Friday, February 27, 2009

Benjamin Button

Last week I've seen a really impressive movie called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by one of my favorite directors David Fincher. The movie is about a man who's born as an old man and dies as a baby. Life in reverse order.

At least as interesting as the movie itself is the story behind the movie. Instead of using make-up or different actors to make the Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett look older, they used CGI (!). And it looks astonishing. In this video from a digital expert from the company that made the Oscar-winning technology explains how they managed to do it.

It's very interesting how they handled the nearly impossible job. Furthermore, it proves that the craziest things can be possible if you just think further than the usual boundaries. Of course Benjamin Button is made with an almost unlimited budget. But if you think money limits the use of special effects, take a look at the genius solutions in the Gondry-movie Be Kind Rewind. When there's an idea, there's a way.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

New teampartner (well, temporarily)

Yesterday Yigit was in the agency for such a short time, you'd probably missed him if you blinked. He took his last days off so he had enough on his mind already. So he just came to tell about how cool the city of Warschau is, new music he discovered and a film festival in Brussels and Antwerp that I should definitely go to.

It's kind of lonely to work without a teampartner, but at least they keep me busy here. Friday I'm going to record a campaign of radio commercials and I'm struggling to make the scripts as perfect as possible.

But I won't be without a teampartner for long! I just heard that Victor Vegh from the Miami Ad School will be interning here from April till June. During that time he'll be my art-director. I'm very excited about it because working with somebody else always gives me new perspectives on concepting. Welcome to the Duval-club, Victor. And prepare to make some kick-ass work.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weekend in Amsterdam

Friends from Alkmaar who were staying in Amsterdam

Thursday was the last day since I've worked with Yigit. He's in Poland right now because he's got a serious job offer there. He will come back to Brussels, but not for work anymore. Last Thursday he worked until the bitter end and afterwards there was a big party to celebrate the 13th anniversary of Duval Guillaume. It was so late that I couldn't go back to Antwerp anymore so I stayed in the Duval apartment on the sleeping couch.

The next day I went to the agency with a hangover. And after work it was time for an entire weekend of partying in Amsterdam. It's been a while since I was there for an entire weekend. Usually, I go back to the capital of Holland for a few hours when I'm on my way to Alkmaar. But this time I stayed until Sunday.

Amsterdam has an infamous reputation of being one of the most free cities in the world. Drug-wise this might be true, because of the fact that you can legally buy marihuana there. But all the clubs and pubs have very strict closing times. At 4 o'clock nothing is open anymore. This is meant to keep the order in the city, but it's actually creating a big chaos. People make sure they're inside before 12 'o clock and they're not going somewhere else because you cannot get in any reasonable place after that time. This causes most places to be overcrowded. After closing time, most trains don't go back so a lot of people wait between the junks and beggars for their first train. So, a closing time policy that's meant to protect people actually has an even worse countereffect.

On Friday me and my friends had what I call a 'mega loser night'. We went out too late, couldn't get in anywhere anymore and therefore we ended up in some cheap ass touristic sports bar just drinking beer. On Saturday we went ahead of the crowd and we went very early to Club Up, a great place in the middle of the 'Leidseplein'. This club was so good that it made up for the bad evening before. All in all, it was a good weekend and it gave me more than enough distraction so I can work my ass off during the week.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crisis marketing

Today on the frontpage of all Belgian newspapers there's news about the possible closing of the Opel factory in my city Antwerp. If the factory closes it would mean that 2700 employees are directly unemployed and it will affect another 10.000 people indirectly. I remember working for Opel when I started my advertising career at McCann-Erickson in Holland. At that moment they were the best sold car of the year. They weren't really anxious to try something new or creative in advertising. Of course some employees with common sense tried to warn Opel that their play-it-safe, uncreative marketing policy is going to take its toll one day. But they were the best already, so why bother? Right now, 6 years later, Opel dropped to number 7.

