World: Analysis - Vega Olmos gathers Unilever minds at orgies of creativity

The exuberant Argentinian gets Lowe's talent together. Larissa Bannister reports.

Fernando Vega Olmos, Lowe's newly appointed worldwide creative director for Unilever, is in London to lead what he calls an "international orgy".

This is his term for the first creative conference for Rexona - that's Sure, in UK deodorant-speak.

Planning the gathering of creative teams from around the world is one of the Argentine's first big achievements since he took on the Unilever role. He seems very excited about it, although that could simply be a product of his natural exuberance.

"The objective of the orgy is to share thoughts and fluids," Vega Olmos says, in heavily accented English. Does he mean cranial juices? Ideas?

"It's not about making babies or creating campaigns; it's about us spending time together," he explains. "There are 20 different guys across the world who work with Rexona every day of their lives and they don't even know each other. It's so stupid."

Bringing creative minds together is what Vega Olmos sees as his primary task in his new role, which got off to a bad start when Air France lost all of his luggage and a fair portion of his "beautiful clothes" during his first briefing trip to Paris. Since then, he's been working out how to run hundreds of account teams across more than 90 countries from a base in Buenos Aires, where he still runs Vega Olmos Ponce, the agency he founded in 1997.

"This kind of job is either easy to do or impossible; there is nothing in the middle," he says. "I can't control every campaign across the world, but I can make people work together to get the best ideas.

"We have 4,000 creative people at Lowe and this is our competitive advantage. Let's put them together to work - this is what I think is a global response."

Getting people together is the whole point of his London "orgies", which will eventually be scheduled for all the Lowe creative teams on all brands. Appropriately - or inappropriately, depending on your point of view - Vega Olmos claims his new role can be neatly characterised by sex.

"I am like the guy who knows every page of the Kama Sutra but doesn't know any women," he explains. "What I mean is, I may have a fantastic theory, but it has to be made practical, so I have to work closely with the people who have the brief in front of them and help them talk to the client."

The challenge he is setting the Unilever creative teams, he says, is the straightforward but difficult task of coming up with something new for established brands in traditional markets.

"I am very critical of the Cannes jury that gave PlayStation two Grands Prix in two years," he says. "Come on guys - wake up! PlayStation is easy. Anyone can create a good ad for PlayStation because in the end you don't have any limits when you are creating it: the brand is cool, the client is cool, everybody's cool. The real challenge for a creative is to do a great ad for a mainstream brand that can be really popular with ordinary people."

Vega Olmos knows a lot about facing challenges. He has worked in Argentina for 25 years, in both local and international agencies, and is an advocate of his native country's claim to be the latest hothouse for the world's young creative talent. Despite years of economic and social upheaval, Argentine advertising is now well established as both creatively ground-breaking and successful.

Ads are popular in Argentina in a way that is hard to understand in more established markets - there are two weekly TV programmes dedicated to new ad campaigns, and advertising remains a career of choice for young Argentines.

"Talented people are going into advertising, which is not happening in Europe," Vega Olmos says, somewhat controversially.

"English advertising was amazing 20 years ago. Now it's good, but it's not amazing any more because the new guys are not going into it, they are going into fashion or something similar.

"But Argentina is a great country for advertising, which is amazing because we don't have any resources or money, so we have to have the ideas."

On a worldwide basis, the industry, he says, is full of ideas, but has a tendency to overplay its own importance. "Many people in advertising think they are geniuses; they are just insecure," he says.

"Me, I am stupid. I am a very average guy, but I understand that most people don't care about advertising. For most people, ads destroy the look of their cities. If this is the reality, then let's try to be nice, funny and original with our ads. That's all you need."


Age: 46 Lives Buenos Aires, Argentina

1979-1987: Started as a trainee at the local ad agency Gouland, rising

to executive creative director

1987-1989: Executive creative director, BBDO

1989-1997: Partner and executive creative director, Caesares

1997: Founded Vega Olmos Ponce (VOP), in partnership with Hernan Ponce

2004: Appointed worldwide creative director for Unilever, following

Lowe's acquisition of 49 per cent of VOP

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