Born and raised in the Lambrate district of Milan, Nicolò Carrassi (affectionately named 'Gonzo' by his peers) describes himself as a 'bi-polar bear in copywriter’s body'.
After six months of soul searching around the world, Nicolò returned to Italy where he met his partner in crime, art director Luca Riva. The duo joined DUDE shortly after the agency launched it’s advertising division, and have since worked on campaigns for Netflix, Red Bull, Absolut and Lastminute.com.
LBB’s Liam Smith caught up with Nicolò to get a taste of his work, inspirations and the Italian advertising climate.
LBB> Let’s get to know you. Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?
NC> Although I like travelling and spending long periods abroad, I still live in the same old-school neighbourhood of Milan where I was born. I’m very fond of Lambrate
; my family and all my friends here. However, I cannot say I grew up a lot… rather, I got older. I admit it, my inner child is still in command.
Since elementary school, I’ve always had a problem with authority and rules. I like to question everything, subvert the status quo, make things my way. Over time, I learned to listen carefully to those who know better than me, but I haven’t lost a healthy attitude towards failure. I'm never afraid to be wrong, because through mistakes, I’ve learned everything I know. Like when I was a kid, and I drank half a bottle of bleach. I almost died, but I understood the importance of knowledge, especially when it comes to labels.
LBB> Where did you learn your craft, and what made you want to become a copywriter?
NC> I’ve always liked writing, mostly because I was fascinated by the huge power of words. Playing with them was my way of translating complex thoughts and emotions to express something personal of myself.
During my university studies, I attended a workshop on copywriting held by Guido Cornara (legendary Executive Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi Italia) and it was “love at first line”. Then, I realized that being a copywriter was my destiny.
The pursuit of a personal craft came later. I have always been immersed in the Milanese street culture and I think that this habitat strongly influenced my style.
Hanging with street artists led me towards a brutal and minimalistic writing approach, always chasing the impact. Irony, however, came with maturity; when I realized that taking things seriously was not a thing for serious people.
LBB> What drew you and your partner Luca Riva (art director) to join DUDE?
NC> We had been working together for over a year when we were contacted by Livio and Lorenzo (Dude’s Executive Creative Directors). They explained to us that they were creating an advertising agency on the shoulders of a production company. The idea of a hybrid and integrated structure was the thing we liked the most. That, and the opportunity to be part of the agency’s growth from the very beginning.
Plus, Dude's style is unique, something you cannot imitate. The people who work at Dude make it the absolute best place to be at this moment.
LBB> You worked on the Italian campaign for season three of Narcos. Can you tell us a little bit about that project? What was your contribution to the campaign?
NC> The first thing I can say is that we spent several sleepless nights!
Netflix wanted to launch the show focusing on the cultural relevance of narco-trafficking in Italy. Sadly, our country has always been tied up with Colombian cartels that supply criminal groups such as ‘Ndrangheta and Camorra. That’s why, to give stronger credibility to the campaign, we brought on board one of Italy’s major expert on Narcos: the writer and journalist Roberto Saviano.
Our idea was to take Roberto's data on narco-trafficking and try as much as possible to bring them closer to Italians’ everyday life. That was idea behind “Narcographics”
For example, we turned the Duomo metro station into a fully-immersive experience on the consequences of narco-trafficking, allowing passengers to realise how the “blow business” is more pervasive than ever. The six minutes of waiting became the seven kilos of cocaine moved by Narcos over the same time; the time required to take the stairs become the cocaine consumed over the same amount of time; and so on.
The most beautiful thing was that people really appreciated this ‘didactic approach’ and understood that Narcos is not only about the cocaine business, but also its socio-economic effects.
LBB> In your opinion, how does the advertising industry in Italy compare to other European hubs?
NC> The truth is that every country has its peculiarities. And people’s culture inevitably influences the way in which brands decide to communicate to that specific country.
We Italians are people who think more with the heart than with the head, and this has conditioned our advertising’s tone of voice over the years. Now things are changing. Thanks to the digital revolution, young Italians are increasingly similar to young Germans or Brits, or Americans. This is a great opportunity to regain an international relevance with campaigns designed to engage a wider and more transversal target.
LBB> Italian advertising has traditionally been seen as the top dog when it comes to beauty, fashion and food. Do you think that this statement still rings true?
NC> Italy has always had its peaks of excellence, as well as an innate good taste that made us pioneers in fields such as design and fashion, not to mention food.
This predisposition is still current, though the challenge is to go beyond the labels to return to be pioneers of innovation rather than tradition.
My dream is to see Italy going back to being an ‘ambassador of beauty’ in the world, and not only in two or three markets, but in the world. Our country will face the challenges of tomorrow.
LBB> What projects that you have worked on are you most proud of?
NC> I love the opportunity to engage the target with a project that builds its own personal story.
For this reason, my favourite campaigns are those that allow me to occupy large spaces and surprise viewers with creativity strongly linked to the context in which they are planned. In this sense, the campaigns I'm most proud of are the last for Netflix: the launch of Narcos and the billboard for Better Call Saul, which pushed people to visit the fast food restaurant ‘Los Pollos Hermanos’ with a very specific question to an equally specific target. The billboard invited stoners, suffering from the munchies, to go to the restaurant and have a meal offered from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul’s Gustavo Fring.
LBB> Who and what are your inspirations?
NC> I usually take inspiration from what surrounds me: my friends, my talented colleagues, my favourite spots in the city. As I said, I'm a passionate supporter of unconventional art. I think that personalities like Banksy, JR and SpY are all-round creatives, always capable of stimulating the audience in unexpected ways.
If I have to think about advertising, I grew up in the golden age of independent agencies. Droga5, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Wieden+Kennedy and Forsman & Bodenfors are some of the agencies that I’m always looking at. Although, my favourite advertiser of all times is certainly Howard Gossage
with his gentle surrealism.
LBB> When you’re not working, what do you like to do with your downtime?
NC> Downtime? What is that? The truth is that I’m really focusing on Dude right now. This doesn’t mean to give up spending good time with my family and my friends. Together we are always hunting for new sources of inspiration.