Next Creative Leaders 2019: Mariana Oliveira

Posted on Nov 07, 2019

Preferred pronouns:

She / Her / Hers


Hometown and country:

Belo Horizonte, Brazil


Current employer, city and role:

BBDO New York, New York, Associate Creative Director


How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?

No one in my family is very creative (seriously, we have at least 4 dentists), so I always felt like the odd one out. When I was around seven or so, I embarked on this really embarrassing rebel-without-a-cause phase where I would run away from home for 30 minutes before coming right back. Every time, I would pack a banana, a change of clothes, and write a goodbye letter to my family. I loved writing those letters so much, that I began running away just so I could keep writing them. Luckily for my parents, I eventually stopped running away, but I’ve never stopped writing (or eating bananas).


What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?

I wanted to be in advertising even before I knew advertising was a real career. I used to write fake ads and read them out loud to my dolls. But it wasn’t until I attended VCU Brandcenter that I really understood what it was all about. After that, the amazing folks at Venables Bell & Partners gave me my first job, it has been nothing but Grade A content since then. Just kidding, there’s been some B’s and C’s along the way. But mostly A’s.


What’s the piece of work you’re most proud of and why?

I have a few passions in my life, and Werner Herzog happens to be one of them. The man ate a whole shoe and pulled a steamship over a mountain in the Amazon; how can you not be obsessed with him? After pitching Herzog-centric campaigns to every single brand I worked on for years, Netscout, a network management solutions company, finally agreed it was a genius idea to work with the German director. I got to write an entire documentary outline, select all of our interviewees, and travel the country with Werner. Our film, Low and Behold: Reveries of The Connected World, was screened at Sundance and it’s now available for your viewing pleasure on Netflix.


What does meaning this award mean to you?

I am never fully happy with my work. I always see room for improvement and to be honest, nothing feels good enough. This award means that despite my deep-rooted feelings of dissatisfaction and ineptitude, I’m doing something right!


Who has most influenced you in your career thus far?

It’s hard to name a single person when we work in an industry filled with such talented people. I’d say all my coworkers have heavily influenced my career. It has been amazing to witness other people’s talents and having their vision help shape my own.


What is your secret (or not-so-secret) creative super power and how to you flex it?

My ability to merge my interests outside work, with my work. Advertising isn’t inherently interesting. The books I read, the movies I watch, the art shows I visit and the people I meet; they’re what is interesting. And learning how to use them to influence the work is key. It can be as simple as a camera angle I see in a movie. The ability to get inspired is priceless.


What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing women right now (work or non work related) and how would you solve it?

I can’t speak for all women, but personally, I really struggle reconciling how I see myself with how the world sees me. In my mind, I’m equal to men and should have the same opportunities at succeeding as they do, but according to our society, I’m a second-class citizen. As of June 2019, there were only 11 women serving as Head of State in the world. Out of The Fortune 500 list, only 4.8% of CEOs are women. It is incredibly limiting, and the only way to solve it is to start taking women seriously. Hire more women. Put them in leadership roles. Let them steer the narrative for once.


If you were CCO of your company, what would be the one thing you’d change (if you could just wave your magic wand?)

I would expand the channels of communication between creatives and clients. I think transparency is key, but for some reason we seem to have lost that along the way, and now we treat clients as if they were the enemy; as if they won’t be able to understand our point of view, so why even try, right? I think it’s important to have an honest dialogue about a piece of creative instead of just scraping it once the client says no. If an agency doesn’t stand behind something, why should the client?

Also, no time sheets.


The theme of this year’s 3% Conference is “29%” in an effort to help men experience what their female colleagues experience every day as the minority. What’s one thing you wish your male colleagues could see through your eyes?

I think that for a very, very long time, the male experience, especially the white, straight male experience, has been framed as synonymous with being human. That’s simply not the case.

I would like to encourage my male colleagues to use minorities’ experiences as new points of reference for what it’s like to be alive, and acknowledge other people’s points of view as valid and important.


What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past year?

This past year I have learned the importance of being patient. It’s not going to happen for me all the time, every time, and that is okay, as long as I’m giving it my best.


What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career so far and how did it pan out?

Once, I found out that a male creative partner I had made significantly, and I mean significantly , more than I did. I debated for months whether or not I should ask my CCO at the time for a raise. It was a lot of money, and I thought they would fire me just for asking. But I did ask in the end, and I got it.


How do you “fill up your cup” creatively?

Telling stories is a huge part of my job and I’m always trying to learn how to do it better; do it in a completely unexpected way, so I read constantly. I try to read 30 books every year. English is my second language, so reading helps to expand my vocabulary.


What’s currently inspiring you?

I’m currently fascinated with longevity and with work that seems to endure. I just came upon some videos from 60 years ago, of Sister Rosetta Tharpe shredding her electric guitar during church services and I can’t stop watching them. She was doing Rock n’ Roll before Rock n’ Roll was a thing. Her music did not only withstand the test of time, it helped to shape it.


What would be your dream project and why?

More and more, I find myself attracted to the idea of creating a story that will last longer; something with a beginning, middle and end, where I could really spend time developing characters.


Who would be your dream collaborators and why?

Barbara Kruger. Her commentary on cultural constructs are timeless, and so is her aesthetic. Her ability to blend visuals and words to make definitive statements that are also so arresting, they double as art, is the apex of creativity to me. I’m not so sure she is keen on advertising, but you did say “dream”.


Who’s your (current) woman crush every day?

Phoebe Waller-Bridge.


How are you leaving the work, the workplace or the world a better place than you found it?

I’m interested in creating work that has enough substance to be meaningful to others. I strive to celebrate and highlight human stories that people will continue to appreciate over time. I think the world really needs more empathy, and I hope my work helps people realize that in the end, we’re all the same. Maybe if we understand that, we will be more willing to be there for each other.


What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to women embarking on a creative career?

You are in the room for a reason. You have something important to add to the conversation. The world needs women’s points of view. Make sure you are giving yours.

Click here to view her award winning work 

Next Creative Leaders 2019

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