Sunday, August 19, 2012

Does It Help To Be Foreign?

In 2001, Juan Cabral came to London. And he smashed it.

Cadbury's 'Gorilla', and Sony Bravia's 'Balls', 'Paint' and 'Rabbits'. Enough said.

But did it help that he was foreign?

That he maybe approached a brief differently from the typical British creative, overwhelmingly schooled at one of only three ad colleges (Watford, Bucks, and St Martin's)?

Did it help that he was drawing on references broader than just British comedy sketch shows of the 1990s, and children's TV programmes of the 80s?

Of course, it makes sense to source the best talent you can find, irrespective of where it comes from. And London agencies are able to attract talent from everywhere, since they can offer a high standard of work, and an exciting city to live in.

But I suspect that some of the UK's most creative agencies have bought into the theory that foreigners can bring them something that British creatives can't.

There can be no other explanation for why agencies like Mother, Fallon and BBH have hired such large numbers of foreign creatives in recent years, principally South Americans and Swedes.

So are they right?

Personally, I haven't found any advantage to being a foreigner here in Australia. (Yes, I know a Brit in Australia is not really a foreigner... it's the same language, and huge swathes of the culture, from Kylie to the Queen, are shared. But still.)

And at times it's been a disadvantage. I've been asked by a client to prepare a celebrity route, and the creative team working on the brief have presented dozens of different celebrities to me as a solution... and I've no idea who any of them even are. Though admittedly, retired sportsmen do look pretty much the same all over the world.

At other times, I've proposed ideas to people, and they've rejected them by landing the knockout blow of shaking their heads slowly, and regretfully informing me that "in Australia, this concept wouldn't really resonate."

Not quite as bad as the time when a Greek client rejected our casting suggestion for an ad, explaining that "in my country, people believe woman with red hair is... how you say... witch." But still.

And perhaps it's telling that while the 'creative thinking' of foreigners is often welcome, few make it to ECD level. The only non-Brit ECD in a big London agency I can think of is Santiago Lucero at Fallon. Here in Sydney, there are several Brits and Kiwis running creative departments, but only one 'real' foreign power, the husband-and-wife team of Carlos Alija and Laura Sampedro, at BMF - that's them below - who by all accounts are doing great.

But what if we dig a little deeper...

While not exactly foreigners, many top creatives are certainly outsiders.

Charles Saatchi was a Jew. As was Tony Kaye. John Hegarty's parents were Irish and he grew up in an Irish neighbourhood of London. More than a few are gay. And Dave Trott is from a real working-class background - 98% of the account men he's chewed up over the years had probably never met anyone like him before... and probably never saw it coming.


People with cultures and experiences that enable them to look at the world differently.

But you know what? All creatives have that.

I think foreign influences are brilliant. The more the merrier. But I wouldn't say it confers any particular advantage on those individuals. Any benefits Juan Cabral had from being a foreigner were probably balanced out by the disadvantages, language barrier etc. No, what made him great was that he was great. That's all.

The old definition of a creative as someone who's "wired wrong" is normally pretty accurate. Because whether you're from Buenos Aires or Burton-on-Trent, all you really need is an ability to see the world differently.


Daniel-Jacob Santhou said...

I wish this was the case...

It's been a challenge for myself to land a job a role in a planning department here in Melbourne.

My life has been spent exploring people from different continents and immersing myself in various cultures.

Yet, with all that I have, who I am, either my voice is soft, or people in the industry are hard of hearing.


Daniel-Jacob Santhou

Tony Hoad said...

In Australia we have a long history of great campaigns that spring from a quite delicate undestanding of what it's like to be local. Think Mo and Jo in the 80s with 'You ought to be congratulated' to sell margarine, Mo saying that they only used the word congratulated in the jingle because it was the the only word they could think of that rhymed with polyunsaturated. Yeah, right. The reason it worked, as they knew, was because it flattered everyday mums in an unsettling post Female Eunich era. Being a housewife was okay again. Then there was the Paul Hogan shrimp on the barby campaign to sell Australia itself. And 'I still call Australia home' to flog out national airline. And 20 years of perfect VB advertising before the nitwits over at Droga 5 got their hands on it. And, nowadays, we get old man Teddy Horton with his finger still very much on the local pulse selling everything cat food to Prime Ministers. I suspect that whilst foreigners bring art and wonder and elegance to Australian advertising - and I'm pretty sure you will too, Mr Scamp - it's the Australians who do the ads we love and remember and resonate with most.

Brendan Graham said...

Thank you thank you for introducing me to Dave Trott. After your brief description of him in this post I just had to google him. Then I came across this APG talk he did: Simple but powerful stuff.

Unknown said...

Scamp, this is a topic of great interest to me. In fact, I'm in the midst of launching a blog all about it, interviewing creatives who work internationally and talk about different cultures and ways of working. I'd love to interview you for one of these posts as well, since you seem to have a very strong opinion.

john p woods said...

Is globalisation the reason why British Advertising no longer feels British?