Gurjit Degun
Oct 16, 2023

Javier Campopiano: 'This is a strong industry but sometimes we have to believe more'

McCann Worldgroup’s global CCO believes adland can rediscover its mojo by embracing new things – including AI.

Javier Campopiano: 'This is a strong industry but sometimes we have to believe more'
“Advertising is going through an identity crisis.” Those were among the first words that Javier Campopiano used to address his new colleagues on his first day as the global chief creative officer of McCann Worldgroup and McCann.
“Advertising is always under attack,” the former Grey global chief creative officer explains to Campaign, sitting on a grey sofa in the network’s smart London office on Bishopsgate.
“Every [few] years there’s something that’s going to kill advertising. It’s almost like rock and roll. There was a time in the 1990s or 2000s where every two years someone would say, ‘rock and roll is dead’. Advertising suffers the same syndrome – right now, it’s artificial intelligence.
“It’s an industry that went through a confidence crisis in the last 10 years because it became more competitive, talent became more scarce going to other places. That lack of confidence makes it look like it’s more fragile than it is. This is a strong industry but sometimes we have to believe more.”
Much like many other creatives in this industry, Campopiano is optimistic that adland can get its mojo back by embracing all things new and making them a part of the creative process.
He refers to a point McCann Worldgroup’s chief executive Daryl Lee made in a recent interview with Campaign Asia about agencies giving away too many ideas for free in a bid to keep clients engaged. Campopiano says that this just “tells you that sometimes we don’t know how much value we bring to the equation”.
As adland navigates its latest hurdle – AI – Campopiano says that he welcomes any tool that helps him “iterate”. He explains that the way that he’s been experimenting with the technology is to see “how many possible versions of something you can come up with”.
Therefore he does not see a danger in AI. He believes that it’s not a tool that will create “legendary ideas” in isolation; instead adland will incorporate AI as a new technology and use it to its advantage.
Of course, Campopiano believes that McCann is the business to help the ad industry shake off its identity crisis. At McCann, he oversees the creative output across 100 countries. “The gravitas of this brand is exactly what this industry needs right now, for this brand to be even bigger, faster and agile,” he says.
When it comes to creativity at McCann, Campopiano says he would like to help the agencies create work that comes from “every possible flavour of creativity” – that is traditional and non-traditional work: “I’ve done a lot of film in my career but my most well-known work is non-traditional work coming from many different places and I hope that we can show up with amazing transformative award-winning work.”
Lee adds that the future for McCann Worldgroup lies in “what we do well, which is enduring brand platforms”. He highlights the company’s 50-year relationship with L’Oréal, 25-year partnership with Mastercard and 10 years with Chevrolet. “Building these enduring brand platforms and then just being as flamboyantly creative as we can be to bring that platform to life and to not let ourselves be stuck in any preconceptions of what creativity is,” he says.
For Lee, hiring Campopiano came down to working with someone who shared the values that he thinks makes McCann Worldgroup different, which is the idea that creativity belongs to everyone.
He explains: “[That] is not to say that creativity isn’t a craft, it is a craft and it gets perfected but everyone has opportunity and access to that craft. It isn’t on a tower, it’s not an elite sport, it’s a democratic sport like football.”
Lee adds that he was also impressed by Campopiano’s “remarkable control over his ego” and that the creative leader had not once mentioned his Super Bowl work. “It’s a Tide ad” was made while Campopiano was at Saatchi & Saatchi in the US and won a Cannes Lions Grand Prix and a black Pencil at the D&AD Awards.
Instead, Lee says Campopiano was more interested in referencing his work at Grey with Coca-Cola and Pringles. After joining Grey as Europe chief creative officer in 2019, following senior creative roles at FCB and Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi in North and South America, Campopiano rose to the global Grey job in 2021.
Kate Stanners, Saatchi & Saatchi’s global CCO and chairwoman, worked with Campopiano while he was at Publicis Groupe. She says that she first met him when he was about to become CCO of the agency’s New York office. 
“I immediately knew he would be the passionate, intuitive talent that we needed to reboot the New York office,” she says. “He and Andrea Dequiez, the CEO, proved to be a formidable partnership.”
She explains that the copywriter is a “natural storyteller” and “has an innate ability to get to the heart of the problem, to distil the message and then build it out”. Stanners uses the Tide ad and his work on Walmart’s “The receipt” as examples of projects that “set the creative agenda” for two of the agency's biggest clients. 
She also echoes Lee’s comments around Campopiano’s ego: “Javier is relentless, but understands how to take people with him. While his reputation walks in the room way before him, his ego never does.”
Winning awards 
When it comes to awards, Campopiano believes they are an important marker for the industry. Some critics say there are people and agencies that shut down for a few months only to make work aimed at awards entries. Their argument is that the work should be great regardless of whether it is going to be entered for an awards show. 
Campopiano says: “I always try to simplify the discussion around awards by saying that if we worked in the film industry, we would like to win an Oscar. It’s as simple as that. 
“We are in the advertising industry. We like to win Lions and Clios and all those things. For me personally, I have had the satisfaction of winning awards with work that had already been recognised by the real world, the business, the clients and that’s the type of award-winning work that I enjoy the most. 
