Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy new yearbook

It's Tuesday today and at work I'm counting the hours until I can go home. It's not that I don't like it here, but it's the start of my Christmas vacation tomorrow and there's absolutely nothing to do at work anymore. Yesterday we finished an ad for De Lijn, which is in the newspaper right now. And today we're sending e-mails and work on a special portfolio which includes all the work we've made at Duval Guillaume in one year.

So it's some sort of a yearbook. We've planned to make one every year, but because Yigit is going to leave Duval soon, this will be our first and our last yearbook. When I look at all the work I'm quite satisfied with the work we've made. It's hard to top a portfolio you've made as a student for the simple reason that in an agency you have to struggle more to make creative work. But I think Yigit and I came quite close to our Miami Ad School book in just one year. There's a good variation of media in the book, most of it is published and together we've managed to get 8 nominations and awards at festivals and competitions.

Because some of the work in the book is still in progress of being sold/published, I cannot show the entire book yet. But I'll send a link somewhere next year. In the meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy a nice holiday in Holland. I wish that everybody will have great parties with a lot of beer so the cheesiness of Christmas becomes a bit more bearable :-D

Thursday, December 18, 2008


On Tuesday the founding partner of Duval Guillaume, mister Guillaume van der Stichelen himself, talked about his new book at the agency. Being a copywriter I'm interested anything that's printed. So every trainride between Antwerp and Brussels I took out the book to read. The book is about how you can build a brand so it's perceived as a hero. It seems that heroes have common characteristics and if brands follow them they can be admired just as much as popstars, politicians and religious leaders.

One thing in the book was particularly interesting. Guillaume explained that consumers don't make rational decisions when it comes down to buying a brand. There are always emotions involved. In my opinion, this is something that a lot of clients tend to forget. I've done an economics study myself for one year and every attempt at creative thinking is perceived as being silly. Brand managers are taught to judge advertising on a rational level, while brands are actually chosen on an emotional level.

I want to take this theory even to a bigger scale. Take a look at the stock market of the last few months. We tend to think that this is a market where rational decisions are playing a major part, but even with buying stocks there's emotion involved. In the recent financial crisis this has become even more clear. I've never seen such big swings from depression to blind optimism. One day investors are about to hang themselves and the other day everybody is delighted again because the government pumps money into the economy (money that doesn't even exist).

I've been in the middle of the last recession. I think that the one we're in now is going to be different. The recession from 2001 lasted for a couple of years and the economy was in a deep ditch where it slowly crawled out. Now, the recession seems to induce a chain reaction of emotions. Governments act immediately, stock markets react immediately and businesses go from one extreme to the other. I think this will be a recession of extremes. It's not only a financial rollercoaster, but also an emotional rollercoaster. As a result every time when we think the biggest financial threat is gone, another surprise lurks around the corner.

Surprises like the 50 billion (!) financial fraud of Bernie Madoff. Bankers and investors all over the world trusted their money in his investors fund. The most surprising thing is that nobody could see this coming. All the banks were amazed by the steady returns on offer: about 10% to 15 % a year. So that was based on a rational decision. Only good intuition will tell you: there's something fishy about an investment fund that's going so well. But Madoff seems to have such a good name in the financial world that even the most rational thinkers in the world blindly followed their financial leader. Their hero. It proves that we're only human. And that we can expect anything these coming years. There's a tough time coming up. But whatever happens, it will be jaw dropping and exciting as hell.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bongo campaign

The humongous billboard on the Meir, Antwerp

In a recent post, I told about a big outdoor campaign that I've made. I don't have the English translation yet, but above you can see the Dutch version. The translation of the headline is: 'you are what you give', followed by a pay off that says you'd better buy a Bongo gift box this year.

Bongo is different than 'usual gifts' like an iron or a teapot in a way that you give away an experience. If you get a Bongo Wine box, for example, you can choose from about 20 different wine-restaurants where they serve you a bottle of wine. And if you get a Bongo Adventure, you can choose from a wide variety of adventurous activities. In Belgium the Bongo gift box is a well known and loved present already, so all we had to do is reminding the people that a Bongo is a present that is better than all the others.

And the reminder seems to work. The huge billboard on the Meir, the big shopping street in Antwerp, is not the only medium that's used. The campaign is also on normal billboards, bus shelters and on a car that's driving through the city. I even saw it on the back of the bus. In other words: the only way to avoid seeing this campaign in Belgium is if you stay inside for the rest of the year.

