Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lost in translation

One thing that's strange about Belgium is that they speak two different languages: Dutch and French. Where I live, in Antwerp, they talk Dutch. On the other side of the country they talk French. The city I work, Brussels, is unique. It's Dutch and French at the same time.

Officially, because wherever I go everybody speaks French. Today I wanted to look for a Dutch book in the bookstore but one bookstore had French books only and in a really big one there was only a sad little corner with Dutch books. I'd better spend my time looking for the book in Antwerp. I could have known that. To me, Brussels is French and that's that.

I don't have a lot of problems with it because I want to learn French and the best way to do that is to talk French to the people around you. But it gets difficult when the French speakers try to talk in a different language. The problem is that most of them aren't able to. In the trains the people who are checking the tickets always speak perfectly Dutch. But for some reason through the loudspeakers I always hear some retarded woman who speaks Dutch with such a French accent that it's impossible to decipher what she says.
And even in business situations it can get quite complicated. It happens very often that directions to retouchers, photographers, directors and illustrators get lost in translation. Big misunderstandings make my work really difficult.

Today I had a presentation from a woman who spoke English quite well. But still, there were a lot of spelling mistakes in her Powerpoint. I know that my English is not always flawless, but if I would make a presentation for an advertising agency, I'd make sure that at least somebody takes a second look at the spelling.

Brussels is the modern story of the tower of Babel. But I keep remembering myself that I shouldn't blame others for all the confusion. It's time that I seriously start to learn proper French. Slowly I'm learning and in half a year I will be able to understand everybody without any confusion.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pity marketing

Why do all street musicians play the same song with their harmonica? Why do all begging women have a baby in their arms who's too big and why do they all sit with their knees on the ground? If you walk to and from the station every day, you can't help noticing all the poor people asking for a little money. 

In the beginning I felt sorry for these people. But after a while I started to see patterns in the begging methods. The most clear pattern is that they all come from Eastern Europe. If it's a woman, she always has a baby who's too big to carry in her arms and she makes a desperate back and forward movement with her head (I once even  saw two of them in the same street). If it's a man, they either play the harmonica (always the same song) or they stand with a sign which says 'need work'. Even children are begging. Last year when I came back from a photo shooting, I saw three old women who asked money with cardboard signs at a crossroad. The crossroad was so far from the city that the only way to get there was by car...

To me it's obvious that there must be some organized crime behind the tidal wave of beggars that flow through the streets of Brussels. And they market their misfits like it's advertising. The goal is to get money, and the media are the beggars. Behind all of them there seems to be a concept, and when a certain concept works, they use it over and over again. I once saw a man with a cardboard sign that says 'need work' and his son standing behind him. The next day he was playing the harmonica (yes, that one song). The day after he was there with the need work-sign again. But now his son had a need work-sign as well. It looked like they're trying out which concept, or which combination of concepts, gives the most revenue. Like a pre-test of a commercial.

There are already a lot of rumors about human trafficking by Rumanian mobsters. However, an investigation on beggars in Brussels, says that there are no clues to prove that there's organized crime involved. The revenue would be too low to make human trafficking interesting (average 16,8 euro per day). I'm not an expert and I didn't do research, but from what I see around me it's pretty clear that there is a structure. And it's smart.

Oh, and another thing: the only group of people that's not begging on the street is young women...

Friday, May 15, 2009


Clients. You can't work with them, you can't work without them. Most creatives can't help getting a bit cynical about clients from time to time. They're the ones who killed their award winning campaign, they're the ones who want that logo bigger or added that extra promotion line which fucks up the ad.

But they're also the ones who pay the money. And that's what makes advertising, and especially advertising politics, so difficult. If you do exactly what they want, your client will get a bad campaign. If you don't listen at all, the client will leave. As an agency you have to find the right balance between doing what the client wants and what the client needs.

At Duval Guillaume the creatives usually don't go to the client. Our creative directors go to presentations so we can do what we're good at: creating good ads. On Wednesday, at the award show, I finally saw the client of Re-born to be alive, the donor foundation for which I've made the Obituary ad. They are the most warmhearted clients I've ever met. They thanked me for making the ad and how effective it has been. They were also happy that all the donor ads made by Duval Guillaume won so many awards. This felt so rewarding to me and it set me to think: why can't more clients give compliments like that? Creatives are sensitive to compliments and it makes them want to work even harder for clients.

Award shows are also good places to meet new people. I met a couple of other Dutchmen who live in Belgium: Roel and Wietse are two young creatives who worked at Famous. You can see their website here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Photoshoot at Jean Francois

Victor helping photographer Jean-Francois

These last few days Victor and I have been at a photoshoot for a mineral water brand. We've been working with a really experienced photographer called Jean-Francois de Witte. In my humble copywriter's opinion, he's one of the best packshot photographers of Belgium. We have a simple campaign in which a new bottle is in the centre of attention, so Jean-Francois was by far the preferred photographer on the job.

Working with Jean Francois is a bit like an adventure. His studio looks like a museum of historical electronics, with all sorts of tape recorders, old school photography equipment and vinyl records lying around. Yesterday, he put on a record of a country singer from the 70's. The next morning when we entered the studio again, we saw that the record was still turning on the record player. He forgot to turn it off and it was playing all night. Well, they say the best people you can work with are the most eccentric ones. Our photographs turned out really good, so that proves this statement. As soon as the posters are hanging in the bus shelters I will show them on my blog.

Tonight I'm going to an award show for the first time since I'm in Belgium, the Top Topical Awards. I've been avoiding the typical advertising parties a bit, because during the week I'd rather put my energy in working. But maybe it's nice for a change to see what's going on in the Belgian advertising scene.

Friday, May 08, 2009

What is true on the internet?

