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Making “Ads That Don’t Feel like Ads” with Federico Fanti


With experience spanning Italy, Russia and the Philippines, FP7 McCann Dubai’s CCO shares the secret to creating work which appeals to a specific market, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

Making “Ads That Don’t Feel like Ads” with Federico Fanti

BIG KAHUNA FILMS, an award-winning creative production house based in Dubai and Beirut, is proud to support creativity across the Middle East. Over the coming months, as part of our sponsorship of LBB’s Middle East edition, we’ll be speaking to some of the great minds driving creativity forward across the region. 

Recently making the UAE his home, Federico Fanti has forged a career which spans the globe. With time spent in Moscow and Milan, the chief creative officer at FP7 McCann now resides in Dubai, amalgamating his understanding of various global markets within a multicultural team.

Having worked on brands that range from Mastercard to Snickers and Pepsi to P&G, Federico’s experience has accumulated in 20 years of advertising content across many different markets. He’s been part of numerous award-winning campaigns which include recognition from Cannes Lions, Epica, D&AD, LIA, CLIO and more. In his spare time, you’ll find Federico taking pictures, honing his photography skills and exhibiting his works.

Speaking to LBB’s Nisna Mahani, Federico explains how his journey in the industry has led him from his home country of Italy to Russia, the Philippines and now, the UAE. With his global experience, it’s no surprise that he’s landed within one of the most international advertising spaces in the world, and what he calls ‘the New York of the MENA region.’

LBB> What has it been like working across such a wide range of markets and across many different countries?

Federico> I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and work with brilliant talent across four different markets. I started at McCann Erickson in Milan, more than 20 years ago, as a junior art director – with a head full of ideas, and hair.

I spent 11 years working on multiple brands like Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and more there. As you can see, my hairstyle changed quite drastically over the years, but my passion for creativity has always remained.  

After 11 amazing years, I was poached by my former chief creative officer at McCann, Marco Cremona, who moved to Moscow and invited me to join him at Young & Rubicam, Moscow. There, we reshaped the creative department and the management, and were fortunate enough to win the first-ever Cannes Lions in the history of the office, followed by 10 more Lions in the next five years – so it was an extremely good run for me and my team. 

I feel that my career truly started in Russia. It’s such a paradox because I had the feeling that if I stayed in Italy, I wouldn’t be here, talking to you at this very moment. Not that Italy is a bad market – it’s flourishing with great talent and good food. But I strongly believe that in order to grow, in order to make life a little richer, and more diverse, you need to explore. You need to see how the world tackles creativity. And so I did. 

After five years of Moscow’s cold, I decided to put on my flip-flops and head to the Philippines. There, I lead the creative department as ECD of BBDO in Manila. The only thing warmer than the weather was the people I worked with. People like the ‘Living Legend’ that is David Guerrero, one of the most pleasant and human creative leaders I had the luxury to work with. It was a really wonderful experience that lasted another five years. 

And here I am today – in the UAE. Four countries, four cultures, and countless problems. Every market has them – it makes creativity all the more essential. That’s why I always welcome obstacles. Because when there’s an obstacle, there’s an opportunity to solve it with a great creative twist. 

LBB> What makes good creative and how does this change depending on the market you’re working within?

Federico> We are nothing but creative hijackers – we not only advertise the brand or product, but solve a problem that addresses an issue for both consumers and society. It’s really interesting, really eye-opening to find different ways to approach problems according to the market.

Take Russia for example – the cultural issues are completely unique to their society, their mindset, and their way of living. Clients are very blunt. It’s alarming at first, but then you start to appreciate their honesty. So you learn to be bolder, and more assertive. You grow thicker skin. 

The Philippines is a whole other story. They aren’t as confrontational as Europeans so they tend to agree with creative and put their best face forward. Tending to send an email that shares their true feelings later…  

The UAE though, I find most interesting. It’s a melting pot of many different nationalities – about 89% of the population are ex-pats. You can only imagine the number of religions, cultures, and mindsets that exist in a single city. That’s why I see Dubai as a place that can nurture all the different bits of knowledge that I’ve gained through my journey across continents. There’s a balance you have to strike. 

It’s also such a learning curve in Dubai as a creative leader. I feel like I’m playing the role of a creative psychologist – analysing the behaviour of my team and my clients. In most meetings, I’ll find myself sitting amongst at least five different nationalities – all with their own approach to life. 

I find it really rewarding because I’m very curious about the people that I have in front of me. So far, they’ve mastered my accent. I really believe that nothing comes without a good partnership between team members, and between agency and client. Everything starts with a good working relationship. After that, good ideas will naturally follow. 

LBB> How did you find yourself in Dubai? Was it the melting pot of cultures which drew you in or something else?

