Tuesday Mar 28

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BBDO – A Tale of Two Asian Cities

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Issue #02 - Interviews

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bbdo,advertising,guerreroBBDO is perhaps the strongest advertising network globally, right now. At the 2008 Cannes Festival BBDO Worldwide was the most awarded network.

wo of its Asian hotshops in Bangkok and Manila perennially hover atop their own network’s highest performer tally and the global who’s who lists.

In a ‘Tale of Two Asian Cities' we are going to talk to several creative heavyweights, starting with David Guerrero of BBDO Guerrero and BBDO Bangkok’s Suthisak Suchharittanonta, in the following edition.

Both men’s teams consistently hurl high-fives as they haul metal in the world’s best shows – seemingly friendly allies. We’re going to ask both legends what it takes to be the best – because they’re too close to split...

David Guerrero – Team Manila

Two superstars have nominated this man as the person you’d most want to hear from next – both Neil French and Ant Keogh – so we’re again faced with writing an introduction for a really famous guy who needs no introduction. We’re going to pretend you’ve been incarcerated for carrying a loaded portfolio across international lines and spent the last ten years in a Balinese jail.

Welcome back! Meet David Guerrero. He is the chairman and CEO of BBDO Guerrero [There aren’t too many people whose surname shares equal billing with a global network these days] and he is one of the cleverest creatives on the planet.

Agency.Asia: If advertising were religion, BBDO Guerrero would be a famous cathedral. David, yours is one of the happiest looking agencies we’ve encountered – and we mean that in the nicest possible way.

Your creative team dresses, well, wholesome. These kids appear to be more like an extension of your parish - or some kind of joyful creative cult - with an average age of about twenty.

You’ve got a BBDO Guerrero alter-ego-logo that would have other networks screaming. One look at your blog tells us that you guys are having a lot of fun, frequently winning new business and awards plus you seemingly are always partying! You’re Filipino, so you probably sing like angels all day too. Enlighten us to your culture and cult status!



David Guerrero: We work in an open plan office. Very communal. No doors, offices, or corridors. Of course that means some people have to go out to think straight. But we are based in the middle of town so getting out isn’t such a bad thing.

We do want to provide a conducive environment for creativity. However the main challenge in The Philippines is not the lack of opportunity but the discipline and determination to convert them. We spend a lot of time working on that. And then we party.

Agency.Asia: Creative directors mainly tend to fall into two categories. There are those that are hands on and others that prefer to offer direction without physically creating ads, for the most part. Both are valid. If pressed, which of those two categories would you fall under – and why aren’t you the guy in the other?

David Guerrero: I’m in the hands-on category. But obviously that’s impossible for everything so that’s when I get into ‘give direction’ mode. I think you have to keep doing it to remind yourself how hard it is.

Agency.Asia: What gets you in the mood creatively? Hugely award-winning Australian advertising legend Siimon Reynolds – the former creative partner of David Droga - used to practice something akin to auto-asphyxiation, immersing himself in a bathtub until inspiration or unconsciousness struck.

David Guerrero: Running does the trick. As does long holidays at the beach.

Agency.Asia: We read that your BBDO Asia-Pacific chairman and CEO said that your office is a jewel in the crown of BBDO, not simply across the Asia-Pacific, but worldwide. That is abundantly understandable considering your accomplishments. But how does that make the other BBDOs feel?

It’s like your Mom announcing that your younger brother is better at schoolwork and infinitely more handsome. Of course, you’re going to say, “Yes - he said we were a jewel, not the jewel”. That’s a rather nice complement.

David Guerrero: Oh! I think we’re in a very high-achieving family, as Gunn Report network of the year more often than not. And we’re by no means in danger of outshining our siblings. Keeping up would be nice!

Agency.Asia: We sometimes invite guests to mention a few of their star performers, but you’re rather too big and successful to start listing everybody – even though we are a web-based magazine. It must be easy to attract fresh talent to the agency with a creative culture such as yours.

One suspects that a group of predators lay in wait, ready to headhunt them in the lobby each night. You are recognized as having an enviable retention rate among your faithful flock. What’s the secret to keeping them happy? Pizza Hut?

David Guerrero: I’m not sure we always manage to hang on to the people we really want to. But we are always determined to give people the best opportunities we can. And that’s going to do more for people than anything else we could think of. However we do have annual office outings (the last one was to Vietnam) and the bar in the office might help.

Agency.Asia: The most awarded agency at the 2008 Cannes Festival was BBDO New York (and the most awarded network was BBDO Worldwide). You credit BBDO chairman and chief creative officer Dave Lubars as the single mastermind of this success.

You recently wrote an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that put across his theory, that as an advertising agency we tend to behave like waiters, yet what we should be doing is acting like chefs. Rather than regurgitating that piece, maybe give us the gist of that article.

David Guerrero: The basic point is that agencies have traditionally behaved like classic, low-margin service industries that are about giving people what they want at the cheapest price without any regard as to whether what they were doing for them was right. And this seems like a very short-term approach to client relationships.

