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Perhaps GUT’s expansion into a multioffice ad agency didn’t happen overnight, but it might seem like it. Cofounded by Gastón Bigio and Anselmo Ramos just in 2018, the ad agency’s creative network within four years now spans five different countries, with offices in Buenos Aires, Miami, Mexico City, São Paulo and Toronto and more than 300 employees working both remotely and locally. What’s more, its branches have collectively been sweeping up awards with campaigns that use wit to respond to both clients’ needs and pop culture. By making that intersection a hallmark of its work, GUT could very well be cemented in advertising history as a paragon, a ruler by which others measure themselves.

Cofounders Anselmo Ramos and Gastón Bigio.

But maybe the ad agency’s sharp upwards trajectory isn’t all that surprising, considering that its cofounders both honed their leadership skills when they established DAVID the Agency, an independent division of Ogilvy, with chief executive officer Fernando Musa in 2011. By the time Bigio and Ramos left to cofound GUT, DAVID had already expanded to three offices in Buenos Aires, Miami and São Paulo. If anything, this proves the strength of the cofounders’ professional and creative relationship.

“Gastón and I met for the first time while working at Ogilvy,” Ramos recalls, where he was chief creative officer at Ogilvy Brazil in São Paulo. Bigio worked as the regional creative director for Ogilvy Latina, the agency’s network of Latin American firms. “The first time we met, we didn’t quite hit it off,” Ramos admits. “But over time, we discovered that we shared the same vision when it came to creativity within the agency.”

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What Bigio and Ramos have in common is a fire for advertising—which they call “nerdiness”—and this similar ethos has forged their strong working relationship. “Deep down, we’re two ad nerds and always have been,” the pair says. “We still talk about ideas every day. Our ad nerdiness is very tangible, and clients feel that.” The value of their partnership would become apparent when, in 2013, Ogilvy Brazil won Agency of the Year at Cannes.

Asserted through numerous idioms, the gut is the powerhouse behind our decisions. Any creative alive can tell you that good ideas come from a harmony of the mind and the gut. Our minds might form ideas, but they’re always pitched to the true inner client—the gut, who gives us the green light. That’s what GUT is all about: the magic of intuition. Even when talking with Bigio and Ramos on how they decided to establish the agency, it turns out it was a gut decision. “We sat at table 57 at the Hôtel Martinez [in Cannes], made some drawings on a napkin and decided to go for it,” the pair recollects. “The name GUT came very quickly. Seconds later, we bought the website domain.

“The human brain has 100 billion neurons, 100 neurotransmitters, 50 percent of all dopamine and 5 percent of all serotonin; the human gut has 500 million neurons, 40 neurotransmitters, 50 percent of all dopamine and 95 percent of all serotonin,” they explain. “So it’s no wonder the scientific community calls our gut ‘the second brain.’” But there’s an advantage our second brains have over our first, something Ramos and Bigio like to utilize. “You can use only 10 percent of the first brain but 100 percent of the second brain,” they say. “You just need to stop, listen to it, feel it and, most importantly, act on it.”

Having built up a network of likeminded ad nerds during their careers, Bigio and Ramos quickly recruited Paulo Fogaça, now chief operating officer and global partner at GUT; Carmen Rodriguez, now chief client officer and global partner, who also co-helms GUT’s internal diversity initiative COMMITTED with GUT São Paulo’s managing director Valeria Barone; Joaquin Cubria and Ignacio “Nacho” Ferioli, now co-chief creative officers and global partners leading the creative at GUT Buenos Aires and overseeing all Latin American offices; and Ricardo Casal and Juan Javier Peña Plaza, now executive creative directors and global partners leading and overseeing the ad agency’s creative department throughout North America.

With this team of ardent creatives, GUT established three core values in its creative philosophy: courage, having the guts to do things that haven’t been done before; transparency, to always hold itself to the standard of being absolutely true; and intuition, its most treasured value, to always create work that portrays “a beautiful tango between data and intuition,” as the pair describes it. “We believe there are two kinds of ideas,” Bigio and Ramos say. “The first is data-driven, gut-executed. You find a powerful piece of data and then execute it in a gutsy way. The second kind is the opposite: gut-inspired, data-executed. Historically, our most effective work was mostly the second kind—visceral and intuitive.”

But to make work led by the gut, you must internalize your client’s brand values so that ideas emerge purely from the font of your intuition, uninfluenced by what you think you should do. As Ramos says, “When you deeply know the brand positioning, values and personality, you can wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, what if we do this?’ And it’s totally valid.”

Deep down, we’re two ad nerds and always have been. We still talk about ideas every day. Our ad nerdiness is very tangible, and clients feel that.” —Gastón Bigio and Anselmo Ramos

This process succeeds because the ad agency develops close relationships with its clients not just to secure work but also to secure creating impactful work for them. Take its holiday campaign for Canadian quick-service restaurant chain Tim Hortons. Titled Diverse Snowpeople, the 60-second spot casts real families of varied backgrounds all across Canada making snowmen that represent themselves. Snowmen appear in First Nations clothing, an Indian headscarf, with hijabs, using a wheelchair, in a Mexican sombrero and poncho, and in a kilt accompanied by Highland dancers. The spot highlights the unity and diversity through multiculturalism that both Canadians and Tim Hortons hold dear.

