VMLY&R Commerce’s global chief creative talks creativity, change & commerce

One of the first moves the new agency from WPP made was to appoint a global chief creative officer — a role filled by Manuel Bordé — who spoke to Arab News. (Supplied)
One of the first moves the new agency from WPP made was to appoint a global chief creative officer — a role filled by Manuel Bordé — who spoke to Arab News. (Supplied)
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Updated 05 February 2021

VMLY&R Commerce’s global chief creative talks creativity, change & commerce

One of the first moves the new agency from WPP made was to appoint a global chief creative officer — a role filled by Manuel Bordé — who spoke to Arab News. (Supplied)
  • Brands in the MENA region reduced ad spend by 77 percent in 2020
  • Digital commerce overall increased by 127 percent in 2020 vs 2019

DUBAI: In November 2020, advertising giant WPP announced that it would be fusing Geometry and VMLY&R’s global businesses to form VMLY&R Commerce, a new end-to-end “creative commerce company.”

WPP’s aim is for the new entity to function as a distinct company, combining the skills of both agencies. The integration of the agencies’ teams and assets started last year and will continue through 2021. One of the first moves the new agency made was to appoint a global chief creative officer — a role filled by Manuel Bordé.

Arab News spoke to him to learn more about his role, the new company, and creativity in the time of the coronavirus (COVID).

Q. Tell us about your new role

A. It’s definitely an exciting moment to become the first global chief creative officer of this brand new company VMLY&R Commerce.

Even though I’ve been part of the Geometry family for just over a year, working as the chief creative officer of North America, I’ve encountered amazing synergy that’s made me feel like I’ve been in the agency much longer. So essentially, I am expanding my remit to include global creative responsibilities for WPP which, of course, is a great honor.

With the pandemic shifting the way brands and people interact and exchange with each other, we can put a real focus on the delivery of creative commerce. 

Q. How does the merger of Geometry and VMLY&R affect your role and the working of both agencies as one?

A. Well, we haven’t actually merged. We have formed an entirely new company, taking the scale and connected brand promise of VMLY&R and the heritage and commerce expertise of the Geometry brand to form VMLY&R Commerce.

My promotion and role was announced when we were still technically Geometry, so that hasn’t changed. Our vision as a company is fully aligned with what we set out to achieve in 2019-20 as Geometry. Every single one of our clients right now is rethinking their commerce strategies, and COVID has just been an accelerator of this.

Q. Considering it is not a merger per se, what is the structure of the company like?

A. The structure hasn’t deferred too much from Geometry. Beth Ann Kaminkow is still our global CEO and she will also be joining the VMLY&R global executive leadership team. Many other global and regional roles remain the same. As we further develop the global operation plans, structure on both a global and local level is being assessed, but there aren’t currently any major changes.


Manuel Bordé is the global chief creative officer at VMLY&R Commerce. He is Colombian, with over 15 years of experience working in advertising markets across the world, including Colombia, Panama, Puerto Rico and Dubai. Manuel has created and led work that has given him over 400 awards and recognitions in the most important creative and effectiveness festivals, from Cannes Lions to One Show to D&AD and Effie’s, among others.

He was ranked the top creative lead in the MENA region for three years in a row, and was featured in Communicate’s 40 Under 40, the annual ranking of the 40 most successful, driven, and ambitious individuals in the MENA region under the age of 40.

Q. What is the current media landscape like for different channels?

A. Budgets have been reassessed and ROI (return on investment) scrutinised. With the lack of footfall on the streets, lockdowns affecting trade, brands had to pivot and rewrite strategies. Everyone moved to online channels, even when bricks and mortar was trading, through convenience and because of the COVID fear factor.

For example, retailers in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region reduced their spend by 77 percent — not for their lack of activity, but due to their shift towards social and digital channels, which presented a much higher ROI and at a lesser ad spend. Now that brands have established their digital and social channels, we can expect to see them optimised and budgets shifted to grow these exponentially.

Q. What were the trends that emerged in 2020?

A. As expected, e-commerce grew at an unprecedented rate to previous years. The pureplay e-commerce arena in MENA witnessed a 22 percent year-on-year growth, and digital commerce overall increased by 127 percent in 2020 vs 2019. This is a testament towards where clients are focusing their budgets, and in truth, answers the needs of shoppers where three out of four people claim to find more practicality through online channels.


“I’m a true fan of iconic tactics that are culturally cool, clever and drive to business conversion,” said Bordé citing the below as his favorite examples of creative commerce.

1. Scent by Glade - Glade sent protective pouches with Walmart deliveries, which could be popped open to smell the scent, turning the delivery box into a new media opportunity. It also featured a QR code that when scanned would lead to an online story, boosting Glade’s sales by 83 percent.

2. Nike Air Max Graffiti Stores - To launch the new Air Max lines in São Paulo, Nike took retail to the streets connecting fans with wider urban culture by partnering with the Brazilian street-art collective InstaGraffiti, and placing shoes on the feet of those that most represent São Paulo’s street scene — the city’s graffiti characters.

3. The Most Valuable Promo - Exito, a retailer in Colombia, turned “Call of Duty” video game kills into promo codes by partnering with three of the best “Call of Duty” gamers in the country to change their usernames for Exito’s gaming promo, and inviting their followers to win that discount by killing them. It was a fun way of bringing commerce into gaming.

Q. How do you foresee the media and creative landscape playing out in 2021?

A. I think we will see a resurrection in brand experiences and live events, especially since the vaccine rollout across the world is in full swing. I imagine the second half of the year truly allowing that sense of normality. However, since brands adapted to things like live digital experiences (LDX) in 2020, and found effective results and cost efficiencies, I don’t foresee these declining in light of live events coming back. I think we will see a true mix.

I also think the digital offering of brands, be it e-commerce or social, (will) really develop — 2020 gave time and propensity for companies to innovate, so how we see some brands operate may change too. For example, conversion-based creative ideas will take precedence over brand building channels that would normally take up budget spend. Commerce channels will definitely become more dominant.

Q. The pandemic resulted in a lot of changes on the media side such as increased digitization and massive declines in print and outdoor. How did these changes affect creativity?

A. I don’t think they affected creativity in that it stalled the creative process or brilliance of output. If anything, it forced creative minds to become more creative and truly think differently. We had to think smarter, more creative, more innovative than ever.

Most agencies will now need to consider thinking more integrated than single minded and invest in multi-skilled talent that can help them achieve this. What was once known as an ATL (above the line) TV agency, may now need to be considering how their big creative ideas translate through the line to deliver what every brand needs — sales.