Marcello Serpa on the art of reduction (trailer)

The creative director behind Havaianas on German precision and Brazilian exuberance.

Veteran creative director Marcello Serpa has a talent for finding simplicity in a landscape of complexity. Regularly recognised as Brazil’s most honoured art director with multiple awards to his name, Serpa sees advertising as the art of reduction.

In this talk at Design Indaba Conference 2014, the creative director of AlmapBBDO in Sao Paulo boils his 30 years of experience down to a few key lessons.

“Be simple,” he says. “Try to reduce everything to a single phrase, thought, idea, visual or benefit.”

But it comes with a proviso: “Be unpredictable.”

If you are simple and predictable, you are dead, cautions Serpa.

“I always say I love obvious things, but the obvious thing for the first time,” he notes.

Case in point: His 1993 ad for Brazilian diet soft drink Guarana has no title, no headline and no copy – just an image of a woman’s lithe torso on one side and the bottle cap of the drink on the other, echoing the shape of her navel and speaking eloquently about the drink’s benefit.  The ad won the Grande Prix in Cannes for best print ad.

Similarly, a giant billboard ad for ice-cream brand Kibon uses a simple concept to associate its mango-flavoured popsicle with the freshness of the fruit itself: an image of a partially unwrapped popsicle is shown under the headline “The mango”, while the bare wooden stick after eating is “The seed”.

“Today if you go to a briefing for a mango ice-cream from any client, we are going to discuss the personality of mango, the architecture of mango, the structure of mango, what mango means to people or how mango can save your life,” Serpa says. 

Simplicity is also a handy tool when budgets are strapped, says Serpa. Case in point is AlmapBBDO’s ad for Volkswagen, which stresses the manufacturer’s stringent quality control by showing a checklist of tests being ticked off and then double-ticked, with the double-tick mimicking VW’s iconic logo.

This ad was cheap to produce – which is a necessity in Brazil, he notes.

“We don’t have Hollywood, we don’t have George Lucas […] we were at that time in a deep crisis so we have to be very compact.”

Serpa shares some valuable insights into the human and business side of advertising. Among the important things he has learned, he says, is that “great work should be rewarded by the finance department not by titles but by money. I think it’s only fair.”


Watch the Talk with Marcello Serpa