A weekly series of “9 smart questions + 1 stupid one” with talented industry people…all with an international twist, of course!
1. Tell me briefly about your background. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in London, but spent most of my life in Milan, Italy. I studied marketing business and economics at Bocconi university. But I was pretty much immersed in the world of design from an early age. My father is a designer, and my mother is a fashion designer. So I started doing a Masters in car design, and worked as Strategic Designer for four years. It’s similar to what I’m doing now in advertising, but in a design context: defining the physical premises for a product, knowing what the “brand” stands for, what the audience is, etc. One day I had the chance to meet the CEO of DDB Italy at a seminar of automotive design, and later on he offered me a job as a Planning Director for Audi. So that was my start, it was somewhat of a natural jump into strategic planning.
2. Both of your parents were designers. What impact did that have on you, and how did you carry over that sensitivity onto your professional life?
Well, I think it made a great impact on my professional life. By understanding design you seek out inherent the uniqueness of the product before trying to “make up” its uniqueness for marketing purposes. And also you get a deeper understanding of the product, never separating the form from the function to get to its complete value and meaning. All of these are really handy for strategic planning.
3. Most people view Milan as the epicenter of design. Fashion and all around style. How is the view from the inside?
That’s not true anymore, and it hasn’t been true for the last 15 years, but people from the outside haven’t noticed. We have a long tradition and traditions are slow to die, but things have changed. The main reason is that Italy is not investing in young talents, regardless of the field. So for example I think today industrial and product design is much, much more developed in places like London, Scandinavia, even Spain. The difference is very apparent for those that aren’t blinded by the historical prominence of our hip, timeless fashion design brands.
4. How would you characterize Italian advertising, and what about it makes it distinctively Italian?
It’s distinctive in that it’s popular, for the masses…but in my opinion too much so. It’s really about satisfying or representing the average man, the average culture. So there are very few brands that dare to go beyond this average. And by the way, those that do are the ones that are most successful outside of Italy: like Diesel, for example.
5. What is your current job description today?
I work out of the NY office of Draftfcb and have a double role: I’m the global planning director on Oreo, and group planning director for the NY office working on other clients, including new business.
6. You’ve been working with international consumers for a long time now. What general observations can you make about their commonalities, and differences?
One of the commonalities is a contradiction: they all love to aspire to something “bigger”…even though when asked they love to say they’re suddenly very pragmatic, and not comfortable with anything “bigger”. I’ll give you an example: the Dove Real Beauty campaign. Everyone will tell you they love real beauty, not fake beauty. But the reason they buy most of the beauty products is that they aspire to be something different, something more beautiful, the so-called “fake beauty”. There’s your contradiction. As far as differences, I believe we have to look at humor. Humor always works, because people love to smile, but they tend to smile at very different things. So when you get to the extremes of humor, it’s actually like speaking different languages.
7. How should global brands balance the apparent contradiction between the need for consistency, and the need to be relevant to the individual?
It really depends on which brands, and which industries. Sometimes you really want to stay local even though you’re global, because people will love you for being exotic. Let’s take cars. An extreme example is Ferrari. It’s a global brand based on a very local Italian identity. Then you have other brands that assume the identity of the country where they are at, so they end up being a little bit all over the place. For example, BMW, I’ve seen it played in many different tonalities and voices depending on the market. Finally, you have other brands that are completely global. Mini is the same everywhere. It’s kind of British…but it feels very universal. It speaks a language that everyone can understand. It’s very difficult to say what’s the one truth between global, local and “glocal”. It depends on the combination of who you are, where you’ve been, what you stand for, and where you are. These 4 things together create a different unique recipe every time for every brand.
8. Give me an example of work that you’re particularly proud of, and why.
The US experience is still very recent, so let me think back. I would certainly call out Audi. We successfully introduced a totally different strategy, a different way to market an upscale car. Totally understated, which was a novelty for the late 80s. I love the print ads. Lots of design taste in it. Minimalist style. Very silent. Pretty intellectual, never too aggressive. So that was a dash of Italian design to a German car brand.
Also the Sky TV Networks campaign, starting in 2003, which gained 3.5 million subscribers in the first year or so. The agency became famous for that one. The category was all about beloved movie stars and were reversed the perspective, making it about stars loving people.
9. One a more serious note, are you willing to admit that Italy’s victory in the 2006 World Cup was a travesty for the sport?
It’s a little bit like fashion design…we keep winning but we’re not the best!
10. So where can we go to learn more about your endeavors, I assume we can find you on the web?
Excellent. Thank you for your time, Auro. And thank you readers for reading!