PHOTO CREDIT: SOL CHOCANO
Gian Carlo Lanfranco and Rolando Cordova may be optimists, but they never drink from water fountains.
The advertising creative duo, who have crafted award-winning campaigns for global brands like American Express, P&G and Mini/BMW, grew up in Peru during the late 1980s and early 90s. At the time, the country had the world’s worst hyperinflation. A revolutionary communist organization, Shining Path, employed car bombs, assassinations and other terrorist acts in an attempt to overthrow the government. The military instituted a daily lockdown and a cholera pandemic killed thousands who drank untreated water from the faucet.
Despite the turbulent times of their upbringing, Lanfranco and Cordova look on the sunny side of life. “Peruvians are extremely positive people,” they say.
Their meteoric rise has taken the longtime collaborators to plum posts in Asia, Europe and the United States. They’ve worked at international agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, McCann, and Wieden + Kennedy, winning awards at major advertising festivals, including Cannes Lions, The One Show and the Clios. In their book, Por si alguien te dice que no [“In Case Someone Says No”], a hit in Latin America, the business partners share their upbeat philosophy.
Last year, they launched their own shop, Lanfranco Cordova New York. Though they’re having early success, the Peruvians remain cautious about some things. Despite the Big Apple’s legendarily good water, they still never drink straight from the tap.
In this interview, the two talk about how they’re handling the current economic crisis, as well as share their career trajectory and entrepreneurial journey.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How are you doing with respect to Covid-19?
Gian: It's a difficult time for everyone in the world right now. We can’t predict how all this is going to evolve but we wish for the best outcome.
The current circumstances are somehow bringing advertising back to its core, stripping it of the fancy offices, the unnecessary long meetings and taking us closer to what’s relevant: clients connecting directly with the creatives and creatives coming up with great ideas to solve clients’ businesses problems.
Rolo: We are a small creative boutique agency, hands-on and always placing ideas first. Also, we have offices in New York and Lima, so we’ve been working using Zoom since we started the agency a year and half ago.
You’re stuck in Lima right now?
Rolo: We try to escape the New York winter and work from our Lima office in February and March, as it’s summer here. We had our tickets to fly back to New York City the second week of March. Then, the lockdown in Lima happened.
Gian: People are being really being strict in Lima about social distancing so the situation isn’t that bad here. We see the news from New York every day, and it’s sad. Really difficult times.
Has growing up in Peru prepared you for tough times like this pandemic?
Rolo: We immediately switched on our Peruvian mindset, being okay with the idea of not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Gian: Peru turned into one of the best travel destinations in the world because of the positive attitude of Peruvians. The coronavirus will also disappear, as Peru’s hyperinflation, terrorism and cholera pandemic disappeared. We’ll see a better world after, but we need to be patient.
You began your careers in a country not known as an advertising powerhouse. Did Peru prepare you to create campaigns all over the world with bigger budgets?
Gian: Absolutely, being resourceful and proactive is key to creating great advertising campaigns. Throughout our careers, we’ve been lucky to do big global campaigns for iconic brands like Mini/BMW, American Express, Chevy and Coca-Cola, but also for startups and smaller South American brands.
The process is exactly the same. You try to find the best idea to connect with people while staying truthful to the brand’s voice. It doesn’t matter if it’s with an activation, an Instagram post or a Super Bowl commercial—the idea is what matters.
Rolo: Two of our favorite campaigns we did are polar opposites. One was the global launch of the Mini Countryman [a compact luxury crossover SUV]. With a big budget, we shot it with Oscar-winner Linus Sandgren [the Swedish cinematographer of the upcoming James Bond movie]. The campaign became one of the most awarded pieces of communication for the auto brand.
The other is a campaign we just launched a few months ago with a smaller budget and produced 100 percent by Peruvian talent. This one was for the American advertising festival, The One Show [a prestigious showcase for advertising, design and digital marketing]. Less than three percent of the work submitted receives an award.
We noticed creatives in many agencies around the world go the extra mile to bless their work, hoping they will win the coveted Gold Pencil. Instead of creating a traditional campaign, we decided to make winning a Gold Pencil a little easier. We traveled to our hometown to find “Cleofe,” a local shaman. We hired him during the period of the campaign to give blessings to all the pieces entered into The One Show. The campaign became an immediate success in social media.
How did you two meet?
Rolo: Our creative partnership started at our university in Lima almost 20 years ago and it happened organically. Everyone in class wanted to become a creative, as it was the cool thing to do. But in the Peruvian market, people in marketing and account services were getting paid more and worked less than creatives. As they realized that, the other students all started switching out, leaving just a few of us on the creative path.
How did you leave Peru and start at Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore?
Gian: At that time, it was difficult to get to an international agency like Saatchi Singapore. There wasn’t such a thing as Linkedin and Peru wasn’t an attractive place for creative work. Most of the best South American creatives working abroad were from Brazil and Argentina. The only way to get noticed was to win international advertising awards. In 2005, we won the new talent category at El Ojo de Iberoaméricain Argentina, the most prestigious Latam advertising award.
The year after, we won the prestigious Future Lions in Cannes. The Cannes Palais was full of advertising and marketing leaders from all over the world. We got offered a job at Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore, one of the most creative and awarded agencies in the world at the time.
How did working in Singapore affect your work?
Rolo: The countries are totally different. Singapore is organized and almost perfect while Peru is unpredictable. In Singapore, the advertising culture is visual. They have a motto, “Create simple ideas with beautiful outstanding craft.”
Gian: Singapore made advertising for all the Southeast Asian region. Everything was in English, but adapted for India, Malaysia, etc., allowing us to create ideas that transcend barriers.
How'd you get to New York from Singapore?
Rolo: After two years at Saatchi, we moved to Amsterdam to work for Wieden + Kennedy, our dream agency. Dan Wieden wrote “Just Do It” for Nike. In Europe, we got to work with global clients like Coca- Cola and Nike. After five years, we moved to Paris to work on one of our favorite boutique agencies, Fred & Farid, founded by two amazing creatives. We stayed a few years doing work for Orangina, the Coca-Cola of France.
Gian: We needed to come to the mecca of advertising, so we joined McCann New York as creative directors for global brands. We worked there for four years until in 2019, our green cards in hand, we decided to start our own agency.
What made you want to become entrepreneurs?
Gian: We always had the idea in our heads, and we started noticing that brands of different sizes started working more and more with independent and specialized agencies. We also noticed that bigger agencies were taking longer to react to clients’ problems—they were too bureaucratic. We saw it as an opportunity to do what we do best: come up with ideas without any sort of bureaucracy, just reacting fast to the context. No meetings, just a Zoom call and then roll up the sleeves and make the ideas happen.
Rolo: We had a lot of experience in production too. We can pull resources from Amsterdam, Argentina, Lima, Singapore—so we could make great pieces of creative while maximizing the economic resources of the client. It doesn’t need to be super expensive to do great work.
What’s your competitive advantage?
Gian: We have made advertising campaigns for Peru, Singapore, the Netherlands, France and the USA. We can connect with all these different cultures without losing a human truth in the message.
Rolo: There is no small project for us. We tailor every campaign to the client’s needs, adding our creative passion with a touch of Peruvian positivity.