Little Black Book is an online publication/platform that ‘celebrates creativity and the people behind it’. They’ve recently published ‘5 minutes with... Juan José Posada’, an inspiring conversation with Geometry Global’s Regional ECD for Latina where ‘Juanjo’ captures in great detail the change we're instilling in our company. He also shares some insights about the exceptional level of creativity in Colombia and in Latin America. Thanks, Laura Swinton and the team at LBB, for allowing the reproduction of this article.
Juan Jose Posada has a lot to be happy about. His agency, Geometry Global Bogotá, has only been up and running for 18 months now and it’s already got a One Show Gold Pencil and a D&AD White Pencil to display proudly in its reception. He’s part of a creative scene that’s flourishing on the world stage and the local population is rightfully proud of their ad industry, which has devoted much brain power to solving some of the problems that have plagued the country for decades. What’s more, as the regional ECD of WPP’s activation agency, he’s having lots of fun flexing his creative muscles without the constraints of formulaic TV campaigns weighing him down.
Next week he’ll be bringing his expertise to Cannes, where he’ll be sitting on the Design Jury but before he boarded his flight, LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with him. And now we’re absolutely psyched about Colombia. You should be too.
LBB> Geometry has been around for a year and a half in Latin America, you’ve had a bit of time to build up a client base, establish yourselves… what are your hopes and ambitions for the network in Latin America going forward?
JJP> We try not to associate ourselves too closely with what used to be called ‘ATL. Television, radio, maybe out of home… but the funny thing is that we have been able to provide our clients with something they’ve been craving. When they come to us they tell us, ‘it’s easier for you guys to do ATL communication for us because you already know all the other disciplines than for me to go to an ATL agency and ask them to also do digital and events’. I think we are trying to find our space and clients are always asking us to do more.
We as a new network are finding our space, which we’re enjoying. It’s not that we are confused about it, we are enjoying it, but we’re finding our philosophy, our space.
Of course we’re an activation agency, that’s our purpose, but in some countries we’re stronger in the digital world. In some countries we’re stronger at activating events, for example. Even though we’re a network we have some capabilities that, depending on the country, are more or less developed than other countries. It’s really interesting what we’re doing because advertising is changing so much. What we used to call 360 is what we’re doing right now, but we’re doing it the right way. I’m very excited about some of the projects we have coming up in the network.
LBB> So do you find the different offices in the network collaborate quite closely and share specialisations?
JJP> We do, we support each other one hundred per cent. For example if we have a call from a client that needs to develop something really strong in shopper marketing, what we do is we team up with the Rio office for example. They like to team up with us if they need to do something really experiential. I’ve worked in a few different networks, but this is like ‘Network 2.0’.
For example in Rio, that office is really strong in shopper marketing. They do the other disciplines but they’re particularly strong there. In Colombia, we are really strong with huge events. Last year we had the FIFA World Cup ‘Trophy Tour’ and it was a huge, huge event. Each office has a different strength developed. In Europe, for example, we are very strong in digital. Our main purpose is to create activation that changes behaviour in people.
LBB> It seems that Latin America has built up quite a reputation in the activation category over the past few years. We might be slightly biased towards the kind of news and work we get from the region, but it seems that there’s a particular appetite and talent for activation projects…
JJP> You could be right… For example in previous years, as a region, we have been struggling with political and economic problems and the big budgets have gone. So we have to be really creative and find other disciplines to touch our consumers that are not exactly TV spots. We need to find creative spaces that don’t demand big budgets.
Geometry Bogotá entered a piece of work to Cannes that we did for Claro, a communications company, and it’s just the phone bill, that’s it. We try to find opportunities in every job we do and direct is a really easy way to do creativity because clients can cut TV spots but they can’t cut their direct mailing.
LBB> How did you first get into the world of activation? You were head of art and then Creative Director at O&M before moving to OgilvyAction (which then was subsumed into Geometry). How did that move come about and what was it about activation that appealed to you? And did you have to undergo much of a change in mind set and approach when you moved into activation?
JJP> The thing is I became seduced by experiential marketing. When a project came to me and my team it felt like we already had a formula for things and that was boring. It was very, very sexy to find a new discipline because suddenly I had the chance to chat to consumers instead of just send out a message. That’s what seduced me to do activation.
LBB> Did you feel you had to change your mind set or creative approach when you moved over?
JJP> Absolutely. I still struggle every day to find new ways to communicate. It took me out of my comfort zone and I like that. I don’t want to do advertising with a ‘winning formula’, I want to be challenged every day with each project. I still learn from my colleagues and the people in my team. I think it’s a new discipline though and we’re all learning.
LBB> And more generally, how did you first become interested in advertising as a career?
JJP> I always knew I wanted to do what I do. Always. When I was eight I loved drawing and I knew I wanted to do something that had something to do with design, but I was just a little kid and I didn’t know what that job would be exactly. My mum worked at a printing house and I remembered going to her work. I loved the smell of freshly printed paper. One day she took me to the design department and I just loved it. I wasn’t even ten but I knew right away that I wanted to become a designer.
I became a graphic designer, and then I became an art director. Now as a creative director I have to work more with ideas, but this year I was invited to join the design jury at Cannes. In my country I’m respected for my art direction, but I rarely sit on the computer to design these days.
