No creative in the field of advertising is cushioned from the pressures of client work. Restrictions placed on an idea can be frustratingly limiting. Sometimes client feedback is wrong; sometimes it’s right.
Through this gruelling process, creatives learn to chop, change, switch and manage. And although uncomfortable, what creatives get out of it is something both useful and seemingly unrelated to creativity: grit.
“I don’t regret any of it,” says Villanueva. “You get this stomach that’s made of steel in advertising. And you learn everything you need to about story, film, how to handle the press, you name it – all stuff that I basically use in what I do now.”
What Villanueva does now is Bandit 9, a futuristic motorbike design and concept company that he began to conceptualise after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City in 2009.
“I started really loving motorcycles when I came here to Saigon,” says Villanueva. “I started with a smaller bike and smaller customisations and eventually got onto more complex and larger motorcycles.”
However, before that he was a continent-hopping creative. Villanueva had started his advertising career in Los Angeles at TBWA Chiat Day at the age of 19. He was promoted to art director and after three years moved to TBWA RAAD in Dubai. Two years later in Vietnam, he was associate creative director at Lowe. The turning point in his career came as creative director at BBDO Proximity China.
Describing advertising as a “fun industry” in the beginning, Villanueva says it eventually changed and became less about creativity—the part of his work that he enjoyed the most.
“The game completely changed when I hit management level. It wasn’t always about coming up with cool ideas anymore. I felt like it was more about putting out agency fires,” says Villanueva. “And then I would go home at – I don’t know what time – and start thinking of creative stuff. It was exhausting.”
The last straw came in the form of a “client that shall not be named” and a deepening vision of a motorbike brand that Villanueva wanted to create. Unable to find any motorbike design that satisfied his vision, Villanueva set out on building his own bike.
“In parallel to BBDO, I also had a motorbike gig called Bandit 9, which I’d started as soon as I’d arrived in Beijing,” says Villanueva. “I guess that was also my escape plan.”
The concept of Bandit 9 is to create bikes that “don’t yet exist”. After embarking on the venture, Villanueva moved back to Saigon, where he is now based.
Villanueva was featured in Campaign's recent video series on creativity in Vietnam:
“The nine in Bandit 9 comes from the year 2009 when I actually came here to Saigon,” says Villanueva. “And nine is the number of units we produce per design. So they’re limited edition, only to nine units.”
As for the word ‘Bandit’ Villanueva says that operating in a part of the world where parts are limited, his team are forced to “hammer steel and crank out all the little tiny details and pieces” on the motorcycle’s custom designs. “That’s why it’s called Bandit,” says Villanueva.
Done with the detail and care of a craftsman, each bike is handmade and carefully conceptualised. Having completed and manufactured over nine designs since 2011, Bandit 9 has built a strong and growing fan base around the world.
In addition, the brand has received press coverage from media like GQ, Esquire and Playboy among others, extending beyond specialist motorcycle media circles. For lack of a better word, Villanueva said that this has helped Bandit 9 go ‘viral’, not in the sense of a YouTube video but rather in getting Bandit 9 out to a wider audience.
“I don’t want to play in the same sandbox as other motorbike brands,” says Villanueva. “The thing is motorbikes can be in fashion and lifestyle.”
Increasingly, each bike design has a narrative. The chrome bike called The Eve, for example, is a motorcycle that Villanueva describes as “not being fit for this world”.
“What I wanted to go for was something completely futuristic,” says Villanueva. “The problem I have with today’s vehicles is that they’re not very inspiring. It’s 2015 and I think this is when Marty McFly from Back to the Future came and there were like flying cars and where is it?”
Villanueva’s goal for Bandit 9 is to “bring us up to speed with what we’re capable of imagining”. To do this, Villanueva makes sure he can be inspired. He has set up his company in a way that frees up as much time as possible.
“If Bandit 9 became as demanding as advertising, I think I would start to hate it,” says Villanueva. “And I don’t want that.”
Looking back on his advertising days, Villanueva is grateful for the skills and stamina he honed as a creative but feels he has found creative liberation in his own path beyond the world of advertising.
“Creatives are sensitive little creatures, believe it or not, and not everyone can take constant criticism but that is what advertising prepares you for,” Villanueva adds. “People are going to tell say you can’t do it but you can’t listen to that.”
Bandit 9's promotional video: