On the creative floor: Africa

The São Paulo agency's client list and reel make it the envy of Brazil. Sergio Gordilho says he wants the shop's home to reflect its worth.


Africa was created 11 years ago. It’s more than just a homage to a continent that was so important for Brazil, especially for Bahia – considered the African capital of Brazil.

The agency is a return to the purest type of advertising. We created Africa with a proposal to handle fewer clients, with exclusive and dedicated teams for each of them – with Relais & Châteaux standards, as we used to say.

When we created our office, the objective was to show the value of advertising. The conversation about its value to companies was very central in Brazil at the time. We chose the most modern and technologically advanced building in São Paulo, with the most expensive space in the city, because we wanted all the advertisers we would work with to think: "Wow, an advertising agency in this space has real value."

We are in a very business-heavy district, next door to Brazil’s great companies. We wanted to find a place that would represent what Madison Avenue represented in the 60s, and that is Faria Lima avenue.

When you are in a location like this and are neighbours to advertisers, you even begin to see them at restaurants, in bars and on the streets. That was an important reason we chose this space.

I’m from a third generation of architects. My grandfather founded the school of architecture in my city and my father was also an architect. Architecture has always been a part of my life and I believe that, in addition to being decoration, architecture expresses codes and cultures and delivers messages.

Decoration cannot be an afterthought. Decoration cannot determine the standards or thinking of an agency. It has to reflect and express what the agency thinks and believes.

We created a space that isn’t so "clean" but would make people feel at home. With the philosophy of having few accounts and working directly with each client, we created an agency with the feel of a law office with more reserved spaces, so that people would have the time and tranquility to think, create and advocate for brands – a space where brands could converse and which would also have a touch of Africa.

The creative department was designed around a library, with books that promote intellectual discussions rather than just shallow conversation. And we created integration areas for creatives to get together.

On our walls, there are photos taken by Pierre Verger, the French photographer, in the 50s and 60s in Africa and Brazil, which show the similarities between these two Africas with an ocean of difference between them. Some decorative touches – such as textures, the use of straw and wood, materials with warm colours and a lot of red and black – also recall the African continent.

This was extremely important because we believe you have to try to pass on that experience and that message has to be clear. I believe advertising agencies need to take inspiration from the fashion industry. The fashion industry translates complete experiences – when you make a purchase at a store, you understand the brand’s values and what the brand believes. When we created Africa, we also had this in mind. We believe strongly in branding. When people enter here, they have to get the smell of the place, it has to have colour, it has to have a strong logo and it has to be an experience. And that’s what we translated with the decoration. The Africa experience.

We want a brand that you look at and know that things are expensive because our service and the help we offer to companies are not cheap. We value the architecture, the use of fine materials and the design of the space, making the Africa experience very clear in our decoration.

Sergio Gordilho is the co-president and chief creative officer at Africa