Wunderman Thompson Argentina’s new CCO on Argentina’s creative foundation, starting a new role during Covid-19 - and a previous career as a roller skating teacher
When Natalia Benincasa joined advertising, she did so at a time of immense creativity but also immense crisis for her nativeArgentina. Now, in 2020, she is settling into her new role, heading up creative at Wunderman Thompson Argentina as the country perseveres through the world’s longest Covid-19 lockdown – and that interplay of crisis and creativity has become poignantly relevant once more. But there’s lots to be excited about too – Natalia’s keen to get stuck in with CEO Vicky Cole and to build on the foundation started by the agency’s former creative heads (who are now Wunderman Thompson’s regional co-CCOs).
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Natalia to find out more about her experience.
LBB> Where did you grow up and did creativity play a big role in your life as a child/growing up?
Natalia> I grew up in a small neighbourhood in the west side of the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. An amazing place to be a child. I used to play on the sidewalk with my neighbours. We were all around the same age and we would create games. I have some photos that my mother took when she found us covered in mud, grass and flowers, because the game was called “you are a plant” and we destroyed the gardens! I am an only child, so I would come up with silly games all the time. Imagination was my ally and I can assure you, I never got bored.
LBB> How did you come across advertising as a career and what was it that made you think you wanted to study it and that it looked like an exciting career?
Natalia> Well, in the ‘90s Argentina's TV spots were a hit. For me, they were actually more interesting than the actual TV content. I remember repeating and acting them. A couple of years later, I finished high school and I wanted to study at University, but nothing caught my attention. I was looking for options and I read a bachelor's program with advertising as an option and I said: “Wait! Is this a career? I can do it” and I enjoyed University a lot.
LBB> You came into advertising at a time which feels was a really strong time for Argentinian advertising. There’s a wealth of amazing work from the early and mid 2000s. What was the local industry like when you joined it? And what were your highlights working at that time?
Natalia> By the time I started studying advertising in 2001, the country was going through the worst crisis ever known (at least until today). A very dark time. However, creativity was very strong. Although many agencies left the country, new mergers and independent ones appeared. Agulla & Baccetti continued to show the best of Argentinian talent to the world, opening doors. The crisis made people think more creatively in every aspect of their lives. I was completely understanding what was happening, so I didn´t want to lose any time. I had a print portfolio that I left at the agencies asking for a chance as a trainee over and over again while I was studying and working as a roller skating teacher. I think my first boss realised I was young but not afraid and I wouldn’t give up. I was committed to achieving it.
LBB> What was the best piece of advice you got when you were starting out your career?
Natalia> Well, I don't know in my career, but I can tell you an example from my life and how I made use of it. My dad used to say: “You can do whatever you want. Just work for it”. He encouraged me and believed I could. And this profession is as cool as it is tough. You need to trust yourself and work a lot with persistence. And if you are a woman in the creativity area, you will probably have to trust yourself twice as much.
LBB> You’ve spent quite a bit of your career working in Mexico – what was that experience like and what did you learn from the creative culture/advertising scene there?
Natalia> Mexico was a tremendous school for me. I had ups and downs and it took me some time to understand the culture. Despite being all Latin Americans, we have many differences and ways of working. I was the ex-pat, so I was the one who had to adapt the most. The first thing was adaptability. Once you understand how to be local, everything changes a lot. You can get inspired in every place you go. Film, food, art, architecture, local artisans, colours… It’s mind-blowing. I would love it if more of the street´s creative culture spread throughout agencies. Most of the advertising there still has a certain shyness to it, but there is tremendous creativity talent over there.
LBB> What projects or campaigns are you proudest of in your career and why?
Natalia> It is not the best one, but it is the one I feel proudest of because it changed the way a very traditional brand spoke in Latin America. It's a project close to my heart for its mission to visualise inequality. There is a significant equity gap between men and women – especially in Argentina – when it comes to spending time performing housework.
“Almost a Monument”.
LBB> How do you approach creative leadership?
Natalia> I’m brave, responsible and honest. I am constantly learning and every experience helps me see who I want to be as a leader. It is a work in progress commitment and I want to keep being in “draft”. I want to feel like saying “I don´t know” and to be more patient. I respectfully think this industry needs more humane leaders who make decisions with determination but also changing the sense of what's possible along the way, to be opened to discussion and inclusion.
