Everyone Needs A Brazilian
'I've adopted this culture as strong as I have my own'
It wasn’t the rock star-like Washington Olivetto who inspired Dede Laurentino to go into this profession – it was late-1980s British advertising.
While growing up in Olinda, Brazil, Laurentino studied English and started teaching at his school at the age of 15. As part of a teacher-training course, he spent six months in Edinburgh. That’s where he saw British ads for the first time and began recording them to use as teaching material in his classroom.
"I still know some of those ads by heart," he says, quoting an old radio ad for a Scottish car dealership. "They played with language – it was fun. So I came back home and said I want to do advertising."
So Laurentino went on to find work at ad agencies. Although he no longer needed to use English in a professional capacity, his passion for the language endured, and he read works by Shakespeare and Graham Greene, copying down the words he didn’t know. "I would walk along the beach, memorising all the bits of Shakespeare," he says. "I was a proper Anglophile, drinking tea at 28 degrees Celsius."
Even so, he never tried to move to the UK: "I wouldn’t even apply for jobs there; it’s like not playing the lottery, because I know I won’t win."
Laurentino’s career in Brazil skyrocketed. He worked as an art director and copywriter, creating campaigns for brands including Banco Real and Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM). He won 30 Cannes Lions and seven D&AD Pencils. Outside advertising, Laurentino published a novel.
Then, in 2007, the agency where Laurentino was working, LewLara, was acquired by TBWA. For the first time in his career, his English came in handy. A few years later, he was offered an interview for the executive creative director role at TBWA\London.
"I nearly said no," he says. Burnt out by his job, the prospect of starting from scratch in a new country seemed exhausting. At the end of 2010, he called his father to tell him he wasn’t going for the interview. "His line was: you have been preparing for this your whole life, and when it finally comes you’re going to say no? You will regret this for the rest of your life," Laurentino recalls. "He made so much sense that I immediately hung up and said we’re going."
Laurentino got the job and moved to London in 2011. Three years later, he became global ECD for Unilever at Ogilvy, and in 2018 the agency promoted him to UK chief creative officer. At first, working in the UK was an adjustment, and many nuances in communication were lost on him. "What took me the longest to understand was that ‘perhaps’ isn’t perhaps. ‘Perhaps we should try something else’ means, ‘let’s do something else’," Laurentino says.
He, on the other hand, has "all of that typical Latin, over-the-top passion". He says: "I would communicate things probably in too direct a way when I got here at first, which might have unintentionally upset some of my team." Now, he adds, he "can tune in better".
With Brazil’s current economic and political situation, Laurentino has noted a spike in creatives from his home country trying to move to the UK. The assets they offer are passion and "an absolute can-do attitude", he says. As MullenLowe’s Sokoloff notes: "Everyone needs a Brazilian in the building."
"Brazil hasn’t got the luxury of money, so you do it yourself," Laurentino says. "A Brazilian art director knows everything, from how to work with a print shop to how to operate Adobe Illustrator. He’s the designer, the retoucher and the art director."
The downside to that way of working is "you don’t go deep enough", he continues. "Here, you can go deep, because you think a lot."
In 2017, Laurentino became a British citizen, and says that "when we move abroad, we bring everything else that’s us". He says: "I’m in love with where I come from culturally." Yet he adds that, here in the UK, he identifies "with everything from the brickwork to the tea". It’s an interesting parallel that Laurentino’s aforementioned novel is about three characters with identity crises. Laurentino can relate to these splintering identities.
"I’ve adopted this culture as strongly as I have my own. I can’t say I’m more one than the other," he says. "How can two such different things co-exist? I’m either/and instead of either/or."
This was originally published in Campaign here.