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Erik Vervroegen's name will never trip off the tongue - not even in his native Belgium. But there were many journalists and network heads at this year's Cannes International Advertising Festival trying to learn it for the first time. TBWAParis was named Agency of the Year at the festival, where its PS2 "Rebirth" work also took the Press Grand Prix. This, just a little more than one year after he took over as executive creative director with a brief from the agency's chairman, Marie Catherine Dupuy, and its CEO, Philip Purdon, to make it the most creative shop in France in the space of merely a year, and in the world within three.

Vervroegen came from Bozell/New York, where he had only just gone to join Tony Granger, then the ECD but now at Saatchi & Saatchi/London. At Bozell, Vervroegen nevertheless won Cannes Gold for both The Art Directors Club and The New York Times print campaigns. He previously worked for Granger at Hunt Lascaris TBWA in Johannesburg, where he won at Cannes and the One Show for Land Rover, Dunlop and Seychelles Tourism.

"Everything I know I learned from Tony Granger," Vervroegen says, sitting in his modest office in Paris. "The secret of this agency is to not have star teams. There is no hierarchy. Teams are often young, and we mold them. If there is a cool kind of Playstation brief, everyone can work on it - if they are free. I really, really want these guys to become great creatives. I spend a lot of time on, 'What is a good ad?" 'What is good art direction?'; 'What is guerrilla advertising?' We believe the more you work, the better you get in advertising."

It's a philosophy he has practiced personally. Bored of Belgian advertising "because nothing was ever possible," Vervroegen decided he would work for one of the five best agencies in the world, "whichever would hire me first." He went to Cannes with the express purpose of showing his portfolio and met John Hunt (of TBWA Hunt Lascaris, South Africa, and now worldwide ECD of TBWA), who offered him a job. "Johannesburg is not the most glamorous of cities," but he went to work for Granger happily. He followed Granger eagerly to Bozell in New York, where he admits he was "so disappointed. You have to be lucky in the U.S. to be famous or good. Everything was tested to death." He also concedes that given the strength of Granger's personality, he was always going to play second fiddle, and Dupuy and Purdon promised him control. "Everything they told me I could do then, we have been able to do," says Vervroegen. "My brief was quite clear; I changed about 60 percent of the creative department."

He also changed the style of the work, particularly in print (strangely, TBWAParis only made 15 commercials last year). It is earthy, trendy and a departure for conservative, glossy French advertising. Now, he must maintain this standard across television, too. "You have to give the right art direction to the idea, not the same style all the time," he says, pointedly. "The best art direction is when you cannot notice it. The best ideas should normally be so simple that an English guy, a German guy and a French guy should each be able to understand it.

"Obviously, in the U.K. there is this humor," he continues. "We may not understand work like John Smith's but we get that it is different. In France, we don't have the same tradition of humor. I'm trying to find a more universal language. Our work succeeds because of that, but it's not designed like that on purpose. I'm not against cultural jokes that only a French guy understands."

It is misguided to believe that consumers will give ads a chance just because they are there, says Vervroegen. "Consumers do not like advertising at all," he notes. "So you have to be funny, beautiful, charming or quick, which is why you should not write too much in the body copy. If you don't have a lot of money, you have no choice but to be arresting. Most of our clients don't have millions and millions of media budget. You have to convert people. Most people do not give a fuck about advertising."

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