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Planning for the Best: How Auro Trini Castelli’s Brain, Heart and Soul Is Working in Unison

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
DDB New York’s chief strategy officer reveals why the word ‘consumer’ frustrates him and why impact-driven awards are the future

Auro Trini Castelli is chief strategy officer of DDB NY, where he builds brands that excel within their category and stand out across society with a team of diverse, multi-talented and multidisciplinary strategists. 

His eclectic experience spans from industrial design to product/UX design partnering with iconic companies like Apple, Audi, Beats by Dre, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, OREO, Unilever, and many more. His work was recognised with every major industry award, from a Cannes Lions Cyber Grand Prix to multiple Effie, Clio, and D&AD Awards, to the Facebook Blue Award.

Auro is a triple citizen of US, UK, and Italy, and has partnered with the United Nations as a delegate and speaker for the Media for Social Impact and Sustainable Development Goals Program, and UN Global Compact Leaders Summit Speaker.

We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to pick his brains on his approach to strategy. 

LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one? 

Auro> Strategy lives at the intersection of intent, intelligence, initiative, and intuition. It’s brain, heart, and soul working in unison to turn assumptions into possibilities. Planning is only a part of it. 

LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best?

Auro> Before being a strategist, I used to work in industrial design and more specifically as a strategic designer. Strategic design is the discipline that captures design trends, languages, and equities into visions, evolves visions into plans, and helps transform plans into products. In moving from industrial design to marketing and design, the final product I’m helping to create has changed, but the process fundamentally hasn’t. That’s why I refer to myself as a strategist, and so do all the people in our strategy team. 

LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?

Auro> Rather than thinking about historic campaigns, I’d like to think about work that made history or created a legacy because it means that it did matter yesterday as much as it does today and will do tomorrow. And to think about creativity at large, because we are only a part of the creative industry but connecting and collaborating with other forms of creativity such as fashion, photography, design, architecture –– and more –– can only make our work better. 

In advertising, ‘Small Business Saturday’ is definitely a favourite because it made a giant like AMEX feel more relatable to people and businesses alike, creating a thought-through campaign and a lasting program that has made a lasting and tangible difference since.

A similar and more recent example would be Apple at Work, because all the work that was created against it –– starting from how the platform was named –– has put the same simplicity that Apple is known for into the world of work and helped create a double-digit billion dollars’ worth of business. 

Last but not least, Beats by Dre ‘You Love Me’ made a remarkable strategic and creative difference because it stood behind black culture by creating a memorable piece of Black culture. 

When I think of the intersection of art, design, and fashion, I think of Louis Vuitton’s strategies to keep their mark always current by allowing creators like Yayoi Kusama, Marc Newson or BEEPLE to leave their own mark on Louis Vuitton’s products, from their iconic bags to their latest mobile  game.

LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, what do you find the most useful resource to draw on?

Auro> I believe in casting wide before digging deep and leverage a combination of sources: from client’s first-party data to our own proprietary data-driven and AI-driven intelligence platforms, and from tools like the Custom Transformation Maps of the World Economic Forum to simple resources like Google Search. What really matters is the ability to form an initial set of truths and assumptions in order to converge into stronger strategic hypotheses.

LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?

Auro> I enjoy embracing complexity and reducing it to the most memorable and motivating ways to inspire the creative process. But what I enjoy the most is seeing intangible strategic thoughts coming to life in the most tangible and compelling ways, from retail environments to technological platforms and services to actual products. I’m never satisfied by the simple act of strategising, and never fully satisfied by having created any form of strategy –– however good it could be.

LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful? 

Auro> I ultimately believe that marketing and advertising should aim to create less yet more relevant and sustainable outcomes. And that if strategy doesn’t end up helping to create something that improves how society lives, works, or plays, it wasn’t worthy of being developed. 

LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?

Auro> I like to work with creatives who are open to work with other creators outside of the advertising industry. My job is to provide them with inspiration –– beyond information –– and create something meaningful, beautiful, and impactful out of it.

LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round? 

Auro> Strategy exists to lead to the creation of valid ideas, not to validate them. However, the most forward-thinking creative outcomes can inspire strategy in return to expand, amplify and redirect our own thinking in ways that we hadn’t thought of or explored before. Strategy and creative should create a circular flow and inspire each to do better work.

LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?

Auro> Hire different and diverse talent with diverse backgrounds, different ideas, and contrasting interests. Hire inside and outside the circle of the agencies you know. Hire outside the circle of the people you know, and the people they know. Hire outside the borders of the city, country, and continent you know. 

LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived? 

Auro> Effectiveness awards started to catch up to creative awards, but they will both be surpassed by impact-driven awards. Recognitions like the SDG Lions or the Anthem Awards are the future of our industry. We all must be way more ambitious about the impact we want to make not just within the categories we touch, but across all of society.

LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?

Auro> I’m frustrated by some of our most pervasive clichés. Things like being ‘culturally-relevant’, being ‘guardians of the brand’ and ‘the voice of the consumer’. The word ‘consumer’ has historically frustrated me, and I prefer referring to them simply as people, for a variety of reasons including the fact that we were never born to buy, but to live.

LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?

Auro> Think twice about it. Once convinced, keep thinking. That is a strategist’s job. 

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