“When you think of a snowman, you think of a hat, buttons for eyes, a carrot for a nose and sticks for hands. You also think of a man. Well, not in Canada,” Bigio and Ramos say. “In Canada, you find all sorts of diverse snowpeople across the country, from different backgrounds and ethnicities. This campaign helped build a deeper connection between the brand and its guests across all demographics in Canada.”

And it also cemented the agency’s relationship with Tim Hortons, which is what led to the formation of GUT Toronto in 2020. “Somehow, we managed to open a new GUT office remotely in the middle of a global pandemic with a 40-person team of Canada’s best and gutsiest people,” Ramos and Bigio remark.

The pair also credits GUT’s success to another technique they call reactvertising, or an idea that responds to what’s going on in the world. “When something happens in pop culture related to your brand, stop everything and try to come up with an idea,” they say. “But only react if you find a powerful idea. There will always be another.”

A cogent application of reactvertising can be seen in the campaign Codo a Codo (“elbow to elbow” in English) for Mercado Libre, Latin America’s number one e-commerce platform, when GUT redesigned its handshake logo at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everyone was avoiding handshakes and greeting each other with elbow bumps,” the pair explains. “We suggested that Mercado Libre change its iconic handshake logo to an elbow bump—not only on social media posts [like other brands] but on every touchpoint everywhere. Virtually overnight, the new logo was on every delivery truck, every uniform and every package.” Conceptualized by Cubria and Ferioli at GUT Buenos Aires with executive creative directors Matias Lafalla and Ramiro Rodríguez Gamallo and in partnership with director Juan Cabral from production company Labhouse, this basic yet symbolic campaign earned GUT the title of Effie LATAM Independent Agency of the Year in 2020.

For a different campaign for Mercado Livre—the same e-commerce platform’s Portuguese-language division serving Brazil—GUT São Paulo created Feed Parade, a virtual Pride Parade on São Paulo’s Avenida Paulista. “Avenida Paulista is the most famous street in Latin America and where the world’s biggest Pride Parade happens every year,” Bigio and Ramos say. “Unfortunately, in 2020, the Pride Parade got canceled. Mercado Livre, a sponsor of the event, believes people should feel free to express who they are and decided to do something about it.” Led by executive creative director Bruno Brux and creative directors Tiago Abreu and Linus Oura, GUT São Paulo photographed every inch of Avenida Paulista for an Instagram feed and invited would-be paradegoers to tag themselves in the posts, resulting in a rainbow-colored outpouring of digital support. For the final piece of the campaign, the tags became graphics in a music video for Gloria Groove, a Brazilian musical artist, drag queen and LGBTQ-rights activist. Feed Parade landed GUT its first Cannes Grand Prix, an Entertainment Lion for Music, in 2021, as well as its São Paulo office being named Cannes’s Independent Agency of The Year for Entertainment.

The first is data-driven, gut-executed. You find a powerful piece of data and then execute it in a gutsy way. The second kind is the opposite: gut-inspired, data-executed. Historically, our most effective work was mostly the second kind—visceral and intuitive.” —Gastón Bigio and Anselmo Ramos

In another reactvertisement that conversed with social media, the team at GUT Miami took notice of a trend on Twitter. During a beginning-of-the-year party in 2020, some members of the creative team led by Casal and Peña Plaza saw tweets commenting on adidas x Ivy Park, Beyoncé’s collaboration with the sportswear manufacturer—in particular, how similar the singer’s collection looked to Popeyes uniforms, her favorite fast-food restaurant. Although it’s the ad agency’s policy to not work during parties, certain people took turns slipping off to the bathroom to make calls. Within three days, the team was on set with real Popeyes employees modeling their own uniforms in a parody of adidas x Ivy Park’s fashion advertising. Titled That Look From Popeyes, the campaign also led people to an e-commerce website created by GUT where they could purchase uniforms of their own—and the website sold out three times. In 2021, That Look From Popeyes netted GUT Miami its first Gold Lion at Cannes and the title of Cannes’s Independent Agency of the Year For Reach.

If you noticed that each of the preceding paragraphs ends with an award or accolade for GUT, that wasn’t coincidental. The ad agency’s network of talented creatives and penchant for witty, pop culture–laced campaigns have been crushing it on the awards circuit around the world, including Ad Age naming GUT an A-List Agency in 2021. “We couldn’t have done it without our global and local partners,” Bigio and Ramos say. “The dream of starting our own independent agency is shared by each one of those lovable ad nerds. Where we are now would not have been possible without their leadership and trust in each other.”

Bigio and Ramos hope to use GUT to nurture their shared ad nerdiness in others. “One of our most important principles is ‘people first, work second, clients third,’” the pair states. “We believe that if people are happy, inspired and motivated, they will do great work. And if we do great work, our clients will be happy.”

Another important factor that they attribute to their creative success is GUT’s diversity, noting that the only way for ideas to remain fresh and relevant is to include as many viewpoints as possible. “We want GUT to be the most diverse and creative independent agency network in the world,” the pair declares. “Diversity drives creativity, so the more diverse we are, the more creative we’re going to be.” With initiatives like COMMITTED, GUT happily supports its goal to make each office reflect its home country’s racial and ethnic makeup.

Speaking of offices, Bigio and Ramos have set their sights on Europe, Africa and Asia as new areas for expansion, hoping to connect ad nerds around the globe. “We want GUT to become a platform of growth for our gutsy talents,” they say. “We wake up every day with the mission to inspire the world to follow their gut. Imagine how amazing that world would be.” ca

Michael Coyne is the managing editor of Communication Arts


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