LBB> I know Argentina’s had a tough time both economically and with Covid – how is the local advertising market responding?
Natalia> Argentina has been hit hard economically for years, from one crisis to another and people have tremendous endurance. Agencies also reflect that by adapting to survive with huge resilience. Yet, given the negative financial impact that the pandemic and local crisis are having on their business, some find alternative ways exporting talent or making alternative decisions. Wunderman Thompson has worked to maintain the conditions of its employees but selling one of the three offices we have and counting on the global support. Many others do not have that option. In general, we have a close relationship with the crisis, maybe we’ve learned to face it with courage and creativity above all.
LBB> Outside of advertising, what sort of creativity really inspires you and who are your non-advertising creative heroes?
Natalia> I´m a fashion fan. Yves Saint Laurent hit my heart; and his work and his life impacted me since I discovered him. Clothing design and fashion show. I made some fashion windows projects and I also studied set design. That inspired me a lot.
Architecture, art, literature, movies… of course they are part of my pleasures and daily inspiration.
LBB> What was it about the role at Wunderman Thompson and what they’re doing as an agency that appealed to you?
Natalia> I had the idea of coming back to Argentina, but I wouldn't do that till the moment I had a good opportunity in front of me. When Victoria (Cole – WT CEO) called me and she told me about the idea she had regarding the agency, I figured out that was my place. I needed to believe, as the first step. Wunderman Thompson has been making the difference in Argentina with amazing top creativity but also with strong data and technology. It's a real “people first” place to work, not only at words. Victoria has a strong commitment with inclusion and diversity and the team show those values through their work. Wunderman Thompson is the best place to work in Argentina, take note of this!
LBB> Wunderman Thompson is all about brining creativity together with data, ecommerce, UX, CX… as a creative how do you navigate the changing landscape and exciting new ways to help clients’ businesses while keeping creative integrity high?
Natalia> Wunderman Thompson has the best talent with a complex set of skills. Something that's pretty impossible to find anywhere else at the same time. We have the chance to offer a combination of analytics, technology, art, conceptual thinking, innovation, anthropology, business oriented strategy that can help sort out any clients´ businesses problems. If you understand yourself as a business amplifier and you have all these tools at hand, you can create something unique. I have been working with technology a lot and my concern is not to let yourself be seduced by technology but to always understand what helps you thrive. That's the moment when creativity goes back to the basics: we continue being problem solvers but now with robots by our side.
LBB> I know you only joined recently the agency, and at a really crazy time! Have you managed to get into your new office or is everyone still at home? What’s the experience been like? How have you found getting into things during the pandemic?
Natalia> Personally, it has been a tough time for me, and I'm trying to be strong. Many things are happening at the same time. I moved back to Argentina in the middle of the pandemic and started working at the agency remotely because everyone is still at home. It has been like: “Hi! This avatar is your new boss… you know?” but the team is so amazing and they are making it really easy. I am taking the time to get into things step by step. Sebastián Tarazaga and Daniel Minaker (now regional CCO) made amazing work with the team and I want to maintain those creativity´s standards.
LBB> What do you think is the most exciting thing about the advertising and marketing industry, in Argentina and more generally, right now?
Natalia> As I was telling you, I think we are a problem-solving industry and we have a huge challenge now in terms of keeping on helping our clients to be bold and to rethink their purposes. We are reinventing us in many aspects: technologically, in the business but most importantly questioning paradigms. I feel so excited to be right here, right now, because I want to help. Ad industry is evolving to be more ethical and representative. I want to believe in that and it makes me feel I am doing something important. We are questioning a solid model of years and years. It's more important than ever to be unapologetically proud of every little thing we achieve towards a better industry.
LBB> And what is the most frustrating thing?
Natalia> We are all working with too many problems in our heads. We are worried about our health and our families and friends´ health. We have problems, fears and doubts and it´s super complicated to ask your brain to think creatively. It's frustrating when you have to ask someone to be inspired in these times.
LBB> Usually I’d ask what your plans are for the coming year, but it seems really difficult to make hard and fast plans! So, rather, what are your hopes for the coming year?
Natalia> This is the hardest question you have asked me! I would like to say: to find the vaccine!