and culture. 

Of course, this isn’t a linear or constant movement - if it was, it wouldn’t be true creativity! It has its ups and downs - and Covid was certainly a ‘down’ moment. But, as is the case with most crises, it’s pushing us to find solutions. 

LBB> Would you say that the industry in Spain is notably different from Italy? 

Cristiana> Yes. Everybody seems to consider Spain and Italy to be very similar countries, and I used to believe that myself. But it didn’t take long living in Barcelona to find out how wrong I was! 

I used to say that ‘the Spanish are like Italians but happier’, and in fairness that does ring true. Creativity in Spain is more spontaneous and dynamic, but there are occasions when it lacks an element of quality or craftsmanship. In Italy we put a high value on the quality of ideas and especially the quality of productions. 

But what that means for Spain is that the idea is King. For creatives, that’s a fun environment to be part of. 

LBB> Do you find that the industry’s culture is distinct in Barcelona compared to the rest of the country? If so, how?

Cristiana> There is a difference, yes. Madrid, for example, is more about the big multinational companies and institutional clients like those in the energy and telecommunication sectors. By contrast, Barcelona is more about the automotive industry and startups, with more of a unique creative culture. 

So Madrid, I would say, is quintessentially ‘Spanish’. Barcelona on the other hand is more ‘European’ and international, which of course reflects back onto creativity. One other thing to mention is that Barcelona undoubtedly offers a special quality of life. You tend to find that people who have moved here have done so because they’re attracted to the food, the sea, or the mountains. It’s a great, and relaxed, way to live. 

LBB> Has there been any work coming out of Spain recently that you wish the world knew more about

Cristiana> There’s one campaign I especially enjoyed for Alfonso Dominguez, a Spanish fashion brand. The campaign runs with the idea of ‘Be More Old’ or ‘Sé Más Viejo’ in Spanish. It’s about consuming less, using things for a long time, and giving back value to old things and also old people. The campaign used older models to illustrate its point. It’s classy, elegant, and well-produced. 

Above: Sé Más Viejo from the independent agency China plays with the idea of becoming older in our mindsets. 

LBB> And at DDB, is there any recent work which you’re particularly proud of?

Cristiana> Although it’s low-budget, I absolutely loved an activation we did for Audi named ‘The Driver is Her’. The campaign was designed to coincide with the anniversary of the Quattro, one of Audi’s most iconic vehicles. We discovered that Lego had released a playset dedicated to the Audi Sport Quattro S1, which was particularly famous in the 80s. 

But there was just one problem. The Lego figurine included in this set was male - but the enjoyed its greatest success whilst driven by Michèle Mouton, the first and only woman to win a World Rally Championship event. We made a proposal to Lego to change the figure included in the set, and they obliged - and we even worked together to provide those who had already purchased the set with the Michèle Mouton figurine. Lego were fantastically positive throughout, and it generated a lot of buzz for Audi. 

Above: DDB Spain collaborated with Lego to provide the correct figurine for their Audi Quattro set. 

LBB> What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

Cristiana> Something I always remind myself is not to take our work too seriously. It’s important to be professional, yes, but there are a lot of things you can’t control in this line of work. Frustration is the enemy of creativity - you need to keep playing. It helps to be reminded of that every so often.

LBB> Finally, the past 18 months have been challenging for many. How have you been staying positive and creatively inspired throughout it all? 

Cristiana> Something that I’ve been talking about a lot with my creative colleagues has been the challenge of finding inspiration from other people during lockdown. Some people take their inspiration from books or movies, but I tend to take mine from other human beings. So I was missing the opportunity to do that for a number of months. 

But on the other hand, I’ve found over the pandemic that - while I can’t physically see as many friends, family and colleagues as I would like to, I am somehow able to connect more with their feelings and strengthen my listening skills. I think, especially when lockdown first happened, everybody was more emotional and looking for a sense of community. I spent that time aiming to feel rather than to observe. I feel like it’s given me an entirely new perspective on human behaviour which, conveniently enough, I can bring to my work. 

In fact, this experience has served as an important reminder to me. I’m a strategist, and so in my line of work everyone is obsessed with data. That’s understandable, given how much data can tell us. But the thing is that data won’t tell you anything useful by itself. It has to be connected to feelings and emotions in order to deliver any kind of meaningful insight. Data gives you the ‘what’, but creativity and empathy delivers the ‘why’, which is much more valuable for clients. 

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Nouri Films, Mon, 16 Aug 2021 11:13:17 GMT