How I got here: Thiago de Moraes

Droga5's co-ECD talks to James Swift about his career, from inspirational beginnings in Brazil to celebrated work in London.

If you knew nothing about Thiago de Moraes except that he was Droga5’s co-executive creative director, that would be enough. The agency’s reputation as one of the world’s hottest creative shops meant that, when it launched in London, it could attract the best talent.

If you remain unimpressed, know that, since moving from Brazil to London, the digital specialist de Moraes has created Cannes Lion-winning campaigns for Guinness, Doritos and Wrigley, and his work for Cancer Research UK won a British Arrow. For Wrigley, he helped to create an iPhone game, The Nightjar, which featured the actor Benedict Cumberbatch and was nominated for a "video game Bafta". The game lost to Angry Birds and Call of Duty – one of those rare occasions when being nominated is an honour.

I didn’t come from a particularly creative household. My parents weren’t the most creative people, but they always encouraged me and we read a lot in my house. I think that made a big difference.

I was obsessed with drawing when I was young. I would spend all my time doodling, and not just on surfaces you were supposed to draw on. I would draw on my exam papers. My teachers said if I didn’t stop, I would never get a job.

I started getting paid to draw at 16. A friend’s parents ran a newspaper and asked if I wanted to draw for it.

Growing up in Brazil, advertising was very much part of popular culture. Songs and characters quickly become part of the popular vernacular. As a child, I didn’t distinguish between advertising and film and literature.

Now there’s a lot more advertising. I’m not sure how much of it gets through.

I remember a very famous ad for Bombril, which is like the Brazilian Persil. The ads ran for 25 years and always featured the same guy. It was a fixture of my childhood.

In Brazil, people value the humanities stuff less and the technical stuff more. So I ended up doing a weird course, social communications, at the University of São Paulo. I wanted to do linguistics, but thought I would end up a cab driver – and that would have been horrible because I don’t know how to drive.

Social communications means bugger all, right? Antisocial communications is boxing.

I was at university in 1994 when I started doing stuff online. Back then, I had to explain to people what online was. I had a teacher who left the university and set up a production company, and the only people he could hire were his students. So, at 18 or 19, I had a job as a designer.

I’ve been with my wife since I was 17. That poor woman. Good for me, though. I finished uni, and we thought we should make the most of the opportunity while we didn’t have any obligations, so decided we would go to London for six months, and we just stayed.

I worked as an illustrator, but I didn’t want people like me telling me what to do. So I became a graphic designer and, in particular, I became fascinated by typography.

I feel like an imposter if I don’t have a craft as well. I worked at the BBC for a year as a designer. There were no creatives so, if you were a designer, you would come up with an idea and then make the stuff. I like that.

When I was at the BBC, they had a mandate to try to find ways of making a digital curriculum. We would try to figure out the best way to teach things and then test them with the kids in schools. It was great because the children  would just rip apart all your elegant thinking. It was sobering for us.

I worked at TBWA between 2002 and 2006. It was a cool place to work. The stuff we were doing [digital] wasn’t that critical in terms of the agency’s revenue. No-one paid much attention to what we were doing, so we had a lot of freedom.

CHI & Partners was one of the first places that didn’t want a separate P&L for digital. It was a small place when I joined but, when I left, it was a bloody big place.

You hear stories about people in advertising not being that nice to each other. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’ve been very, very lucky with the people I’ve worked with. If that weren’t the case, I would be doing something else. Probably drawing in a shed somewhere.

If I know how a project is going to end up, I lose interest very quickly.

I did the drawing for a Guinness ad at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. I took three days off and spent them in the studio. It got a gold at Cannes; a rewarding experience.

All the places I’ve worked in, I can remember situations where I’ve met a client, sold them an idea, and then got back to the office and thought: how the hell am I going to do that?

One of the coolest things I’ve done was The Nightjar, which I made at AMV with Mark Fairbanks [now the executive creative director at Havas Worldwide London]. I got to work with a lot of very good people.

The Nightjar was nominated at the British Academy Games Awards. We lost to Angry Birds and Call of Duty, but I was still happy because it meant we were in competition with them.

I didn’t really plan to move to Droga5. I met Nik [Studzinski, the co-executive creative director] when he was looking at starting the London office, and we just got on well. Droga5’s reputation was important to me, but so was the character of Nik and Kevin [Dundas, the chief executive].

It was probably more difficult to leave AMV than any other agency I’ve been at. But then I’ve only just left the place and I would say that. It would be easier to answer this question in five years’ time.

Many people have spent the time to help me: at CHI & Partners, Ewan Paterson; at AMV, Paul Brazier and Peter Mead. I’ve not had a single person to go to throughout my career… I would have loved that.

Our job is easier than most people’s. Of course, we have tense moments, but I don’t think I’m in some mine for 12 hours a day.

Only work with people you like. I think [the celebrated graphic designer] Milton Glaser said that, and it has always stuck with me. It seems obvious, but it’s important to have something in common, rather than just being paid to fulfil a task together. That goes for clients too.

You shouldn’t abandon your idiosyncrasies. I used to try to be very correct, but what we do needs to be personal. People see through work that’s purely commercial and devoid of substance. It’s still important to be on time and stuff like that, though.

One piece of work I really like is the short film about texting and driving that Werner Herzog did with AMV for AT&T [part of the "it can wait" campaign]. It showed people’s last text messages before crashing. That was extraordinary; one of those things when you’re like: "Damn, I wish I’d done that."

I like stuff that makes me ask: why the hell did no-one do that before? But I have a distinctive dislike for stuff that is unnecessary.

Despite my digital background, I like the more traditional formats. I like good posters.

It’s going to sound wanky, but I’m more interested in the stuff I make than the stuff I have. Of course, I do like having some stuff.

I used to be really obsessed with controlling everything I did. Now I’m more trusting of others.

What I’d really like to do is create something that has a positive impact on society. That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to Droga5.