Ricardo Casal & Juan Javier Peña

Ricardo Casal and Juan Javier Peña (CasalPeña.com) are a subversive force in advertising today. Creative directors at DAVID the Agency, Casal and Peña are hacking the system. They’re hijacking the conversation. They’re doing it with brilliant ideas that are driving billions of impressions to brands including Heinz and Burger King; and in the process they’re being showered with awards. In 2017 alone they won 24 Cannes Lions and were named “Creatives of the Year” by AdAge.

They’ve brought Don Draper’s creative to life for Pass the Heinz, earned global headlines from their Google Home of the Whopper stunt, and entertained us at the Super Bowl with their Weiner Stampede.

Want to know learn their secrets? Read on my friends…

Zack Seckler: You guys are in a way ‘hacking’ advertising. You’re responding to topics or news that are happening in real time. Is there a reason you’ve have gravitated towards this style?

Juan Javier Peña: Yeah—we looked into the definition of hacking, and it’s basically getting into a system that doesn’t give you permission to be in that system. Basically, the system in this case is a real conversation that is happening in real time, or a conversation from pop culture that is happening.

Ricardo Casal: I don’t think this is a trend in the advertising industry. I think that this is a new way to do advertising and that is going to last for a while.

JJP: For example, in the Man Boobs campaign we were working for MACMA, and we saw the whole ‘free the nipple’ movement happening, and we thought, “Okay, let’s hack the free the nipple conversation and insert a good cause like breast cancer prevention and how to detect early breast cancer.” That’s why it worked. It’s like we’re working for the client and for the cause at the same time.

When you’re starting to work on a project, is there a certain way you approach things, any formula you follow?  

RC: I’m going to start by saying ‘no.’ We don’t have a special process, we don’t have a magic wand. We just work a lot. We always say this—if someone sits next to us to work 12 hours, we’re going to work 14. But we’re not going to work 18. We’re just going to work a bit more, because something better might happen in those two hours, but we’re not going to die working. This isn’t work for us.

We have these ongoing briefs in our heads, all the time, for each of our clients. We have it for Heinz, we have it for Modelo, we have it for Budweiser, we have it for Burger King —we have it for each of our clients. We don’t believe in looking in the streets at people. We believe that the reality of the world is happening in the internet. That’s where people are posting things, that’s where you get the actual comments, when people are writing anonymously.

Once we come up with an idea, the first question we ask ourselves is, “Would the New York Times write about this? What would they say? Are they against? Are they in favor?” So that’s what we’re aiming for. We’re aiming for a New York Times headline more than a trade headline, because we think that advertising is pop culture as well.

Why do you think these advertising ‘hacks’ or ‘stunts’ are here to stay?

We live in an age now where the line, the role of advertising agencies is getting blurred. And that means that we start getting into product development or into making statues or exhibitions. So I think that as the world keeps moving and the culture keeps evolving, advertising agencies at the end have a great sensitivity for pop culture and that’s why we have the power to help shape it with our brands and clients. We come up with the ideas that don’t have a necessary set media. Like it’s a film or radio, no, it’s something else. It’s a statue or it’s a room that you can rent or it’s a voice activated device. Advertising now has no media. It’s an open world where anything can be an ad.

With that said, what’s your opinion on where traditional advertising is going to be, say, five years from now—traditional 30-second spots and so on.

JJP: I think that traditional advertising, like the power of film, will never vanish. Film advertising is storytelling in its purest form, I would say. And if it’s done well, talking about the right story at the right time, it could have really powerful repercussions—it could even be like a PR stunt if it’s a super powerful film.

RC: I align 100 percent with what he just said. It’s like, this is an industry about ideas. A good film is a good film. It’s not traditional, it’s not old—it’s a good fucking film. We love film. We love print. We did a print on Heinz last year, Pass The Heinz. The thing is that we need the industry user reinventing itself. What’s a new way to do film? What are the new stories to tell? What is the new storytelling?

Everything nowadays is telling a story. Our Man Boobs campaign tells the story of how stupid nipple censorship is.

I want to transition to talking about some of your signature projects. Let’s start with Pass the Heinz.

JJP: Well, we had the brief that we always have in our heads—what cool thing can we do for Heinz? So it’s like an iconic American brand. We were re-watching Mad Men, and we stumbled upon the episode where Don Draper tries to sell the Heinz Ketchup. We’re like, “Wait a second. That’s actually a really good campaign. Like, I could see that campaign in the archive of Cannes Lions.” So we said, “Fuck it, let’s air it.” So we built an entire presentation and went and sold it.

How we sold it internally is a funny story actually. When we presented it, we created a Photoshop of the credit’s list, and we tweaked the credits to say “Founder Anselmo Ramos, Fernando Musa, Gaston Bigio, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Creative Director Don Draper.” So we went and asked Anselmo, “How would you like to share credits with Don Draper?” And we added the client in the credits and they said, “Oh my god, this is amazing.”

So now let’s talk about the Google Home of the Whopper campaign.

