President and Chief Creative Officer of BETC Paris
It’s Valentine ’s Day and so our minds turn to Paris, the most romantic city in the world. LBB's editor Gabrielle Lott caught up with BETC Paris CCO Stéphane Xiberras – adland’s very own Braveheart – to find out what makes the creative powerhouse behind the world’s most awarded ad tick.
LBB> You began your career as a copywriter – where were you working and what was it that drew you to advertising in the first place? Did you ever consider doing anything else?
SX> I started out as an intern in an agency called Ecom that doesn’t exist anymore. I have always been drawn to the advertising industry; I thought it seemed extraordinary to get paid to come up with ideas! I think I would have been a rather good screenwriter for TV or cinema (I actually did that for a while). Otherwise my big passion is music, I would have loved to make it my job.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? Do you think your background has had any bearing on your creative output?
SX> I grew up in the south of France, in Aix en Provence. I was quite lonely as a child, I spent my time drawing, writing and making music. My sister and I used to write little theatre plays and perform them with marionette puppets… my poor parents!
LBB> You’ve been at BETC since 1999 – 15th anniversary next year! – what is it about the agency that has kept you there?
SX> To figure out what kind of agency you’re dealing with, look at your bosses. I admire Mercedes Erra and Rémi Babinet - they’re talented, brave and gave me the desire to grow in this agency. I try to keep the flame alive and constantly feed and develop the agency culture that is based on creativity in every form.
LBB> Canal+ ‘The Bear’ has just been named most awarded ad ever by the Gunn Report – what do you think it is about that piece of work which has made it so successful?
SX> Hmmm, that’s really hard to say. I think a part of the success might be that it was something that hadn’t been seen before. I also think that it’s quite a ‘universal’ film, in the sense that it’s like a modern fairy-tale, like a Pixar or a Miyazake. It tells a very positive story where the message is: “if you really want something you can achieve it”. It's a piece of cinema that honours cinema, a film that has nothing to sell, just a declaration of love from TV to Cinema.
LBB> I’ve seen an interview with you where you spoke of the ‘esperanto of advertising’ – a language of cliché that pervades a lot of work. How can creatives avoid these clichés?
SX> I think that the creatives are quite good at avoiding it. It’s when it comes to clients, account managers and focus groups that we need to be wary… I think you know what I mean ☺
LBB> Tell us about CAI (Creative Artificial Intelligence – a software that generates advertising). How did you put this together and were you surprised by the output the software gave you? And weren’t you worried that some clients might not get the point and take it seriously?
SX> At first I thought of CAI as a joke, something we would have a good laugh at. Then, when we realised that the machine was capable of creating work equivalent to what already exists (that means, 80 per cent of all ads produced are shit), I got a bit scared, a bit like old Frankenstein.
In its current prototype state, clients won’t take CAI seriously. However, if we’d put a few months into developing it, I think it would become a pretty impressive thing: that it probably could make the industry seriously question the quality of the majority of the advertising that is out there.
LBB> In 2010 you founded the BETC Academy – as CCO how do you go about nurturing creative talent?
SX> Creativity is a state of mind, based on work, courage, demand and a good dose of unconsciousness. I try to lead by example (especially when it comes to the unconsciousness part). I fundamentally believe that pride (for a well executed piece of work, the agency where one works, the people for whom one works) is the key to pushing creatives to go further and try harder.
LBB> We can’t do an interview with adland’s very own Braveheart without asking – will we be seeing more kilts?
SX> That’s a secret!
LBB> What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were starting out?
SX>“Follow your instinct”.
LBB> It’s Valentine’s day. You’re sitting in the most romantic city in the world, Paris, on a day that celebrates love. Any amorous advice for the LBB community that you'd like to share?
SX> The day when you see a young couple kissing on a bench by the Notre Dame and you say to yourself that it will never work between them, then that means you’ve become an old fart. You have to believe in life and believe in love because it’s the strongest force in the universe. And I’m serious!
LBB> What do you think 2013 will hold for the French advertising industry?
SX> The greatest challenge for our industry today is how to finance it. Many of our clients aren’t doing well and the impact on us is direct and hard. It’s a problem, there’s a lot of work in our agencies, but few jobs. It makes me worried about the young people entering the labour market and how attractive our industry will appear to tomorrow’s talents.