Today I went to the Meir to photograph the huge advertisement in daylight. It's getting colder in Antwerp right now and it struck me how many people were walking around in fur coats. I always thought that animal rights organisations were exaggerating a bit about fur because nobody in his right mind would wear such an old fashioned piece of clothing anymore. But here in Antwerp it seems that every woman of over 50 years of age wears such an awful thing. And I even saw some young women with an animal on their head. There must have been a mink holocaust to privide all people in the centre of Antwerp with their coats.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In a hurry

If there's one thing I've learned in 8 years of advertising (wow, that's a long time already), it's that you should always be prepared for surprises. Nice surprises, but also unwelcome surprises. Like the one of yesterday. I heard too late that I have a shooting and it was in Lokeren. One peak on Google-maps and I knew that I was never never going to make it in time. Besides, I had to arrange an art-director in the last minute because Yigit had a day off.

There's always a solution for these kind of problems if you just act immediately. The only way that I could get there in time was by taxi, so I ran downstairs to order one. I gave myself 15 minutes of delay to run around in the agency to find an art-director that was willing to come with me to the shooting. Of course 'right now' is a little short notice, so nobody could come with me. So I went for the second best option: an art-director that could look at the photographs on e-mail. In the nick of time Jean-Marc agreed to help me and at that moment I got a phonecall that my taxi arrived.

These situations can be prevented easily if you just plan everything well in advance. But since everybody in the agency is only human there's always a chance that everybody didn't think of everything at the same time. Creativity is problem solving. Sometimes the problem is 'how to sell more washing powder' and sometimes the problem is 'getting in time for the shooting and finding a last-minute-art-director'. The problem with that last kind of problem solving is that usually the deadline is too sharp.

Friday, December 05, 2008


Yigit Unan sitting at his desk

I've just finished a book called 'Who Moved My Cheese'. In this really small book you can read a short story about two mice and two men who are facing a big change in their lives. The story is a symbol for dealing with change in work and life. It's about how conventions and habits make us feel comfortable, but makes us dangerously reluctant to progress as well. Change is always scary, but if you dare to make the difficult step, you usually end up better than before. More about this subject is an earlier post Comfort: the enemy of success.

Last week I already mentioned that something is going to change at Duval Guillaume. Well, here it is: my art-director Yigit, whom I've been working with for almost a year, is going to leave the agency. Due to the recession, all agencies in Belgium (yes, even Duval Guillaume) have to cut back on their expenses. As a result, our creative directors had to make a couple of difficult decisions... It has nothing to do with the qualities of Yigit, because we've been making a lot of good work recently. It's just bad luck for Yigit that the entire creative floor at Duval Guillaume is so fucking good. An award winning junior-team is out as well.

At first I was sad for Yigit. Then I thought about my own future. What is going to happen next? I have to work alone for a while until there's budget for an art-director again. You cannot tell what is going to happen in the future. I was thinking about it and I slept bad that night. But the next day I thought: the fear for the future that I'm feeling right now is actually because something is going to change. Of course it could be a change for the worse, but it's better to deal with a problem when a problem occurs. And not to worry about it beforehand.

Yigit and I are used to change. That's because at the Miami Ad School we learned how to deal with different situations, locations and problems and to adapt to them rather than thinking about how bad everything is. We've become like chameleons. And both of us are grown up streetkids who can fight our way out of any problem.

So when I read 'Who Moved My Cheese', there wasn't a lot that I didn't know already. I learned to deal with change the hard way after I was fired at McCann-Ericksson and couldn't find a new job because of the recession. But what was surprising to me is that in a small, simple story the writer of the book, Dr. Spencer Johnson, managed to make clear why you should see difficulties in life as a chance instead of a problem. In a story that you can read in an hour, there are life lessons that took me 5 years to learn. When I told Yigit about the book he said that he already read it and that's not a surprise to me.

Yigit is going to be fine. Concept-wise he's one of the best teammates I ever worked with. It's a pity that we cannot work together anymore, but I guess life has a different program for both of us. He's going to stay until February. In the meantime, he's going to look for jobs in different countries. So it seems strange to me if he can't fine one agency that's looking for a multi-talented, social minded creative who recently won a Eurobest award ;-).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


One of the biggest rewards for an advertising creative (besides standing on some stage to pick up an award) is seeing a 20 by 20 meter version hanging on a building in the biggest shopping street of the city where you live. It happened to me yesterday. I was totally unaware that I already passed the thing when I walked at the Meir in Antwerp, but when I looked back I saw my campaign for Bongo. 

I was standing there for a while looking at it. Passers-by probably thought: what the hell is he staring at for such a long time. But I didn't care. Here was the reward for a couple of months hard work, it was hanging on a building and I was enjoying it. The English version of the campaign is not ready yet, but as soon as I get an approval on the right translation, I'm going to publish it on my blog.