Profile: Marcello Serpa

Being recognized for lifetime achievement at the age of 45 seems a little premature, even to Marcello Serpa, creative director of one of Brazil’s most honored creative agencies, Almap-BBDO in Sao Paulo. This week, the art director will be presented the 2008 Clio Awards Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I was speechless. I never expected to win something that big so early in my life,” says Serpa, describing his reaction to hearing the news from Clio managing director Tony Gulisano. “I was [also] a little bit scared that someone was telling me, ‘You are old.'”

The salt-and-pepper-haired art director laughs off any concerns about aging and his future prospects with a sports analogy. “In Brazil, when we play soccer, 45 minutes is the first half, so you have another 45 to go. I felt like I won the cup in the first half of the game,” he says. “Anyway, it’s better to get the cup before the game is over so you can play more relaxed in the second half.”

Since Serpa is a believer that the best work comes out of a relaxed environment, the Brazilian native should have no trouble maintaining the momentum of a career that saw the student of graphic design thrust into the international limelight in 1993, when he won Latin America’s first Grand Prix in Cannes, in print and outdoor, for a campaign he created for Antarctica soft drink while at DM9DDB, a Sao Paulo agency he joined in 1991 after studying and working in Germany.

“After seven years, a magical number, I had to go home. I knew that if I stayed in Germany, I would be there for a long time,” says Serpa, who was born in Sao Paulo, raised in Rio de Janeiro, and, with the assistance of his German stepfather, moved to Munich at the age of 18 to study graphic design.

“I was keen on design and drawing from very young,” says Serpa, who was inspired by watching his grandfather draw and paint. He imagined he too would become an artist, and later thought he might become an architect or industrial designer. But advertising offered a more suitable pace. “Design takes long to develop,” he says. “I liked the fast way of advertising.”

While studying at the Munich Fachhochschule fur Grafik-Design, Serpa began working at local agency R.G. Wiesmeier and, after graduation, joined GGK in Dusseldorf. When it came time to return to Brazil, Serpa found his German influence was an asset.

“It helped me a lot being Brazilian and German. It added some color and organic thinking to a very disciplined way of working,” he says. “I came from a very rational way of living and thinking, which was German. Everything has to have a reason to exist, you have to prove everything. I came to a place in Brazil where everything has to be funny, warm, inviting, and the human part, the emotional part, is much more relevant than the rational one. I mixed both.”

Serpa spent the next four years working at DPZ in Rio and Sao Paulo and joined DM9DDB in 1991. There he met his current agency partner, Jose Luiz Madeira, a senior account manager and strategic planner. In 1993, the pair left the agency to helm AlmapBBDO as partners.

The two went on to build one of Brazil’s most revered creative shops, winning among its many accolades, Agency of the Year in Cannes in 2000 and 45 Clio statues for clients such as Volkswagen, Pepsi, Audi and what has become a showcase creative account around the world, Havaianas, a Brazilian sandal brand that Serpa has worked on for 14 years. “It started very easy going, and the client is still keen on keeping it easy going, but on a global scale, which is very Brazilian,” he says. “It’s very relaxed, very colorful work.”

Much like other advertising markets, Brazil is suffering from too much rationality these days, Serpa says, and he is hoping to lighten the mood.

“I don’t think we’re that funny anymore,” he says. “The clients are very scientific about advertising, and when you are very scientific about advertising, you lose irreverence, the freshness, and so on. So I’m trying to convince the big advertisers that we have to get back to some irreverence and Brazilian fun, and sometimes that fun is a bit provoking and scares advertisers. We need to find a new language.”

BIOGRAPHY

Education: Studied graphic design at the Munich Fachhochschule fur Grafik-Design in Germany.

Background: Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1963. Spent seven years in Germany before returning home to work for DPZ in Rio and Sao Paulo and DM9DDB. In 1993, Serpa joined AlmapBBDO as creative director and co-CEO alongside Jose Luiz Madeira. He is widely credited for raising the international profile of Brazilian advertising.

Awards: The most awarded art director in Brazil, Serpa won Latin America’s first Grand Prix in Cannes in 1993 for his work on Antarctica. During the 15 years he has been a partner and creative director at AlmapBBDO, it has won 76 Lions and 45 Clios, was the Gunn Report’s most awarded agency in the world for two years in a row and was named Agency of the Year at Cannes in 2000.