“I’m not diminishing any type of award-winning work, I’m just saying that that’s the type of work that I think should have a sense of achievement that is pretty unique when you win that and the world knows and on top of that is winning awards.”
Home life
Campopiano’s journey to becoming a global chief creative officer has not been straightforward. After moving his family from Argentina to the US, his wife Julieta was eager that they move to a Spanish-speaking country so that she could have a chance to focus on her career as a psychotherapist (she was unable to get her licence validated in the US). 
A move to Madrid came soon after the famous aforementioned Tide ad was released, but it was bittersweet because Campopiano says he parked his dreams of ever becoming a global chief creative officer because such roles are only given to those based in New York or London.
It was only when the Covid pandemic changed the way the world worked that he realised that he could in fact fulfil his dreams. Campopiano was promoted from Grey Group’s European CCO to global creative partner in 2021 and then became the network’s worldwide CCO later that year. 
“I found a really simple way to do [the job] which is be there when it matters to create culture, impact and to show people that you care enough about what you're doing to fly 10 or 12 to be there and then have the relationships with the talent and recruit the right talent to make remote working really efficient and great,” he says. “You have to be there when it matters and you have to be efficient enough to work remotely.”
He laughs that he flies a lot but says this is also the best way that things work for his home life (“me and my wife have been together a long time and the only way it works is when I’m not there all the time”). 
Another thing that changed during the pandemic for the South American was his diet. He became vegan. It’s a big move for someone from a place where the beef is considered to be some of the best the world has to offer.
“I come from a country where chicken is considered salad,” he jokes. “When you get to 35 you have already consumed the amount of red meat a normal person will eat in their entire lifetime.”
He says that he had been thinking of going vegan for many years and the pandemic represented the perfect opportunity because he was cooking a lot and he had more control over what he was eating. He says he’ll make an exception now and then when he travels – for example, if he’s in an area with particularly fresh fish. 
He adds: “But the rest of the time I am plant based, though I still cook animal protein for my family, as none of them have followed me in this decision. As you can see, my leadership skills at home are zero.”
Mental health
Campopiano is also a champion of mental wellbeing. It’s another thing he noted in his opening address to McCann colleagues. He explains that he’s been seeing a Freudian psychotherapist since he was 19 and talks openly about it. He encourages other people to be open about their mental health too. 
“We moved from the past when work was the only thing that mattered, the recent years have shown us that that is not relevant… no-one wants to work in a place where the mental health of employees is not a priority,” Campopiano says.
“What I’m trying to say is I haven’t experienced that for a long time now and for me it’s a no go, I [haven't worked in] that way for a long time now. I used to work that way when I was a copywriter and I can connect with the feeling that you don’t leave the agency until there is something and you come up with something.”
He explains that agencies have moved on from this way of working but there is still a lot of work to do in this area. He says there all businesses have systems in place to help staff with mental wellbeing but for Campopiano, it doesn’t mean anything unless people truly believe in it. 
He adds: “As a leader it’s kind of difficult to embrace it. I believe it myself. I’ve been in bad places and I know the difference between being in a place and having the chance and possibility to evolve through therapy.”
The future 
Looking ahead to the future of creativity in advertising, Campopiano says he’s never been a great futurologist because he’s from Argentina and laughs that “we see everything through dark lenses”. 
He explains: “It’s funny but for someone from Argentina it’s really hard to think further than six months ahead because we live crisis from crisis and our economy and our society is exploding every two or five years.”
Despite this, he says that the industry should be a champion for human truth. “What are the things that connect us and where are the things that connect us with people, with brands, with emotions. If I have to dream I hope that advertising can be a champion for that.”
He uses the Barbie film as an example, which he says is akin to a great Super Bowl ad. He says it mixes together human truth with entertainment, craft and emotion, all the while helping the Barbie brand.
Citing America Ferrera’s character’s monologue about the realities of being a woman in today’s world, Campopiano says that it reminded him of the many manifestos he’s read while working in adland. “We have influenced so much in other industries that we don’t even understand. When you see this movie you see the influence of the rhythm, the pacing and the craft of advertising,” he says.
“We have contributed to other industries this notion of celebrity. This notion of cultural relevance; talking about topics that are important at the moment. You didn’t see that in the entertainment category of cinema so often in the past.
“Obviously big movies, art movies, big directors, would tap into those hot or controversial topics. But you didn’t see entertainment movies tapping into that. Advertising started doing that before movies, look at ‘Fearless girl’ [by McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors].
“That’s what we can do too as an industry. We certainly have influenced the movie industry more than we think. So for the future I hope we can do more of that, it makes sense.”
Tide Super Bowl “Bradshaw stain”

