An Interview with MullenLowe’s Andrei Ivanoff – ‘Geek is the New Chic’

In 2017, Andrei Ivanoff moved to Mexico City to open MullenLowe Profero, where he is Managing Director and Creative Vice President.

It wasn’t the first time Andrei had launched an agency. In 2012, he noticed the lack of integration between traditional and digital advertising in his hometown of São Paulo, Brazil. So he founded OFF, a digital boutique agency that went on to win clients like Adidas, Microsoft, Fox Films, Warner Brothers, Fnac and the Japanese giant, Konami.

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After five successful years, OFF was purchased by MullenLowe Brazil, and two years later, Andrei was off to Mexico to launch MullenLowe there.

Barbara Messer recently spoke with Ivanoff leading up to his joining the line-up of speakers at Ad Stars 2018 in Busan, South Korea.


You launched your own boutique digital agency, OFF, in Sao Paulo. What was the hardest thing about running your own agency?

Funny story. OFF was an adventure of a lifetime. I opened it while I was on vacation. I was working for VML in Kansas City (long story there) at the time, and I went on a month-long vacation to Brazil with my family. After a couple of days, I could not rest. I’m always working; I needed to feel productive in order to relax. So I would spend a couple hours a day reviewing emails and trying to work remotely on my father in law’s company.

 
 

Every member of our team was trained with an immersive experience in creative technology and digital, something that made them very valuable in the marketplace. We became some sort of talent incubator.

One day, I overheard a conversation that a French bookstore called FNAC was looking for a new agency. I decided to call their marketing director, a woman from Portugal who had recently arrived in Brazil. After a long phone conversation, she invited me to participate in a project and subsequently on the pitch. I was surprised. There were three global agencies pitching against my “vacation project”, can you imagine that?

After struggling on a huge presentation, I could not believe it when I found out we had won the business.

Why did you name the agency ‘OFF’?

We went to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers concert the same day we won the FNAC account to celebrate. Anthony Kiedis was wearing a hat that said ‘OFF’ (in reference to a Californian punk rock band). From there we created the whole positioning of the agency.

Geek is the new chic. So we were born geek, independent and sarcastic. OFF was always ON. We answered difficult questions with a simple question: why not? That helped us to establish ourselves in the marketplace and rapidly grow. We operated for four years before merging with MullenLowe Brasil.

What was the hardest thing about merging?

The hardest thing was to retain talent. Every member of our team was trained with an immersive experience in creative technology and digital, something that made them very valuable in the marketplace. We became some sort of talent incubator.

You moved to Mexico to launch MullenLowe Profero in 2017. How is it going?

Moving to Mexico was a great decision. The opportunity to learn a new culture and the aspects of a market that is baby-stepping on the digital segment is wonderful.

Also, after moving back to Brazil after spending 12 years in America, it felt like I had a crystal ball showing me the next big thing to happen on the Brazilian market. It was déjà vu. I kind of expected it to be the same here in México, and it is: it’s easy to spot the opportunities. Of course there are challenges, but we are on the verge of breaking the ice. We spent a year preparing our staff and clients. The next months are all about pursuing those opportunities.

How does living in Mexico inspire you?

México is a beautiful place to live, the culture here is rich. There are 145 museums only in México City. México is green, with beautiful beaches, amazing food and very warm and welcoming people. There are important sculptures all over the city, walking on the streets, you can be surprised at any moment with sculptures from Botero, Salvador Dali or Jorge Marin.

Look at Spotify, for example. They disrupted the music industry by understanding that people don´t want to own a song or an album, they simply want to listen to it.

I try to go for a bike ride every Sunday. On Sundays, the city is organized to become a public playground. They close more than 40km for bikers, runners, and families to enjoy the town. The energy is amazing, there are different things to do in every corner of town. Dancers, singers, events, weddings, mariachis, protests (usually peaceful ones), marathons, Zumba! You name it, it is all here.

Are you working on anything interesting at the moment?

We are currently working on a couple of projects involving Augmented Reality, Artificial intelligence and a lot of retargeting campaigns focused on brand experience. It’s hard to answer this question without exposing the ideas though!

What is your proudest achievement?

When I was about 12 years old, I was the webmaster of an international BBS (Bulletin Board System). At the time, connecting to a network using a 14.4K modem was very expensive. The BBS based in Italy sponsored my Internet connection. Having access to the WWW helped me to find my way to adventures in the world of advertising and communications.

Later, I studied advertising, learning it from a traditional point of view. Digital was an empty canvas and I was lucky to be involved with a very talented group of people who helped me to achieve a number of awards and come up with ideas that could make a real difference to people’s lives.

We are becoming superhumans with an augmented brain; connected almost 100% of our productive time. With all this, what do consumers really want? How can brands connect to consumers by adding real value to their lives?

Back in the days that connectivity was expensive, in the beginning of my career, I developed a device able to provide internet connection to remote areas up to 400 km from the closest town for under US$250. The tech was developed so a brand could sponsor and bring connectivity to people without access to information. I feel I paid back (to the universe perhaps?) for the opportunity I had as a kid to learn and expand my world.

You’re studying your MBA at Stanford University in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. How are you applying what you’re learning to your role at MullenLowe?

It´s an online program where I’ve learned deep insights into the people and consumers of today. The part I find to be very interesting and most valuable for what I do is that the course is focused on finding the intersection between a great idea and its relevance for modern consumers. It helps me understand the tools that are necessary for becoming more innovative as a person and how to apply it to an organization and a team.

You are speaking at Ad Stars next month. Can you give a hint of what your session will be about?

It’s cliché to say the world has changed, but guess what? It has changed again. Over the past few years, technology has become indispensable in every aspect of our lives. We are becoming superhumans with an augmented brain; connected almost 100% of our productive time. With all this, what do consumers really want? How can brands connect to consumers by adding real value to their lives?

My session will explore how companies are successfully getting an unfair share of attention by understanding what people really value. Look at Spotify, for example. They disrupted the music industry by understanding that people don´t want to own a song or an album, they simply want to listen to it.

Have you ever traveled to South Korea before?

No! It’s my first time. I´m very excited about this. I love the fact that the festival is focused on the convergence of creativity and technology. I noticed they are hosting people from various parts of the world including my native country. I’m so looking forward to learning aspects from different markets, and to gaining perspective on what is happening in the world of advertising, around the world! Can’t wait to be there.

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