5 Minutes with… Carlos Camacho
When Carlos Camacho left Colombia to head up Mullen Lowe’s Vietnam office, he was leaving a country riding a creative wave to start a new life in one where the advertising was still stuck between old school propaganda and cheesy celebrity endorsements. But he also found himself in a country brimming with optimism and opportunity; Vietnam has been earmarked as one of the so-called ‘Next 11’ countries, with the potential to experience dramatic economic growth. Creativity is going to be crucial to the country’s success and it’s Carlos’ mission to help Lowe make its mark within the country – and help Vietnam make its voice heard regionally and globally. This year the agency has found success at Adfest and Spikes and last year it was the most awarded shop at the inaugural Vietnamese show The Smarties. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Carlos to find out about a ‘loco’ transition and breaking new ground.
LBB> From an outside perspective, Vietnam is seen as such an exciting country right now. It’s one of the ‘next 11’ and it seems to be bursting with opportunity. What’s the mood like inside the country?
CC> If you are positive and hungry for opportunities then you’ll be in a very good mood, because you will see them all the time!
Vietnam is dynamic and it’s changing at high speed. You can see it everywhere: new buildings rising, a mass transportation system is under construction, roads, streets and highways too. New shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, cinemas, franchises are opening. This dynamic also reflects in the ad industry: new agencies, ad boutiques, design studios, production houses, digital agencies, game developers, tech companies, etc. are opening too.
In the year and a half I’ve been here everything has been constantly changing.
LBB> You’ve been in Vietnam since early 2014 – what was it that motivated that move from Colombia?
CC> To be honest, at the beginning all I knew about Vietnam was Rambo. But I was highly motivated by the idea of coming to a region I’ve always admired for the work it produces. So when Sokoloff [Jose Miguel Sokoloff – President of Mullen Lowe Group Creative Council & CCO Lowe SSP3 Colombia] offered me this opportunity I took it without thinking twice. Despite Vietnam’s ad industry perhaps being seen as not the “sexiest”, I saw it as a golden chance to have international experience and challenge myself. It was not a “safe” decision but I like risks and adventures more than comfort zones. So far, it has been an experience full of excitement.
LBB> And how did you find the transition?
It took me three days to come from Colombia to Vietnam. I left behind my life and started a new one, from zero. Everything was new to me so I had to understand, observe and learn a lot of different things. I had to adapt myself to different ways of working and living. I even had to learn how to cross the streets here. That’s how “loco” it was.
LBB> What have been the most exciting things about working in the Vietnamese ad industry? And surprising?
CC> What I discovered is here, advertising is still in its early stages. So it’s very common to see the traditional way of doing things. It is exciting because of the opportunities to do new things, introduce a new way of thinking, and help steer brands towards new ideas beyond this traditional way. But more than that, when you are leading an advertising agency, you have the opportunity to shape the industry and help it find its own voice/style.
What surprises me is that in Vietnam, there is no formal school training at all for creatives who want to enter advertising - and yet so many talented young people are hungry, eager to learn, and jump into the industry. I have been lucky enough to have young people in my team who dream big: winning awards, doing famous campaigns and working for the best agencies in the world. I love and support that spirit; I believe those are the right ambitions.
LBB> Do you think Vietnamese advertising has a particular flavour? What makes it distinctive from other markets in Asia, do you think?
CC> You still see traditional propaganda on posters and outdoors in Vietnam, and of course there are some limitations. And no, advertising still doesn’t have a particular flavour. Most of the advertising here is currently very functional and celebrity endorsed. Everything looks pretty much the same.
Changing this is the biggest challenge. It requires working closely with clients and making them open their minds to new ways of communicating that can give their brands a unique voice. It will take time, and a lot of effort to encourage them to do it but I think you just need to be resilient, giving up is something you can’t afford here in Vietnam.
One good thing is that Vietnam is close to a lot of countries which have managed to carve their path to create their own identity by doing great work. Those markets will serve as a good source of reference and inspiration.
LBB> What are your goals and visions for Lowe Vietnam?
CC> My goal is still the same one that I’ve had since I arrived: do the best work possible. When I started in this office we had no credentials or awards on the creative side. And the industry rarely recognised Vietnam. But between 2014-2015 we have managed to achieve local, regional and global recognition across categories. A lot have been firsts for Vietnam, and currently this office is among the most creative offices within the [Mullen Lowe Group] network. Alongside this, and something I really feel proud of, our young creative teams have also won the privilege to represent Vietnam in the major Ad shows in the region: Adfest and Spikes.
LBB> How did you first get into advertising?
