13 Global Agency Leaders Whose Ideas Go Beyond Borders and Transcend Boundaries

Meet the international voices on this year's Creative 100

Joaquin Cubria and Ignacio Ferioli are co-CCOs of David Buenos Aires.
David Buenos Aires

Often admired (and occasionally envied) in their own countries, these creative leaders have also grown beyond their borders, helping influence work and young talent around the world. Some are regional powerhouses helping to advance creative communities across multiple nations, while others seem unfettered by any geographic limitation and are changing the rules on the worldwide stage.

Janne Brenda Lysø and Stian Johansen
Co-founders and Creative Directors, POL (Norway)

For many years, Norway has been a country whose international advertising reputation rested largely on one agency: TRY. But five years ago, a new player emerged onto the scene, practically erupting like Athena from the skull of her father.

POL was founded by six TRY employees, including creative directors Janne Brenda Lysø and Stian Johansen, and the young agency quickly carved out a reputation as a global creative leader with work like Audi’s “Enter Sandbox,” a VR experience that turned a children’s sandbox into an off-road driving experience. POL and production partner MediaMonks took home five Cannes Lions, including a gold, for that project in 2017.

The agency later partnered with DVA Studio recently to create an AR app that extends an Audi commercial into your living room.

The agency also recreated a real, ravaged home from a Syria war zone and placed it right in the middle of an Ikea, where most model apartments are picture-perfect and cozy. The campaign raised 23 million euro for the Red Cross.

Most recently, they’ve been proud of their campaign for Norwegian Railway, for which they wrapped trains with large displays celebrating specific train riders as heroes for helping boost the environment and economy by taking the train.

The creative duo, who’ve been partners for nearly 20 years at Oslo agencies including BBDO, Leo Burnett and McCann, say Norway’s small population—about 5 million—poses challenges (namely an increasingly competitive creative marketplace) along with unique benefits.

“We get closer to the marketing directors, closer to the CEOs,” the two say in an email to Adweek, “and in that way we also get closer to the decision-makers, making our work more hands-on.”

Laura Visco
Creative Director, 72andSunny Amsterdam

Imagine if someone told you 10 years ago that one of the leading voices in the fight against toxic masculinity would be Axe. But that’s exactly what’s happened, despite the line of men’s body sprays and grooming products being synonymous for years with scantily clad women fawning over guys in pheromone-induced ecstasy.

Today Axe is sparking global conversations around the meaning of manliness, thanks to its “Find Your Magic” campaign and #IsItOKForGuys hashtag. The woman behind both is Laura Visco, a Buenos Aires-born copywriter who, since 2014, has been creative director at 72andSunny Amsterdam.

“I believe advertising can be a powerful tool for change, and can have a positive impact in society,” Visco says. “That’s why Axe’s ‘Is It OK for Guys?’ was so important for me on a professional and personal level. The campaign shines a light on the fact that guys are born into a ‘man box’ with lots of gender restrictions, and nowadays masculinity is more toxic than ever.”

In addition to generating conversation online, the campaign had another unexpected result for Visco: “When we launched this campaign, for the first time in my 19 years of experience, people looked at the credits and contacted some of us individually to thank us for starting this conversation,” she says. “It was incredibly rewarding to see men talking about this subject for the first time.”

Kalpesh Patankar
Executive Creative Director, Y&R MENA (UAE)

Every part of the world has its own tapestry of cultures, ethnicities and political perspectives, but in terms of complexity, few can rival the Middle East and North African area known in the corporate world as MENA.

But Kalpesh Patankar, ecd of Y&R MENA, has been one of the marketing industry’s unifying forces in the region, bringing together disparate groups while also pushing the area’s clients forward. His approach is best captured by “The One Book for Peace,” which highlighted the many similarities between the Bible and the Quran and was mailed to world leaders. Created for Interreligious Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it became a global sensation.

“We always have to be aware of cultural sensitivities here, as we create work that defies boundaries and borders—ideas whose creative spirit have not been restricted, but instead raise the bar,” Patankar says. “The MENA market has grown, and now people see it as a hub for creativity. We are proud to keep this momentum going.”

