Wunderman Thompson Chile’s VP of creative on how punk opened up a love of writing, how Chile is opening up on social justice and why Sponge Bob is a creative hero
Samer Zeidan is leading his creative team with the boldness and passion of punk. A quick look at the work that’s come out of Wunderman Thompson Chile over the past two years reveals an unapologetic frankness and openness of heart. Whether it’s the musical expressiveness of campaigns for the Chilean soccer channel and Nescafe, or creative that embraces the on-the-ground reality of protest and social justice movements.
In fact, it was punk and music generally that first led Samer to writing as he fell in love with the poetry of song lyrics. Eventually, he fell into advertising and couldn’t be happier that he did. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Samer to learn more.
LBB> What kind of kid were you and what role did creativity play in your childhood?
Samer> I spent most of my time playing outside, playing hide and seek on the street and ringing doorbells and running away. Fun stuff that kids can’t do today.
I would pick up stray dogs and cats. My parents hated it but still let me keep them. I used to climb a tree at my cousin’s house and eat green apples, I swam in the river and the lake, always swimming farther than I was allowed to. Then I discovered punk music, the guitar, and with that, lifelong friends.
My childhood was beautiful and thinking, writing, and being myself was never a problem.
I grew up in La Union, a city in southern Chile where life was simple and the people were good. I think this way of growing up, unknowingly, had a lot to do with creativity.
LBB> How did you discover your love of writing?
Samer> I always admired the song lyrics of my favourite bands, how they talked about injustice, peoples dreams and love in a way that others didn't, with passion, poetry and frankness. The talent some people have to speak, sing or tell the story of their truth, always blows my mind, a truth that hurts and truth that inspires.
LBB> And what led you to be a writer in advertising?
Samer> I didn't have a clear plan back then, and I really don’t know how I ended up in advertising but I’m really glad I did. I really enjoy my job, working in this industry - you get to learn so many different things. And you meet really inspiring people.
LBB> More generally, Wunderman Thompson has been quite pioneering in how its combined experience, consulting, data, CRM with creativity and advertising. How does that work in the agency in Chile, and where does creativity sit in the mix?
Samer> It’s true, we are kind of a different species in the agency world, WT is about creativity, data and technology, working alongside our clients to solve problems and find solutions that consider all angles, and that means involving everyone at the agency, not just the creative team.
Our office in Chile is going through a lot of changes right now and there is a lot of expectation, there’s new talent in most areas, we are making processes more agile, integrating tools that improve workflow but don’t kill our inspiration. We want our clients to be our partners while we push them to think outside the box. We are learning, but most importantly, we are UN-learning.
Creativity is key to separating a brand from the others, especially in categories in which the products are all the same.
LBB> What’s the past year been like in Chile, with regards to Covid? Have you been at home or in the office?
Samer> We’ve been working from home for a year and a half and we’ve managed to stay very close, we are putting people at the centre of our operation providing every tool necessary so everyone can work from home. It’s been hard to change the way we live life, but we've managed, with the good and the bad. I am very proud of the WT team, including some that aren’t with us anymore.
LBB> Aside from Covid, Chile has had a really interesting year politically too – how has that impacted the market and inspired creatives?
Samer> Before Covid, we were experiencing the greatest transformation of the last 30 years, Chile woke up and became empowered, fighting for social issues demanding a more just country. It’s been hard on everyone, we've had to reconstruct ourselves… important stuff has been put on hold while the fight for social justice becomes stronger. Chilean Brands, with some exceptions, preferred not to talk about the social context, then Covid came and brand communication shifted towards that.
In that context, brands had problems like everyone else, especially in retail, but today most of them are turning to empathy as a communication territory. We see phone companies, banks and service brands capitalizing and growing through this connection with people. This is happening not only at a communication level, it has impacted on what companies do, improving how people access their services, making people more comfortable staying at home or helping other businesses through credit and other development opportunities.
We have seen this up-close through our clients, like Derco, Nescafé, Inacap and Bupa, the largest health network in the country, has been especially relevant during the pandemic.
LBB> What do people outside of Chile need to know to ‘get’ or understand the creativity in the market?
Samer> You need to understand our recent history, the last two years we have changed the way we think and live, changes that began before the Covid pandemic, and they are shown through writing, art, and communication. New symbols have been emerged from the roots of the Chilean culture, new political and social actors. The “Cop Killer” dog is an example of that, this image has been used in political campaigns, ad campaigns, cartoons, and I’m sure he’ll be guest starring in a movie. We are a country with a good sense of humour, we can laugh at our own tragedies, and you can see this in advertising. We are loosening up and are talking about issues that were ignored or even taboo, such as gender equality, homosexual adoption, or the protection of the environment. Issues that are part of some brands communication, but there is a long way to go.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?
Samer> First of all, my kids, for the ability to wonder, to listen and think freely.
Sponge Bob: every time I watch it with the kids I feel like a lousy creative.
Tarantino: I love how he raises historical and social issues with so much honesty and doing it through action packed stories. I admire how he developed his own style and keeps reinventing himself. It’s that bit of crazy that geniuses have.
Leandro Raposo: the best copywriter I've seen so far. I grew up watching his campaigns, listening to him talk about the way he sees the industry. The Bankinter campaign changes the way banks communicate.
And I follow the work of many creatives at agencies like David, the work from across the WT Latam is amazing, Droga 5, Martin Mercado, just to name a few.
LBB> What projects/campaigns from the past year are you particularly proud of and why?
FUTBOLEROS for the soccer (futbol in Chile) channel. This campaign came out during the explosion of the social movement, it gave visibility to the channel at a time where all games were cancelled because of the social crisis.
PON TU GRANO for Nescafé.. a hopeful campaign which was launch at the beginning of the pandemic when we were all quarantined. We had people sing Fitos Paez' famous “Dar es Dar” and shared it with thousands of others to show support during the hard times.
PLAY FOR YOUR DREAMS for Training Sports, a powerful graphic campaign with real photographs of the 2019 protests, showing how each person is fighting their own battle.
NATURE IS CALLING FOR HELP FOR WWF, a campaign that brings awareness about deforestation by using the birds that imitate surrounding sounds, they are surrounded by firefighter sirens.
This campaign has gotten us two Clio awards, and the other three have positioned us as one of the most awarded agencies today, winning at Clio, El Ojo de Iberoamerica, Echo Latam and Achap.
And last but most important, I’m proud of the WT creative team, I'm filled with pride over their dedication, compromise and energy invested in every brief, especially during these tough times.
LBB> Outside of advertising, what inspires you?
Samer> I’m inspired by people, watching the world change so fast and there is so much to be done, I feel I learn more from a conversation than from a book.
And I’m inspired by my wife Dani, she’s calm and peaceful while raising two small kids and with another on the way. She makes our family a beautiful place to live.
LBB> What excites you about the industry right now? And what frustrates you?
Samer> I’m excited when I find people who dream of changing the world through ideas. By brands that change the industry through creative ideas (for example Nike, Rexona, Burger and Tomy). And knowing that there’s always room to come up with something better.
What frustrates me is having to fight so much for ideas in a country and an industry immersed in performance and conversion.
That data is used more in the service of the business in the short term and not so much in the service of people and communities.
LBB> What are your aims for the agency in the coming year?
Samer> Consolidate WT Chile as the best creative, service and life experience for both our clients and our team.
I want to be the number 1 agency in Chile in the festivals that really matter like Cannes, Effie, Clio, D&AD, and El Ojo in the region. With jobs that make us and our clients proud.