But to answer your question, I always knew that I wanted to do what I do.
LBB> It’s really interesting that you’re on the Design Jury. You’ve got the strong art direction background, but, equally, design is about things that fulfil a purpose. You have this experience in activation, which is all about behaviour and I wonder if that makes you think about design from a behavioural point of view?
JJP> Yes. That was something that I was thinking about. I wonder if the work I’m going to face as a juror is going to be focused on aesthetics. Sixty per cent of the work probably does, but even design has to have a concept behind it. Nowadays everything has to have a concept. It has to touch people’s feelings and move them to do something. That’s what I will try and look for.
Even a label… Let’s talk about Share a Coke. It was just a label. But it touched people. It made people want to give Coke to their friends. It changed people, but from a design point of view. That’s what we have to look for in everything. What is the concept? What does it make people do? That’s what I’m searching for.
LBB> I wanted to ask you about Colombia. It seems like a really interesting country, creatively – we’ve interviewed the likes of DDB’s Juan Carlos Ortiz and SSP3 Lowe’s Jose Miguel Sokoloff. There are some huge success stories in the local ad industry, the economy has grown to become the third biggest in the Latin American region, but equally the issues with FARC guerrillas and drug lords have hung over the country for decades. I was wondering what the feeling was currently in the local ad industry and society generally… are people feeling optimistic or are things still a bit uncertain?
JJP> It’s very strange, but taking a bird’s eye view of the situation I would probably say yes, it’s very optimistic. Agencies are growing consistently. I see that we, as a country, have respect at award shows. This year we won our first gold pencil at the One Show. When I went to the ceremony I was so surprised because I met people from all over the world, all over, and they all had good things to say about Colombia and Colombian advertising. That makes me really proud as a Colombian. In the past there were so many bad things that the press said about us and now advertising has become a way to generate good comments about our country.
Another good thing is that we, as creatives, are trying to solve Colombia’s problems through creative advertising ideas. We have ideas for the army, ideas to counter the Lionfish invasion [Geometry Global Bogota won a Gold and Bronze award at this year’s One Show for its work to reduce the threat to the local environment posed by the Lionfish], we have ideas that take poor kids off the street. We, as advertising people, are trying to solve our problems and we’re taking our country’s name to the world with a very good feeling. So yes, we are optimistic. We have lost that fear about competing with the best countries in the world for advertising matters.
We have won great awards in the past few years - and it’s not just one agency. There are five or six agencies that are doing consistent work, that are winning at advertising festivals. For us, at Geometry, we wanted to say ‘yes we are new, but we are here to support the industry and to take our ideas to the highest level’. In the last year we have been in the top tier among the biggest agencies in the country, which is incredible. Leo Burnett has been the top agency here for many years, Lowe has been on top, BBDO, Ogilvy… and we have been able to put our name among them. I think that inside Colombia we are respected by our colleagues, but the really good news is that outside our country the work from Colombia is also gaining respect.
LBB> Even within the Latin American region too it seems that the status quo is changing somewhat. Traditionally it’s always been about Argentina and Brazil but Argentina is suffering a bit economically and Brazil doesn’t seem to have benefited much at all from hosting the World Cup… And then there’s other countries like Colombia, Uruguay , Chile, Mexico that seem to be making much more of an impact at a global level…
JJP> I think your perception is right. In the past year at the Latin American festivals you can see that the Grands Prix are not, as they were in the past, ‘Brazil, Brazil, Brazil, Argentina, Argentina, Argentina’. Peru, Colombia, Mexico… yes. I think Brazil and Argentina are still on top but Argentina is facing one problem in particular. That problem is that they are geniuses at TV spots but TV, to me, is having a crisis. I don’t see that many spots being produced and if they don’t move to other disciplines – tying in to the beginning of our conversation – and if they don’t explore other media channels, activation, shopper marketing, they are going to have a really bad time.
Peruvians, Colombians, Mexicans, we haven’t ever had big budgets for TV spots so we became good at the other disciplines: direct mailing, promos, all of these things. I guess that’s the reason why we are shining right now.
It also has to do with the economy. Argentina is not facing a good time right now with its economy and neither is Brazil. Peru, Chile, Mexico and Colombia are having a better time, economically. When a country’s growing, somehow, its communications and advertising also rise.
LBB> Outside of advertising, what inspires you? And who are your creative heroes and why?
JJP> The funny thing is that I try to not watch advertising. I try to be inspired by other kinds of content. I try to see a lot of modern art, which I love. I try to watch movies. I love to see what photographers and illustrators do. I love experimental projects. I try not to watch advertising because I don’t want to be contaminated. Because I’m trying to find new spaces, maybe advertising isn’t the best place to look.
LBB> What’s the art scene like in Bogotá?
JJP> Yes! It’s funny because we are a country with so many problems but we are a happy country. We are a country that’s so much fun to visit. Right now we have such an interesting food scene, there are some very nice restaurants opening. When I look back at my country ten or fifteen years ago, I now see a different country with lots of things going on. The music scene, the cuisine, the restaurants, the hotels, the tourism… we were the best kept secret! And now that foreign people are visiting us, they are discovering what we have to offer and they’re surprised. We still have problems with the guerrillas and drug lords but we are a very happy country and people are so optimistic.