An Interview With Olivier Altmann, Publicis, President Of Advertising Campaigns Jury

Please list 3 of your favorite advertisements – globally and your own. Why those?
Guinness "Noitulove" : a great insight based on a product truth with an execution that is close to perfection (special effects, soundtrack, editing).
An old Alka Seltzer film from DDB where prisoners start to complain about the food by yelling "alka seltzer !" each time they hit their bowls of crappy food.
The Guardian "Points of view«: a film that demonstrates brilliantly what objectivity is all about.

From Publicis? A difficult question… how do you choose between your children?
I would say: James Boags Draught “Pure Waters”, Publicis Mojo, Australia – Australian ad agencies are famous for making excellent beer commercials, and this spot is no exception. The commercial has Gold creative awards around the world including and a Clio Grand Prix in TV/Cinema and Digital – the first time ever for an Australian agency. The campaign tells the imaginative story of the special, pure waters of Tasmania – one of the many secret ingredients used to make Boag’s Draught such a great tasting beer,
Spa Barisart “Bar Fight”, Duval Guillaume, Belgium. This ad landedGrand Prix at Kinsale Festival for Belgium’s sparkling water Spa Barisart – the only Grand Prix awarded in the TV category. With spectacular action scenes shot completely under water, the commercial aimed to strengthen the position of Spa Barisart as the most sparkling of waters in Belgium.
Orange “Rewind” Publicis Conseil, a charming film from Ringan Ledwige that shows a whole Indian village that starts to rewind to allow a young couple to kiss each other again. A terrific allegory – showing that thanks to Orange catch-up TV you can live the best moments again. I remember this film because I almost lost a finger on the shoot and because it won a Lion at Cannes…

Who do you rate as being the top 3 companies (clients) and agencies – globally and your own? And why?
I like consistent good work – so for clients – VW, Nike, Apple, Pepsi, Guinness, all the great advertisers who have based their success on creativity in every field. These are brave clients who understand that they have to manage a brand that stands for something; that their role is not to change what has gone before but to build on that and to continue to establish strong bonds with customers.
On the advertising side, I would say BBH for the same reason: consistency of great work, year after year. It is really difficult for an agency to get to the top. But even more so to stay there when there is so much competition.
I admire Goodby Silverstein for being able to reinvent themselves when they realised they had to embrace digital and that Crispin Porter (another great agency) was starting to overshadow them. TBWA\ Chiat Day are doing amazing work for big clients like Apple or Pepsi.
I always remember that behind all those great companies there are great creatives at the centre who lead the agency and have the power to convince clients without making (too many) compromises.

Do you believe advertisement? Do you go and buy when you see a good ad? Do you have any brands that you love? Which and why?
I would be mad to work in advertising without believing it can change perception.
I believe in advertising that respects people and talks to them with intelligence, humour, provocation. Not all ads are created to invite people directly to buy a product, most are trying to tell you something about the product to make you consider it differently, or, to keep building a strong bond to prevent you from buying a competitive one.
When I see a good ad, I immediately think of the agency and the strategy behind it. So I am not the most objective audience, even though my first reaction is just like everyone else : I laugh, I shake my head …
I love very few brands because some brands simply don’t always make good products. I love Apple for the way they look at marketing and ergonomics. But on the product side, I am not found of everything they do. I love iPhone but I am not (for the moment!) part of iPad mania.
I like some luxury brands like Panerai for their watches and Aston-Martin for cars as, for me, they understand that great design has to be pure and timeless, just like Apple in fact.

What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
I think it’s pretentious to look at yourself this way… what I like to think, and hope is true, is that I’ve played a part in helping young talent become better creatives, and then become creative directors.

What do you do for inspiration?
Remain curious about everything: films, books, people, trends, cultures, social behaviour. Sometimes, the most inspiration comes from client problems.

Have you written any books, if not do you plan to? What is/would it be about?
At 13, I wrote a short documentary about the damage caused by tobacco. At 16, I started to write a screenplay about the life of Errol Flynn… I didn’t get far…. I then realised that advertising was my real passion. I doubt that I will write a book, but it would be amusing to write something about advertising – sharing tips with creatives.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?
Being happy before I turn 50.

What are your views on advertising school? Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment? Can you speak from your own experience?
I think good schools are really important as they help students to understand the bigger picture around our business, and train them to sharpen their minds.
In every field you need to have a general culture to know what has been done before and what is happening now. I value schools that train creatives to work on tangible briefs, as a team, so they are able to find work more quickly.
I was not a very good student until I joined a communciations school (I.U.T. Paris V Avenue de Versailles) where most teachers were already in the business world. Then I felt passionate about lessons and became a top student! My view is that you should do in life something that you really like. That is the best chance you have to succeed.

What are your views on advertising festival? What is their main benefit for the visitor? Do they have a future?
They are important because they measure agencies and networks against each other, and they share the best work from around the world.
The problem is there are many, many advertising festivals– and you have to be very selective with entries as costs can be high. I am sure that as in every domain, there will be a process of natural selection and the strongest will survive.

Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Listen to your gut.


Olivier fell in love with advertising at school when his teacher asked him to comment on an ad for a Teflon-coated frying pan. He wrote 17 pages instead of one. Curiously, 32 years later, he’s now working for the French Teflon utensil maker Tefal, but, as worldwide chief creative officer of Publicis. So what happened in between?

In 1987 Olivier set off as an intern at Y&R, before getting his first pay check at FCB. Three months later, he won his first Cannes Lion for Handy Bag (an award easier to win in those days). Then he moved to Australia (the agency, not the country) where he created a breakthrough 90-second television ad that showed nothing but pure silence.

In 1992 he joined BDDP (now TBWA Paris) where he honed his skills, producing award-winning work for BMW, Epson and Caisse d’Epargne, to name just a few.

Six years later BDDP’s founders urged Olivier to start his own agency (with two partners) and that’s how BDDP&Fils was born. This small outfit rapidly earned the reputation of being the best creative agency in France – three years in a row (2000, 2001, 2002), and the sixth worldwide (Gunn Report). It even won the Eurobest Grand Prix in 2001.

That may well be why Olivier was elected President of the French Art Directors Club and became CEO of his agency in 2003.

In 2004, Maurice Levy offered Olivier the role of Co-Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of the network’s flagship agency Publicis Conseil. A year later, Publicis Conseil landed the Eurobest Grand Prix and was voted the second best agency in Europe. In 2008, Publicis Conseil was voted Creative Agency of the Year and Best Advertising Agency, while Olivier was named Creative Director of the Year. And he won that distinction again last year.

November 2009 saw Olivier promoted to the new role of Chief Creative Officer of Publicis Worldwide and he has become a member of the Worldwide Executive Committee.

During his career, Olivier has worked for some of the world’s most iconic brands including Mercedes, Nestlé, Michelin, Club Med, Samsung, Wonderbra, Orange and Renault. He has won numerous awards, including Cannes Gold Lions, Clio Golds, One Show, two Eurobest Grand Prix, D&AD and the French Art Directors Club. He is regularly invited to sit on juries at Cannes, D&AD, the Clios, and has been twice Chairman of the Eurobest Jury.

After 23 years in the business, he’s still in love with advertising.

Bucuresti, 30.08.2010

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