What is the greatest ad ever made? What about the best agency or creative director? Are we even truly capable of judging such things? Everyone is prone to being subjective, just like with art, so we couldn’t really answer those questions. What we do know is that great ads are made by passionate people that listen — carefully — and craft the very best thing they possibly can, every time.

Advertising is one of the most powerful tools in the hands of brands. A great ad can make history, as it did for Nike, and a bad ad can backfire, just like with Gillette. But how do great ads come to life and how do ad-craftsmen (and women) wield the golden staff of storytelling so fearlessly (almost) every time?

To find out, Brandingmag sat down with a made-in-Brazil creative soul — one of the most award-winning professionals in the advertising industry, Pedro ‘Papito’ Prado, VP and Executive Creative Director at Leo Burnett Tailor Made.

Brandingmag: What is ‘brand storytelling’ to you and what defines a great one?

Pedro Prado: It’s the main way to build emotional ties between brands and consumers. Apple wouldn’t be Apple without 1984, Marmite would be a dull yeast spread without the “Love It or Hate It” campaign, Nike wouldn’t have a soul if it weren’t for the beautiful spots it has consistently produced over the past decades, and without the posters of Henry Kissinger, The Economist would be just another magazine, if still published at all.

Bm: In over 20 years, you have crafted many exceptional ads. What makes you a great storyteller?

PP: Thanks for the kind words. I guess one must remain curious to be able to tell touching stories. Listen. Listen hard! Again, and again. Listen truthfully, instead of just waiting for your time to talk. Listening, knowing that you know nothing, and not taking yourself too seriously are great ways to tell stories. As far as craft goes… patience and resilience are key. The script is just the beginning. The real work starts when most people think the work is done.

Bm: Can there be advertising without a story? Good advertising, that is. Can a brand sway from its story and still convey a meaningful message to its audience?

PP: No! Plain and simple.

Stories shape pretty much all of our emotional connections in life. We feel dear to childhood friends for the stories we shared, we love a specific beach or destination because of the stories we lived there, we connect with artwork because of the stories it makes us imagine, or re-live. We keep father’s typewriter not for what it will write, but for what it wrote. Without stories, there are no emotional ties, hence, as I mentioned above: no good advertising. In short: hell, no!

Bm: Is dissonance in your creative toolkit? Visual, audio, or sensorial dissonance — have you ever used it to break the mold to your advantage in the ad space?

PP: I don’t think there’s a determined toolkit or set of rules. Actually, the less you make rules or follow them, the better the chances you’ll come up with something unique and nice.

Dissonance can, of course, be very effective in attracting attention and making audiences see and experience brands or products in new and interesting ways. But I think one must be very careful not to use it as a simple rhetorical trick or shortcut. The trick may draw eyes for a little while, but it won’t drive hearts. I believe dissonance must contain a human truth, in some shape or form. That “uh, never seen it like this, but that’s quite clever!” feeling. So, I am a bit wary of labeling it as a tool. Dissonance, after all, is not using tools, but, indeed, coming up with tailor-made ones for each and every occasion.

Bm: If a brand’s values and story stand at the core of the ad-making process, does that mean that advertising is, even where unintentional, a brand-building mechanism?

PP: Advertising is the major player in building a brand’s soul. Oddly enough, even more so than the brand and its products themselves. Sports shoes are all pretty much the same. But only Nikes are Nikes.

Bm: What is your opinion on agencies doing creative work that favors awards, even if detrimental to the client’s brand in the long run? Is it possible for clients to steer clear of such misconduct?

PP: The industry sometimes forces creatives to do stuff like that. But we must resist. Even if that means not taking career shortcuts. Awards are great and important, but outstanding REAL work doesn’t need awards. At the end of the day, even with no awards, your client (and, selfishly, your workbook) will still have the work. And in the long run, that’s what really matters. Specs, or work that doesn’t speak to a brand’s heart, may win awards, but will never win respect or build reputation. Quite the contrary, they will actually hurt the entire industry.

Bm: What is your all-time favorite ad made or led by you? Can you briefly describe its creative process and why it’s first on your list?

PP: Sophie’s choice. I guess I’d like to mention Republica Popular do Corinthians, for Nike. A job that started small, as a launch of a new commemorative jersey to celebrate the club’s 100th anniversary. A gig made on a small budget, but carefully and beautifully crafted, I like to think. It started small but ended up huge. It touched the fans’ hearts, made the news for several weeks, became a model case for Nike worldwide, and sold loads of jerseys.

Bm: On the flip side, what is your worst advertising endeavor? What went wrong, what lessons did you learn from it, and did you get the opportunity to show yourself that you learned from those mistakes?

PP: So many… it’s hard to pick one failure. We are in the business of frustration, after all. But all failures have two things in common: Not trusting your heart (your gut) or, a mistake more often made, giving up too soon.

Bm: What is a crucial piece of advice you would give to your peers — the experienced ad-makers — that can also benefit them and the ad industry, as a whole?

PP: Like I mentioned above, trust your heart. But understand that even with fake prophets selling easy formulas or guaranteed success, we are not in the business of absolute truths. We sell opinions; eventually great or well-experienced opinions, but opinions nonetheless. And two more quick bites:

  • Hard word is more important than selling yourself on social media;
  • Be extremely careful not to become a creative director before you actually do at least one good ad (I heard this one from a former boss).

Cover image sources: Nacho Lledò