72andSunny Amsterdam ECD talks to Alex Reeves about growing up on the US-Mexico border, his reflections on diversity and why he doesn’t miss the sun of Texas or California
72andSunny Amsterdam is riding high right now. Having won plenty of new business in 2019, including Audi’s global account, William Hill, YouTube, Hack Your Future and Movember, the agency beefed up its creative leadership by promoting Rey Andrade to executive creative director in January 2020.
Rey has been in the 72andSunny family since he joined the Los Angeles agency eight years ago before switching the Californian sun for Dutch drizzle to join the team in Amsterdam in 2016. Since then he’s taken over creative leadership for Uber at the agency, launching the brand’s first pan-European campaign, contributed to creating IKEA’s AR shopping app and led some gigantic work for Google.
To get to know the man behind the creativity, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Rey.
LBB> You grew up on the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. That's a fascinating place with a unique cultural identity! What was it like growing up there?
Rey> It didn’t occur to me for quite some time how specific and unique a place like El Paso was to grow up in. I think when you’re a kid and it’s all you know, you don’t really see it for what it is. But there is this beautiful collision of cultures and ideas and sense of identity that happened for me growing up where I did. I got to experience Mexico as part of my everyday life probably similarly to how a Downtown kid might experience Brooklyn. And I was fortunate to grow up in a city where the predominant culture is Hispanic, so I grew up proud of my roots and didn’t feel marginalised or other, which isn’t the norm in other parts of the country. I also grew up as part of a really big family and there is this strong sense of community in El Paso which again I reflect back on often and absolutely count myself lucky for having had.
LBB> And how do you think that background has affected the way you've developed as a person and as a creative?
Rey> For sure where and how I grew up had a big effect on how I turned out (for better or worse!). This really interesting thing would happen where you’d grow up having traditional and deeply rooted Chicano and Mexican culture sitting side by side and often all mixed up with American culture. For instance with something like music, I had my parents’ (Chicano-tinged soul and rock music) mixed with my grandma’s (cumbia and ranchera from Mexico) all while I was getting influence from my sister’s tastes (British new wave and dance music). The same thing was happening with almost everything I was exposed to from films and TV to food and art.
Another aspect of growing up on the border is an awareness you have of much bigger and often profound or global themes like border politics and policies, the disparity of wealth both on the American side and more extreme on the Mexican side, the reality of immigration, the hardships of migrant work etc. All that is just always floating and buzzing around you and I think it gave me a sense of curiosity about other cultures and the idea of borders and also the beautiful side of humanity which is universal.
LBB> I saw you speak at the ADCE Festival in 2018 on the subject of diversity and was fascinated by your theory of the many layers of identity people have. Can you talk about why all of those layers are important to an agency's creative quality?
Rey> Ooh this is a big one, but I’m glad you asked. There’s a personal answer to this question which relates to spending the first half of my career being one of the few (and often the only) persons of colour in many work settings. The majority of those experiences were positive and only very rarely was I put into a toxic or uncomfortable experience. But the fact remained that when I looked around the rooms I was in I was disappointed with the lack of diversity and inclusion I was seeing. So, on a purely fairness and equality level this has always been important for me and it should be obvious why that’s important for everyone.
Now the more exciting bit is about what happens with creativity when you embrace this way of working. Our office in Amsterdam is currently made up of 140 people from 25 nationalities and we speak 19 languages. This makes for longer meetings sometimes, but it also means that we’re forcing a lot of collisions in our day to day - collisions of references, cultural experiences, and experiences. It means that every time we all stand around a wall evaluating ideas there is just more opportunity for us to surprise each other and we’re in a constant state of listening and learning.
LBB> How did you make your first moves into advertising?
Rey> I was bouncing around a few of my interests and didn’t really know what to do with them - not an unusual story in our industry. While I was in design school my sister introduced me to some friends, which led to an internship, which led to a job, which led to me dropping out of university (sorry mom) to build a portfolio and get into the industry properly. Once I was exposed to a world where I could explore all of my interests and passions on the daily, I was hooked.
LBB> And were there any particular projects or moments from early in your career that shaped you as a creative?
Rey> I was fortunate because my first job was at an agency (Venables Bell & Partners) that was in its second year of existence. They didn’t have a junior creative at the time and the room was filled with very accomplished and experienced people - people whose reputations and work I was very much aware of and influenced by. So, I spent those first four years watching an agency become itself and got to be a fly on the wall for a lot of introspective and brand building moments. Also being the youngest creative in the building meant that there wasn’t a project too small for me; I was excited about all of it. I cleaned up all the scraps that fell out of the big campaigns we were doing.
LBB> Why did you decide to move from Los Angeles to Amsterdam?
Rey> I’ve been in the 72 family for over eight years and that time has been split between LA and Amsterdam. I’ve always felt this pull to Europe, ever since I was young. it’s where a lot of my cultural interests are. But really my biggest motivations were working in the most diverse agency I could and learning how to work on a truly global level. Also, I had always been mesmerized by the work coming out of the Amsterdam office and wanted to be a part of it.
LBB> What was the experience of that move like? Anything you particularly remember about that period in your life?
Rey> The transition from LA to Amsterdam was easier than I expected. I thought I would miss the weather and general southern California vibes but apparently I’m not much of a beach guy and prefer the warmth of a cozy brown bar over the sunshine. There are for sure a lot of things I miss but having the chance to bounce around Europe has eased the transition.
LBB> Which recent projects are you most proud of?
Rey> We just put out our first campaign for Fanta, purpose driven and brand-defining work, and it's some of the most ridiculous work we’ve ever made. Our office has built a reputation for doing transformative brand work (think Axe and Google) and I’m proud that we can point all that strategic firepower and brand excellence into expressions that are joyful, silly, funny, delightful, and appropriately idiotic.
LBB> What are your main aims and ambitions for 72andSunny Amsterdam in the coming months and years?
Rey> We want to continue the current wave of momentum going with our long-standing relationships like Google and Adidas as well as the new relationships like Coca-Cola and Audi. And I’m excited to see the smart and soulful, creatively excellent work that spills out of the minds of the wonderful people I get to work with every day.
LBB> What things out in general culture do you tend to draw the most inspiration from? Are there any particular creative people whose output you consistently love?
Rey> I can’t ever draw a straight line from the things I find culturally interesting to the work I make - it’s all a big tangle of ideas and influence bouncing around my head. But these days I spend most of my free time with two of the most curious and creative people I know - my 8- and 10-year-old sons who don’t give two cents about cultural currency and they experience everything with an open mind and an insatiable curiosity (this is all kids by the way). They keep me silly and they keep me wide-eyed.
These days I also spend a lot of time in record stores or on Discogs digging, and when I can, playing records at parties or even at home late at night while the house is asleep.