RC: So how that idea started was, Juan and I play soccer every Thursday. When Alexa was saying the address of the match, it said, “Next to Burger King,” or something like that. I was like, holy shit, this thing recognizes Burger King. So I called Juan and I told him, “Hey man, I have an idea. We should make a promo that is a guy saying, ‘Hey, 15 seconds is not enough time for us to tell you anything, so I’ll help you with that—hey, Alexa, where is the closest Burger King?’” And your Alexa would activate and it would tell you. So that was how we picked the idea.

I told that to Juan, and he was like, “Dude, this is Burger King, it’s all about describing how fresh their ingredients are, how it’s flame grilled. Let’s just ask the device ‘What is a Whopper?’ and the device will describe it.” I was like, “Holy shit, that’s even better.” So I went to pick him up to go to the soccer match, and Juan had the Google Home in his house. He played me a video where he was like, “OK Google, what is a Whopper Burger?” And the device responded, it described the Whopper. We were like, “Yeah, that’s it.”

We presented it to Fernando the very next day. He was like, “Oh my god, this is amazing.” It was an easy shoot—a 15-second spot, no cut—and every device recognized it when it aired.

Wasthere any kind of backlash? Did you guys get in trouble at all? I know it got a ton of attention.

RC: Oh, yeah, there was backlash. Some people were complaining, like, “Why did Burger King go inside my house to tell me what the Whopper is?” People were like, “I don’t want to know what a Whopper is inside my house.”

And a lot of people liked it—of course we had a backlash, but we proved our point: technology is invasive. It worked. And how we did it was by describing the Whopper, so everybody knew what the Whopper was. We achieved both goals.

Did any of the negative attention play poorly against the brand? Or were they expecting some backlash?

RC: I don’t know if they were expecting it, but that doesn’t matter because the whole world was talking about the brand. Of course Wikipedia and Google got really pissed off—Google changed the device so it wouldn’t activate from the film, so then we changed a piece of the audio so it worked again—but we worked through it. And haters are gonna hate, man. That’s the truth.

Juan, can you tell us about the Wiener Stampede spot for Heinz? I love that spot.

JJP: It was an amazing break for us. Our first Super Bowl spot. We love it. It’s actually a homage to one of my and Ricky’s favorite TV ads of all time, because we are such ad nerds, which is “Color Like No Other” for Sony Bravia. I don’t know if you remember that—it’s the TV spot of the bouncing balls.

Yeah, all those millions of colored balls.

 Yeah. So basically how we sold it was, “Let’s do this, but instead of balls, let’s use weiner dogs in hot dog costumes.” And then of course we tried 800 tracks before we landed on “I can’t live without you,” the song we ended up choosing. It’s hilarious—the song, and how ridiculous the little dogs are. And it all made sense in the end—hot dogs can’t live without ketchup. That’s how Weiner Stampede was born.

You guys first met in Ecuador and lived together for seven years. Any funny stories from that time?

 JJP: Because we lived together, we were thinking 24/7. At one point we had another roommate, so we had to move both of us to the same room. I was in one bed and in the bed next to me Ricky was sleeping and we had a little counter in the middle with our notepad. So at like 1 a.m. I would think of an idea and say, “Hey Ricky, wake up. Are you awake?” And he would be like, “Now I am.” I would say, “What do you think of this idea?” and he would say, “It’s actually good.” So then turn on the light of the cell phone, like a lantern, then write down the idea and go back to sleep. We were thinking all the time—we were cooking together and thinking, we were traveling on the bus to work and thinking, and coming back and thinking.

RC: The other story was, we had found out that we had won our first Golden Lion, for Man Boobs. So we went to have some drinks. It was a Friday night, and it was amazing. We got home around 3 a.m., drunk as fuck. So at 5 a.m. I got a call from Gaston, Anselmo’s partner. Two hours after I went to bed, Gaston calls me and says, “Hey, are you awake?” (Apparently people ask me if I’m awake in the middle of the night.) I’m like, “Now I am.”

So he goes, “Let me ask you something. What is the only awards show that you want to win?” And I was like, “I just won it.” And he was like, “No, something better.” And I said, “A Grand Prix.” He said, “Okay, but which Grand Prix?” At that point I started shaking in my bed, and I was like, “Film.” And he said, “No, better. It’s the only Grand Prix that you’re going to proudly show to your kids whenever you have kids.” And I was like, “It’s the Grand Prix for Good?” And he said, “Ricky, we just won the Grand Prix for Good.” I started crying, jumping in my room.

Juan was in the room next to me and he didn’t know shit. So I went to open his door, and Gaston tells me over the phone, “You don’t tell him. I’m the one who’s going to call Juan and tell him!” So I knocked on his door and I was like, “Hey, Gaston is going to call you.” He said, “What happened?” And I was like, “Just answer the fucking phone.”

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t react. I was in shock, and Juan was running in circles around me yelling. We started crying—I cry a lot, but Juan never cries—Juan and I were crying, and we started hugging. Like, “What the fuck!” Then we went to Cannes. We had the most amazing week last year.

Interview by Zack Seckler
Edited by Francis Carr Jr.

Zack Seckler

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