Alejandro Di Trolio has focused on digital creativity and innovation for more than 18 years, working across Latin America and Europe. Over these years, he’s led multidisciplinary creatives teams with a focus to find new disruptive ways to connect with audiences.
Executive creative director at Cheil Spain since early 2020, Alejandro has experienced independent and global network agencies of many kinds, such as Leo Burnett, BBDO, MIG, Nucorpa, Territorio Creativo, and Good Rebels. Before Cheil, he was ECD at Good Rebels leading global creative teams in five cities (London, Madrid, México, Colombia, and Barcelona).
Most recently we spoke to Alejandro about Cheil Spain’s pioneering work helping people with ALS to communicate.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with him to get a bit more depth on his perspective as a creative leader.
LBB> Where did you grow up and how did that shape who you are today?
Alejandro> I grew up between Venezuela and Italy. But most of the time I was in Venezuela, in Caracas.
When I grew up in Venezuela it was one of the most solid economies and democracies on the continent. But when everything started to move to another level I went to Italy because my family's from there.
It was very similar in terms of culture, but totally different in terms of democracy and rights. It was a great mix of both sides.
LBB> What's your biggest memory of the move to Italy? What was the biggest change?
Alejandro> I think that people these days are similar in terms of character, but there are a lot of codes and norms that are totally different. Trying to understand the culture and language. It was not a culture shock. For example, if you go from Venezuela to Denmark, or Italy from Japan, that would be more shocking.
Then when I arrived in Spain I had to make a lot of changes in my mindset about society and culture.
For me, all the changes were really great to be more open mind, because when you live in one country all your life and don't have the opportunity to travel, to challenge yourself, or explore new people, new challenges, new cultures, you are in your comfort zone. I haven't had time to be in my comfort zone at any moment in my life because everything has totally changed. I think that is great because I'm a mix of many things. And I like to be in this kind of combination of worlds.
LBB> Did you show signs of creativity when you were young?
Alejandro> I have always been close to creativity. My family was really close to creativity. Not advertising work - my uncle was a famous painter in Latin America and I have cousins who are designers. I was surrounded by people that loved creativity and in the end I chose creativity. But not for them, for television.
My mother worked a lot. My father was always travelling. And I spent my days watching TV. I always said that my first teacher was the television. All the codes, all the stereotypes, all the things that you have in your mind and you grow up with, whether it was advertising, series or other TV shows. I remember that in the '90s television was absolutely king of culture. The centre of culture around the world was television.
For me it was a window as well, because I had satellite TV and could see all the Spanish and non-Spanish channels. I started to understand many languages or codes of television. Television was like a window - the world is not only what you can see, it is really wide. So my first teacher was a television. And in the end I finished in advertising.
LBB> How did you get into advertising in the first place?
Alejandro> Leo Burnett in Venezuela was my first opportunity to enter a big corporation, understand the codes of advertising and try to demonstrate things. When you are a trainee, a world is opened up to you. And I took advantage of this. I remember that I had the opportunity to work with really great people and I started to make use of this through learning. You start with big teachers in an advertising agency, you go to another, you bring this knowledge, you put it into another agency, all the way until now. I have a lot of background from my early years, from when I was in Italy, from people in London. Right now I am in a Korean corporation, which means another world, another culture. And it's great because you can compare Western with Korean culture, wow, it's different.
LBB> Do you remember some of the more important lessons early in your career that have stuck with you?
Alejandro> One lesson was in another agency when I was a junior. I filled all my notebooks with ideas. I had like 14 ideas, really quickly, in one afternoon so I could go to my creative director with all these ideas like drafts. He said, "Right now you think you're smart because you've filled the notebook with ideas. But when you grow up, you're going to realise that you are smart when you only have one good idea." This was a great lesson because in those times I remember that all my colleagues in the agency were obsessed with presenting a lot of ideas to try to demonstrate that we are really fresh. I remember after that I started to filter my ideas and only have one or two. At this end of my career I demand the same. This lesson is with me always. When I go to a pitch I always go with one: "This is the real big idea that I want to show you. You give me your time and attention and I'm going to use your time or your money. I'm only going to give you the idea that we trust." I can't always do that. But I try.
