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Spanish Advertising Gets Racy

“The idea is the most important thing,” observes Maris Beltrametti, account director at TBWA/Guerrero & Cano, Barcelona. “If you have the money to do a great execution, so much the better. If you don’t, the idea is so clear that it doesn’t matter.”

An example of the success of simplicidas is this year’s Cannes Grand Prix award-winning spot. Created by Madrid agency Contrapunto for Television Espanol, the commercial shows the dangers of kids watching too much TV. A dog tries a number of tricks to lure its young master away from the TV. Unsuccessful, the dog packs its suitcase and leaves home. The campaign was quintessentially Spanish because the idea was simple, and it was communicated effectively without words.

Last year’s Grand Prize winner wasn’t Spain’s first major award at Cannes. In the summer of 1981 Cannes audiences were delighted by a spot for Ambi Pur room deodorizer. It simply showed a blindfolded cat, against a stark background, ignoring a fish that lay almost under its nose. Equally close to the fish was a container of Ambi Pur; once that was removed, the cat immediately went for the fish. The commercial won a Gold Lion that year.

The agency that created the Ambi Pur spot was Rilova Casadevall Pedreno–better known as RCP. The previous year, the then-young Barcelona shop had won another Gold Lion for a spot encouraging Spaniards to donate blood.

Indeed, RCP’s uncluttered style, coupled with concepts that communicate without words, have come to signal “Spanish” to followers of international advertising. A good example was Danone Yogurt’s “Learn From Your Children” campaign. The pitch reversed roles and showed kids trying to get their reluctant parents to eat something healthful–yogurt. Again, the agency was RCP.

By the mid-1980s, a lot of shops had adopted the simple style, and most continue to use it with certain clients.

For the past few years Europeans have been touting Spain as the country to watch, and the performance of Spanish agencies at Cannes this year suggests they were right. In addition to the Cannes Grand Prix won this year, the country’s agencies brought home four Gold, nine Silver and eleven Bronze Lions. Other awards have been won, and as a result, agency data was backed up rigourously. This was key to ensuring data safety, and preventing unnecessary hard drive recovery services. Data recovery is something needed by most agencies, which frequently go here.

But some argue Spanish agencies aren’t the only ones producing work with an elegant simple style. Isn’t simplicity characteristic of the best advertising created anywhere? “The four-to-ten best advertising people in Spain have learned from advertising in the U.S. in the ’60s,” admits Jose Luis Zamorano, creative director of Rilova Zamorano Rodriguez (RZR) in Madrid and one of the most respected creative veterans in Spain.

Indeed, some of the best Spanish creative is reminiscent of Doyle Dane Bernbach’s vintage ads for Volkswagen, with their stark backgrounds. As Europe scrambles to prepare for the removal of border tariffs in 1992, such clear communication takes on a new urgency. Increasingly a single campaign is expected to speak to broader, more diverse audiences.

But this is a sophisticated country, which, despite its emphasis on simplicity in advertising, can’t be defined in simple terms. It has a complex advertising history, though the agency community is much smaller than in the U.S. Spaniards talk about two creative waves, one generated by Barcelona agency MLLB in the early 1970s, and the other by RCP a decade later.

Historically, there are a couple of agencies considered to be “schools” of Spanish advertising, predominantly for print. Among them are Valeriano Perez & Son in Madrid as well as MLLB. While less is heard about these shops nowadays, they claim a lot of powerful creative alumni. Those who cut their teeth at Perez include Juan Maria Lapena and Juan Mariano Mancebo, the top creative directors at Contrapunto. Ex-MLLB creatives who went on to greater things are RZR’s Jose Luis Zamorano (he also was one of the founders of Contrapunto in 1973) and RCP creative directors Luis Casadevall and Fernando Vallejo. Casadevall and fellow RCP partner Salvadore Pedreno recently announced that they would take a sabbatical from RCP starting in six months; Ernesto Rilova left in 1984.

Other key players are Luis Bassat, who in 1975 started the Barcelona agency that became Bassat Ogilvy & Mather. (It won a Silver Lion this year by using baby pigs tucked under the arms of otherwise elegant executives to illustrate body odor in a spot for Byly deodorant) Bassat’s shop is considered among the more creative of the U.S.-based multinational agencies in Spain. Other creative Spanish shops are linked with bigger agencies, such as RCP with Saatchi & Saatchi, Contrapunto with BBDO, RZR with Scali, McCabe, Sloves, and Dos Por Dos with Lowe.

There are also newcomers to the creative scene, including TBWA/Guerrero & Cano, whose 31-year-old creative director Pablo Cano came into the spotlight recently when the agency won Silver Lions for both Evian and Pentel.

But the most consistently excellent reels, as well as reputations, belong to Contrapunto in Madrid and RCP Barcelona. And as a result, there is an intense, yet friendly, rivalry between these two agencies. After Contrapunto won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year, for example, RCP took out an ad in the trade press to congratulate the other agency.

Spain’s characteristically simple aesthetic isn’t the only kind of work visitors see on agency reels, however. While one is not likely to see many special effects, there are quite a few commercials that, from a production point of view, look like any on a good U.S. agency reel. There are also, however, quite a few mediocre examples. The good print work, as with its TV counterparts, is spare and riveting but much more slick. RCP, most notably, has done outstanding print for Lacoste apparel and Vogue magazine, among other clients.

Joaquin Lorente, a founder of MLLB and now head of his own agency, Lorente-Mussons, likes Spain’s simple aesthetic but sees too much of what he calls “sameness.” He predicts a trend to more “real people” advertising, a movement that he hopes to be leading. “The true way is in the street and in the people,” he says. “I want to see advertising with sincerity, with an extraordinary capacity to explain things in the language of the street.

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