Saatchi’s Adam Kerj and Henrik Tvilling on the creative revolution in Scandinavia

Adam Kerj and Henrik Tvilling are the creative directors of Saatchi & Saatchi in Sweden and Denmark respectively. Here they discuss the reasons why the Nordic region is rising to the top of the creative pile, their favourite work and the biggest influences on their careers.

1/ Nordic countries are gaining a fearsome reputation for creativity, not just in advertising but other areas like TV and film too. Why is this happening? Or has it always been there and the rest of the world has finally started to notice?

Adam Kerj (pictured): To be honest, I think this is a cyclical movement. I think Scandinavia has done very well in the film industry for years – look at the Cannes Film Festival for example. Recently we have had a new generation of storytellers having their books turned into big Hollywood productions (with good and bad results). So it is almost as if, finally, Scandinavian creative agencies too are being recognised as world class.

Henrik Tvilling: I think for Denmark it has been the film, TV films and the gaming industry where the biggest evolution has happened. We as a people have been struggling with narrow-mindedness for decades. A ‘don’t think you’re anyone special’ mentality. I think the younger generations have finally put that way of thinking behind them and started to believe in themselves. We can see that in the Danish music and fashion industry as well.

2/ How do creative approaches across the region differ? Is there a Swedish style and Danish style?

Adam Kerj: Yes, Denmark and Sweden are very different, much more different than people might think. Having lived in Denmark for three years it took me a whole year to find out. You have to understand the language, the mentality. In Denmark, in general there is a more tactical approach in their communication and media landscape is more TV and print focused. There are of course some very good local Danish agencies, but on a global level Sweden has been lucky to have had Paradiset DDB, Farfar, Great Works, Forsman & Bodenfors and DDB who together have paved the way by doing work that has put Sweden on top of the a creative rankings and as driver of the digital agenda.

One particular star has been (the now defunct) Farfar. They have done more for Swedish advertising than most by just doing what they did. Matias Palm Jensen was constantly ranting and raving about digital saying all the other networks and agencies had an outdated model – and he was right. Today, digital is a given. It´s evolved and moved on. Social is the new digital. I can only speak for Swedish agencies but the best have understood, that today, an agency is more of a facilitator of ongoing conversations. Not always but usually fuelled by social platforms.

A movement starts with a spark by someone doing something. The consumer is asked to take the first step, participate and interact. You can’t do this with a print ad or a traditional TVC. It’s equally important though to understand that just because technology makes it possible for us to participate – it is very rare for people to find the idea relevant or engaging enough to actually take part in it. Many clients and agencies have app hysteria. An app is thrown in to every campaign. But the fact is that an app has an average usage span of three times. So ROI is almost impossible. Today the best agencies understand that both the technology and the media have to be as creative as the idea itself.

Henrik Tvilling (left): There is a difference in Danish and Swedish advertising. I think the Swedes have more focus on execution (something I think we could learn from). They are often more style-driven. Danish advertising is more humour-based and folksy. TV still plays the biggest role in most campaigns here, but digital and social is definitely gaining ground (not as much as in Sweden though). Idea-wise I think Denmark and Sweden are on par.

3/ Some big companies in the region such as Saab and Nokia have been struggling recently. Has this had an impact on the advertising and media industries?

Adam Kerj: Not yet. They are two iconic Nordic global brands and have helped pushed their agencies forward on a global stage – both Farfar and Brindfors have produced a lot of innovative, award-winning campaigns. It is quite unique that both these agencies have exported their concepts and ideas globally – all from this tiny little region in northern Europe. ‘The World’s Biggest Signpost’ by Nokia & Farfar was actually last year’s most awarded campaign in the world. And it’s a perfect example of great creative, technology, media and an idea working in perfect harmony. The idea itself is actually very simple if you think about it.

Henrik Tvilling: I cannot speak for Nokia and Saab but I think the whole crisis has had an impact on the advertising industry in the sense that clients have become hesitant. As a result a lot of briefs either gets stopped or changed very often (sometimes even in the middle of production).

4/ Where do the new ideas come from? Is there a strong art college culture? Does the region have its own version of Silicon Valley?

Adam Kerj: The new breed of creatives are much more relaxed in the new world, fuelled by online platforms. When they find their homes in agencies they help to propel change. Today, I would say most agencies have changed. The paradigm shift is now. Clients are changing as well. They understand, and adopt. This is not happening as fast as within an agency, obviously.

The creatives coming out of Hyper Island (Swedish art and media school, now with outposts around the world) can do things to a great idea we could only dream of a few years ago. But a bad idea is still a bad idea, it doesn´t matter how interactive, participatory and innovative you make it – you still have to be relevant. You have to be able to understand exactly what drives your client’s business and what the pitfalls are. Now, more than ever before, a 360-degree concept is integral – because you can harness the commercial idea in a way that, if done right, can be extremely efficient. But it needs to be handled carefully. If the goal of 360 is trying to make it look and feel the same across all media platforms it will fail instantly. You have to create an idea that behaves in an optimal and relevant way in every media channel, so it has the possibility to be seen, engage, entertain, be fun and most importantly – relevant. Everything else is doomed to fail.