LBB> As you were coming up through the industry, what were some of the projects you worked on that taught you a lot?
Alejandro> I've always had a digital mind. My profile is really digital. And when you are digital, you have the opportunity to touch many brands. Working with IKEA, we created a lot of great things. We worked with Domino's to create great campaigns about Pride and all these different kinds of digital ideas becoming viral. I love the opportunity to create ideas that connect with people. That for me is the most important part. I always think that when you reach the goal is when you have something that people not only see but share, comment and interact with. This is my obsession in all the brands that I have worked on - trying to connect worlds, because only a unidirectional spot or radio ad is not enough. At least that's my mindset.
LBB> Coming to Cheil Spain in 2020, what was the attraction of the agency?
Alejandro> The attraction is interaction and technology. This is one of the most important parts for me right now, seeing how I can connect on another level that at this moment doesn't exist. When you have, for example, Samsung, the big brand of this agency, you have the opportunity to connect on different levels because you have really smart people working with you. And this is one of the things that I put in my consideration when I arrived here. In the past, I was working with outsourcing people that bring me the technology to create things in digital ways with gadgets or with new technology. Here they are creating the new technology that is going to define the next 10 years.
LBB> There's obviously so much opportunity for that within the agency, just because of the client that you're working with, but also because of the culture of it being a Korean agency. How do you sense that as a culture, impacting on how you work?
Alejandro> The culture here is something that I feel attracted to - the way they do things. They are really perseverant. They have an idea and they go for it until the end. They take risks and go forward to try to make it real. I travel a lot to Asia. And this is something that I always think about when I go to China or Korea or Japan: they have one thing in mind and until they've done all they can, they don't stop. For this reason I think that right now Asia is in the place where they are because they break a lot of barriers and prejudices that we have in the Western culture. They don't have these misconceptions. They’re going to make it happen. This is great when you have an idea like Tallk. If you have an idea like this, they go for it. And they continue with your idea.
LBB> I can definitely see that comes through in projects like Tallk, which of course we spoke about a few weeks ago. What most excites you about that kind of project?
Alejandro> I think the most interesting part of this project is that it was created in 2020. It was a big challenge, a test of resistance, because we had to create all the development of the app, a campaign, with people that didn't have the opportunity to communicate with us as a result of the coronavirus, with all the team separate. We had one year working on this project, we need to continue creating awareness. But most I'm excited to see this year, when it goes around the world and everybody can see. At the time when we created it we had a lot of barriers. Whenever we started thinking of something, somebody said, "No, you can't do that." We had to record some parts in the summer last year with three people and a big production company. We had to eat in separate rooms. All these factors that make that the project incredible - this is one part, the production in this moment.
The second part is that we created it in this moment when all the people that suffer with ALS need this technology to communicate because they are isolated. The most important part for me is that right now they are enjoying the opportunity to communicate with people, turn on a light, turn on the TV or maybe order food. It's the best moment to test these things. They definitely have to work. It was really complicated to get it produced, but in the end it was worth it.
LBB> Are there any other projects that you've worked on the last couple of years that you're really proud of?
Alejandro> A project that I really love is for Domino's Pizza
where in the Pride 2019, we invited people to competitors of Domino's. We created posters demonstrating that we weren't going to show our advertising - we were going to show the advertising of others, for example, KFC, McDonald's or Taco Bell. We created posters celebrating diversity, because Pride is not about sexuality alone, it's a celebration of diversity, no matter how you are. We started with a poster campaign, finished with social media, connecting KFC with Domino's, McDonald's with Burger King. It was a kind of filter between those brands. This was the first time in Spain that they communicated with each other because they always had separate communications and never talked with the other brands. From Domino's we not only sent a message of diversity, we demonstrated that diversity is good, because we are all friends, we are all connected. It was cool because it demonstrates something that for me is important - that digital platforms have to connect with people and connect with diversity. The client rejected the campaign in the beginning but at the end they decided to go with it.
LBB> Is there anything that you think particularly needs to change in advertising today?
