This Friday the whole of the Spanish advertising industry will take the day off work to celebrate San Publicito - an annual holiday for the people who work in the business of convincing people to buy stuff.
To those of us outside of Spain, that’s an unusual concept. Slightly perplexed, we turned to Sunde J. Sastre, chief creative officer at Madrid creative agency Peanuts&Monkeys to get the full history of the event. Several agencies pointed us in his direction, saying nobody knows more about San Publicito than him - he’s made it his business to become an expert on the subject, as his story reveals.
‘San Publicito’ is the unofficial name for the day. The Spanish advertising industry created the figure to stand in as its own patron Saint. So, is there an official one? “Yes,” says Sunde. “As a traditional Catholic country, almost every trade has is own patron saint (you know, Saint Christopher for truck drivers because they do transport and so on).” The official saint for advertising is Saint Paul. It is the day on which the conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle is celebrated, chosen as the patron of advertising for being one of the apostles who preached the Word of God most effectively. The official date is January 25th, as the State Collective Agreement for Advertising Companies recognises.
The first State Collective Agreement for the industry would have taken place in the ‘80s, when democracy began in the country after the Franco regime ended and, at the same time, the Spanish advertising industry was born. The agreement states that the patron saint’s date will be a non-working day for everyone in that business but “and this is the key point,” stresses Sunde, if St Paul’s day (January 25th) is not a Friday, that right will be transferred to the first working Friday after said date.
To keep things simple, people in the ad industry, being always practical, decided to ensure the date is the last Friday of January. “And that’s the beginning of the story,” says Sunde.
During the ‘90s, some agency professionals had the idea of celebrating this new holiday with a big party. As the story was told to Sunde, part of the core team behind the community planning was at Bassat, Ogilvy & Mather Madrid. “I would not say it is just workers from that agency,” he says, “and, for sure, it wasn’t an idea from the agency as a company. It was much more spontaneous, fun and relaxed. They just wanted a ‘fiesta’ on the Thursday before the date.”
Since they had the idea but at this point no name, someone at a meeting for planning the party said “we need a name for it, we are ad people.” Someone from the production team at Bassat, Ogilvy & Mather named Marisa Rodriguez, suggested ‘San Publicito’.
For those who don’t speak Spanish, ‘publi’ is what people call advertising - the short version of ‘publicidad’. The ‘ito’ means ‘little’. Spanish uses ‘poco’ for ‘little’ and ‘a little bit’ is ‘poquito’. So, it’s a diminutive, or affectionate, way of saying ‘Saint Advertising’.
“It started to be a cool way to name the non-working date, that last Friday of January,” remembers Sunde. Officially, companies talked of ‘Día de la Publicidad’ (Day of the Advertising), which even non-Spanish speakers can tell is a much less interesting way to say it.
As the digital era dawned, there were some initiatives to use this cool unofficial name for different purposes, as an excuse to create. Similar to how agencies send innovative Christmas cards, San Publicito became an event stimulating creativity in agencies for its own sake. “But there were always small projects,” says Sunde. This included his first in 2014, when he was surprised to discover that sanpublicito.com
was available. But it was just two weeks before the date, so they had to do something simple. At Peanuts&Monkeys, Sunde and his team developed a webpage where you can ask for favours from the saint, and they set up a Facebook page
that now gathers almost 3,000 members of the national creative community together.
That’s the story up until Sunde’s project in January 2015 - probably the single biggest moment in the story of San Publicito.
“In 2015, I decided to make it much bigger,” he says. He wanted an idea that would bring the whole country’s advertising community together. It was time to find the physical embodiment of San Publicito - advertising’s real-life saint. Sunde and his team took a collective approach, choosing executives from different agencies, who were selected to represent the various departments, ages and cities of Spanish adland. As ‘San’ is the masculine title, they were all men, but otherwise they were a broad range.
“The execs were all very well-known and kindly people,” says Sunde. Each of them was paired with an archetype familiar to Catholics the world over - walks of life that Saints often come from. There was a monk, a worker, a pope, a guardian, a martyr and a warrior, with a tongue-in-cheek manifesto for each one. The industry was invited to vote throughout the month for the icon they thought best represented them. The reaction was great, remembers Sunde. “People were very excited and the participation was incredible.”
By the time the Saint day came around, Spanish adland had selected their champion - Ignasi Giró - the warrior - who describes himself in his Twitter bio as a “Creative Physicist & Optimistic Doer. Founder of Honest&Smile & Director of Innovation of DoubleYou. Successfully failing since 1975.” A figure the whole industry could get behind.
Sunde had more of a hand in Ignasi’s unofficial canonisation than it seems. He reveals: “Ignasi, a good friend of mine, was not included at the beginning in the six execs selected. It was a substitute! I wanted to include people from Madrid and from Barcelona in a reasonable representation of our industry’s truth.” After recruiting the brightest talents in Madrid, he needed to make sure the creative community of Catalonia was included. “So, I made a blitzkrieg trip to Barcelona,” he says. “One of the two guys from that city (the other one was Daniel Solana by the way, the one who should have won) told us some days before that he could not participate. So, imagine, Ignasi became the face of our patron saint from being a substitute. It was fantastic! I love this industry.”
Although Ignasi is a very well-liked figure, Sunde thinks he won because of the archetype he represented (“probably the coolest”) and the motto: San Publicito should be “a warrior, because the really good ideas… you have to fight for.”
The project culminated in the handmade building of a saint in wood, an image of the saint in the standard scale - a sculpture around 50cm tall. Then Sunde and co started a new project, called ‘San Publicito On Tour
Throughout the year, the figurine was offered to every agency that wanted it to spend some days in office. The whole year was booked out. The figurine travelled around the country in a special suitcase. “This idea is very odd for someone who’s not Spanish,” says Sunde, “but it is like that with images in the small towns. The families take care of the patron saint and the image is protecting their homes. We did it in a country-wide scale.”
Leo Burnett's helpful edit to the figurine
Made, the agency, showed the Saint a good time
Levando Anclas took him to the beach
Since the tour finished, the image has been guarded by the Club de Creativos (the Spanish Creatives Association), which, as Sunde puts it, “represents the best values of the saint.”
This week Spanish advertisers will no doubt take time to reflect on the values of San Publicito while they kick off their long weekends at industry parties, but does the rest of the country care? “It is a very internal industry phenomenon,” admits Sunde, but the dedication of a day is more than most national advertising communities get.
San Publicito is a national recognition of the hard work of agencies, their contribution to the economy and culture of the country. The main Spanish media publishes special reports talking about the advertising sector, with interviews with notable creatives, with information on the latest trends and references to the best campaigns. In this way, the general public, who don’t know about the day-to-day work of advertising agencies, get a little closer to the value they bring. No doubt other countries could learn from this annual celebration of creativity. Who will step up to make San Publicito global?