Recently, an Irish student called Shane Fitzgerald pulled off a hilarious stunt to test how serious journalists take information on Wikipedia. So after the death of Maurice Jarre, an oscar winning French composer, he put a quote on Wikipedia that says: "When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head". The quotation wasn't real and there was no source linked to the quote. Nevertheless, newspapers and blogs all over the world published the wrong quote. This proves we live in a world where anybody can make (and break) the news. Read the article here.

I think there's too much copying on the internet. If I'm looking for different articles on a certain subject on the internet to check if the 'facts' are reliable, all I see is that articles that I read on one site are shamelessly copied to another website. Is there no respect for copyrights on the world wide web? At least take some effort in rewriting the facts you've found. Stay off the control-c/control-p buttons on your keyboard!

There's even faulty information of me on the web as a result of a hilarious coincidence: another Robin Stam is working as a designer in Holland. And he's a pretty good designer. So recently I saw on a website that I'm a Dutch designer and copywriter who lives in Germany and works in Amsterdam at an agency called Vijf890. Oh, and I'm also a creative director (I think neither of us has ever been a creative director). You can see this perfect blend of two Robin Stam's here. I actually looked on the website whether I can report this mistake, but the only option is to remove the profile entirely. Well, combining his resume with mine gives both of us a better image so I think I'll keep it like this. And combining both of our portfolio's on the website of Creatie doesn't bother me either.

The funny thing is, about half a year ago I did a bit of online hoaxing myself. One of my best friends Marvin Vis told me he's on IMDB, a renowned website about movies. Marvin works as a 3D designer at an agency called New Media Trix. Everybody who has anything to do with movies is on IMDB, so he's on there as well. Just for a good laugh, I published a very positive comment about one of the TV-shows that Marvin worked on and told that I truly admire the backgrounds made by him. You can read the comment here. It's a good example of how silly facts can sneak on the world wide web. Even half a year later, it's still on there... Waiting to be picked up by a journalist who doesn't suspect anything.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Smoking break

I've had a great Queensday on which I smoked one cigarette after another. No matter which concert or pub I went, I trail of smoke followed me like I was a human steamtrain. But now, for 1 month, all of that is over. A couple of weeks ago I made a challenge that I regret already: I'm going to stop smoking for 1 whole month.

I think it's not going to be a really difficult task for me. Last year (also in May) I stopped drinking alcohol for 1 month and that was much harder. As everybody who has seen me at a party knows, I didn't exactly learn anything from this abstinence (apart from the fact that without alcohol life becomes boring as hell). But apart from that it was good to know that I can take my hands off alcoholic drinks for one month.

On Saturday I was in a club in Antwerp and I really hated being without cigarettes. I like tobacco, especially when I drink alcohol. And when you really crave for something, selective perception is working at its best; so around me it seemed that everybody was smoking except for me.

Maybe in a month I'll feel better about this challenge. I think there's nothing wrong with addiction. As long as you can control your addiction enough to enjoy it. I want to know if I can master smoking. I think I can, but I want to prove it to myself. After a month I'm probably glad I did it, but at this moment I feel like a complete idiot for depriving myself of something I really enjoy.

Friday, May 01, 2009


After work on Wednesday evening I took the train to Holland so I can celebrate the evening before Queensday. I planned to show really cool photographs of the market and partying Dutch people dressed in orange but when I wanted to make my first picture, I noticed that the battery was empty. So, for half a year this thing is working and the moment I'm about to make really cool pictures it's empty.

So you'll have to do with a video of the idiot who ruined Queensday by driving through the audience. This shocking news came to me when I was eating breakfast and turned on the television. Ever since 9/11 I haven't seen such bizarre news. I think the whole world has seen the footage already, but above there's a video seen from the point of view of an amateur filmer. The most intriguing about this film is that it gives a tiny impression of how scary it must have been to stand in the crowd at that moment. My art-director Victor immediately phoned me to see if I was allright. I reassured him by telling that Apeldoorn is too far from Alkmaar to be hit by the car.

As if this news wasn't bad enough already, all over the country the majors of the city showed their 'respect' for the victims by cancelling all the festivities on Queensday. I was standing in Alkmaar, dancing on drum 'n bass music with a beer in my hand. And suddenly the music was cut off. It felt like a punch in the face and the crowd of party animals around the outdoor dj-booth felt lost. After that I just went into the pub. But I can imagine that for people who can't enjoy themselves with something simple like drinking beer and singing, this must have been a big deception.

I can already see the face of the major, drooling on the phone because he makes such a political correct decision. I don't know if it's self-wanking or fear for face-loss that drives decision makers to cancel such a wonderful party. But a fact is that by doing this you give the murderer exactly what he wished for: a suicide of which entire Holland would feel the impact.

Of course me and my friends were able to set our minds off of this terrible news by going totally nuts on the dancefloors of the Alkmaarisch pubs. Around twelve there was another deception thanks of the patronizing policy in Alkmaar. All the pubs actually closed at 11.30 (!). I didn't see this coming so this second punch in the face totally knocked me out.

In a newspaper of Alkmaar I read that a well known local punk-band called Sangre doesn't want to play in Alkmaar because there's no underground anymore. I agree with them. The only underground club that was left in Alkmaar (Parkhof) has now merged with another club and totally lost its anarchistic identity. In Alkmaar the entire nightlife is now based on government projects rather than spontaneity. I saw it coming a few years ago when they demolished a squatter house De Raad, but this weekend I came to the sad conclusion that the nightlife in Alkmaar is dead. Slowly strangled by the decision makers in Alkmaar. They finally did it... The only thing that would prevent young people from finding their solace in binge drinking at home and using excessive amounts of drugs is to initiate a night train going from Alkmaar to Amsterdam.