World's hot shop is in Paris, and it's Veruroegen'sTBWA

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Only a foreigner could arrive in Paris just as the July chaleur becomes the August longeurs and expect anyone to be around with whom to break bread, let alone any place to be open in which to break it. How could I have been such a plouk (slang word for geek or nerd)?

In late July and August, everything pretty much does shut down there. My stay was in danger of being a case of "our correspondent went to Paris and all he got was this column" -were it not for a delightful dinner at the still achingly cool Hotel Costes with the still passionate, mercurial and chain-smoking Marie Catherine Dupuy.

Dupuy is the second "D"in the famous French agency BDDP, which transformed French advertising in the `80s and `90s before becoming part of Omnicom Group's TBWA. The first "D," Jean Marie Dru, is today worldwide CEO of TBWA.

She is chief creative officer, TBWA Group, and one of the global industry's few female worldwide creative directors. However, this column is really about the remarkable transformation wrought by the executive creative director Dupuy hired from Bozell New York just 18 months ago: Erik Veruroegen. He not only changed some 55% to 60% of the creative department in the 350-person Paris agency, and removed its star team system, he also fostered an intensely serious, fearless approach that is virtually iconoclastic in the long-downbeat and insecure Parisian ad community.

Listen to Veruroegen: "I am against advertising where people just show shit and say `but it works.' We have a mission to stop that. It kills other brands. We have a social responsibility."

Another example: "The consumer does not like advertising at all. It interrupts the film or the magazine, it looks ugly on the poster. It is pretentious to believe that the consumer will give you a chance just because you are there. It is the same as to say it's enough to be beautiful to please someone like a partner. You should be beautiful and clever and strong at the same time."

Veruroegen is different in that he genuinely abides by what he says. He has built a remarkably motivated and apparently talented department on the back of such personal enthusiasm as this, and in so remarkably short a time it surprised not only the French industry and French commentators but his own agency and network.

The only person not really surprised was Dupuy. She had wanted to hire Veruroegen two years before, but he was working with Tony Granger at TBWA Hunt Lascaris in South Africa and she did not wish to poach from a sibling agency. When Veruroegen followed Granger to Bozell New York, she pounced and found him frustrated by the "testing everything to death" of the New York market.

He reminded me constantly that advertising had to earn the right to be paid attention to, but that you could not be different just to be different. One simply does not hear too many admen talk like this any longer. Even fewer practice what they preach.

So here's un coup to you, Erik Veruroegen, and your intense whirlwind of achievement and ambition. May your labors bear fruit in the most beautiful city on earth.

Stefano Hatfield is contributing editor to Advertising Age and Creativity

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