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Alex Katz Always Rejects Fear in Favour of Bold Ideas


Officer & Gentleman’s co-founder and ECD tells LBB why fearlessness has always driven the agency and Spanish consumers’ appetite for intelligent and challenging ads

Alex Katz Always Rejects Fear in Favour of Bold Ideas

Nouri Films, the Barcelona-based production and service company, has partnered with Little Black Book to sponsor the site’s Spanish Edition. As part of that, over the upcoming months we will be spending time with some of the most exciting creative talent the country has to offer.

LBB spoke to Alex Katz about moving from Miami to Madrid, his start in the industry, co-founding Officer & Gentleman, and working with clients like Pornhub, HBO, Paddy Power, and Beefeater to name just a few. Alex has called Madrid home for well over a decade, with no intentions of changing that, saying that the move is a “decision I’ll never regret.” Today, Alex tells LBB about the Spanish consumers' need for  “innovation, emotion, humour”, the strength of creative concepts coming out of Spain, and why seeing great ideas die due to fear was the catalyst to start his own agency. 

LBB> Tell us a little bit about your career journey - were you always creative? How did you get into the industry?

Alex> I think, like a lot of people in advertising, I just kind of fell into it. Growing up in Miami, I never knew what I wanted to do as a career, but my parents really encouraged my creativity and that’s something I consistently pursued. I’ve always loved to draw and write, and I’ve always been a TV and comic book junkie, so looking back now it does kind of seem like destiny that I’d wind up in this industry.

Then, when I was in college, I bounced around between a few different majors until I finally settled on advertising, which just felt like a good fit. I remember, in one of my very first classes, one of my professors said something like: “Prepare yourselves, because this job is a whole lot of work, and very little pay.” Luckily, as I would find out later, it’s also a lot of fun. 

LBB> What attracted you to Madrid as a place to work? Was there a culture shock when you first moved there from America?

Alex> After graduating, I was a bit lost.  As I learned years later when teaching ad students, a lot of people come out of college with only a vague idea of what advertising really is, and I was one of them. So at that point, I can honestly say I wasn’t all that excited to start my career. At the same time, I was looking for some adventure after so many years of school and part time jobs, so in 2008 I headed to Spain to enrol in an intensive Spanish program in Madrid for a few months.

Madrid is an incredible place. It’s a city of five million people, but it can feel like a small town. The food is out of this world and there’s always something to do but, as cliché as it sounds, it’s really the people that make the city. My experience from day one has been of being welcomed with open arms and big smiles, so even though I was thousands of miles away from Miami, it felt like home. 

While I was there, I found out there was a Miami Ad School in the city, so partly to continue my education and partly to have an excuse to stay in this amazing country, I signed up. And it was there where I discovered that advertising was so much more than I had been led to believe – and I fell in love with the job. From there, the rest is history. I met my creative partner Javi Iñiguez de Onzoño and after a brief stint at CP+B, we had to make a choice between continuing to pursue our careers abroad, or staying here in Madrid – and we chose to stay, which is a decision I’ll never regret. 

LBB> You launched Officer & Gentleman in 2014 after working in the industry for some time. What gap in the market were you responding to? What was the founding motivation behind the agency?

Alex> Launching Officer & Gentleman was part dream and part opportunity. Through a fortunate turn of events, Javi and I managed to land the Pornhub account while we were still working a day job as a creative team at a local agency. So we spent the next two years on nights, weekends and vacations building the brand strategy with some memorable campaigns while also putting in 60-hour weeks at the agency. At some point, something had to give. And that’s when we realised the work we were doing on our own was much more fulfilling, so at that crucial moment we decided to take the leap and open our own shop.

From day one, we had one driving principal for the agency: We didn't want to let fear hold us or our clients back from creating bold work. We had seen too many great ideas die on the vine because of overly cautious clients and agencies, and we didn't want that to happen here. Luckily, our early work for Pornhub served as a calling card for brave brands everywhere, and they started to reach out to us so we could apply that same fearless attitude to their campaigns. 

LBB> Thinking about the advertising scene in Spain today, how would you best describe it? What kind of ads are Spanish consumers responding to?

Alex> I think the advertising scene in Spain has never been stronger. On an international level, you have agencies like David Madrid and LOLA that are making a huge impact in the industry. And locally, Spanish agencies continue to push the envelope, creating brilliant and unconventional campaigns that are gaining worldwide attention. 

In terms of what the Spanish public responds to, I feel like you can always count on them to be an intelligent, worldly audience that’s looking for innovation, emotion and humour. In other words, there’s never a need to dumb things down or worry that consumers wont 'get it', it’s actually more the opposite: They expect to be challenged by the work.

LBB> How does this differ to consumer appetites in other countries?

Alex> I think that as intelligent and discerning consumers, Spanish people have a keen nose for bullshit. They’re more willing to trust a product or service if the sales message isn't too overpowering. Unlike in the States, they don't want to be 'sold to' per se, rather they want to be presented with the facts in an engaging way so they can make the decision for themselves.  

LBB> What, in your opinion, does the Spanish advertising market outperform others on? What can other regions learn from Spain?

Alex> I think others can learn a lot from Spanish advertising when it comes to the strength of the concepts. This is a country that has given the world some amazing taglines – from BMW’s “Te gusta conducir?” (You like driving?) to Cruzcampo’s “Con mucho acento” (With a lot of accent) – which have a way of changing the way you think about a certain brand, and even how you see the world (which only the best ads can do). 

LBB> Which of Officer & Gentleman’s work are you particularly proud of and why?

Alex> There’s a lot of work we’ve done that I’m truly really proud of – and not just because of the resulting campaigns, but because of the work that went into them and the people behind them. From our EURO2020 campaign for to our Brighton Pride activations for Paddy Power, each one has something special about them for me. One particular campaign that comes to mind is 'The Dirtiest Porn Ever' for Pornhub, which was a really successful campaign both in terms of numbers and real measurable impact. Not only was it a big team effort for us, a few weeks after it came out people started showing up at the 2019 climate marches with protest signs referencing the campaign – and those are the kind of results you can't put into percentages. 

Still from 'The Dirtiest Porn Ever' campaign

LBB> One of your longest-standing clients is Pornhub. In an industry that still uses sex to sell almost anything, how do you sell sex itself?

Alex> Well, it’s not always easy. Besides campaigns like the one I just mentioned, we’ve mostly steered away from featuring any NSFW content in our work for Pornhub. That’s because, as an adult brand, Pornhub’s already got the odds stacked against them: the brand is prohibited from using most conventional advertising platforms, so we need to rely solely on word-of-mouth to gain traction for the campaigns, while also dodging overzealous censors on Instagram and YouTube. In other words, sometimes its the sex itself that’s our biggest barrier. So that means we need to have a really solid idea if we want to break through the noise without breaking the rules, and more often than not that means generating a conversation about something other than porn. 

LBB> Finally, what piece of advice do you wish you received when you first started out in the industry that you would like other creatives to know?

Alex> I think the best piece of advice I’ve gotten is learning how to let go. One of the best things about this job is that you get to do something new every day. Sure, there’s a lot of frustration and disappointment when things don't go your way, but you need to know how to see every new project as a brand new opportunity to do something incredible. So if the last pitch/idea/campaign didn't work out, it’s fine: you’ll have another chance to try again tomorrow.

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Nouri Films, Wed, 27 Apr 2022 12:34:10 GMT