LBB’s Paul Monan catches up with Renato Fernandez, TBWA\Chiat\Day LA’s new CCO, to talk cartoons, Gatorade and life in LA
In February, TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles named Renato Fernandez as the agency’s new Chief Creative Officer. Stepping up from his former post as Executive Creative Director, he’s remained at the helm of the agency’s global Gatorade account – a client that he’s worked with throughout his career – whilst assuming creative leadership across the agency’s full roster of clients and overseeing the creative department. LBB’s Paul Monan caught up with Renato to talk about his love of cartoons, Gatorade and life in LA…
They say that you should never meet your heroes but, not only has Renato Fernandez met his, he’s had the opportunity to work alongside them throughout a career that’s taken him from the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba to the west coast of the US.
Renato landed at TBWA\Chiat\Day LA in 2011 after a highly successful eleven-year stint at Sao Paulo’s AlmapBBDO, but his creative journey begins way back in his home city of Curitiba where, as a youngster, he simply loved to draw cartoons.
At one stage, it looked like he’d make a living out of his passion when, alongside his brother, he began drawing comics for newspapers. “I thought I was going to become a cartoonist – that was my dream,” he says, “until one day, a guy came to us and said the final quality, the craft, was not great.”
As he grew up, Renato began to drift away from his cartoonist roots. At high school, he studied design and it was his studies that pushed him towards adland. Time and again he’d be working on poster and billboard projects and it was an organic progression; his set of skills in drawing taking him naturally towards an advertising career.
“I love cartoons because they’re a way to tell stories. In the early ‘90s, Brazilian advertising was flourishing. Agencies were growing and there was amazing work being generated. I was compelled with the possibility of storytelling on a different platform that wasn’t cartoon.”
As a fledgling illustrator and designer, Renato set up his own company with his brother during his time at college which, he admits, “was basically an advertising agency”.
“We were two college kids who ended up controlling these big accounts, but we understood sooner rather than later that advertising demanded more skills than we possessed at the time,” he explains. “We were good in the creative process, we were good at execution but logistically we had a long way to go. We had two options; we either built this company and tried to work it properly, or we stopped and learned how to do it properly.”
Deciding to close the company, Renato focused on graduating and taking a more conventional route into the industry. He swiftly landed a role in Curitiba but, after six years, had a growing ambition to leave for Sao Paulo.
“It was like a dream. You don’t really think you’re going to be capable of leaving. We tried. We had interviews. That was at 29, most people move at a younger age. We felt that the door was closed,” he explains. “Then in 2000, we created a campaign for the Ministry of Health that ended up winning everything. The doors opened and I had the chance to work with Marcello Serpa at AlmapBBDO, he was a real idol in my career.”
Gatorade's Kids campaign; AlmapBBDO, 2008
It was in Sao Paulo where Renato started working on accounts for a number of a prestigious brands, including Pepsi, Volkswagen and, possibly most importantly for his career, Gatorade. “Moving to Sao Paulo, I had an opportunity to see how big clients behaved, how big cities behaved. When you get there it’s so demanding and you feel happy to survive! But you get used to the pressure of working at a higher level, you try to do more and more and more.”
Over the course of eleven years at the agency, he resisted climbing the ladder for as long as possible so that he could focus on the creative work that he loved so much. “Once you take a step up, you don’t have a chance to work on the things you like to do. Being a CD is completely different to being a creative.”
After seven years at AlmapBBDO, creating campaigns including Gatorade Kids and Volkswagen’s Dogfish, Renato began pondering another move. “Advertising was always three steps behind the US. I wanted to know where advertising was going, to be part of the trends,” he comments. “Maybe I had to go to the US and see where it’s going. I was working at one of the most prestigious agencies in Brazil - one of the most celebrated agencies in the world, winning in Cannes every year. But in the US people got mobiles way sooner than they did in Brazil. Mobile, digital, the whole new behaviour is based on the consumers. I wanted to know the new ways of advertising.”
The US wasn’t on his list at the time. Instead, he was considering markets such as London, Frankfurt, Berlin and Asia. Then he got an offer from TBWA.
“That was perfect because they gave me the chance to work on Gatorade, a brand I love very much. The difference between working on Gatorade in the US than in Brazil is that you make the brand, you change its direction. It’s exciting to be a part of the narrative for a whole brand and I’m proud to say I helped shape Gatorade as a brand,” he says.
Gatorade's Made in New York, featuring Derek Jeter; TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, 2014
Since being at Chiat\Day, Renato has overseen two Gatorade campaigns that’s he particularly proud of. Firstly, ‘Made in New York’, the epic farewell campaign for the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter, in which the baseball star personally thanked fans as he walks to the Yankee Stadium ahead of his retirement. Then there was the hugely successful ‘Match Point’ campaign, an 8-bit, Nintendo-style game that utilised Snapchat as a platform to celebrate Serena Williams as she embarked on an attempt to equal the grand slam record.
“Snapchat is known for brevity but we said let’s use it,” says Renato. “We created a game, based on pong, with 22 levels getting increasingly harder. The last level is insanely tricky, to replicate getting to 22 grand slams being so difficult. For us, it was all about modern storytelling, creating the base of the story but letting the audience complete it for you. One in three shared with their friends, average views for our games was 3’30”. Snapchat’s average is three to five seconds!”
Screenshots from Gatorade's Match Point campaign; TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, 2016
By moving to LA, Renato now lives within a stone’s throw from the tech companies that are shaping the future. He’s in the perfect place to adapt, embrace and innovate new technologies and forge new narratives for the agency’s millennial clients, but as well as taking his professional career to the next level, he’s found a location for the perfect work-life balance.
“For me it’s great, I can live by the beach for the very first time! It sounds funny coming from a Brazilian, but I used to be an hour from the ocean. Now I have this amazing quality of life. I finally have balance between personal and professional lives. When I was young I was hungry, sometimes I wasn’t so keen in protecting my personal life. Now I feel a balance without compromise. I had to adapt to the way that Americans work. It’s more efficient, and I have more time for my family. LA is not a workaholic city. You can create memorable work without spending every weeknight and weekend working. It’s possible to shape your career - but not for the price of your life.”
Renato has been in the city for almost seven years now, although it’s probably fair to say that the country is going through the most turbulent time since his move to LA. In a politically challenging climate, how has the vibe within the industry been altered – has creativity suffered?
“It’s true, it’s hard. Everybody on both sides is struggling with what’s happening. But at the same time, I’m from Brazil. One of the greatest things I’ve learnt is that necessity is the mother of invention. What’s happening is forcing us to adapt, unite, and it’s great when that happens. I don’t see a problem, I see an opportunity. Situations like we’re experiencing now are forcing us to be brave and strong. I feel so good because I’m a Latino leading one of the most iconic agencies on the planet. That says a lot about America.”
To get to where he is now, at the forefront of one the world’s leading agencies, Renato has constantly and consistently pushed the boundaries of storytelling. “There’s a quote that my Gatorade client used to say from football. ‘The Standard is The Standard’. It’s from Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin,” he says. “I’m super inspired by that. You need to be able to take all brands to the level, then you can consider that you’re creating culture.”
He’s been fortunate enough to work with his heroes, like Marcello, who have taught him that advertising is more than selling; it’s about telling compelling narratives and creating beautifully crafted work that can transform brands – something Renato has done for over a decade for Gatorade. If he hasn’t already, then it’s only a matter of time before it’s Renato who becomes the hero for aspiring creatives across the world.