Go Brazilian

My friend Luis is a CD who’s worked in the US and Mexico. Just the other day he told me the following story…
When he worked for a WPP agency, Neil French was the Worldwide Creative Director, and would have biannual creative reviews with agencies region by region and would select the best work for the agency portfolio. When the Mexican team presented their work, Neil picked one of their campaigns and commented on another. Then teams from other Latin American countries presented, and Neil would also choose one or two ideas. But when the Brazilians presented their ideas, he picked almost everything they had.
After the meeting, all the teams wanted to know how the Brazilians came up with so much great work. They said it was the way they concepted.
The Brazilians said they started off internally with a round of blue-skying the idea. Several teams came up with as many ideas in as many areas as they could. But then they narrowed that field down to their four best ideas, and set every team to work on those four. No team was coming up with new areas; they were mining what they had, even if it wasn’t their idea to begin with. After that round, they narrowed it down again, picking their best four, and setting all teams on those. So what Neil French chose was a bunch of ultra-refined gems, not lucky strikes.
I think a lot of times when we concept, we start off just like the Brazilians, trying to come up with as many fresh ideas as we can. But I think that’s where we tend to part ways. In rounds two, three and four, my experience is we’re all still trying to cast our idea seeds broadly, hoping we come up with some news ideas that will be even bigger and brighter than the first ones.
Most creative departments in most agencies aren’t going to revamp how they review work. But what would happen if you, as an individual CW or AD went Brazilian. What if you and your partner took the three or four most fertile ideas you had and then said, “Okay, what else can we do with these stories? How can we reach the same conclusion in a different framework? How else can this story be told?” Rather than coming up with a bunch of new ideas that may or may not fly, you could be refining and exploring areas you already know have merit.
Give it a try on your next few rounds. We’d be interest to know how it works for you.
And check out this older post from Jim. There’s some interesting overlap with what he learned at SxSW and what the Brazilians are already doing.


“When clients say they want a tagline, I write down half a dozen from large companies. When I ask the clients which companies they apply to, they can never remember. Pick up any magazine on your desk and read out the taglines. They’re a complete waste of time.”

Neil French

This is possibly the most important lesson I can give anyone in advertising.

Six months into my first job, I was lucky enough to do an ad that got into the One Show. Here it is:

Bolstered by this confidence, my art director and I were certain the same ad would get into the Communication Arts annual. We submitted it. And months later, we got the call. It wasn’t on the shortlist.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I was supremely bummed. The fact that I was in the One Show annual was no consolation. I spent the day in a funk. I was blue. Cranky even. I remember going to sleep that night resolved to work harder than ever. I would never miss an opportunity like that again. I was going to do whatever it took to make award-winning ads.

That was September 10, 2001. The next day, getting into CA didn’t seem so important anymore.

I’ve been fortunate to have great creative directors and great partners and great clients who’ve helped me win awards and appear in annuals and other publications. And I haven’t received a single accolade without reflecting on that experience.

Years before 9-11, Neil French put it another way: “It’s kind of tragic that you can spend an entire lifetime turning out four great pieces of work, and they’re all ads. Nurses and ambulance drivers do something a thousand times as important, five times a day.”

Advertising is a lot of fun. We get paid to think. To come up with ideas. To make people laugh. To change their behavior. We’re very lucky to be in this business. Let’s not be jerks about it. Let’s keep things in perspective. Let’s do good work.