CC> Right after high school I started as a summer intern in JWT. And I fell in love with advertising there; I was lucky to meet young, inspiring and talented creatives (John Raul Forero, Giovanni Martinez, Alejandro Benavides) who turned out to become the top creative leaders of the biggest, strongest and most creative offices in Colombia.
Later, while I was a student in college, I joined McCann; at that time the best agency in Colombia. I started as a junior account executive and then moved to the creative team. Again, I was lucky to meet and learn from fantastic, talented people, especially someone who became my mentor, Jaime Duque. He took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew about advertising. I worked with him in three different agencies for more than 10 years.
LBB> Before heading to Lowe Vietnam you were at Lowe SSP3 in Bogota, one of the real beacons of the network, which has been responsible for some amazing work. What are your memories of working there at that time?
CC> Best memories: that we worked hard and partied hard. We were a fun bunch of friends sharing the same ambitions and constantly looking for the best ideas.
Something great about Lowe SSP3 was that Sokoloff sat among the creative team. This was great because he is a very cool and accessible guy with whom you can share your ideas and get, right away, his opinion and thoughts. You cannot put a price on that kind of learning!
LBB> Colombia is an ad industry that has, collectively, really been making waves on a global level and is seen as a home for world class creativity. I wonder what lessons or insights you’ve gleaned from this experience that you’ve brought to your role in Vietnam? What do you think the Vietnamese industry might learn from the success of Colombia’s ad industry?
CC> Indeed, Colombia is doing very well now (creative wise) but we have come a long way. Before, Colombia didn’t have a voice or creative identity - we used to look up to Brazil and Argentina as a reference. Their work inspired and influenced us. In the process of trying to imitate their style, we ended up finding our own. I think we can also learn lessons this way in Vietnam.
Also, one of the most important things that I learned in Colombia was never to give up. Colombians and Latinos are fighters; we don’t give up, “we bite and don’t let go”. We’ll always find a way to do things and turn limitations into opportunities. We don’t take “no” for an answer but as a challenge.
Colombians have an igniting passion for this industry, which is our flavour and what I have tried to bring and spread to Vietnam.
If you look at both countries, for me, the important thing for the Vietnamese industry is to be able to learn from Colombia’s success. Colombia used to be at the same point that Vietnam is today, but we believed strongly in our talent and potential. We worked hard as hell to earn the reputation we have now.
LBB> You’re something of an entrepreneur. You’ve created your own coffee brand and even chain of restaurants! Can you tell me about that? How did that come about? And have you learned anything from the experience of setting up and running your own brands and businesses that have helped in your role as a creative director?
CC> Yes. It is one of the most exciting and enriching experiences! Look, we creatives always have tons of ideas for other people (clients) but we never stop to think about using an idea for ourselves. So that’s what I did; this was the starting point for my coffee business and, later on, my restaurants. All those personal experiences taught me a lot of new things, especially how to be creative to solve various problems; I gained knowledge of architectural design, harvesting, money, food logistics etc. ... My coffee has achieved premium standard scores for three consecutive years, got included on the menu of Colombia’s best chef restaurants and also exported to China. Moreover, my restaurant business became a model of inspiration for other restaurants, entrepreneurs and architects. Currently all around Bogota, you can see similar restaurants following the same concept. That’s pretty cool.
My most important take away: creativity can be used everywhere as a key factor for success.
LBB> You even won an architectural award for your restaurant design! What was that experience like?
CC> It was an awesome experience. A unique brief to crack: how to make “dead/unused space” profitable.
My partners and I proved to parking lot owners that they could optimize their space fully and make profit out of unusable areas by installing our restaurant model. Simple principle: They made money and we had the chance to start our own business and generate traffic. A win-win situation.
Thus, we brought to life an architectural solution that didn’t exist before. This led us to win a prestigious architectural award in Colombia. This concept started a new trend and we had the opportunity to run great spots in town at a very low rent.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?
Francisco Samper: he’s not a creative but a suit. An entrepreneur, a football aficionado, a huge fan of The Beatles, a friend, a mentor, a cool human being and the current CEO of Lowe SSP3. I admire and respect him because even though he is one of the owners of the agency, he puts a lot of passion, dedication and hours into the work. Amazing leader!
Jaime Duque: He took me under his wing and gave me a genuine mentorship as well as strong life boosters:
1. Always work the hardest and try your best
2. Never give up.
3. Stay hungry
4. Love rock bands and whisky ;)
Duque is like my big brother...
George Lois: Because he was willing to die for his ideas (jumping from the 40th floor).