David Ratto established David Ratto Agency in 1974 in Buenos Aires at the beginning of one of Argentina's most politically turbulent periods. The agency opened with fewer than a dozen employees, mainly to service leading publisher Editorial Atlantida. After the agency acquired the Chrysler Corp. business a year later, it incorporated media buying into its services, and by 1977, David Ratto was a full-service agency.
With the agency quickly establishing itself as a creative shop, it did not take long for BBDO Worldwide to single out the David Ratto agency as an ideal partner. In the late 1970s, BBDO was looking for a tactical association in Argentina; at the time, Argentina's inward-looking and highly protected economy had made it difficult for more than a few multinationals to establish local partnerships in the country.
BBDO wooed Ratto by offering it the local work on R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s Camel cigarette account, the first time the tobacco giant allowed an agency outside the U.S. to create campaigns for the brand. David Ratto returned the compliment by becoming the U.S. agency's representation office and, in the ensuing period, the agency produced memorable work for Camel.
Mr. Ratto at first resisted BBDO's persistent advances seeking closer ties. For the following four years, he became the chief media adviser to the government of Raul Alfonsin. At that time, Carlos Ratto, David's son, joined the agency as an account assistant.
In 1987, once it became obvious that Argentina was open to globalization, the agency entered into a formal partnership with BBDO, surrendering 20% ownership to the holding company.
When the account director for VW left the agency suddenly in 1989, VW asked the elder Mr. Ratto to let his son take over the account. In 1991, Carlos Ratto was promoted to VP-managing director.
For most of the 1990s, the agency consistently won prestigious accounts, in many ways mirroring the upturn of the country's advertising industry, buoyed by a spate of major privatizations and an unprecedented opening of the economy that led to an invasion of international companies and brands into Argentina. Client acquisitions included PepsiCo Snacks, 1993; Federal Express, 1993; Argencard (MasterCard), 1993, although the account was lost in 1996; Nike, 1994; S.A. Alba (ICI Paints), 1996; Effem (Mars candies), 1999; and local dairy giant Sancor, 2000.
Creative awards also continued for both the agency and its founder, including a Bronze Lion for a Volkswagen "New Beetle" ad at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes in 2000.
In 1999, David Ratto stepped down as agency president and Carlos Ratto succeeded him. At the time, agency General Manager Roberto Ameal was promoted to the post of VP-managing director. Soon after, however, the agency began to suffer from Argentina's worst advertising slump in decades, losing clients—including Volkswagen—and revenue. Overall, in 2001, Argentine ad spending dropped 14%; in 2002, ad spending dropped another 30%.
In mid-2001, Ratto split from Omnicom Group's BBDO Argentina; the following year, the agency, unable to make payments on an undisclosed amount of debt, filed for bankruptcy protection.