People seem to make the wrong decisions in every situation. Yesterday Balkenende, the prime minster of Holland, announced that Holland is in its worst crisis since the depression of 1930. He told everybody to be really concerned. Now isn't that just what you need in times of crisis? The reason this crisis got out of hand in the first place was because everybody is afraid to spend money. And now some prime minister is making people scared as hell. After a speech like that, the Dutchmen will be even afraid to spend money on a pair of socks.

The Fortis bank is also in a big crisis. There have been negotiations with the stockholders about selling the Fortis-holding to the French bank BNP Paribas, but the stockholders voted 'no'. Surprisingly, Fortis goes on with advertising. Maybe not as much as before but in the newspapers, the same newspapers that give them the worst publicity ever, they place full paged ads. And surprisingly, the ads are really good. They don't try to cover things up with smooth talking or pretending nothing ever happened. They just admit that things went wrong and prove to the consumer that their money is not at risk. In one of the ads, they printed a contract in which they promise the insurance clients of Fortis that their money is safe. And if you really want to be sure, you can cut out the contract and add it to your insurance documents (it was even in the Belgian news, see here). Now crisis marketing is never an easy job. But to make yourself as a company as vulnerable as this shows a lot of courage.

As a bank, you cannot neglect the crisis anymore when you're making advertising. That seems like common marketing sense. But then again, last week I saw a commercial from a bank that showed stock footage of smiling people with the words 'trust' and 'reliability' floating through it. I don't know from which planet the marketing managers came from but in these times that kind of crap doesn't work anymore. It's crisis. Wake up. Time to make creative ads.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Dutch people often make jokes about Belgian people in which they describe them as stupid. It's meant in a funny way cause everybody knows it's not true. I'm living in Belgium for more than a year now and I can second that. But I have a theory where the prejudice comes from. A lot of Dutch people cross the border to visit Antwerp for a day. They usually go by train. So the train personnel are often the first Belgians they meet. And in my experience these are the dumbest employees I've ever met. So that's a bad first impression.

This is only an opinion and of course not all railway employees are stupid. But (and maybe it's a total coïncidence) most of them I've met show a total lack of brain activity, are narrowminded and are ignorant to any complaints that you might have. It's not that they lack intelligence. Their problem is that they get orders from their boss and they stick to those orders no matter what. If there's been a train accident, they'd probably give you a fine for smashing in the windows to get out.

And the desk employees are the worst. Today I found that out again. I wanted to get my new yearly ticket. In my hurry to get my train I forgot to check my new pass. On the escalator that leads to the platform I checked if everything was right and I found out that an additional ticket was missing. Because last year they didn't give me one either, I knew that I needed one to get on the train.

I went back to the guy who gave me the ticket. He argued that I should use my old pass because it's still valid. I said it isn't. He said it is. I showed him my old pass and the expired date on it. "That doesn't seem to be valid, does it?". He told me it's valid. "So I can board the train with an expired ticket?", I asked him, "Cause it's not the 13th of February anymore". With a severe frown and a look of disdain towards me he tried to hide his shame for making a mistake. It was as if I was the one who offended him by talking him into making a mistake. He literally tossed the additional ticket to me. Finally my pass was valid, but I missed my train.

And this is not the first time I've had those incidents with desk employees. And I've heard even weirder stories from other people. Who's hiring these people? The train company must get government support for hiring these morons because all they do is giving them a bad name. I trust mentally handicapped people more because at least they'd do an effort to think and would be more precise. I cannot really find a short term solution for solving this problem. Maybe they should send all of the employees on a crash course in customer service. Either that, or they should hang up a sign that says 'use simple words and talk slowly'.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

An ego moment



From Monday till Wednesday we worked almost without interruption when Yigit and I were in the agency. We had to make two integrated concepts presentable and it was a lot of work. The hard work wasn't for nothing because I've just heard that the client was very enthusiastic about the concepts.

