Tonic’s creative lion pushes back the boundaries

Tonic’s Vincent Raffray has put the Middle East on the map by winning gold at Cannes. He tells Tim Burrowes how

  • E-Mail
By  Tim Burrowes Published  July 10, 2005

Tonic’s creative lion pushes back the boundaries|~|raffraypic200.jpg|~|Raffray... “We want Dubai to be a place where creatives can get together. It will get us all talking and get us excited”|~|Vincent Raffray knows how to make an entrance. As Campaign Middle East steps into the lift on the ground floor of Tonic’s office block in Bur Dubai, Raffray throws himself in through the closing doors. The chunk of metal he’s holding in his hand is his gold Cannes Lion. It has just made a torturous journey from the south of France, via Spain and Germany, and he’s taking it into the office for the first time. By now, few in the industry can have failed to hear the news — the Middle East, for the very first time, has won an advertising Lion. Like many of the best ideas, it was a simple one — a Sony press ad featuring a flatscreen TV with a notice paper-clipped to it to demonstrate how thin it is. Effectively, it’s a glorified pack shot. You need to look twice to even spot the message. It’s clearly his style. On the wall in the room where we chat is another picture of what appears at first glance to be simply two men on the street in UAE national dress. A second glance reveals one of them is wearing clown’s shoes. Yet, according to Raffray, subtle ideas like these are the sort that are strangled at birth at some of the UAE’s biggest agencies. Before co-founding Tonic last year, the outspoken South African spent a year at Impact BBDO and, previous to that, a brief four months at Team Y&R, working as a senior creative at both places. You don’t have to read too closely between the lines to detect the tensions. “I found certain things extremely frustrating,” he admits. “We could have won quite a few awards for the agency, but those ideas were not seeing the light of day. I was so tired of waking up and going to work and not enjoying my job.” He speaks with greater fondness of his time with Lowe and FCB in South Africa. “The creative was king. In Dubai, client service is king — if client service does not want to present it, it does not get presented. It happens in every agency here. “If client service people don’t believe in the work and they work to offer what they think the client wants rather than what they think the client should have, you get problems. You could tell in pitches where it happened that the client could see right through it. Too often it was happening, it was not being done right.” He goes on: “But it was not an excuse to do shit work. Even if you had these problems and all these people against you.” This is a recurring theme for Raffray, who believes that just because cultural restrictions make the region a tough place to make good advertising, that is not a good enough reason that so much work is mediocre. “We’ve got the most difficult job as creatives,” says Raffray. “We get shot down everywhere we go. You’ve got to have a tough skin. If it’s not your head of client services attacking your ad, it’s the strategy guys, or the client. An idea has to survive quite a few processes.” Doing the work on his own terms is clearly how he prefers it. “I wanted to do something unique and do it properly. We’re an honest bunch of guys who love what we do and we’re passionate about our work. We are not there to screw the clients — we are there to improve their business.” Despite his obvious clashes with previous colleagues, he does not come across as a difficult person. He puts up with the indignities asked of him by Campaign Middle East’s photographer — including being dragged into the midday heat of his office balcony and repeatedly being told to kiss his Lion for the camera — with equanimity. How does he find being the boss, rather than just one of the creatives? “There’s a lot of admin work to be done but I try to spend as much of my time doing brainstorms with Peter [Tonic’s art director Peter Walker] and cracking ideas because that’s the real point of the business.” So what sort of clients does he prefer? “On the one hand, it’s great to work on well known brands, but to work on an unknown one and make it known is just as challenging.” But he warns that there is no culture of excellence in the region, which means that very little homegrown talent is coming through. “Judging by the portfolios I’ve received in the last few months there seems to be something missing. I get these books that are terrible. These people just do not know any better. There is some work for the region which is brilliant, but not much. “Before I left South Africa, they said I was committing creative suicide when I came here. “Then I got here and thought ‘damn, they were right.’ We’ve got to do something about it.” And he is doing so — Raffray is getting together with creative directors from other agencies to set up a creative forum. The first meeting was on Tuesday night. He said: “We want Dubai to be a place where creatives can get together. It will get us all talking and get us excited and share ideas. It should be a group that younger creatives can come and talk to for ideas. We can set up an ad of the month, that sort of thing.” With his ads being banned and his winning of awards, it’s tempting to cast Raffray as a kind of Trevor Beattie for the Middle East. Until recently creative director at TBWA in the UK, Beattie was the man behind the rebranding of French Connection UK as FCUK, and gleefully produced several pieces of work that won the brand far more fame for being banned than they did as pieces of advertising. Raffray seems flattered by the comparison: “FCUK is fantastic. The whole concept is so simple, that’s what makes it so great. It was a very clever campaign and if people got offended it wasn’t targeted at them anyway. “We try to push the envelope. I don’t go out of my way to do ads that piss people off, but it’s all about pushing boundaries in this industry. You will always offend people if you do that.” What next for Tonic? “We’re trying to get new business. I want a big brand. We want to be the best agency in Dubai, in the Middle East, in the world. We need to grow, we need to take Tonic to the next level.” And if the Lion win brings in a potential buyer for the agency? “If it’s a big network we respect then maybe they can have a piece of the action.”||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code