The ECD at Havas Middle East on being a global citizen, Dubai’s sense of infinite possibility and why he’s hitting the accelerator at full throttle
When he was at school, Joao Medeiros had a habit of sneaking out of PE to mess about in the art room, so it seems that creativity was always in his future. Inspired by the bombastic music videos and TV ads of the ‘90s, Joao soon found his way to advertising, and even as a student and intern his work was making waves and garnering attention.
Throughout his career, Joao has worked in Singapore, New York, Los Angeles, Antwerp and Amsterdam – and as a Brazilian raised in the UK and Belgium he has a fairly unique cultural perspective. All of the experience has come together for his latest adventure at Havas Middle East. Dubai’s scrappy, hungry positivity is like no other market – it’s not just shooting for the Moon, but for Mars – and Joao’s on a quest to harness that energy within the agency. Havas has been on a roll, picking up accolades for its recent LEGO work – and Joao’s excited about upcoming projects for adidas and other clients.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Joao to learn more.
LBB> What kind of kid were you and what sort of creative stuff were you into when you were young?
Joao> I was a big daydreamer. I loved creativity. Probably because I wasn’t that great at the more scientific subjects. I liked to draw, and I enjoyed design, and I also really loved sculpting. Anything that was visual. The visual world was always a lot easier than the written word for me. Easier than sports too for that matter. When I was in high school, I used to skip PE class, and the rugby coach would always come and find me in the art studio working on a sculpture. I can’t remember when he gave up on his rugby dreams for me, but at some point, it just became normal that if you didn’t know where I was, I was in the art studio. I didn’t know how to apply my love for design and creativity when I was considering a career path. I considered architecture, but then realised that firstly, you needed to be able to grasp maths and physics for architecture, two subjects that still give me shudders just thinking about them. Secondly, it takes seven years to train as an architect, and once you are working, each project takes too long to complete, and I am far too impatient for that.
LBB> You’re Brazilian and grew up in Britain – I’m curious how that mix of cultures has influenced you?
Joao> Both my parents are Brazilian, my mother is also French, and I grew up in the UK and in Belgium, where I completed my final two years of high school. I am what is known as a third culture kid. I think I probably developed a better understanding and love for the world, but the downside is that I am from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I don’t think I can consider myself the product of two worlds colliding, but rather, I consider myself a global citizen that is loyal to ideals – I’ll still support Brazil when it comes to football. At least during the World Cup.
LBB> You studied graphic design at university – what drew you to that and what were your inspirations and creative influences back then?
Joao> The world of music videos, along with some of the epic TV commercials in the late ‘90s advertising scene drew me to study Graphic Design at university. Even without fully grasping what a career in advertising meant, or would mean, I loved work that served as culture shifters. Think of the Levi’s spots from the UK. They were pretty much music videos - heck they were even better.
LBB> What was your first experience in the advertising industry – and what was the first campaign that you worked on that you were super excited about or proud of?
Joao> When I was at university, I entered D&AD and won the Student Pencil for writing. If you can believe it. This was my first taste of the industry, and I had the realisation that I could have a career and actually get paid for coming up with ideas and creating stuff. Off the back of that, I took an internship at TBWA Singapore who were doing awesome work at the time (remember that I come from an ‘everywhere and nowhere’ mentality – well it sticks).
However, I would have to say that the first piece of work that I am truly proud of was a pro bono piece for StopTheTraffik. It was a simple idea where we set up a pop-up stand at a job fair in London offering a job opportunity abroad. Participants entered the pop-up store, and once they entered, they landed themselves trapped within a red-light district window. A very unnerving idea when it comes down to it. But I am proud of it because it was one of those ideas my creative partner and I believed in so much, we made it happen ourselves on a shoestring budget. This was also my first idea that garnered some press, and soon enough, a Creative Director at BBDO New York noticed the work, and before I knew it, I was on a plane to live the American dream for the next 12 years.
LBB> What piece of advice do you wish you’d had when you were starting out?
