- by Heloise Wilson
A BLUEPRINT FOR A BETTER WORLD
AWARD-WINNING CHILEAN ART DIRECTOR NICOLAS MARDONES ON THE POWER OF ADVERTISING TO INITIATE SOCIAL CHANGE
Nicolas has always done things his own way. This is a habit he picked up on the very day he was born, actually. On a bright day in Santiago, Chile, he decided to come out into this world in a car parked outside the hospital. The doctor took care of his mother right there in the parking as Nicolas rushed to arrive. When Nicolas gets an idea, he goes full speed ahead.
As a child, he was a sports fanatic and lived obsessed with soccer wallpapers and posters. His father was an industrial designer, so he already had the gene for design. Why not design his own posters? At only ten years old, and in just a few months, he taught himself how to use photoshop. A passion for hip hop in his teenagehood led him to his first freelance gig: the design for a rapper’s album cover.
Fig 1. Redesigned protest posters created by Nicolas Mardones for the campaign “Lienzos Eternos” created for the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Chile
Today, Nicolas lives in New York City and has a brilliant career as an Art Director, one he built over many years working for some of the best advertising agencies in South America. Highlights from his portfolio include a campaign called “Lienzos Eternos” (eternal canvases), which was the springboard for many other humanitarian and socially-driven projects years later. Nicolas actually pitched the Museum of Human Rights in Chile his idea. It was 2019, and Chile was going through an unprecedented time with social movements risings and a new generation fighting for equality. The chant and choreography created by Santiago collective Lastesis to stand up against femicides and sexual violence went around the world. Nicolas, like an archaeologist digging up for past collective strength, explored the museum’s archives of protest posters. He redesigned and modernized them for modern protesters to use. They were free to download and soon filled up the streets all over the country. Nicolas’ brilliant idea and outstanding imagery earned the campaign an award in the category of Design from ACHAP, the Chilean Ad Agencies Association.
Fig 2. Poster of Greenpeace's campaign, “Save Water from Water,” for which Nicolas Mardones work as Art Director
Advertising is storytelling, and stories can change the world. Nicolas is a gifted Art Director who uses concepts, visuals, and words as a powerful tools to create stories to generate positive change. His campaigns have won many awards, including an EFFIE LATAM, El Ojo de Iberoamerica, and several El Sol Awards. One of his projects has even been shortlisted for a Cannes Lion, the most distinguished honor in the adverting world, for a campaign he developed for Greenpeace while working at the global agency McCann. Various photographs introduce the viewers to locations usually considered paradises on earth: Fiji, for instance. Water bottle companies have used the names of these places — where some of them source their water — as their brands. They want to convey an idyllic image of purity through this process — it is, after all, marketing. And it works. Nicolas used the same tool in a brilliant way to raise awareness of the huge impact these companies have on the environment. In the campaign, one can see the plastic bottle floating in the blissful waters of the location it, ironically, had been named after. It’s a strong and compelling message.
While working for the same agency, Nicolas continued to drive campaigns with a humanitarian lens. He was the Art Director of a campaign for Fundacion Las Rosas, a Chilean not-for-profit helping thousands of elderly people in need. This campaign also brought positive change —thanks to Nicolas’ contributions — increasing donations by 400 percent from the previous year. The campaign also won several awards from nationally recognized institutions in Chile.
Fig 3. NatGeo Campaign, “The Hot Trend,” for which Nicolas Mardones worked as Art Director
Nicolas and his work are proof that calls to action are necessary and can be practical. You might have seen his campaign in partnership with National Geographic entitled “The Hot Trend’’. Fast fashion is one of the leading causes of global warming and climate change. National Geographic wanted to launch an initiative that stood against fast fashion and raised awareness around global warming but also offered an alternative. Nicolas pitched the idea of creating a capsule, ethical and sustainable clothing line of tie-dyed apparel — because it does look like a heat map.
While Nicolas has an impressive portfolio and career, he never forgot his first love, which still inspires his personal projects. Remember his love for soccer which resulted in his self-learning photoshop? It’s a beautiful story, and it comes full circle. Inspired by the aesthetic of ’90s soccer players — the crazy hair, the unique styles - he created a series of posters focused on ’90s goalkeepers and redesigned the pattern, coloring, and typography to match the aesthetic of his childhood heroes. The project was a huge success, and it went around being featured in magazines in Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Fig. 4. Nicolas Mardones’ personal project, “90s Goalkeepers”
Nicolas states that ultimately he wants to do work he is proud of: “Advertising is a huge tool to express my creativity because I can express it in a lot of different ways and have a huge impact with it. It can be a print campaign focused on the craft, it can be an illustration campaign, it can be a film campaign, or even it can be a great digital idea, just to name a few. I feel that advertising it’s the ultimate tool to express creativity because brands move the world and have the resources to do amazing things,” he adds. Nicolas is down to earth. For those wanting to explore a career in advertising, he encourages them to get familiar with frustration. “It’s part of the process,” he says. “Try again and again, if you can get through this, it works,” he wisely advises. After all, hope prevails. Nicolas teaches us television spots and graphic campaigns can be a blueprint for a better world.