Christian Daul is Managing Director of Spark44, a new type of agency, established as a joint venture with Jaguar Land Rover globally.
Creatives sometimes confuse effects with effectiveness.
He’s been in advertising since 1991 when he started out as copywriter at Michael Conrad & Leo Burnett, in Frankfurt am Main. In the following, Christian replies to questions put to him by Michael Weinzettl.
Christian, could you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in the German city of Baden-Baden, have always been passionately curious, and have spent most of my professional life in Frankfurt am Main, interrupted by a spell in Hamburg and some stints in London and Los Angeles. Film, design, and advertising all fascinated me from early on. I like print as well as technology. Apart from that, I’m interested in bikes of any kind, paleontology and – no, I kid you not – rocket science. I try to keep both halves of my brain equally engaged. Which is why I’m more of an analytic creative. Other personal data about me can be easily found on the web.
How did you wind up in advertising/marketing? Was it something that had always seemed like a great field to work in?
I actually started out as a banker. It was in that profession that I noticed I really enjoyed advising companies. The financial world at the beginning of the 80s wasn’t, however, all that exciting to me, and at some point, when I was watching the Cannes Reel at the cinema, I thought, hey, that might be something for me. At any rate, I had always been fond of writing, whether it was for the regional or the student press. When I realized that the ad industry would tick all of these boxes, my goal was set. I then went to the FH in Pforzheim, at the time the only school in Germany where you could specifically study “Werbewirtschaft” (Advertising), did my degree, and at the same time started to explore the world of advertising through internships at agencies such as Wilkens Ayer (now FCB) Hamburg and Michael Conrad & Leo Burnett in Frankfurt.
In the second half of the 1990s you were MD and CD at Lowe & Partners, in Frankfurt. This was the German branch of Lowe International and formerly called Lowe, Lürzer.
After my start at Leo Burnett this was a really important experience for me because I was working on the biggest national ad account – Opel cars (If I remember correctly, it was worth something like 280 million deutschmarks) The brand had undergone a brilliant development at Lowe, Lürzer (including, amongst other things, the “What A Wonderful World” ad for the launch of the catalytic converter) and they allowed me to work on such big projects as the launch of the new Corsa, for which we conscripted “The Flintstones.” It was a very intense experience that decisively marked out the “automotive path” I was to take and which further fueled my passion for film. I even invented a special edition of the car, the Corsa Cappuccino, for which we did what was at the time considered revolutionary cross-marketing with Nescafé. The fact that two major players from different categories were working together on a campaign was pretty much unheard of in Germany at the time. It was the first time I realized that advertising can be much more than just communication.
Did you meet Walter Lürzer, the founder of our magazine, back then? Any anecdotes about him you’d like to share with us?
I did actually see Walter Lürzer quite frequently because, at the agency, there was a fire escape door which led to the editorial office of Lürzer’s Archive at Hamburger Allee in Frankfurt. In the summer, this door was open and you could tell if he was there or not. Not that he ever got loud, of course … I also met him in the lift sometimes, although the agency no longer carried his name. (Lowe & Partners remained one of Walter Lürzer’s tenants in the building complex he owned at the Frankfurt address. Ed.) The best story that I heard from Lürzer himself concerned his reasons for founding the magazine. He had just left the German Leo Burnett agency (formerly Lürzer, Conrad) and had time to spare. Since he was an incredibly shrewd businessman and didn’t want to spend money on travelling the world, yet still wanted to travel, he “invented” the magazine so he could deduct his travels as business expenses and, at the same time, gain access to the most famous people working in advertising, the people he had always wanted to meet. Which is how the interviews in Lürzer’s Archive first got started. He told me that Jerry Della Femina was really annoyed that he himself had not had the idea of launching the magazine and ranted: “Why the hell is it called Lürzer’s Archive? It should be Jerry’s Archive!”
Can you tell us about Spark44? What are some of your clients and what kind of work do you do for them?
Spark44 has just turned five and is a global, exclusive joint venture between Jaguar Land Rover and the agency’s management. In fact we’re neither a normal agency construct nor an in-house agency. Instead, we call ourselves “Demand Creation Partner,” because we work very closely with our partner on all projects that, in the broadest sense, have to do with the brand and the distribution. Thus we work far beyond communication or digital, in areas such as product planning, optimization of distribution, CRM, loyalty, or experiential. At the same time, this is not just consulting but also execution. Since data is becoming increasingly important, dealing with it creatively is the next evolutionary step. But we also do the client magazines for both brands and other content-related projects. With currently 18 offices worldwide, we are working to create an agency model boasting both the most integrated and the most progressive offering.
I first met you a couple of years ago in Munich when I interviewed you on stage at a Lürzer’s Archive event organized by the Munich U5 Akademie für Werbung. At the time, one of your tasks was providing content for Red Bull. How did that work? What were some of the main challenges there?
