When looking back on his first meeting with Damien Guiol, Samy Benama remembers Damien’s eyes sparkling way more than anybody else’s at that party. At first, he put it down to alcohol, but on their subsequent meeting at Havas Lyon, where they happened to cross paths again by chance, he realised that alcohol had nothing to do with it - ‘his eyes just sparkled anytime’.
Indeed, the first meeting between these two was outside of the advertising world, at a party in Lyon, held by their mutual friend. A few months later fate did what fate does best and put Samy and Damien randomly together at Havas, where Samy was freshly hired as a copywriter, a bit after Damien was already working there as an art director. After a few months at the agency, the two started sharing a tiny room in a shared apartment, where they worked on their portfolio restlessly, with the goal to join a new agency, but this time, as a team.
Although after their Havas encounter, they remained very close friends and roommates for a bit, their career paths didn’t intertwine with each other instantly. After some solo work here and there, they both finally found themselves at Brand Station & Change Paris, an FCB Alliance, as part of one creative team working for clients such as UNICEF, Poulehouse, Mondelēz, Warner Bros, Subway, and others.
Named creative directors at Brand Station in 2018, Damien and Samy moved up the ladder to chief creative officers of the Change Group late in 2021, a position which they have remained on to present day. Dubbed as ‘pure products of Change group’, after their stints with Leg, Havas and Native, they truly found their connection at Brand Station as the perfect creative team.
When thinking back to that fateful party in Lyon at the beginning of their meeting, Damien says that although Samy doesn’t drink, he himself is like ‘a bottle of good wine - the more time passes, the better he gets.’ Their work together, as well as their personal friendship, is evidence to that.
At Havas, the two experienced their first project as a duo, or at least according to Damien, the first ‘showable’ one. “I don’t think you want to see the actual first one, and neither do we,” he admits. The showable first project at Havas was a print campaign for Florette, a French salad brand, in which Samy and Damien were one of the first in the industry to use ‘food art’ (“Be gentle, it was ten years ago,” pleads Samy). The process of creating it, according to him, involved “laughing, sharing aspirations, bouncing off each other, laughing again, presenting ideas, having them thrown out, not laughing anymore, reworking, validating the idea, whipping it into shape, and finally laughing again.”
All that definitely sounds like a rollercoaster, but for both Samy and Damien, going through it together is what makes it a fun rather than a scary ride. When asked how they complement each other, Damien explains: “Do you rock climb? It’s like rock climbing, there is always one to belay the other and always one determined to go further.” Samy’s metaphors have more breadth, but essentially mean the same: “It’s Yin and Yang. Fire and Ice. Mustard and ketchup. Ash and Pikachu.”
So, do Ash and Pikachu ever squabble? “When you’re at dinner with a couple, you don’t ask them what they’re arguing about - with us it’s the same,” Samy jokes. “But, I can give you a little scoop,” adds Damien, “We don’t support the same soccer team. Which proves that we cannot possibly always agree.” Not always, but we say it’s a very good start.
Whatever disagreements the two are not telling us about, what is important is that they handle them peacefully and kindly, which, according to Samy most often leads to project improvement and their own personal improvement. “We don’t make a fuss about it, it’s all part of the process.” Damien also shares that over time, it is totally normal for them to aesthetically and even logically differ in their preferences, but to him this is part of evolving as a team and as their own persons. “I don’t see it as something bad. Because these new creations and preferences often come to be, albeit different, complementary. A watchword: useful to the brand, not to the advertising ego. We know how to listen to each other and that’s important.”
That persistent willingness to listen to each other, of course, leads to some incredible work. Samy gives us only a handful of their favourite projects together: “Poulehouse, because it was our very first animated film. APF France ‘Handicap’ for the idea, the cause, and the experience of meeting all these incredibly strong people. Metallica ‘Gloves’ because it was our first operation at Brand Station. And finally, Matrix 4, because we put the Matrix in the metaverse, and that’s completely ‘Meta’.” The APF campaign was probably one of Samy and Damien’s most hard-hitting ones to date. Revolving around the issue that, at the time of release, out of the 303 metro stations in Paris, a shocking nine were accessible to wheelchair users. The duo created a new version of the Paris Metro map to visualise the problem, showing only one line - and, on ‘Accessibility Day’, people with disabilities protested at more than 200 metro stations, where every classic map at the station was covered by Samy and Damien’s one, grabbing well deserved media attention.
When it comes to all the benefits of actually being in a duo, Samy promises to spare us the ‘clichés’, but does admit one thing: “It’s incredible to have someone who prevents you from doubting yourself and saves you from going around in a circle.” Damien adds, “And calms you down.” And although having started as friends quite randomly, the two now spend most of their waking time together, working, but also in after work activities, such as Damien watching Samy drink after office hours. Having started as a copywriter and art director duo and moved together up to CCO positions, the two creatives have learned heaps from each other, but if they had to boil it down, for Samy the best lesson Damien gave him boils down to “Think less, do more.” And for Damien, Samy has taught him to never, under any circumstance, give up. “Tomorrow will be, and always is, better.”