Federico> Dubai now is very different to the Dubai I knew 15 years ago. It used to be the place where people would go to retire from advertising. But now, Dubai is the place to be for a career boost because the market is so fast-paced, so ambitious, so full of talent, and so full of culture that it’s a great opportunity for a leader like me to create a team that can make a positive impact on the lives of the many. Dubai is almost the New York of the MENA region. 

Working in Manila, the pace I worked at was slower and it allowed me to have a more, let’s say ‘laid back’ quality of life. Admittedly, the pace in Dubai is a lot faster, but for someone with a passion for what they do, this is the place to be. As an Italian, I say there’s that ‘amore’ (love) for what you do. And if you have that, you can work in Dubai – if you don’t love what you do, this isn’t the place for you. Because here, you have to give your career your all. It's a very competitive place. 

What I like about my job and my team at FP7McCann Dubai is that my creative department reflects the essence of the UAE. We have over 15 different nationalities and I’m exposed to amazing talent from around the world. I feel very lucky to lead such a diverse team. 

LBB> What is your initial approach to a creative brief? What’s the starting point?

Federico> The very first thing is to detect a very tangible and clear problem, or a tangible and clear tension for the brand to solve. Everything starts from the approach you have towards your client. There are some creatives who have a very passive approach, waiting silently for a brief. And once they get it, they don’t question it, they don’t challenge it. That’s wrong. You need to have an honest conversation with the client and challenge the brief from the very start to find the root of the problem. 

Speaking of problems Mario Morby, our head of strategy, is arguably the best problem-solver I’ve met in the industry. He digs deep. And he takes the whole team with him into the brainstorming room. Truly one of the smartest guys I’ve met. People like him make the work better – honest, opinionated, and moral. He really narrows down on the problem, which makes solving it much easier for us creatives. 

Finding the problem is the start of the solution. 

LBB> Can you share a little about a recent piece of work, how it’s evolved and what you’ve learnt from the process?

Federico> Just a few weeks back, the agency was flooded with World Cup briefs – most being for clients who weren’t official sponsors. That was definitely a problem considering the creative limitations that came with it. Our client, Heinz Arabia, wanted to get noticed on the field without actually being on the field. Just the irony of this made it an exciting problem to solve. We had to find a loophole in the system. So we thought, if we can’t get the Heinz product into the stadium, we can at least get the Heinz name in there through one of the thousands of people in the world named Heinz – something that’s unique to the brand. And that’s when ‘The Heinzjack’ was born. 

We found our guy, Thomas Heinz, through social media and made him our human billboard around Doha, and inside the World Cup stadiums. We put him in places Heinz would typically have to spend thousands of dollars on media space – for free. He was all over the football scene, wearing the Heinz name, and interacting with fans more than any conventional billboard ever could. The hashtag #FindHeinz gamified the stunt and got us the engagement we wanted around it. It’s an idea that is disruptive at its core and stems from a solution that only Heinz can own.  

Another fun and impactful campaign that we recently created is called ‘Wall Street Balls: the most checked balls on earth’. We discovered a very interesting and powerful connection between the Wall Street Bull and testicular cancer. The link is that while most men don’t check their own testicles for testicular cancer, thousands of people are checking out the balls of the Wall Street Bull every day. This makes those balls ‘the most checked balls on earth.”

Our campaign uses social listening to track every social post relating to the Wall Street Bull’s famous balls and comments on each post with a witty and funny reminder for men to check their own balls instead. So far, we’ve received over 21,000 unique comments and reached people from over 20 different countries. This idea was a great example of how we as creatives can use our quirky creative minds in an off-the-wall way to really help solve a problem – and maybe even save some lives.

LBB> When you aren’t working, how do you spend your free time?

Federico> Is there a life after work? Kidding. Life after work is what drives you to work.  
When I was younger, I got into art direction through my love for cinema. I was quite the movie geek – still am. I studied all the screenplays of my favourite movies. I think I’ve watched Pulp Fiction at least 20 times. 

So when I’m not hounding my team for case films, I like to catch up on what the youngsters are watching. I’m getting into TV series much more because I feel like Hollywood is becoming a bit complacent and lazy in terms of disruption – while Netflix and Amazon are releasing some really interesting stuff. I also love all things art – exhibitions, launches, up and coming artists and their visions. 

But what I never get bored of is sports. It keeps my mind and body active and alert so I can absorb the world around me. I strongly believe that curiosity makes you a better creative – paying attention to your surroundings – be it art, entertainment, sports, memes, everything in life can be a creative outlet. 

And since our beloved consumer is not a passive spectator towards advertising anymore, since consumers are smarter, and have a radar on for advertising, we can’t just create ads nowadays, we need to create content that makes them feel part of the game, ads that don’t feel like ads. 


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BIG KAHUNA FILMS Dubai, Wed, 14 Dec 2022 16:15:00 GMT