Senior product designer at Performance Art Toronto, Thiago Santarem, shares some of the work that helped shape his career and others that remind him why he loves what he does
I often find myself leaning towards projects where I can see a clear connection between brand, culture and people. I tend to look for simple ideas and effective execution, but I also like to see how a brand listens to users / consumers. I love projects that show intention with emotion in their messaging, and those that are closely related to something I am passionate about, like good music or design...
Coca-Cola - 'The Friendly Twist'
Agency: Leo Burnett Colombia
This one came along when I used to be obsessed with Coca-Cola. It was one of my favourite brands at the time, and I always dreamed about working with them. When I saw this activation, I felt seen. I had just moved to a new country, and every day was the 'first day of college'. This work always brings me joy because it shows how we can leverage deep human emotions - such as nostalgia and happiness - with simple ideas to spark conversations.
Converse - 'Converse All-Wah'
Agency: Critical Mass
This is one of my favourite projects from the past few years. It combines music with tech, and it innovates a physical product to make it a part of something that propels the brand forward in culture. In my last year of college, when this project came out, I worked at a company that often talked about the kinds of brands who don’t have customers, but rather a cult following - and Converse is one of those brands. It’s a brand that has stood the test of time and remained relevant by introducing itself into sub-cultures, from basketball to rock, to skateboarding, to powerlifting, to hip-hop. For the 'All-Wah' work, even though they had somewhat limited technology at the time, the idea of using a flex sensor was pretty genius - but it felt a bit awkward since the behaviour wasn’t 100% mimicking a Wah pedal. With today’s technology, imagine what they could do with accelerometers, apps, electromagnetic pulses, or something else to make the foot movement feel more natural. Regardless, a solid job from CM.
Hunt Gather - 'Burger Queen'
Agency: Hunt Gather
This one was interesting to me. It wasn’t for a specific client, but what caught my attention was the fact that it was a clever response to a situation that happened with Burger King. Right after the tweet that generated a ton of backlash, this small agency in the US used no-code tools to create a rapid response that generated a ton of buzz. This is not necessarily our traditional idea of award-winning work. Still, it’s a true testament to how brands need to be careful, and understand that people are not just listening anymore. Immediately after the tweet, in absolutely no time, a new website was built and launched by a small team that took BK by surprise. Lovely work, ironically on brand, and I think that with more time it could have had even greater impact.
Metro Trains Melbourne - 'Dumb Ways to Die'
Agency: McCann Melbourne
Scrolling through TikTok, I had to mention this one. There are other great examples of projects like these, but this one is one of my favourites. It went viral, it connected directly to people, and at the time, it was innovative with its digital design and simple animation. I remember being in Brazil and listening to this song over and over again, which was odd because most people I talked to didn’t even know what the song was about. And to me, it just goes to show that, 1) jingles are still alive and well, 2) catchy songs will forever be an effective way in for a viral campaign, and 3) everything is, in fact, a remix (or trends come in waves - however you want to think about this). I mean, it’s been 10 years, and we are singing it again (...or still).
McDonald’s - 'Méqui'
Agency: DPZ & T
This one generated a lot of debate between my ad friends...almost as much as debating if a Big Mac with Bacon is still a Big Mac (yes, yes it is). There was a discussion about brand integrity, and that changing the name was going against every possible guideline, messaging platform and any other buzzword you want to add to the list. But this project has a special place in my creative heart because it shows just how ingrained in culture a brand can become. In Brazil, we say Méqui (pronounced Mac-e or Mac-key), meaning Lil’ McD’s, and in Australia they say Maccas - but everyone has their way of knowing and interacting with the brand. It must have been a hell of a fight to sell 'mispronouncing' the brand name as a good idea, and not many people dare to 'break' the brand like this. Yes, brand integrity matters, but at the end of the day, your brand is what people say it is, not you. The results are clear - what started as a short celebratory idea became a full brand communication platform for a specific market. I count that as a win.
"Méquizinho" (Lil’ McD’s), "McDonald’s is for everybody!", "So much so that everyone has a different way of saying McDonald’s!", "Mecôso" (something like an endearing term for McD’s), "McDoninho" (Lil’ McDonald’s), "M, e, q, u, i, z, i, n, h, o", "Mczêra (“êra” is usually put at the end of male names in Brazil to indicate a “bro”. Some friends call me Thiaguêra), "Mecão" (something like Big McD’s), "Méqui" (McD’s), "How about you? How do you say it? Leave a comment! We’ll choose the best ones and use them across Brazil.", "Craving Méquizinho, Mecôso, McDoninho, Mczêra, and Mecão. Craving Méqui."