The best agencies, like the best restaurants, try to give people something they didn’t know they wanted. And which is better than they could have thought of themselves.

Agency.Asia: It’s not enough to create great ideas that make people hungry for brands though, is it?

That’s putting the cart before the horse. You have to sell the concepts to an altogether tougher audience than the work’s ultimate recipients will ever be.

First comes, account management. Next you have a face-to-face with departmental heads on the client side.

We all know what effect research is going to have on creative, but it is also a cunning way to abrogate responsibility. From that focus group springs more meetings. It’s like a joint passed around at a party and all you end up with at the end is a soggy stump.

How do you sell edgy, effective ads to people who are understandably frozen by the fear and the possible consequences of them bombing?

David Guerrero: You have to be convinced that what you’re offering someone is right. If there’s any doubt in your mind they will sense it and back away. Having said that there are also times when you believe in something passionately and people still don’t get it. Then you have a choice of walking away from the client or coming up with something new. And, as Peter Souter once said: ‘There is always another idea.’

Agency.Asia: Let’s take a quick look at your clients: Pepsi, P&G, Quaker, FedEx, Visa, Frito Lay, Johnson & Johnson, GE Money Bank, Wrigley, Pizza Hut, Mitsubishi, Emirates, Bayan Telecommunications, and an assortment of others - plus you do a huge deal of work for charities.


This hails back to the last question. A handful of those clients are quite widely regarded to be pragmatic, research driven companies while others are seen as a little bit more easy going – and that is maybe reflected in the work. Do winning awards for relaxed clients – both for effectiveness and creativity – help to loosen up the more orthodox others?

David Guerrero: We try to do the right job for everyone. And some clients naturally have different jobs that need doing. As far as the team goes there are different satisfactions to be gained. For a large client the scale and visibility of an idea is a big reward. For a small one, the impact gained from applied creativity is a big motivator as well.

Agency.Asia: After around 50 years, BBDO Worldwide recently lost its hold on the Pepsi account in North America [incestuously to two sister agencies within the Omnicom group], but BBDO network still maintains the business in Asia and beyond.

Personally, we’ve never quite seen the sense of having two disparate advertising agencies working on the same business. Apart from geography, are boundaries between you and the new kids on the block clear-cut, or whichever of you gets the big idea first the other floppily follows?

David Guerrero: Obviously I can’t say much about this case in particular. In general I think multinational clients have pretty clear expectations and guidelines and they expect their agencies to work within them. So they will tend to be quite strict in terms of boundaries and territories.

That’s not to say that anything is ever set in stone for the long-term. But both sides find it important to have certainty over the short to medium-term in these relationships.

Agency.Asia: Did you read Jureeporn’s interview where she said one hopeful creative sent a naked photograph of himself to her in the mail – only later to arrive at her office, barge past her assistant and strip bare? He proclaimed that his work was better than his body and that she should hire him.

Shit! What are the most surprising lengths some young creative desperado has gone to have an audience with you? How about you? Surely you too were once a wild-eyed youngster full of ideas and brandishing a book of spec ads.

David Guerrero: I once offered to work for John Webster at BMP in return for a weekly London Bus Pass. Fortunately he took me up on it. I’m not sure I’ve seen so many great stunts recently. There are some pretty nice mailers but they aren’t an infallible guide to good work within.

Agency.Asia: We caught up with Sir John Hegarty over lunch at Adfest. He likened scam ads to doping in sport and said it is highly detrimental to the industry. Let’s hypothesise and say that we had developed a urine test to detect the difference between natural creative juice and scam wee – what percentage of the creative fraternity across the Asia –Pacific would present a positive result?

If Adfest were anything to go by, we’d be investing in the company that patented that taking the piss test. We met up with you at Adfest. What were your thoughts about the event this year? Is there currency in rumours it’s headed to Shanghai?

David Guerrero: I’ve heard the Shanghai story and it sounds plausible. As far as taking the piss out of awards goes I think that scams do – and have been for a long time – but awards are only part of the recognition an agency needs to get.

The real rewards come when ads enter popular culture and the marketplace gives ideas recognition beyond paid media.

Agency.Asia: What are your favourite books? We know you’re fanatical about your football. But we think you’re going to surprise us with your diverse taste in literature. It is here that we’d invite you to give mention to your delightful wife, Angel Guerrero, and her Adobo magazine.

David Guerrero: These books were favourites at the time I read them. It’s hard to give a definitive top 5 list. But fun trying anyway.

Agency.Asia: Now, it’s not a game of tag and you can’t nominate Neil or Ant. So, which special someone would you like to nominate from the advertising world to be our next guest? And an iconic brand. Thanks you very much, David. We’ll look forward to filling the Philippines section of Agency.Asia with your advertising.

David Guerrero: Why not do an interview with… Yasmin Ahmad, Juggi Ramakrishnan, Steve Elrick or Polly Chu.

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