Felipe Ribeiro The creative director on the hurdles of being a Latinx creative

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WordsFelipe Ribeiro

The findings of this year’s Ideas Report revealed that creatives in countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are more willing to take creative risks, are more optimistic about the future of creativity and are more confident in their creative ideas than those that answered from places like the US or UK. Here, Felipe Ribeiro—a creative director at Wieden + Kennedy—explores this.

Designs by Raissa Pardini.

See the full Ideas Report and find out what the future of creative work looks like at WeTransfer Ideas Report 2021.

Let me clarify: this is not a step-by-step tutorial on how to make it as a Latino in the creative industry. It’s more about the hurdles of being a Latinx creative. 

A friend of mine once said to me that if you’re Brazilian and want to make it as a singer, you need to know how to dance, act, perform, improvise, tap-dance, manage your own career, write content, knit and, well, you better know how to bring the house down just with singing.

 This is not only true—it’s the rule. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living: making it as anything in Latin America can be part obstacle course, part marathon and part reality TV show. 

As a Latinx creative, you learn really fast that you yourself are not the center of the world. You’re also not in the center of the world. Actually, you’re at least 7,000 kilometres away from the center of the advertising world—which is inconveniently located in the United States or Europe. So making it goes far beyond creating stuff.

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As a Latinx creative, you learn really fast that you yourself are not the center of the world.

Sure, many creatives have to go through the process of selling ideas to the client. But to Latin American creatives there’s no such thing as “the client”. They work with an interminable stream of local, regional and global clients, as well as researchers and stakeholders, to whom they have to sell, shift, pivot and adapt ideas over and over again. Oh, and you’ll probably have to do so in at least two—maybe even three—different languages. And if your idea is finally approved, it will be submitted—alas—to a global agency that will probably just try and kill it so as to eliminate competition. Sounds exhausting, right?

But it makes them resilient. More patient. Better listeners. More collaborative. More aware that, in order to succeed, every single one of their clients needs to succeed with them. 

Latinx creatives often have to do the exact opposite of selling their own ideas. A lot of the time, their task is to create something locally off of somebody else’s global idea. Extracting meaning out of a foreign POV, translating the untranslatable, injecting emotion and meaning into a project or brief that is potentially alien to your own culture, and can show a total lack of sensitivity towards the culture you’re actually creating for. And, all the while, you need to find energy despite enormous strategic and creative restraints. And then you go right back to translating it all for a global audience for approval, under the gaze of the center of the ad world, thousands of miles away from your lived reality. 

 But it makes them more empathetic. More aware of global culture, generational tensions, universal truths, deeper emotions that every single human on this planet can relate to.

As a Latinx creative, you gotta learn how to make something out of nothing, or near nothing. Because, being far from the center of the ad world, the big brief, the dream brief, never comes. The Super Bowl brief? In your dreams. So every brief, no matter how small, has to be thought out like the big one. What’s the opportunity here? How can we instill maximum ambition in a minimal task? How to generate friction, garner attention and tap into culture without the full support of big media bucks and huge established brands?

 But it makes them scrappier. It makes them confident in their ideas, and in their ability to sell them, because they have to believe in them first. It also makes them stronger, knowing a great idea not only is enough—it has to be enough. 

 (It also makes them great at winning awards. For which they should never apologize).

 Latino creatives quickly realize it’s not really about concepting and having ideas. You’re part of the craft. You’re a true artisan. Not only writing, but also designing, imagining, mood-boarding, editing, sourcing every bit and every pixel, and finding every reference that’s part of this idea—all of it alone or with just your creative partner. It’s about working closely with directors and crews to turn unimaginably small budgets into grand executions, right down to lending someone your car or carrying the production boxes together. 

 By being closer to every bit of the action, Latin American creatives make better teachers and leaders for younger talent. And they stay more aware of how everything is done, and therefore more appreciative of other people’s talents.

All of this, obviously, isn’t true exclusively of Latinx creatives. That’s the reality of the Global South, away from the sophistication of UK consumers, the opportunity of the US market or the dollars of the global (read “northern”) arenas. This is most likely true also of creatives in many other places: in India, in South Africa, in the Middle East. 

So, all in all, how to make it as a Latin American creative? It doesn’t just take being resilient, empathetic and maybe a little scrappy. And it doesn’t just take talent. It also takes an enormous amount of luck. But whatever your talent, or your luck, unfortunately there simply aren’t enough opportunities out there. If you think there are lots of us in your local industry or agency, think again. These are just the ones who lucked out and the ones who survived.

Although global agencies and their holding companies are literally everywhere, they still haven’t developed—to their own loss—the systems to recognize, promote and include this diverse pool of talent, despite the post-pandemic awakening of remote work and the unprecedented level of global mobility in the 21st century. 

 And, for as long as it continues like that, Latinx creatives and Global South creatives in general will continue to tap-dance, sing, act, perform and improvise in an attempt to make it. It’s about time leaders start to take notice, since global advertising won’t ever be truly global without, alas, global talent.