Carlos Coelho’s name is known among many Portuguese marketeers. He’s known for being a reference when it comes to creating and managing several brands for over 30 years, having been involved in hundreds of huge projects of some of the country’s top brands such as Multibanco, Telecel/Vodafone, Yorn, Galp Energia, RTP, Tv Cabo, CTT Correios and TAP Portugal. CovetED will be letting you in on the exclusive interview we had with him during the Luxury Design & Craftsmanship Summit 2019, in which he not only mentioned the importance of communication, but also the importance of identity preservation.
Let’s talk a little about the theme that started your conference: the importance of leaving a mark.
CC: I’d say that it’s almost a personal mission to leave our mark in the world, but it’s a mission which seems to have been left for the companies, despite it being a mission of everybody. Because there’s a lot of interconnection here between our happiness, our capacity as human beings of developing ourselves. By doing that while integrated into our society, through enterprises, arts, businesses and other activities, but in the context that is our country. So the consciousness that we have to manage actively the collective, commercial and individual brands are very important for a collective result.
That’s what we’re living today, which consists of looking a lot to our internal brands which marginalize a lot of their own products.
CC: I tried to explain here a little bit of the history of our country. With the revolution, we rejected the past we didn’t want (and it was fine seen as it was a closed past). The dictatorship was passed in a time period in which there was a rebuilding of identity, during which the castles were rebuilt and a series of icons were created. Those were all rejected. Our entrance in Europe has opened us a door to modernity. And by rejecting our own brands we started to consume other countries’ brands as well as living their lifestyle.
Only when we entered at the crisis did many people from outside came in and said: “Well, turns out Portugal is an amazing country” and with that, we began to win a little bit of self-esteem. Then, out of need, we went to the reliquary to say “Well, there’s this tradition, this recipe, this idea, let’s turn it into a business”. And with the world having its eyes set on Portugal, it began to work out economically. So the moment we’re in right now it’s a period of an identity reconciliation, but it’s not quite a strong one yet.
However, we have to appreciate what is ours, right?
Yes, we do! If we consider this recent period of history we still have to break free of feelings which have closed us and are still haunting us, or that are still there deep within our DNA. We have to believe that our past is an enormous tool for our future. We don’t want to keep living in the past, it’s not about taking off profits from the past and keep on living without doing nothing by alluding to what we’ve done. We’re going to have to use that heritage, that legacy, that path we’ve walked through to here in order to project a new country
So you think that the solution for our craftsmanship is the “wedding” between unperceptive quality and perceptive quality, per say?
Yes, I think that for our arts and crafts they need to be qualified in two aspects: economic valuing with certain fiscal discrimination (I know a series of countries in which craftsmanship is protected in that sense) and social qualification.
Being an activity that needs multiple factors these two aren’t enough: you need to add in innovation, contemporaneity, and you need to add the world in the mix, in other words, we need to make sure that what we’re doing is placed in the markets that will value these products and not being sold in the opposite direction like they are right now. Pretty much the artisan selling in the fair nearer to his own home and naturally the product will end up being more and more devalued.
From that point of view, it’s actually a generalization which already exists in our country.
Because usually, the craftsmanship activities produced functional artefacts which were used in daily life, selling at the closer markets of the craftsmen which were a usual thing to do. These days the crafts have to accomplish other functions beyond its basic features and so proximity is, in many cases (I’d say most cases) not certainly the best marketplace to sell these products
Do you believe that preserving cultural identity is important?
I think so, the preservation of cultural identity is absolutely fundamental. I don’t want people interpreting my speech as me just saying “Oh this is all about communication and if we invest everything in the perceived quality, then the intrinsic quality doesn’t matter that much”, or rather “let’s invest in good glasses, the wine may be trash but it will be alright”.
No, I defend the two things: above an intrinsic and extraordinary quality which must be preserved, seen as craftsmanship and handmade materials are forms of expression and feelings and in which time is a fundamental element. Above this extreme quality, we have to add in the perception of said quality. If we can do both things we’re going to have a lot of success.
If we manage to only make the intrinsic quality we have a safety. As it was usually said, the Italians, for instance, made the opposite of us. The walked out of WW2 overestimating their products which were how they managed to succeed in that field. Through the use of design, they revolutionized aesthetics and emotion even more than the industrial revolution. That makes them less safe in a way, however, that is the type of path we must make because we’re unbalanced but in an opposite way to them.
What do you think about the growing Portuguese presence in many design events throughout the years? Do you think there’s a change happening finally in Portugal?
I think so. That’s a fact, meaning there are more companies gaining the courage to place their products in international fairs such as Maison et Objet or at the Italy Fair [iSaloni]. Ant that’s proof that you earn confidence, that you understand that you can compete to the level of the product but you need to go to those shops to make your brand.
There’s a key point here, to me, that’s quite important, in craftsmanship and in general in the competitivity of the country which is for us to be making our own brands and not the brands of other countries. Meaning we went so far to here, despite us being quite the subcontracted country, right? What we can do other countries manage to sell. We need to learn to do what’s considered to be “less noble” in order to know how to sell successfully.
Last question: what were the first impressions you got from the event?
It’s my main activity but I participate in a lot of conferences and I confess that this one makes me particularly emotional. I felt that in these little things lie the great challenges of the country, where I used to be very criticized for defending these little things, with people saying that they are “particularities” and that “the country needed to be free from this”. I was always very defensive of the preservation and modernization and that these small pillars could make a great building. It makes me happy to see that these themes are discussed despite it still being the beginning of these dialogues. The fact that we’re discussing matters in which we were supposed to be more evolved in a way.
But I’m happy that people discuss craftsmanship and luxury. This last one is quite the word that the Portuguese don’t like, “luxury”. They like the craftsmanship at the fair and luxury is something that intimidates them. It’s a feared element, a capitalist element like it’s for other people. I like it [luxury] a lot and I believe that a small country like Portugal will naturally have a different strategy for each activity sector, however, this one clearly represents the country’s identity in overvalued markets such as are the luxury markets.
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