180 Amsterdam, the Netherlands based creative agency which came under the Omnicom fold almost ten years back, stands out for its unusual style of functioning and the unorthodox work that comes from its stable. It handles brands such as DHL, ASICS, HP, Moyee, Qatar Airways, Pfizer and Playstation among others, and has created some stellar work for them . For instance, when the agency was selected to create a campaign for coffee brand Moyee, it promptly went for the unconventional. Aptly called “Under the influence”, its two-minute video did a taste test on people high on cannabis, capitalising on not just the city’s position on weed but research that suggests that it heightens one’s sense of taste and smell. Again, when it did a spot for sports brand ASICS, it featured real life runners and showed them being summoned by a hunting horn. The ad captured the fact that running is really about passion and tribes and communities. If that campaign had the tagline “It’s a big world. Go run it”, it followed it up with a new ad called “It’s a tough game. Go smash it.”starring French tennis star Gaël Monfils doing battle in what appears to be an abandoned industry building against men launching tennis balls at him with heavy artillery.and was well-received.
The Dutch agency has been known to do things differently. As Alan Moseley, its president and chief creative officer, says, the agency likes things that are difficult and dangerous. “Our work isn’t provocative all the time, but we like to disrupt,” is how he puts it. In this conversation with
FE Brandwagon’s Anushree Chandran, Moseley talks about the
agency’s independent creative spirit. Edited excerpts:
180 Amsterdam is an Omnicom owned company, but you retain your independent style of functioning. How has 180 Amsterdam been able to ensure that?
If you walked into our offices in Amsterdam or Los Angeles, you would have no idea that we are owned by Omnicom. The feel of the agency is really that of an independent ad agency. In Amsterdam, we are based in 17th century canal houses and are very different from any corporate office. The spirit of creativity is very much alive. You walk around and you have a sense of what creativity can bring to a business, and not a business that is developed for creativity.
Omnicom can deliver to us. We can tap into some of the best companies within the Omnicom network, that offer specialist help. Even though we have an independent spirit, we can tap into areas such as public relations, social, digital and interactive. The Omnicom group doesn’t want to commoditise us and make us like any other agency. They want us to be 180 Amsterdam.
I think that holding companies will always acquire and expand. They will scout for the smartest minds that they think will help build their network. But there will always be people who want to strike out and be independent. Around the world, we have seen a whole new wave of independent smaller agencies, coming in.
You grew 180 Amsterdam from a one-client agency to a full roster. How did you go about it?
Interestingly, when I joined the agency, we were just on the brink of losing Adidas. A terrible divorce was happening and I hadn’t even experienced the marriage. We got out of that in the noblest way possible. After that, we still had the daunting of instilling a certain kind of work culture into the company. It was important to boost morale. It’s taken a number of years to do it. It’s not a process that happens overnight. It is now that people see that the ad agency has risen up. It’s been a long hard process of re-building. When you are re-building, you may have a wonderful past, but you have to re-use that or find relevance of that in your business. You need to take it forward. Our work isn’t provocative all the time, but we like to disrupt. When challenger brands take on a disruptive role, life gets interesting. If they don’t disrupt, then they will prop up the market leader. We like things that are difficult and dangerous.
Our approach is different from other agencies. Whenever you get into trouble, keep going. Do a 180 degree—which means turn the situation half way around.
Do you have any plans to start operations in India?
I see possibilities, definitely. India is a very interesting market to be in and the Indian economy is picking up in a big way. We haven’t got any immediate plans, but that I have come to India signals an interest in us wanting to be part of the future of Indian marketing and communications. But what interests us even more, is taking brands out to the world. We are interested in Indian brands that have global ambitions. Indian work makes itself heard on the world stage. I have seen some pretty fascinating work on global clients such as Coca-Cola and Nike. We have taken global brands into India such as DHL, Playstation but we don’t have any Indian brands in our portfolio.
What is the toughest pitch that you have been part of?
The Coca-Cola global re-branding pitch in 2005 was a very tough one. I was at Wieden & Kennedy. With Coca Cola, we got it wrong so many times at the pitch. There was a time when I met the client and I had a lot of work ready, and in the process of talking, I knew what was right. I didn’t give the work in the meeting. We were trying to re-imagine the world’s biggest brand; it was taking time. We had to make it relevant all over the globe and so we had to tap into different cultures. There were realms of work we threw away. The Happiness Factory came then, which played on the idea that Coke is “Happiness in a bottle”. The insight was simple—bubbles and sugar can make you happy. The campaign came after a long period of trying to find different ways of how Coke had come about and evolved.