Staff Reporters
Apr 20, 2023

Creative Minds: From air force to advertising, the unconventional journey of Ogilvy's creative

Cristiano Tonnarelli reminisces how his dad wanted him to work in a big corporation, but he landed a job selling landline phones before making it big in advertising.

Creative Minds: From air force to advertising, the unconventional journey of Ogilvy's creative
In Creative Minds, we ask APAC creatives a long list of questions, from serious to silly, and ask them to pick 11 to answer. (Why 11? Just because.) Want to be featured?

Name: Cristiano Tonnarelli

Origin: Rome, Italy

Places where you've lived and worked: Rome, Florence, Foggia, Milan, Paris, Dublin, Dubai, Singapore

Pronouns: He

Group creative director, Ogilvy Singapore, 2022-present
Group creative director, Memac Ogilvy Dubai
ECD, Merkle and Dentsu Mena, Dubai
Regional creative director, Publicis Mea Dubai
Creative director, Freelancer, Publicis Milan and McCann Frankfurt
Executive creative director, Tonic International Dubai
Creative director, Leo Burnett Italy (Milan, Turin, Rome),
ACD JWT, Italy (Milan, Rome)

1. How did you end up being a creative?

I didn’t study advertising or anything similar. My dad was an architect, but he wanted for me a career in a big corporation, so I started to study Economics in my hometown, Rome. And I tried to avoid it: while studying, I entered in the Italian air force as an officer serving in the South of Italy, and at the same time I had a second life in Paris eating baguette with my friends at Colors Magazine by Benetton.

And it was all legal.

So, when I came back to Rome, I graduated in political science, and I started to wonder what to do next. I always had the passion for writing, without knowing I could write for advertising. The head of production of McCann Italy was living in my neighborhood, I knocked at his door looking for any job, he introduced me to McCann head of copy, he liked my poems. It was love at the first sight.

2. What's your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?

Today our campaigns age very quickly. So, the latest project is always the favourite one, even if it hasn’t won many awards like the previous ones. I’d like to share the projects are seeing the light in the next few months, but they are not ready yet. So, one of my latest was done in Dubai, still topical as many news about UFOs are still popping out time to time.

3. What's the one piece of work you most wish you'd done? 

It was done in Mexico, by a  New York agency I admire. But this project has a universal insight, valid for many not-western countries.

4. What were your key creative influences?

I was born and grown in Rome, nurtured on a steady diet of movies, football, books, design, arts, architecture, history, philosophy, food, taxi drivers, fashion, wine, beer, Coca-Cola, family dramas and imagination.

5. What kind of student were you?

Seating at the back, doing jokes, never listening.

6. Who’s on your dream dinner guest list (alive or dead)?

Massimo Bottura is the chef who will prepare the dinner. At the table we will have: Hitchcock, Billie Eilish, Maradona, Fellini, Kubrick, Princess Elsa, Marcus Aurelius, Wong Kar-wai, Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Yayoi Kusama, David Bowie, Bukowski, Virna Lisi, Louis XIV, Gandhi, Bong Joon-ho, Miley Cyrus, Churchill, Leonardo, Cesare Borgia, Picasso, Pablo Escobar, Darth Vader, Karol Wojtyla. On the stage, Frank Sinatra, with the Beatles and Blackpink.

7. Do you work best under pressure, or when things are calm?

Not today.

8. Tell us about the worst job you ever had.

I was selling landline phones, on the phone. I was good at that, it was a kind of advertising internship.

9. What advice would you give to 10-year-old you, if you could?

Do not be stressed by what dad is saying.

10. What’s your favorite music / film / TV show / book / other of the past year, and why?

Masterchef Italy.

You have competition, food, culture, politics, stories, some beautiful places, in just one show.

11. What food can you not live without? What food would you be happy to never taste again?


 Federico Fellini once said life is a combination of magic and pasta, I'd couldn't say it any better. I’d like to not ever taste sharks again, because they are endangered.

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