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Mark Tungate 2024-02-19

“Human creativity will always prevail." McCann Worldgroup was Network of the Year at the Epica Awards for an amazing sixth time. Javier Campopiano, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, shares his thoughts on the press, advertising and ideas.


Our conversation begins with a writer. Javier Campopiano is from Argentina, so I can’t resist mentioning that one of my all-time literary heroes is Jorge Luis Borges, master of the fantastic tale. “A visionary,” Javier agrees. “Have you read The Aleph? In that story, Borges more or less predicts the internet.”

This brief digression allows me to segue neatly into a question about Epica’s jury of journalists, all storytellers in their own right. “You know, our two industries have perhaps never been closer than they are right now,” Javier observes. “We’re both having to navigate what might be called the ‘post-truth’ era, juggling the need to inform people with the obligation to be authentic.”

He points out that advertising in the past had an advantage in that its borders were clearly established. “On television you had a commercial break, so there was no doubt that you were about to see some ads. In a newspaper, a print ad was a print ad. But now those borders have become very much blurred. So in both cases, you need people to uphold standards and ensure nobody is being misled.”

A jury of journalists, he suggests, provides that level of scrutiny. “It’s a different eye on our work, which for us is very valuable.”

He adds that both industries have been disrupted by technology, a process that’s ongoing thanks to AI. “AI is being greeted with a mixture of excitement and fear. There are issues of intellectual copyright, there are worries about how it’s going to impact our careers…Here at McCann, we are taking an optimistic approach. We’re working with AI, as are many of our clients. But it’s important that we see it as a tool. If you ask me about the future, I’m inclined to think that human creativity will always prevail.”

McCann Worldgroup’s creativity is certainly in no doubt, bearing in mind its stonking 26 awards at Epica, including three Grand Prix. “I’m taking zero credit for that, by the way,” emphasizes Javier, who arrived at McCann in September 2023. “I’m happy to talk about it, but I’m not the kind of CCO who takes credit for things I didn’t do.”

A very creditable stance – and yet as our chat progresses, it becomes clear that Javier symbolizes the human approach that allows McCann to do such award-winning work. This stems in part from his background.

“I come from a market, Argentina, where the best creative work always had amazing human insights at its core. As we were always short of budget or short of media, those insights were what allowed the work to travel and made the impact of the idea much bigger. That pretty much shaped my way of approaching creativity as a copywriter.”

A second element was an emphasis on “truth”, he says. “When a creative came to me with an idea for a piece of work, I’d always ask, ‘Is this true, or not?’ It’s as simple as that. We can’t put stuff out there that’s not true. That doesn’t mean it has to be real,” he underlines. “Of course the idea can be brought to life in a symbolic or surreal way – but it has to be true at its core. Even if it’s an opinion, it has to be a truthful opinion.”

During his move from Grey to McCann Worldgroup (the latest step in a career that has embraced Ogilvy, JWT, Saatchi & Saatchi and FCB, as well as multiple awards) it was one of the elements that appealed to him. “That’s the McCann motto: ‘Truth Well Told’. So it was a no-brainer for me. I had to come and work here, because I think it’s the best philosophy in our industry. The greatest ideas come from a human truth. I’m a hard core believer in that championing human truth is more important than ever right now.”

It's notable that some of the best work McCann put out last year, while no doubt springing from a human truth, doesn’t feel like “advertising” in the strict sense of the word. A break room for food delivery workers, a lost alphabet, a digital platform for refugees: these are not really ads.

“Actually I think all this is advertising,” disagrees Javier. “It’s just a direction that the advertising industry is taking. For example, it made sense for Chick-Fil-A to create ‘the brake room’ because of the role the brand plays in the lives of its delivery force and its customers. There is a message here.”

He observes that the work McCann does for Mastercard is also a creative expression of the brand’s mission of financial inclusion. “It’s a solution, if you will, but it’s also a creative articulation of the role that Mastercard plays in its customers’ lives. It comes from a creative place. I know people like to find different names for things these days – but for me it’s all advertising.”

He jokes that our culture is always trying to pronounce the end of things. “You know, ‘rock and roll is dead’. Of course rock and roll isn’t dead! To me, Miley Cyrus is rock and roll. And advertising isn’t dead either.”

Championing human truth is more important than ever right now

He agrees that “this thing I learned to do” can now be expressed in many different ways, because “the playground has gotten bigger and more interesting, and technology has given us more tools”, but the task remains fundamentally the same. “We have to keep finding narratives that enhance the mission, the vision and the role of brands in the world.”

The most challenging part, he suggests, is choosing which of the many available platforms works best for the brand. “When I studied in America I always said I didn’t like the expression ‘think out of the box’. Because I believe our job is to define the box, then do a lot of amazing things in there. It’s even more important today, because we can go anywhere with an idea, we can do anything! So first, choose your box. Then the real fun can start.”

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