Joao> Forget fear. I used to have a lot more anxiety around the work and how clients would perceive it, but the best remedy here is just present work you really believe in. Work that’s so strong you get excited. When you really believe in something, you cannot hide the excitement. It is palpable, and the fear quickly fades. You may not believe in a concept, but you will always listen to someone if they have that much conviction. This is the reason I think it is very important that those who came up with the concept, present the concept. Something I learned quickly is that clients really want to hear directly from those who are doing the work and generating the ideas. Whether you’re in client servicing, are a creative, or a strategist, if you are a person who lives a client's problems day in and day out, the knowledge your client is looking for is in your hands. So, young talent, speak up.
LBB> Before moving to Dubai, your career was largely split between the Benelux-y part of Europe and the US, which seem like they have wildly different cultures generally and advertising industries – were they all that different, what did you learn from each culture?
Joao> Antwerp taught me creativity, and to push for ideas that have power, even without full resources or budgets.
New York taught me the business of advertising.
Los Angeles taught me the culture of getting things done. Big things!
Amsterdam taught me how to implement ideas globally (and overcome the hurdles that come with global accounts).
Dubai is teaching me how to implement everything I’ve learned these past years, all at the same time. My role here at Havas is to inspire and make the work better. Although I feel that, yes, I still have a lot to learn, I am also at a stage where I can support my team and agency with some useful know-how and an ambitious drive that I picked up at all those pit stops along the way. In short, Dubai is teaching me how to be a better leader. Well, I hope it is, at least.
LBB> As the forms of creativity coming out of agencies evolve, incorporating technology, data, product innovation etc, how important is a grounding in traditional advertising crafts?
Joao> It’s everything. Technology can change, but the fundamentals of the advertising craft and communication strategy remains the same. Technological developments, data, and analytics, etc… these are amazing tools that make our industry more effective and should be sharpening our ideas and craft. But like with anything, we must never lose sight of the basics.
LBB> You arrived in Dubai in 2019 – what attracted you in the first place and what were your expectations?
Joao> The UAE is a country that is 50 years old. To quote Lin Manuel Miranda, “It’s young, scrappy, and hungry” and it is always looking forward to the future. What a lot of outsiders don’t realise is that people here have a sense that anything can be achieved. This is a common trait in nations that congregate a large mix of people from all backgrounds, and in that sense, it reminds me a lot of the US. When Havas invited me over, I noticed the agency potential right away. I thought, if I can have an impact here, then it can cause a bigger ripple than anywhere else in the world.
LBB> How have those expectations been met or exceeded or subverted?
Joao> Expectations have been met, but now it’s time to accelerate at full throttle. We are doing well when it comes to new business and elevating the work of our current clients. We are attracting better talent, and when people leave, they are moving on to the top places across the world. This is all healthy stuff. I only say this meets expectations because we have huge ambitions at Havas Middle East, and I know next year we will have more to show for those ambitions. I am fortunate here in that I have a strong relationship with our GM, Fabio Silveira, where our goals are very aligned. It makes things easier. Furthermore, this is all supported by an incredible leadership team across the Havas Middle East group.
LBB> Havas Middle East has done really well with the One Show this year – can you talk me through some of the projects from the past year that have really excited you and why?
Joao> We had a good run this year with LEGO. Our best year yet, but of course, now we want to do even better work. We already have a few exciting things in the pipeline. We just created an impactful campaign for one of our clients, which saw us bringing back a renowned figure from the UAE to deliver a never-given speech reminding the country of its past values. This was a technological feat as the team had to guarantee their visual likeness was near exact. It also meant scouring through hours of historical footage and speeches for an authentic delivery. We also recently reimagined in-mall directional signage with LEGO to launch their new store in Riyadh Park Mall.
I am proud of the work we are launching this month for adidas. It’s powerful work to launch a more inclusive women’s swimwear range. It will be a campaign with some punch, encouraging women of every shape, race, and faith to find freedom in the water.