Alejandro> Right now we have a problem. When I was junior you had a local brand that worked like a local brand. But right now with globalisation and the connection of headquarters, all companies have somebody that leads approvals. And it's very complicated to have approval, for example, for Domino’s Spain to promote KFC, with a campaign like this. It's too risky. But this is one of the most interesting campaigns. I hope that in the times after coronavirus, maybe all the headquarters have the freedom to do different things locally because we are in a world where everything is local. I think that we need to go local, because the local is the connection with the people. We have connections with people in the street, somebody that lives in London or New York or Paris doesn't have this connection to know if an idea can work or not. It's something really difficult. I think that this is our challenge for our sector.
I always think that in 10 years we're going to have more possibilities in local than we have right now. Nobody wants to make mistakes on the big decisions taken in the high levels of the pyramid. But I think that we're really happy to give the opportunity to this junior creative that has one idea that's really local and is going to work really well in social, in digital or maybe in television. We don't need to do so many adaptations. For me this is the main problem that we have in advertising around the world.
Right now I am judging for Cannes and I see many ideas that are really similar. Because everybody's thinking in a global way, and we lost this connection with reality. When I see ideas that are connected with something small that impacts people in a specific city, I think this is the kind of idea I want to award. These are the ideas that take effort to sell, effort to produce. Somebody in London or Paris or Tokyo said, "I'm going to do that. I'm going to bet on this. I don't care if I lose my job." The problem is that people have this kind of fear when there's a big corporation and you are a part of it. But when you take a risk is when the creativity is really great.
LBB> Local culture is fascinating and where a lot of human character comes from. With that in mind you're in Madrid now. Is there anything in the creativity of Madrid that you think is interesting, right now?
Alejandro> We have great agencies here in Spain. The problem is, everything is focused on Madrid and Barcelona. This is something that I was discussing with people in the UK and they said the same - London takes all the energy and if you are not in London it's really complicated to produce many things. Here is the same. For example, as one guy in Seville or Bilbao, if I want to create something, I don't have the resources or the opportunity because everything is centred in Madrid.
We have a really great agency. With the pandemic world that we are living in, a lot of people are suffering, losing jobs because many brands cut their budgets. But here, the good thing is that we live with crisis, we always try to generate ideas with small money, with great insights.
There is one idea from Spain I really love that is really local because it's from the Andalusian people. It's created in Madrid, but with this connection with the people that live in Andalusia. It says to be proud of your accent because the accent is the only way that you have to demonstrate who you are or what you're going to create in the future because it's your roots. They created technology to rescue a legend of flamenco music, Lola Flores. She sent a message in 2021 after 15 years of being dead. She said you have to be proud of your accent. You don't have to change your accent. Because there are a lot of Andalusian people that arrive in Madrid and change their accent. Cruzcampo is the brand and the campaign is 'Con Mucho Acento' - 'With a Lot of Accent'. I love his campaign because it's something local but it's universal because everybody has an accent. It's Spanish, but delivered with insight that probably people outside don't understand, but here has a lot of power.
LBB> We spoke about how television was your first teacher, and you've ended up as a very digital focused creative. Do you like it when you get a chance to work on a TV campaign?
Alejandro> No. I am not this kind of digital creative that loves digital but ignores TV. I really like the concept, and I think that the concept is the same in TV or in a campaign for social media or even Tallk. In the end you have a concept, you have a powerful insight. I prefer connection with people.
When I was young, I always threw bottles out to sea. And I would wait to see the bottles that returned. I had the obsession to put paper with a message in, like The Police song. (In the '90s nobody was thinking about plastic pollution.) I remember that I always had this metaphor that what that you throw out to sea returns to you. I always want to see this reaction in a campaign. And in digital you have this reaction immediately. If you have a campaign that doesn't work, the numbers don't go with you.
When you have a TV commercial, radio or print campaign, you have this sensation that everybody's seeing you and can talk about you on social media, but the interaction with the campaign is not so quick and strong, because in digital you can create a campaign together. This is really great. For this reason I love the kind of TV spot that finishes in the digital world, or maybe starts on social media and becomes a spot. For me this is the kind of relationship that we need to have between digital and TV. The production is the same cost. But the kind of connection with people that complete the advertising is something like a co-creation that these days is great. It's something that we need to do. I really love to do this kind of thing.