Marcello Serpa: 'Don't lie'
Posted on  | By Nils Adriaans

Marcello Serpa’s AlmapBBDO was chosen Agency of the Year in Cannes four times this century alone and Serpa himself was awarded the Cannes Lions’ lifetime achievement award, Lion of St. Mark in 2016. It is not too much to say that he re-invented Brazilian’s advertising and put it on the map globally.

Marcello Serpa: ’If I were to advise any person in advertising who wants to become a good, or even better, great - I would tell him or her it is best to truly love the job, to truly love creating and to truly love solving a client’s problem. You have to sit down with the client and not be afraid to ask where the pain is. In a way you’re a doctor. Together you have to figure out what the real problem is, and find a common ground on which you can search for the solution.


‘But beware: don’t get caught in a certain style or become a one-trick-pony. Every problem needs a different solution, and in the end there’s only one right solution. Sometimes that’s a visually stunning ad, another time it’s through true humor.

I remember a long time ago I saw a spread in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, a newspaper that only said: schreIBMaschinen, which meant typewriter. It was an ad for IBM. I was blown away… Then and there I knew I wanted to become an ad man. The idea, execution and choice of medium in combination with the product was perfect. I still get goose bumps when I think of it; it proves to me there is only one right solution and it also proves, true creativity is timeless.

“Pretending is a huge mistake in the creative industries. Everyone knows this, I’m not saying anything new, but let it sink in: that kind of advertising spreads the message that not telling the truth is okay.”

Speaking the truth

‘Advertising has always been around. To recommend your merchandise on the marketplace is very human; and some are able to do it in a more charming or creative way than others. Advertising in its essence is a very social activity and... actually a fun game. But in this day and age we are facing a big ethical problem in my opinion and that’s branded content. It’s presented as something meaningful and real while it’s not. When it comes to branded content, brand and ad people are not speaking the truth. They wrap their commercial products in messages of hope. And I have to admit: sometimes it looks stunning. But pretending is a huge mistake in the creative industries. Everyone knows this, I’m not saying anything new, but let it sink in: that kind of advertising spreads the message that not telling the truth is okay. Let me give you an example. There was a campaign in Brazil from Johnny Walker, with the tag line “Joy will take you further.” Favelas were re-painted in bright colors for it. It was a so-called art project to rejuvenate the slums. But think about it… what are the chances for people in the favelas to go 'further'? And who can afford to buy Johnny Walker whiskey there? Advertising is such a powerful, positive thing and it is wonderful to be able to apply your creativity and imagination in the real world; we shouldn’t teach young people that we’re in this business to lie to customers - because we’re not. Our first job is to sell more products. It’s as simple as that. Tell them that and tell them that if they’re really good at some point in their career, they can carefully start thinking about creating a better world too.


‘I knew before winning the Lion of St. Mark that I was going to take a break from advertising. I wanted to spend more time with my young children. Yes, there’s actually more to life than advertising (laughs). But I’ll be back, I’m sure. I always do logo’s and identities in the meantime anyway. It’s who I am. Don’t deny yourself, that's something this line of work taught me, not in your career, not in life. And be sure to apply your advertising skills in your personal life. I live in Oahu, Hawaii, now – where I mostly paint and surf. I already used to surf every weekend, it’s like meditating for me. Being in the ocean, in nature, clears my head and cleanses my heart. Which feeds my creativity. So I guess I’m living creativity now most of the time. Is a source of happiness. Try it.'