Patankar’s career has taken him across much of the world, with stints at agencies in India, Malaysia and Singapore. He’s now based in Dubai, where he recently led the process of creating the city’s own font. It was Microsoft’s first city-specific typeface and will have a global impact for the destination. “We told the story of the city through type,” he says, “and embedded that brand in over 100 million devices across the world.”

Helen Pak
President of Grey Toronto and CCO of Grey Group Canada

It made for an eerie, otherworldly sight during Toronto’s rush hour: an empty streetcar, swathed in black, running its route like a ghost ship amid a sea of commuters.

The riderless car was a commemoration of the more than 200 workers in Ontario who die on the job each year, and its Friday evening route marked the arrival that Saturday of the National Day of Mourning dedicated to remembering such deaths.

“It was incredibly rewarding to see how powerful the work was, how moved people were and how it made them think differently about their own safety at work,” says Helen Pak, president of Grey Toronto, which created the project for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario.

Pak joined Grey in 2017 after many years in other Canadian agency executive roles, including CEO and CCO of Havas Canada, Toronto-based evp and ecd of Saatchi & Saatchi, and creative director at Ogilvy. An award-winning architect before pivoting to a career in creative direction, Pak also served as a creative strategist for Facebook and Instagram from 2013 through 2014.

Canada can be a challenging market for creative agencies due to the combination of tech fluency, high consumer standards and far smaller marketing budgets than a similar brand might allocate in the U.S. But Pak says this combination can result in a focus on great ideas that don’t depend on massive media spends for success.

“We are continually faced with adapting global assets and confronted with shrinking local budgets,” Pak says, “and as such, we find ourselves having to be more inventive and more innovative in how we make our ideas more relevant and breakthrough. Although the industry is changing, I find this to be a very exciting time where the best ideas rise to the top.”

Bolaji Alausa
Executive Creative Director, Noah’s Ark (Nigeria)

On the “Our People” section of the Noah’s Ark website, the Nigerian agency’s staff was recently reimagined as characters from Marvel’s mythical futurist nation of Wakanda, and it’s no surprise who got picked to be Black Panther: Bolaji Alausa.

The executive creative director is, like the character of T’Challa, highly respected in his home nation despite having (for now) a relatively low international profile. In both 2015 and 2017, he received a Grand Prix from the Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival, and his team’s “Life Without Data” spot for Airtel won gold at the 2017 Epica Awards judged by international ad journalists.

A key to Noah’s Ark’s success has been its ability to create top-notch advertising that remains true to Nigeria’s modern culture rather than trying to emulate big-budget global ads.

A perfect example is “Prayer Warrior,” another spot for wireless provider Airtel, this time celebrating the way Nigerian mothers pray—sometimes at length—for the health and success of their children. The spot recently won the Grand Cristal at the African Cristal Festival in Morocco, where Noah’s Ark was named Agency of the Year.

“Naturally, people with more airtime talk longer, like our mothers when they get a hold of abundant credit and want to show their gratitude. That insight was then tied to the fact that African mothers love to pray for their wards,” he says. “What was most exciting for us was the reception of the campaign. Nigerians were for once happy that a local truth was being used to reach out to them.”

Alausa says the spot is emblematic of a change being seen across the Nigerian creative community.

“Nigeria’s creative industry has grown in terms of telling better locally relevant stories, case in point is the aforementioned Airtel ‘Prayer Warrior’ spot,” he says. “We are increasingly translating locally relevant, cultural insights into communications. Local stories are being told better these days, as we struggle to refine the craft.”

Joaquin Cubria and Ignacio Ferioli
VPs and CCOs, David Buenos Aires

“Oh our beautiful Argentina! So stressful and so talented.”

That’s how Joaquin Cubria concisely describes a nation increasingly becoming known as a global hot spot for creative advertising, while also dealing with ongoing challenges like currency fluctuation.

Cubria and Ignacio Ferioli, as co-CCOs for agency David’s acclaimed Buenos Aires office, have certainly done their part to boost Argentina’s international reputation in the ad industry. The two helmed high-profile projects for clients like Burger King, Novartis and Coca-Cola.

Clever, counterintuitive and disruptive, their work often raises eyebrows by going in completely unexpected directions. For example, during “Day Without a Whopper,” local Burger King locations refused to sell their signature burger and actually directed customers to McDonald’s, where all Big Mac sale proceeds that day were going to support a childhood cancer charity.

