Close-Up: Live issue - Why are Argentine creatives so great?

With Santo about to open in London, Kate Nettleton asks if Argentina deserves its reputation.

Last week, WPP announced that it wanted to sprinkle some "Argentinian pixie dust" on adland by opening up a London outpost of the Argentinian hotshop Santo.

Just searching "Argentinian advertising" on YouTube reveals a bizarre, yet brilliant, collection of commercials featuring anything from children dancing in rabbit suits while baking a cake, to women fleeing plastic surgery by breaking into street dance.

With this sort of creative abandon and joyful presence, Argentinian ads appear to have an almost simplistic, universal appeal, and it is becoming apparent why WPP is making this investment.

This passion for original, entertaining and surrealist ads is already striking a chord with UK audiences, as the great and the good of the Argentinian ad scene, such as Fallon's Juan Cabral and Lowe Worldwide's Fernando Vega-Olmos, make their mark on UK creativity.

With ads such as Cabral's "gorilla" and "balls" and the Cannes-awarded "neon girl" spot for Lux from Santo achieving global popularity, there is clearly something in the Buenos Aires water that enables its creative proteges to produce ads that achieve international cut-through.

Arguably, Argentina's cultural make-up plays a big part in its success. As Olmos and Carlos Bayala, the creative director at Madre Buenos Aires, Mother's Argentinian agency, point out, successive waves of immigration have created a cultural melting pot of nationalities including Italian, German, Polish, Croatian, Armenian, Turkish, British, French and Irish.

These perspectives, combined with the Argentinian ability to react quickly to an unstable political and economic climate has, as Tony Wright, the Lowe Worldwide chairman, points out: "Led to a well-developed sense of the wonders of the absurd."

He continues: "The magic is that this absurdity is connected to a very powerful and single-minded sense of the brand proposition, so it is both breathtaking and simple. That is why it works globally - these are universal human ideas."

But perhaps the key factor that enables Argentine ads to cross international borders is their visually led nature. Karina Wilsher, the managing director at Fallon, explains: "When Juan presented the idea for 'balls', it was just one sentence explaining balls being blasted down a street in San Francisco. I'm sure the fact he comes up with such pure thoughts that are really visual has something to do with why the work translates so well."

Bayala also feels that our shared tendency towards self-deprecation has led to a common creative ground being found between the UK and Argentina.

"Yes, there was a war between ourselves and England two-and-a-half decades ago and there is a huge football rivalry, but we both seem to cope well with those serious and not-serious issues, sometimes using that sense of humour to poke each other with intelligence," he adds.

Although there are lessons for the UK to learn from Argentina, given adland's obsession with process, it may never fully embrace this romantically simplistic, unburdened and optimistic approach to creativity. Wright says: "The best Argentinian agencies do not focus on the debates we have in the US or UK about models, structures and politics. It's all about getting the job done brilliantly despite all the external confusion."

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CREATIVE CHIEF - Fernando Vega-Olmos, worldwide creative director, Lowe Worldwide

"In the early 20s, 50 per cent of the population in Buenos Aires was European and there was a real mix of different nationalities. This heritage means we're more open to different cultures and ways of life.

"We also have a natural tendency to exaggerate a lot, which is great for advertising - a game of exaggeration.

"Argentinian creatives also have the ability to react to different scenarios faster than others and with a sense of humour. When you're living in a country that has five different presidents in two months, you need a sense of humour to deal with that reality."

AGENCY HEAD - Martin Cole, founding partner, Santo

"Half of Argentina is in therapy - the other half is talking to someone about whether they should be. But I think this is because, at its core, Argentinian culture is romantic and hopeful. "They laugh about the way life is, and believe things can get better. It's also a very visual place. Romance and hope in a visual setting - that's a great starting point for work that can travel well, not just to the UK, but all over the world."

CREATIVE - Carlos Bayala, creative director, Madre Buenos Aires

"Argentina is the result of an explosive combination of influences from three or four big waves of immigration after the initial Spanish colonisation. Because Argentina came out of that sort of big bang, if you put an Italian alongside a Turkish and a Jewish-Polish next to the house of a Croatian in hot, sunny Buenos Aires, you will have either a big idea or a huge street fight.

"Although there are many obvious differences, I think we share many things with British culture. There is a similar sense of humour, a tendency towards taking the piss out of ourselves, and others, and laughing at our own miseries."

CLIENT - Lee Rolston, director of marketing for block chocolate, Cadbury

"Because they aren't plugged into the cultural codes of the UK or Europe, they have a really fresh and positive take on the briefs that come their way. They also have such a visual and optimistic take on things that isn't waylaid or burdened by British cultural references.

"I think clients are just trying to stand out and, because South American culture hasn't really been plundered too heavily, everyone wants a piece of it.

"But the UK can't just seek out the next Argentinian team, they have to look behind that and realise what's making it interesting, charming and effective."