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Al Dente

Founder Patrizio Miceli on the recipe to his Parisian agency's success

by Isabelle Doal in Design on 09 April 2012

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If "al dente" is synonymous with perfectly cooked Italian pasta, then Patrizio Miceli has chosen the right name for the communications agency he launched in 2004. Al dente has built some of the most creatively compelling advertising campaigns of recent, for luxury brands like Dior, Juliette Has a Gun, Thierry Mugler, Costume National and Hudson Jeans.

Part hedonist, part refined connoisseur, Miceli is known as a true Italian who cooks pasta for prestigious clients and throws lavish parties like the recent 500-guest carnival for Colette. Curious about the secrets behind the success of his Parisian agency, we sat down with Miceli to learn more.

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Your campaigns are all so visually gripping. Yet the website has no interactivity, no links, just plain text—is that part of the Al Dente mystique?

A website is not where things happen! We don't believe that institutional, dedicated main websites are the places to be anymore. We advise our clients not to focus on this. The proper places to be for advertising is to fish were the fish are: on the Web, on Facebook, on blogs, on YouTube. You must use networks and let the messages circulate. An institutional website must be the relay station of the expression of a brand through a wide range of various media. The whole has to be inter-connected.

As for our website, we are at the service of our clients, and as such, we have to be able to understand and promote their identity, and therefore our own identity must be sober and transparent. Our motto is: be on time at the right place with the right message to the right target. This know-how is our signature. Another way to communicate about ourselves is to organize pasta parties. We are thinking of making a special sauce from the house!

We can also show what we are capable of, such as what we did in 2009, when the economic crisis hit all of us in the field of advertising and communication. We launched a call for a motto making fun of the crisis. The authors of the best motto earned €100 rewards and we printed them on T-shirts. This campaign "Aldentelacrise" was met with great success. We sold about 20,000 pieces within six months at places like Colette in Paris.

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Tell us more about the agency, the team and methods.

We work on positioning, branding and innovative campaigns. We provide global campaigns for our clients by telling stories through various media, written or digital, and by taking advantage of the wide range of technologies we now have at hand. We try to reset long-established brands in their tendencies. Our goal is to catch currents and trends. We provide a monthly report on digital and social trends to our clients, but this comes along with a deep comprehension of the identity of the brands we are in charge of. We spend a long time researching the history of the brands.

A good illustration of our creative process and methods is the pinball we invented for Dior's "Mise en Dior" necklace. The brief was to conceive a campaign illustrating the spirit of Dior's jewelry through this particular semi-precious necklace. We were trying hard to find the twist that would make it. Someone in the agency was singing this song "Comme une boule de flipper" (like a bullet in a pinball). That was it! Then we embedded and quoted all the codes of Dior, like the medallion chair which is the starting point of the game. The music, a re-mix of classical Mozart, is part of the color of the atmosphere we have tried to put in it. It was so unusual and audacious, when you think of it, for a brand like Dior to campaign under the song of a pinball! At the end, it got the highest congratulations from top executives and Bernard Arnault himself, and we've counted more than 110,000 views on YouTube since it launched on the site in October 2011.

The Dior pinball, Thierry Mugler's "Dream Machine", among others—these campaigns consist of interactive games. Is participation the key to identification with a brand or a product? What does the playful dimension add to this involvement?

This is part of our crowd-sourcing strategy. We believe that one of the best mediums to carry and diffuse information is people. It is much more efficient than anything else. Mainly because you trust the opinion of your friends and network more than any journalist's or expert's advice not to mention ads and brands themselves! Besides, this buzz has the advantage of being much more cost effective than traditional advertising.

So the main challenge for us is to conceive appealing campaigns able to catch the attention and interest of opinion leaders, with respect to the brand identity. We believe that playing is one of the best ways to participate and feel involved, because the pleasure is in the game.

Are there technical challenges involved with that level of interactivity?

For the "Dream Machine" we created for Thierry Mugler's Angel fragrance, we imagined the first multi-media application available on Facebook, iPhone and iPad. To create this app, allowing visitors to compose their own dream with sound and images out of the selection of five keywords, we had to go through an impressive process. We first conducted a poll among 50 people to analyze the words they would use to describe their dreams. Then we had to translate these words into images and create an algorithm able to deal with the five selected words and produce a film (the dream of each visitor) by digging through 250 video sequences and assembling the selection. More than 50 million combinations were possible. The voice was added through text-to-speech technology that allowed us to offer a personalized message along with the dream to every user. Launched in September 2011, the campaign drew more than 100,000 users.

Is that what you call "chic buzz"? What is the connection with luxury? And what is the role of art in your creations?

To be efficient, the buzz has to start like a whispered secret. The more the message seems to be out of reach, hard to get, rare, the more precious it is. The buzz also must reach the right people, hit the right network.

Being chic is telling a story as disconnected as possible from the product you're trying to promote and sell. In order to create a "chic buzz" we often resort to art, which enables us to be really subversive, off-beat and unconventional with elegance and style.

For example, the campaign we made in September 2011 for the new Costume National fragrance "Pop Collection" pays tribute to Andy Warhol's famous screen tests with ten contemporary artists and personalities that we shot with a Super-8 camera. The quotation is obvious, allowing us to introduce self-derision and humor, but the result remains very stylish.

But I think the most cutting-edge campaign we have ever made is for CNC SS 2012 campaign. It is called "Disrupted Generation" and uses cuts from Tumblr, data-bending, recycled pictures and distortions.

What's next for Al Dente?

Aside from the campaigns for new fragrances by Chloé Parfums and Nina Ricci, we're preparing the next campaign for Hudson jeans starring Georgia Jagger. We also keep going on with CNC. For their new campaign we will play on the self-portrait, with people invited to make their own from their cell phones. And...we are to open a branch in New York!

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