“We are lucky to have a client brave enough to send guests away from their restaurants to their competitors, even if it’s for a noble cause. But people reacted wonderfully,” Cubria says. “Some got angry, others were happy to help, and we were happy to be there and capture it all.”

As the creators of the “Man Boobs for Boobs” campaign that perfectly mocked social media companies’ puritanical fear of showing women’s breasts, both say they are glad to see the world marketing scene shifting toward a tone of inclusivity and gender balance.

“The world is trying to become a more equal place, in gender, diversity, inclusion,” Cubria says. “Only good things can come out of that, and it was about time.”

“I believe that communication evolved in that sense,” adds Ferioli, “because the consumer’s head evolved. A brand today cannot not be aware of what happens in society. It is no longer just selling—it is selling, empathizing and doing.”

Yang Yeo and Kentaro Kimura
APAC Creative Kaijus, Hakuhodo Japan

Close your eyes and picture Japanese art, and you might imagine images that are serene, classical and clear in focus. Now picture Japanese advertising, and the result will likely be quite different—frenetic, kaleidoscopic and often on the verge of overloading your senses.

Rather than seeing these as contradictory and conflicted aspects of Japanese creative cultures, Yang Yeo and Kentaro Kimura, two of the nation’s most innovative advertising leaders, see this split through the very traditional visual of yin and and yang.

“Japanese creative culture has two polar opposite forces,” the two say in an email to Adweek. “One is creativity to simplify and purify things, resulting in beautiful art direction and amazing craft. We call it the ‘Zen’ side of Japanese creativity. The other is the chaotic and energetic force to diversify and diffuse things, which reflects cutting-edge digital works and colorful pop culture. We call it the ‘Anime’ side of Japanese creativity. When these two creative forces come together—when Zen meets Anime—entirely new creativity can be born.”

The two have similarly distinct but complementary backgrounds. Kimura is a 27-year veteran of agency network Hakuhodo, having risen through the ranks to the point where he could start his own innovative shop, Kettle, within the company. Yeo’s career path was more international, with stints at BBH London, JWT China and Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai, along with opening Fallon offices in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Combining forces at Hokuhodo, the two now call themselves creative kaiju—a word often used to describe cinematic monsters like Godzilla—for the company’s Asia Pacific (or APAC) portfolio. They describe their mission as trying to “transform a 120-year-old Japanese institution into a global creative company that happens to be based out of Tokyo.”

They are contractually prohibited from discussing any of their work, but they two say they’ve made headway in creating an Asia Pacific Council within Hokuhodo, which allows them to “stimulate our talents internally and make positive impact to our clients’ business, which are extremely rewarding.”

Francisco “Pancho” Cassis
Executive Creative Director, LOLA MullenLowe Madrid

“Scary Clown Night” might sound like the kind of event most of us would want to avoid, but for Burger King, it was an international PR coup. The stunt, created by LOLA MullenLowe Madrid, promised free Whoppers to anyone dressed as a clown for Halloween—a not-too-subtle dig at rival mascot Ronald McDonald that came on the heels of the cinematic horror hit It.

The executive creative director behind the campaign, Francisco “Pancho” Cassis, says the campaign was a triumph of flexibility and faith from the client.

“Scary Clown Night for Burger King is the most rewarding project I’ve done in the last few years and probably the most thrilling so far in my career,” Cassis says. “It’s a campaign that didn’t exist on Oct. 3, but ended up going live on the 22nd across 35 markets. This happened without any calls, or any meetings, or any PowerPoint presentations—just a 24/7 chat conversation between (Burger King Global CMO) Fernando Machado and myself. We managed to make it happen in record time, to make it global and to produce every asset in its best possible form.”

Cassis even kept a souvenir from the effort: “Incidentally, I have the WhatsApp conversation with Fernando framed on the wall in our creative department, just as a reminder to the team that nothing is impossible.”

Born in Chile, Cassis has lived in Spain for 15 years and has won more than 280 major industry awards, including 26 Cannes Lions. His team’s work has run the gamut from the hilarious to the truly touching, like 2017’s “The Ceremony” about a lesbian wedding, part of the brand’s #PleasureIsDiverse campaign. And Cassis has continued to push Burger King’s experimental approach to technology by using Instagram polls to create (and get coupons for) your ideal Whopper.