Red Bull is very well set up with Mediahouse and they have a lot of experience in inventing, producing, and distributing almost any kind of content. They have reached an impressive level that is extremely attractive to any creative. The challenge was – and still is – to keep the content as relevant and brand-appropriate as possible. And all that on a global level. This was what we focused on in our work. The aim was to produce innovative serial content that lets you experience the brand values anew. The standards in development were already very high, and even higher in execution. This is an extremely tough selection process. Producing content at this level is broadcast production and has nothing to do with commercials production. Which is why entirely different parameters count – especially with serials. You have to think conceptionally in a much more stringent manner, in terms of both execution and target audience.
What are some of the major changes the ad business has undergone since you got started as a copywriter at Leo Burnett in 1991?
I think the most obvious changes are in the great variety of media which has since developed. Of course technology has also changed the whole working process permanently. Schedules have become tighter, data is more comprehensive. In the field of “adverts” it basically took us less than 20 years to go from Gutenberg print to realtime on-display bidding. At the same time, once rather anonymous consumers have become co-creators, adbusters, and media managers. The way agencies perceive themselves has evolved from being mere media plan content providers to make them product developers and brand inventors – and all the way through to software developers. I believe these really have been the most exciting – but also demanding – decades in our industry.
Can you pick out and describe some of the campaigns you’ve been involved in that presented the biggest challenges and, perhaps, proved to be those you’re most proud of?
It’s always great to break new ground. An example is the launch in 2011 of the new Mercedes-Benz SLK exclusively in digital channels. I admired the courage of the client – for them, it was a first. Mercedes left my team at Scholz & Volkmer a lot of freedom. It was clear that we were to produce a video-based web special that should entertain while introducing the new features of the car. We set ourselves the aim of intelligently integrating Facebook, which was just going through the roof back then. We were supposed to cast the female lead from Hollywood’s A-list and were about to make the deal. But then we realized we would have to make too many compromises in the social area. So we took a hopeful young actress instead and managed to dissolve the boundaries between advertising and reality, which was also the subject of the “Speed Date” story. Her personal profile was part of the campaign and we even had the first live autographing hour ever that ever took place on Facebook. That was far advanced for a premium brand. A smaller example is the website for the Radio Advertising Awards, for which we developed, as an experimental Chrome app, something called Sound Color frames. You can convert your own cheering sounds made through the microphone into visual sound graphics in the browser. If one is loud enough, the Sound Color Gram is triggered automatically and you can share it directly. So we got acoustic, interactive elements onto the page of a species that lives only off audio.
Is there anything in the digital arena at the moment that excites you particularly?
I find the “Field Trip to Mars” by McCann New York very interesting because it combines many individual technical solutions into a sensible new whole. In addition, the action has a relatable background and is truly inspiring.
Amir Kassaei has been a very vocal critic of the digital work awarded at the Cannes festival this year and last. He said that the stuff that wins awards has very little relevance to the average consumer and was just self-indulgence on the part of the creatives, that they were “too much in love with technology.” What is your take on this?
The first part of Amir’s criticism can also be applied to non-digital submissions. In digital, your aim can be so finely tuned and closely targeted that the “average consumer” argument is not really that helpful. At the end of a long tail, there can always be a super-small, highly-interested circle of targets – or a fake. His argument applies to mass media, but in digital I think it is less compelling. It is a different matter if infatuation with technology, or a misunderstood idea of innovation, leads to completely irrelevant results that are of little interest to us. Here, I agree with Amir’s criticism and am afraid we will continue to see things that may be the “first ever” but also: “So what?” Technology will continue to be the basis for new creative possibilities. And that’s a good thing. It was the paper first, and then the advert. But only if technology is used meaningfully can it make a difference. Creatives sometimes confuse effects with effectiveness.
Can you tell us a bit about the criteria you used when selecting the digital work showcased in this issue of Archive?
Basically, there are the great, classic criteria in the foreground: What is the idea? How big and relevant is it? How new and surprising? Is the result enjoyable? Convincing? What is being conveyed? Important criteria for digital are, of course, usability and innovation. Innovation and idea should always complement each other perfectly. Otherwise, we’re back at Amir’s critique.
Any idea what the next big thing in advertising will be? Will digital continue to gain more and more ground so that, in the near future, most campaigns will be digitally led? Or do you think there is still some resistance to digital encounters in “traditional” ad agencies, where they tend to relegate the digital stuff to the back burner?
I think that, by and by, we’re becoming so embedded in digital infrastructures that this discussion in marketing should soon be obsolete. If someone asks me for a digital creative, I usually reply that we only have analogs – because they all run on blood and not on electricity. There is either more experience with the medium or less. It’s as simple as that. Also, the growing importance of digital infrastructure and its disruptive force has by now become common knowledge and is in no need of further elaboration. Thought through to its logical conclusion, data is increasingly heading in the direction of genuine one-to-one realtime. So if you are in immediate and direct contact with a “friend” and exchange information, we are almost back to where everything once started. How will this affect marketing, the agencies, and audiences? That will be the interesting question of the next decade.
What do you look for in people who might want to work for you?
Openness, curiosity, non-conformism, intelligent questions. If they don’t know FastCo, TED, or Mashable, we’d have a problem.