The newly appointed CCO at Wunderman Thompson Australia tells LBB’s Natasha Patel about a career that has spanned many continents
João Braga has always known that he would be in the creative industry. As a five-year-old, while his chums were harping about becoming footballers, a young João boldly exclaimed to his mother that he would be a marketing director for Coca Cola. And so he started on a path that has been nothing short of an adventure over the years.
As a native Brazilian, he was practically born into the industry with a father who was in the advertising business.
Much of his formative years were spent at his father’s agency in Rio where he joked he was the team’s mascot. “It seemed like a fun environment, creative, and it's funny because to some people advertising just came into their lives by accident or and for me, it's not a very creative thing to say, but I never even thought about doing other things.”
When João’s father passed away, the 21-year-old was given the opportunity to step into his shoes and take over his agency. “That wouldn't be what my father would have liked me to do and I did the opposite thing. I took some money that he left me, and I went to the UK.”
Upon arriving in England, João had three options: go to portfolio school, film school or do a master’s degree. He chose the latter and spent a year studying Marketing Communications at the University of Bournemouth. “It was an amazing learning experience, and I think maybe that slowed me down a bit in the beginning, because I didn't really have the best portfolio. But over time it helped me catch up because I had quite a strategic understanding of market and consumers.” From there he went to London where he spent a few months doing internships but realised that “I just didn’t have my portfolio; it just wasn’t good enough for the demands of the jobs.”
Instead João went home to Brazil and spent the next decade in roles with TBWA and JWT in Sao Paulo until he received an invitation to go to Portugal and become the ECD for Publicis. “It was my first experience running an office and it was a small one, but it was a very interesting learning experience. After three years Portugal was feeling a bit too small so I started looking for some stuff but he opportunities that came were not the ones that I wanted.”
So João along with his wife and two young children packed their bags and relocated to Bali for a year in what he calls a midlife crisis. “We found out about this international school in Bali in the middle of the jungle so we just flew all the way with four suitcases. To be honest, I feel like it was a bit of a midlife crisis. I just turned 40 and I was questioning myself like am I doing the work that I want to be doing, is there something else that I that I can explore?
“It was a very interesting personal break and then I thought, maybe it's time to get back. I missed the crew and the excitement so then I joined Ogilvy in Singapore doing mainly regional and global work on Unilever.”
After two years there he joined the team at Wunderman Thompson in Bangkok in a move he believes a lot of people could call ‘very exotic’. “If anyone asked me some years before if I'd ever be living and working in Asia and especially in Bangkok, where I don't even speak the language, I'd say are you of your mind, but at the same time we're very good telling our clients to be brave and take leaps, but we're not very good at it ourselves. So, at that time, both in Bali and then Bangkok, I made brave decisions if I look back. But, somehow, they paid off.
“I’ve had my best professional years in Bangkok - three and a half years, the chemistry was great. I think bringing my Brazilian creativity matched with the experience I had in other places with a very authentic Thai creativity made for nice chemistry.”
But for João this wasn’t where his itchy feet stopped, and when Wunderman Thompson Australia announced that CCO Simon Langley was leaving he was asked to step in to help the team out. At the time filling the role more permanently didn’t occur to him, until a conversation with his wife about putting down some roots for their children, now nine and 12. At this stage the Wunderman team were in final stages of interviews with three prospective candidates so João fast-tracked his application with seven interviews in a week, getting the news that he’d got the job
a short while after.
Of course, what he calls his “gypsy” lifestyle has had an effect on João’s family with moves from Portugal to Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and now Australia so for the family to find a place to stay and live in for the long-term was key. “I know that this is a bit too much, so I think the plan is to really settle down for a while.” But the exposure his family have been given to the excitement of the advertising world begs the question if João will encourage them to enter the industry, in the same way his father did for him.
“I think maybe that lack of chance that I had in my life that's something I don't want them to feel. Since I was a kid I was so obsessed with doing this, but they do music and they enjoy other things. Leaving that open for them, at least for now, I think it's a healthy thing.”
With the incredible cultural experiences João has had throughout his career spanning the globe, what does he believe he can bring to the new role creatively? “In my last interview for this job in Australia, the guy asked me: what would be one quality my childhood friends say I have? After thinking for 30 seconds, my answer was my adaptability.”
“If adapting to a culture was something that was painful for me to deal with, then it would be impossible to have the life that I'm living. I also love observing people. And I have a passion for street photography so that answer maybe comes from that. But I don't think there's a formula, it's really something that I learned from my childhood and I apply at work. There is a different context, but it's also okay if I bring something new.”
For João, now chief creative officer at Wunderman Thompson Australia yet working remotely from Thailand due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel, navigating this unchartered territory of his latest project is something he’s going to do with respect, observation and “a slightly different background and perspective on things.”