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DIRECT TALKING WITH PANCHO CASSIS

Mark Tungate 2024-03-28

We chat with the Partner and Global Chief Creative Officer of DAVID about the meaning of "Direct" media, the agency’s creative approach - and the state of Spanish advertising.

DIRECT TALKING WITH PANCHO CASSIS#2

I manage to catch Pancho Cassis between trips. As an in-demand creative leader and regular jury participant, he admits that he currently spends much of his life in the air. “My office is an American Airlines flight,” he jokes.

Speaking of juries, Pancho will be the President of the Direct jury at Cannes. We both remember when the term “direct marketing” referred to stuff that showed up in the mail (and we don’t mean e-mail). But what’s “direct” today?

“One of the challenges for a jury is how to reward the best of the best in a specific category,” he admits, “because thanks to technology and social media, most ideas are integrated now. I usually tell my jurors that the winners’ list should be a ‘go to’ manual for creatives and advertisers who want to see what’s possible within that category.”

The challenge, he continues, is that Direct is one of the most populated and complex categories. “We should reward those ideas that have directness at the core. Which is no longer an envelope sent to your home, but an idea that stimulates the consumer to react, to participate, to interact directly with the brand. It has to be a two-way experience.”

As an example he mentions DAVID’s much-awarded Stevenage Challenge campaign, for Burger King, which directly involved players of the hugely popular FIFA 20 video game.

In terms of advertising history, DAVID is a young agency – it turned 12 this year. Originally set up as a compact alternative to the huge Ogilvy network (and named of course after legendary adman David Ogilvy), it quickly grew into a creative powerhouse in its own right. “Is DAVID Miami the best agency in America right now?” asked Forbes back in September 2021.


For Pancho, what makes DAVID different? “This is going to sound clichéd, but it’s the people. The fact that we’re not a huge agency, but a very tight team of people working across six offices. When clients work with us, they really work with us. Clients like that sense of intimacy. They feel part of our team, we feel part of theirs. When I post on LinkedIn, I often use the hashtag #oneteam.”

Not too many processes, not too many layers. “Quick and easy,” says Pancho, which combined with the proximity to clients often results in cheeky and innovative ideas. “We talk straight to the people who are going to take the risks. When you work with clients like that, they open their kitchen for you.”

This enables the agency to talk to clients about their business problems, rather than working to briefs. “Often we’ll discuss their problem, then come up with the brief together. And by the way – the answer isn’t always an advertising campaign.”

He cites a couple of his favourites. The first is Corona Sunbrew, which was not an ad but a new product – a non-alcoholic beer containing vitamin D, for markets where there was zero beach culture and, frankly, shitty weather. It answered a demand and became a bestseller.

The second dates back to 2021, when DAVID convinced Budweiser to skip making a Super Bowl ad and donate the money to a vaccination education program instead. “That news got more than 30 billion impressions,” says Pancho, still amazed. “Honestly, 30 billion – so many that I checked with the media guys, because I thought it was total BS. They said, yes, it’s true. It got 16,000 TV clips. Was that an ad? No! We didn’t make an ad. But we did what the client asked for: something real and meaningful.”

We talk straight to the people who are going to take the risks.
The only way to overcome the crisis was to become even braver.

I note that when Pancho is not on a plane, he’s based in Madrid. A terrific city, but Spain’s advertising creativity seems to have (forgive me) waned in recent years. He ruefully agrees.

“It’s true that Spain used to be a big player. I think my former agency Lola MullenLowe is doing good work. Wunderman (now VML) is also doing interesting things for Heinz. But when you analyse it, the successful work is for brands from outside Spain. I think the economic crisis has deterred local clients from buying stronger, braver work.”

He compares the situation to the economically distressed Argentina in the early 2000s, when he was starting out. “It was a machine for putting out good ideas. Because clients had the opposite approach. They thought the only way to overcome the crisis was to become even braver, because they had nothing to lose. That’s when Juan Cabral and many other legendary creatives emerged.”

The question is how to persuade Spanish clients to take risks, he says. “The talent is here, the clients are here. There’s hope – but it’s one of our challenges. How can we convince more Spanish clients to support world class work? That’s a great goal for this year.”

Before our conversation ends, I suggest we meet again in Cannes. I read somewhere that he first attended the Lions with his father, who was an iconic creative in Chile, rising to president of Leo Burnett. From the age of 11, Pancho wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps. “During lockdown my dad started organising all the old photos and videos, and he found a video where he asks me what I want to do when I grow up. And it’s advertising.”

By the time they went to Cannes together in 2003, Pancho was a 22-year-old trainee copywriter. He won a Gold Lion in the Media category. “I was super lucky to have that experience with my father by my side. But I was also lucky to have his advice. He told me, ‘Remember, the Lions don’t pay your salary; the clients pay your salary.’ He kept me focused.”

Now Pancho’s son shows signs of wanting to enter the advertising trade too. Pancho jokes: “Who can blame him? You know, last week we were in London shooting with Luiz Diaz, the Colombian player from Liverpool, and I got my son the shirt signed by him. What can compete with that? Engineering? Impossible!” He laughs. “This job is way too much fun.”





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