Born and raised in Medellin - at the time of his childhood it was the most dangerous city in the world - Juan Isaza was a quiet kid that spent hours programming on an old computer, dreaming of one day being a journalist. The reporting bug never did quite catch him but another form of communications - advertising - did.
Nowadays, Juan is the strategic planning & innovation VP at DDB Latina. He’s passionate about the interplay between strategy and innovative thinking and confesses that he’s always been in love with creativity. Each year he puts together a pretty epic trends report for the year ahead, something he initially did for himself but which now gets translated from Spanish into English and Portuguese and undoubtedly serves as a trusty companion for his agency colleagues and its clients.
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with him to find out more.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? How did you feel about advertising?
Juan> I grew up in Medellin, Colombia. When I was a kid, Medellin used to be the most dangerous city in the world. I was very lucky that, even with all the issues happening around me, my childhood was blissfully happy. I was an introverted kid, not very different to what I am now! My most enjoyable activity was spending uncountable hours programming on a small Texas Instrument computer, reading and writing. I was not much into sports to be honest! My dream as a kid was to become a journalist. Communications and advertising were something that captured my attention and have been a passion since ever.
LBB> How did you end up working in advertising? Was it a planned thing or more a happy accident?
Juan> It was more like a happy accident. As I said, my dream was to become a journalist but after graduating in Communications, a local advertising agency in Medellin requested an alumnus for the media department. They sent my CV and after a couple of interviews, I was hired. That local agency had just merged two weeks prior to that with DDB Worldwide. It was love at first sight with the legacy of Bill Bernbach and the DDB culture. Starting in a media department has always influenced my way of seeing strategy; the importance of data, statistics and a deep knowledge of consumers is of prime importance. But I must confess that I have always been in love with creativity.
LBB> You're the strategic planning & innovation VP at DDB Latina. Tell us about the role and what it entails. How are strategy and innovation intertwined?
Juan> My role is to support DDB Latina offices with the use of strategic tools, to coach planners and to work with local and regional accounts, and supporting them with new business activities. Innovation has a lot to do with helping clients to find new solutions for their businesses but also with reinventing our business and exploring new areas where we can add value to clients’ businesses. I think strategy without innovation is not conceivable. Strategy is always an exercise of creativity, finding an unexpected way for connecting brands and consumers.
LBB> The Latina region is one that has cultural similarities, but it's also hugely diverse. How do you navigate that on a regional level?
Juan> Compared to other regions, Latina is a much more homogeneous region. Having only two main languages makes it much easier to navigate. At the same time, there are cultural differences that make it very interesting. There are similarities in history amongst most of the countries but the political, economic and social realities create very different consumers with particular drivers and motivations. I feel very lucky that I have the opportunity to travel across the countries in the Latina region. Although traveling dramatically decreased with the pandemic, having the possibility of discussing with planners and listening to their local visions remains an absolute pleasure.
LBB> Each year you put together a huge trends report for the forthcoming 12 months. I won't pick your brains too much on it because people can read it, but how do you go about doing such a thing, especially in the unpredictable landscape of 2022? What is your method?
Juan> It started as a personal activity. Every January I used to take some time to review a large number of sources, media publications, and trend reports in order to create my personal version of the trends for the coming year. Some colleagues encouraged me to publish it online. It was like 10 years ago. I don’t have a very elaborate methodology. Around August every year I start collecting articles, ideas and thoughts. I use a mind mapping tool for organising the topics and it’s generally during the last week of the year that I take the time to write the report. Once it is published in Spanish, it is translated into English and Portuguese.
LBB> Why are reports like this particularly helpful for the agency and its clients?
Juan> I think they are useful because brands need to plan for the consumer that is emerging. Trends are always valuable for brands who want to move at the speed of culture. Many clients to whom I present the report every January find it inspiring in terms of better understanding of their consumers. I think they see it as a curated selection of topics they should have in mind. Inside the agency, creatives think that the report helps them to come up with proactive ideas for clients.
LBB> Thinking of your report for 2022 - now that we are two months into the year, what is one element of the report that you believe to be particularly important and why?
Juan> Perhaps the most relevant one, considering the latest events in Europe, is the fact that brands have a great opportunity to help consumers manage anxiety and uncertainty. Either by creating physical or virtual spaces, helping consumers with their mental health is a relevant opportunity for brands.
LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective, one that you feel demonstrates great strategy?
Courage is a common factor of many great strategies. Recently, I would mention the Christmas campaign for Itaú bank in Brazil
. Brazil is a very politically polarised country at the moment and the campaign became a viral phenomenon as it inspired people to reconcile. I’m always fascinated with strategies that are not only able to get inspiration from culture but also have an impact on it.
LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?
Juan> That is true. Agencies - and particularly creative directors - are giving much more attention to effectiveness awards. We all know that creativity is the detonator of emotions and emotions are the triggers that produce changes in consumer behaviour. So, a good idea should be an effective idea. It’s great when you see the same campaign winning creative and effectiveness awards. At DDB Latina we say that we are the most effective agency because we are the most creative and we are the most creative agency because we are the most effective one. I see the future of creative and effectiveness awards much more intertwined. I also see much more integration between planning and creative departments and that is also a great thing for agencies and clients.
LBB> What's the thing you're most proud of in your career so far?
Juan> I feel incredibly proud of the great strategic talents that have grown in DDB Latina. I feel very humbled by having influenced their careers and now seeing them succeed in many markets and geographic locations.
LBB> Outside of work, what inspires you?
Juan> I think I get inspiration from many sources. I love movies, particularly art house cinema. I love listening to podcasts on current events, politics and history. Western history and Latin American history are particularly inspiring. But I have to say that nothing inspires me as much as travelling, walking the streets of a foreign city, visiting a museum and listening to people’s stories.