The McCann Time Capsule: Our Cameo Role in Mexico’s Film History
When Guillermo del Toro won the Best Director award for “The Shape of Water” at the recent Golden Globes, it was yet another sign of Mexico’s creative prominence in the film industry. Over the last five years at the Academy Awards, Mexican directors in fact took three of the five Best Director awards, starting with Alfonso Cuarón becoming the first Mexican director to win the Oscar for Best Director for “Gravity” in 2013, and Alejandro González Iñárritu taking the honor back to back with “Birdman” in 2014 and “The Revenant” in 2015.
This is not the first time that Mexico’s filmmakers have achieved international recognition. And in an earlier wave of cinematic distinction in that country, McCann Mexico in fact played somewhat of a role—not as an ad agency, but as a creative crucible. This is because a previous 1960s generation of influential Mexican film directors as well as writers (the Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez among them) tended to gravitate at that time toward a cultural hub that would become the McCann agency, with one prominent figure from the era also remaining with McCann as its creative director for well over a decade.
In 1963, Interpublic acquired the two-year-old Publicidad Stanton agency in Mexico City, which would initially become part of a new IPG international network but then ultimately merge with McCann Mexico in 1968. García Márquez was employed at Stanton as a freelancer in the mid-1960s while working on his famous novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” and also while writing film scripts. The Colombian novelist Álvaro Mutis, a close friend of García Márquez’s, also had worked at the Stanton agency.
And there were more. In an interview with the Mexican novelist and poet Fernando del Paso that appeared five years ago in the journal “Literatura Mexicana,” del Paso revealed that the Stanton agency in the 1960s was home to even more of the country’s leading creative figures, including the writer “China” María Luisa Mendoza, and the film directors Jorge Fons and Arturo Ripstein.
Said del Paso: “I was very close to Álvaro Mutis. We met at that glorious advertising agency called Stanton, Pritchard & Wood founded by Stanton, a good gringo, a wonderful gringo, and where we worked at a given time-- China María Luisa Mendoza, Álvaro Mutis, Jorge Fons, Arturo Ripstein and me; García Márquez also did freelance.”
Ripstein’s first film was a 1965 western, “Tiempo de Morir” (“Time to Die”), that was written by García Márquez. Among Fons’s movies over his career was “El Callejón de los Milagros” (“Midaq Alley- 1995) that starred Salma Hayak, was produced by Ripstein and is considered one of the top Mexican movies of all time.
The American Jim Stanton himself, a former Y&R executive who had started the agency, did not intentionally cultivate that creative coterie, according to del Paso. “Stanton did not know, no, no, he would have been horrified because for publicists advertising is their only world. It is sacred, and they do not look kindly on those who dedicate themselves to literature. What happens is that we called on each other, and I think we did a good job.”
But if the above creative talents were only temporarily and somewhat incidentally associated with the agency, another major figure, Jomí García Ascot, stayed through to 1978 and rose to become VP-Creative Director of McCann Mexico. The son of a Spanish diplomat who grew up in multiple cities where his father was posted, he had moved to Mexico in 1939, escaping the Spanish Civil War. Between 1953 and 1957 García Ascot collaborated on several works considered significant to the history of Spanish-language film, including one which won an award at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival and another involving Luis Buñuel. As a film director and writer himself, he is known for “El Viaje” (“The Trip” -1977), and “En el balcón vacío” (“The Empty Balcony” -1961).
García Ascot was McCann Mexico’s Creative Director during a period when its clients included such blue-chip marketers as Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Bimbo, Gillette, Nabisco, Del Monte, and Lufthansa. In addition to being one of the winners of the network’s H.K. McCann awards for his contribution to the company, he also received industry recognition in 1977, winning a Teponaztl award (the equivalent of the Clios that were presented each year by the Mexican Advertising Association) for the best institutional campaign with a social message. It was for the Mexican Government’s campaign encouraging birth control.
García Ascot, though, ultimately enjoyed greater recognition than his advertising awards. During 1965–66, he was a neighbor of Gabriel García Márquez while the latter was working on “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” García Ascot and his wife reportedly visited García Márquez's house each night and critiqued the story as it developed, and the Spanish-language edition of the novel was dedicated to the couple with the inscription "Para Jomí García Ascot y María Luisa Elío.”