by Herman Manson (@marklives) For most people, Marcello Serpa (@Marcello_Serpa) is the guy who made Havaianas famous. It was his first account at his own agency and he has helped grow a local brand in Brazil into a global powerhouse.

For ad people, he is that, of course, but more importantly to them, I suspect, is that he and a business partner launched his own agency (AlmapBBDO), made it, and made it fly.

Marcello SerpaCreatives’ creative

Serpa is a creatives’ creative. You get a sense that this guy walks the talk. Yes, he presented his work — but it was work that amplified his key messages — to Design Indaba 2014 delegates. He believes that chaos is part of the world and of the creative process (in this he shares a view with Ije Nwokorie of Wolff Olins London — they both celebrate that the world is messy/chaotic — and so gets to celebrate us).

Serpa offers valuable insight launching an agency. More importantly, he offers insight into  how to both survive and enjoy that journey.

Over the span of his 30-year career, he has learned two valuable lessons: 1) Be simple (he calls this the art of reduction) and 2) Be unpredictable.

These lessons are particularly apparent in the following campaigns, from the simple Diet ads, clear of copy or headlines, which earned the Cannes Lions 1993 Press Grand Prix, to his work on VW, Pepsi Twist and Whiskas.

Diet Soft Drink:

AlmapBBDO: Diet soft drink

AlmapBBDO: Diet soft drink

VW Trucks:

AlmapBBDO: VW Trucks

AlmapBBDO: VW Trucks

Pepsi Twist:

AlmapBBDO: Pepsi Twist


AlmapBBDO: Whiskas

Lessons in managing expectations of agency life

Serpa offers more valuable lessons in managing expectations of agency life for creative directors starting their own shops:

  1. There are no 25-year-old generals. Instead of awarding kids doing great work with titles they are not yet fully equipped to carry, award them with cash. They deserve the bonus, not the stresses of living up to a job title they are several years away from earning or coping with.
  2. Always work with somebody better than you (as opposed to 25-year-old generals). Somebody you admire and can learn from.
  3. Find a good planning partner — one who loves advertising.
  4. Set up with the best team your money can buy. Ensure it’s a mixed bunch. Introverts, extroverts, different skill sets, you name it.
  5. Slow down the crazy guys, rather than pushing the nice ones.
  6. Forget about hierarchy.
  7. Have respect for the credits. If it weren’t your idea, don’t claim credit, and don’t put your name on it just because you are the ECD (later, while wandering the expo, several younger delegates were actively discussing this point. Resentment ran deep; it is obviously an important and contentious issue in the local ad industry as well).
  8. Steak and bones for all — spread the better jobs around — and the less fun ones as well.
  9. There are no easy or hard clients. They are all clients.
  10. Be hard on the work, not on the people.
  11. Don’t ask from your people what your clients are asking of you (such as turning a job around in less time than is required to do it effectively).

Brief testing

Serpa tests every brief against two points: 1) what do we want to say and 2) is this relevant to the customer?

Try and create work where the product is the hero of the ad (see below); sell the product, not some perceived emotion, says Serpa. He also reminds us that new is different from good — and that the two are too easily interchanged today.

Serpa is dismissive of the extent to which marketing intelligence has come to rule advertising communication; to him, it encourages mediocrity and protects cowards.

Finally, beware of hypocrisy — remember where you come from — and celebrate the chaos. Or, as his famous Havaianas ads read: “Live life unlaced.”

AlmapBBDO: Havaianas

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