We also have a bunch of fresh work for new clients to be released soon, and I hope this work will diversify our agency portfolio in terms of tone and style. It is important to be multifaceted. I want the work for all our clients to be excelling and winning across all our categories. A lot of work and time is going into our growth and the momentum of the agency, but the real acknowledgements go to the larger team at Havas Middle East.
LBB> How has the Covid-19 year influenced the sort of work you’re doing for clients and the creativity of the team?
Joao> What I think Covid-19 did more than anything else was empower people. It taught us to be more comfortable and reliant on each other. You have to trust people will deliver when you’re sitting far away and interacting remotely. It may have even sharpened some thinking, as a team member will always give something a bit more thought when you are waiting to jump on a call. So, if that makes sense, it pushed critical thinking.
Now that we are getting back, we have the best of both worlds: more considered work yet the ability to share that random unpolished thought that may just be a gem with the person next to you.
LBB> It always seems to me that Dubai and the United Arab Emirates are really interesting at the moment when it comes to activation, experiential and tech – what’s your take on the innovation going on in the city and across the UAE at the moment?
Joao> I think it all comes back to the UAE being such a young country. It is ambitious and has something to prove. The country is clearly demonstrating drive. I recently read an article that stated that the UAE was looking to more than double the number of creative companies and creators based in the Emirate over the next five years. It’s already a regional creative hub, and now it’s on its way to being a global one. Secondly, the UAE recently became one of the three countries to reach Mars. A country of less than 10 million people leading the world in space exploration — this is truly incredible. This sort of ambition is infectious across all industries and attracts talent. It’s an attitude that I believe leads the UAE to perform well at awards. All this makes Dubai an attractive place to work, and you feel that Dubai attracts talent from everywhere in the world.
LBB> What are the ad industry debates or issues that get you really riled up?
Joao> Diversity in agencies is one of the biggest challenges our industry faces. Of course, diversity matters greatly, but it goes far beyond providing equal opportunities. Diversity is simply much better for good work. At Havas Middle East, we have 34 nationalities under one roof, and we have an equal balance of male and female employees. Now, when we put people of varying backgrounds and walks of life to work together, of course you are going to get some fresh thinking and unique ideas. We need to make standout work and for now, our differences are not only a tool, but also our greatest assets.
LBB> And looking at the broader industry, what gets you really excited?
Joao> It was always ideas, and it always will be. It is what keeps me up and wakes me up. It is what our industry is built on. Anytime I can sit with people in the agency across any department to talk about the work (when I say the work, I mean our output) is the most enjoyable time of my day. Hearing a great concept gives me a rush. The tougher part is holding on to it and getting it made, but I’ll always love the conceptual part of the job.
LBB> Outside of work what do you like to get up to?
Joao> On weekends, it’s really whatever the family wants to do. The week already carries enough planning and decision making that I am happy to follow on weekends. I have two young kids to entertain, and Dubai is like Disneyland (for adults too), so you won’t get bored here.
LBB> When it comes to culture and broader creativity, what creators inspire you?
Joao> I’ll take inspiration from anywhere. My teams inspire me. I love it when people show me cool stuff or share a cool thought. I measure inspiration levels around what triggers me. It’s a cliché answer, but there is nothing more inspiring than life itself. I remember in art school my illustration tutor tasked me weekly to go out into the streets of London and just draw. Sit in the Tate and draw, sit in a café and draw, sit on a park bench and draw. Sit anywhere and just draw. It was a simple lesson in the observation of human behavior. So, if you’re currently in art school thinking where the hell am I going to professionally apply these lovely charcoal sketches, well now you know.
LBB> What are your hopes for the coming year?
Joao> To grow as a creative leader and continue the mission of building the best creative and impactful agency in the region. I want to enhance our production capabilities. Our craft and execution of work are getting better. However, these are what we are judged on, so it will always require a lot of focus.
Like anyone else in a creative leadership role, I want to see the team’s hard work pay off with more wins and recognition. There is a huge satisfaction when our team is winning, when we can promote people, or team members go on to bigger things. I expect Havas Middle East to be a place where people come to produce the best work of their career. I have an itchiness to get everything done, there is so much I want to see come into fruition over the coming years!