The new generation of creatives, planners, account directors, technology architects, producers and clients understand this. Hyper Island and its impact on a global scale with students getting jobs all over the world at the best agencies helps and so do Hyper Island Master Classes. these are aimed at blue chip clients and certainly help to marry traditional ideas with brave new creative technology and media. Let’s be honest, it´s not rocket science. Solid, genuine ideas and concepts are still exactly what it is all about. It is the ‘how’ that is changing.

Henrik Tvilling: We have a really good art college in Denmark. I know that Sweden has had a good adschool for years and Hyper Island is really doing a great job too. But as for Denmark I think the boom in creativity has to do with the change in the Danish mentality, as mentioned earlier.

5/ Which agencies does Saatchi & Saatchi like to measure itself against?

Adam Kerj: The best, no matter where they are. We like to measure ourselves with the most engaging ideas, rather than who did them. And it seems like they are coming from AKQA, Google Creative Labs, 180, Evolution Bureau, Wieden & Kennedy, Goodby, Droga5, Forsman & Bodenfors, Anomaly, DDB.

Henrik Tvilling: Right now we don’t measure ourselves with anyone. We are focusing on us, and how to improve and become a better agency in all aspects.

6/ Which recent regional or region-produced global campaign do you admire most?

Adam Kerj: First of all, I really like to namedrop our globally recognised social campaign “Ariel Fashion Shoot” for Procter & Gamble. Kudos to our client for stepping outside the laundry category and giving people the opportunity to engage with a brand in a giant, entertaining product demo via Facebook and an industrial robot. On a general level in 2011 I´d say the groundbreaking ‘Pay with a Tweet’ is a great, innovative idea and an idea of its time.

Henrik Tvilling: I think Adam and his team in Stockholm have done a great job with the Ariel Fashion Shoot campaign. Other than that I really like director Martin Werner’s “some people have all the luck” ad for DNB NOR bank. With the amount of PR that ad has generated they probably only needed to air it once.

Which companies and individuals have been the biggest influence on your careers?

Adam Kerj: Wieden & Kennedy, Fallon, ALMAP/BBDO, CPB, AKQA, Forsman & Bodenfors, Farfar, Bill Bernbach & David Abbot. Biggest influence; Nike, Apple, Burger King, The Economist.

Henrik Tvilling: Peter Wibroe, one of the founders of Wibroe, Duckert & Partners, and the closest thing to an advertising guru we have in Denmark. I think his way of doing outstanding advertising with a broad appeal has been a big inspiration to me. Whenever he did a new campaign it would become the talk of the town. Not only in the ad world, but also more importantly in the real world. He is retired now but Wibroe, Duckert & Partners continues in his spirit. And Henrik Juul the ECD who took over from Peter is just as brilliant. I worked there for six years and I learned a lot from Henrik.

8/How important are awards to you? Is it all about Cannes? Do you feel work from the region is justly-awarded?

Adam Kerj: Awards are important. It’s a sign that you are doing something right. Awards attract the best people and are great PR for both client and agency. Shortlists never lie – if you are good enough you are there. If you’re not, you’re not creative enough. Careers are built on award shows. If you get a Future Lions/Young Creatives award you are off to a brilliant start at a great agency. Advertising schools and students these days focus a lot on the award shows – it puts both schools and student in the limelight.

But you have to be pragmatic about it. It’s not that important for clients, in reality the Effies are probably more interesting for our clients. For most clients. Cannes is where you compete against the best, so if you win there your idea is ultimately strong enough to travel outside of Sweden. And considering how difficult it is to win in Cannes it’s a big honour. There are very good creatives who come close, but never catch that Gold Lion. D&AD, One Show, Clios, Eurobest, Tomorrow Awards are also important. And of course for us, our local Swedish Guldägg (Golden Egg). For many, this is just as important, rightfully so. Golden Egg is also very hard to get, considering there are several top ten Gunn Report agencies from Sweden. So if you win at Golden Egg, there’s a good chance you will do well in the major international award shows.

Henrik Tvilling: Awards are not important to me personally. Don’t get me wrong, I like to get recognition for my work as much as any other creative. I just prefer to get it from the people rather than a jury of admen. I have come across many creatives whose sole purpose is to win awards and I do not believe great advertising comes from thinking like that. I think that awards should be a by-product of an otherwise successful campaign. If not, the award shows become competitions in great creativity rather than great advertising.

Having said that I acknowledge the importance of awards to a network like ours. A high ranking on the Gunn report does attract new business. I think the work from the region is justly awarded. But a lot of great local campaigns will never make it to Cannes simply because they do not translate well.

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