Tide Super Bowl “It’s a Tide ad”

I have spoken about this one ad nauseum, so there is certainly not much new I can add… Thinking about it now, what made it so special was the combination of a pretty Latin way of thinking, always trying to bend the rules or crossing with the amber light as we say, mixed with the strict non-written rules of American advertising comedy. It confirmed to me that I could apply the type of advertising sensibility that I grew up with; that Argentinian wink, with this language I had always admired, and create something kind of new. It is the closest to my ideal of advertising.

Walmart “The receipt”

When Walmart came to us with the news that they had closed a deal with the Academy Awards, I had a little bit of a brain freeze. I wasn’t sure what the connection was; I knew that there were huge ambitions at play, but for me things need to be true; meaning that there has to be some sort of connective tissue, even for a sponsorship deal. I came up this notion that receipts are stories too, and your grocery shops tell a narrative of who you are and could even be a script for a short movie. We built on the idea the next year, this time calling it “The box”, and Dee Rees’ short film was voted by the audience as one of the top five moments of the entire ceremony.

Coca-Cola “Christmas always finds its way”

It’s such a beautiful idea, coming from the notion that Christmas is an unbeatable force that brings people together, despite the state of the world. It was the first time a Christmas Coke campaign was exclusively created for (and mainly ran on) a streaming platform. Just achieving that would have been enough for me. But the process itself was such a challenging, ever-teaching and always changing arc, that when we got to run it, it felt like a huge triumph. We as an industry have so much knowledge and talent to bring to the entertainment business and we should take a stronger lead and help brands to do more of this kind of work. The next Barbie movie could and should come from an agency.

National Down Syndrome Society “C21 pop-up restaurant”

I live for ideas that are a product demo with heart. And boy, this one has enough heart to lift a truck. When the NDSS came to us to change a law that stopped people with Down syndrome from working a full-time job, because they would risk losing their government healthcare benefits, we just wanted to show what they were capable of. The night of the event, the ECD of the project, Mike Pierantozzi, called me in tears to tell me that it was going amazing, and that they were crushing it. It made me believe that when you have a great idea that is trying to do something beautiful for some the most incredible people in the world, somehow fortune will take your side. The best part was that the project was instrumental in actually changing the law

Campaign UK

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