Cassis, like all Spanish creatives, has been troubled by the nation’s economic crisis and “brain drain” of talent over the past decade, but he also sees a bright side in the arrival of creatives from other countries, which “have helped Spain to be more diverse, to create bigger ideas and collectively think more internationally.

Dörte Spengler-Ahrens
Chief Creative Officer, Jung von Matt/Saga (Germany)

When it comes to brilliant creative with a razor-sharp edge, few agencies on the global scene have a reputation that can rival Jung von Matt.

For women’s rights group Terre de Femmes, Jung von Matt had transgender job applicants seek the same roles, as both a man and a woman, with the sadly predictable result being that they received substantially better job offers when applying as men.

Behind that work and many other projects is CCO and international creative superstar Dörte Spengler-Ahrens, who has been a creative partner with the agency for 15 years.

Spengler-Ahrens says she’s also quite proud of a recent effort for Berlin mass transit agency BVG, which was struggling with a negative perception among locals, especially young Berliners. Jung von Matt created a partnership between BVG and quintessentially cool footwear brand Adidas to create stylish sneakers that double as a one-year pass for the mass transit system.

While consumers are increasingly distracted from and disinterested in advertising, she says that obstacle can also force agencies to create work that will actually earn—rather than just demand—attention.

“The good thing is that more and more in times where people are not deliberately watching content, you need distinct creative work to entertain them,” she says. “The ones who can entertain the audience the best will be the most successful.  This is great for our industry.”

Darren Spiller
Chief Creative Officer, Host/Havas (Australia)

Many new creative chiefs are brought to an agency to help lift it out of a slump, but Darren Spiller had the rare experience of arriving just as his new shop was embarking on one of its most celebrated campaigns ever.

Joining Host/Havas (formed from two recently combined shops in Havas’ Australian portfolio) in early 2017, Spiller came on as work on the Palau Pledge was getting underway. The project, which now requires all tourists to sign a pledge to protect the environment and wildlife of the Micronesian nation of Palau, has since built global buzz, won top honors from the D&AD Awards and is positioned as a social-good front-runner at Cannes this year.

“Whilst I can’t take credit for the work, it would be remiss not to call out my immense pride for the incredible work my team did on the Palau Pledge, which was recently awarded a D&AD Black Pencil—one of eight (pencils) it received,” he says. “The tenacity and passion of the team to see that to fruition is part of what convinces me I have one of the most enviable and talented creative departments in the world.”

Spiller is a well-known figure in the Australian ad world and internationally, having served as DDB Melbourne’s creative chief for five years after a stint as CCO of Minneapolis-based Fallon. Since joining Host/Havas, his favorite work that he’s personally led creation on was Air New Zealand’s cheeky “Very Merry Mistake,” in which Santa struggles to make sense of the Kiwi accent.

“It combined all the things that make a campaign memorable,” he says of the effort for the airline. “It combined a great insight, surprising storytelling, and integrated social, film and product creation.”

Keenly aware of Australia’s proud tradition as an advertising innovator—the country has spawned everything from Cannes Lions Grand Prix record-holder “Dumb Ways to Die” (from McCann Melbourne) to last year’s bizarre auto safety creation “Meet Graham” (via Clemenger BBDO Melbourne)—Spiller says his country’s obsession with pushing the envelope can be a mixed blessing.

“Australia is quick to take up what’s new and shiny. It can often put us ahead of the game,” he says. “However, that kind of behavior can also force us into doing things because it’s new rather than it’s right.”

Get to know the rest of Adweek’s Creative 100 for 2018:
27 Senior Agency Leaders Who Are Charting a New Course for the Creative Industry
29 Rising Agency Stars Who Are Keeping Advertising Relevant, Fresh and Fascinating
13 Celebrities Who Are Making Pop Culture More Innovative, Inclusive and Interesting
15 Ad, Film and TV Directors Who Are Raising the Standard for Storytelling
11 Branded Content Masterminds Who Are Elevating the Art of Marketing
11 Visual Artists Who Enlighten, Inspire and Bring the Impossible to Life
10 Writers and Editors Who Are Changing the National Conversation
• Cover Story: Filmmaker Ava DuVernay on the Creative Process, and the Intersection of Art and Activism


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