In the meantime we still had time for what I call an 'ego photo'. We had the idea of making exactly the same picture that we made last year, but then with all the awards we've won in one year. Yes, it's kind of pretentious to make a photo like that, but in my opinion too much creatives deny themselves such a small moment of happiness.

That has a reason. Creatives, me included, are probably the most insecure people in the agency (even if they behave arrogant - correction: ESPECIALLY if they behave arrogant). They suffer a lot of rejections and there's always something to remind you that you can do better. If you think you're already perfect, you probably won't do any effort to make good work so you probably won't make shit. If you've never won anything, you'll feel miserable. If you've won something, everybody will expect that you win something next year as well. So if you don't win something next year, thén you'll feel miserable.

So how can you feel good about your work again? I think it's good to have at least once a year a moment on which you put together all the good work you've made. Maybe bind all of it together in a small book, make a small exhibition in the agency or create a website. Look at how creative the work is, how much awards you've won with it or how much good it did for the client. In other words, just do something that make you feel proud of what you've done that year. You'll see that this positive injection will make you feel a lot better and that it will be a big help in your future career.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Time is scarce

This weekend I went into Antwerp to do a tour through the city for the first time. There was a storyteller who brought us to historical places in Antwerp and told ghost stories and legends that are linked to that certain place. In the beginning of Saturday evening I'm usually drinking beer in a pub or at some friends' place, so this was something completely different. I sure learned a lot more about my city. I learned that the small castle at the river close to my house was once a jail. And I also learned that the big square in the city centre with all the pubs and restaurants was not always a touristic place full of joy, but that a lot of executions took place there as well. These kind of tours make you realize how little you know about the places you walk around every day.

Today it's Monday and there's a lot to do. I have to prepare two presentations for Tuesday. Usually I'm spending the entire day and evening in the agency at a day like this. But today I have to leave at 6 o'clock so time is ticking. Luckily, Yigit is still a great help in these busy times. He still has a couple of weeks to go before he leaves. It's amazing how hard he keeps on working for projects that he can't even finish.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Flight of the balloon

The balloon that our former Dutch colleagues left floating against the top of the building has started to lead a life of its own now. The helium is wearing out already so now the thing is floating somewhere between the balconies of the first and the second floor. See the video above, which also features our new Miami Ad School interns Maja and JJ.

Reinier and Marlon did already good during their internship in Duval, but with this hilarious goodbye-present they managed to leave a big impression on the entire building a week after they've left. Good work, Reinier and Marlon! If you continue with great ideas like this, graduation is going to be a piece of cake.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dutch interns & Dutch weekend

The Dutch way to say 'thank you for the nice time in the agency'.

When interns leave an agency, most of the time they make something to be remembered. It can be from a flash movie to a fake article or a postcard with their photo on it. Our Dutch interns Reinier and Marlon left the agency on Friday and thought of the most effective idea to stay remembered yet. They simply filled a huge balloon with a 'thank you note' with gas and let it float up in the agency until it reached a height where nobody would even dare to come. The result: these coming weeks everybody will remember the funny stunt of the two crazy Dutchmen.

Talking about Holland. I went back to Alkmaar again this weekend. It's always good to go back because after all I lived in this small city for more than 29 years. But the problem with Alkmaar is, everything stays the same. Not a lot changes in the city itself, it's peaceful and quiet and in the pubs you always meet the same people and hear the same music. Oh, and everything closes at 2:30. Thinking of this always makes me happy that I live somewhere else.

But there was something different about this weekend. It could have been the parties I went to. On Friday a Belgium electro-rockband called Vive la Fete performed in Alkmaar and on Saturday there was a DJ in De Stapper, a pub where they normally play rock and alternative music. Seeing something unexpected in Alkmaar was new for me I guess. But without being cynical: I went back in exactly the right weekend and it was great.

I'm still at my work right now. It's 20:00 and this week I haven't got time to go sporting or to do the laundry (although I should do that). Yes, the workload is getting hardcore again. But that's always better than last week, when the most challenging task was walking up the stairs to get a cup of coffee.