Calle and Pelle Sjönell
The palette is so much bigger now.
Originally hailing from Sweden, Calle and Pelle Sjönell
make up one of the best creative teams in the world. They are both Executive
Creative Directors at BBH, New York, having first joined forces at Fallon
Worldwide in Minneapolis. Calle, after graduating from the University of
Stockholm with degrees in the History of Music and Multimedia, began his
professional career as a producer in 1994. Already displaying his love of
the nontraditional, he did not want to be an ordinary producer and instead
took a job at EF Education making languagelearning CD-ROMs. After two years
in the field, he took a leap of faith and founded the Starring agency (formerly
known as Moonwalk) in 1996, where he served as Creative Director until he
moved to the US in 2006 to become Group Creative Director at Fallon Worldwide
in Minneapolis. He has won numerous creative awards at Cannes, the One Show,
and the Grand Prix at the Montreux Advertising Festival. This award season,
Calle and Pelle collected three Gold and Silver Pencils at The One Show,
and a One Show Interactive, a Gold Clio, The “Next Award” at the AICP, as
well as the “Grandy,” the top award at The Andy Awards. The brothers also
had a great year at the Cannes Festival, where they garnered two Gold Lions,
one Silver Lion and the very prestigious Titanium Lion. In May 2009, the
two were featured in Adweek in an article that showcased the most innovative
young people under 40 to watch in the industry. Brother Pelle began his
career as an Assistant Art Director at TBWA Stockholm, and became Art Director
before serving as Creative Director from 1996 to 2000. The office later
changed its name to King, with Pelle as a founding partner. While Pelle
was a partner in the company, King opened offices in both London and Finland.
In 2002, Pelle was appointed CEO, a position he held until he left for the
US in 2006 to take a Group Creative Director position at Fallon Worldwide
in Minneapolis. Just like his brother, he has won numerous awards throughout
his career, among them the Golden Egg Awards – the Swedish national ad awards
– three years in a row, Gold Eurobest Awards, and a Bronze Television Clio
Award in 2000. With one foot in traditional and one foot in cyber, the Sjönell
brothers can be seen as the prototype of a new breed of creatives, and a
new kind of creative team. Hermann Vaske spoke to Calle and Pelle in New
York about great work in the age of the amateur
L.A.: You did a really cool and
muchawarded digital project with Oasis. How did that happen?
Pelle Sjönell: The Oasis project
happened differently than it usually does. It was two clients in a way.
We have New York City as one of our clients, permanent clients. And they
have an open brief to the agency to come up with content proving that NYC
is the place where things happen. Instead of saying it’s the place where
things happen, we’re always invited to come up with things to prove that
NYC is the place where things happen, for which this project was perfect.
At the same time, we were involved with Warner Bros., who had a relationship
with BBH, wanting to do something more along the lines of integrating music
into TV spots and that sort of thing. So Calle and I were sitting around
thinking about the music industry, and how the business of launching music
has undergone a huge change. We were very impressed, for instance, by Radiohead’s
launch, where you paid as much as you wanted for the album, which was a
big comment on where the industry was at that point. But we also felt that
we wanted to do something that was about the music itself. So we were sitting
and we were wondering, and we were thinking that if something is super-successful,
if a song is a huge hit, then it travels though all the filters of culture.
The song goes through various phases. First, the video gets popular, the
song gets a higher rotation. Maybe you’re really lucky and you end up in
karaoke. Someone sings your song voluntarily in karaoke, and then – if you’re
even luckier – the best thing happening is actually a street musician playing
for his own sake. So that would be the ultimate test. And we were thinking,
“What if we start there?” It would be both proof that the music is very
good, because you listen to those street musicians, but also it would be
a reversed way of hearing the snippets but not the whole thing. In a way,
it’s a music trailer. So how it happened was, we presented it to Warner,
who were very interested in making this happen and they helped us find Oasis,
and at the same time we also had New York City making it happen. So we used
their website for getting people within the city to different places using
Google Maps. So it was a collaboration between two clients
L.A.: So basically it’s 1+1=3.
Calle Sjönell: Yeah, pretty much.
Because they both helped with the PR and the music business, and New York,
of course, with all the periodicals and weeklies around NYC, to get the
buzz about the idea going.
L.A.: It’s what Eisenstein said:
you bring two things together that don’t necessarily belong together and
form a third.
Pelle Sjönell: Exactly. It’s the foundation of creativity,
Calle Sjönell: So I guess we could
say that, with two clients becoming the third, and the idea coming out of
that, becoming three is just like combining ideas, just like the foundation
of creativity, 1+1=3.
L.A.: Then what happened was you
met Oasis, capturing the whole story?
Pelle Sjönell: We knew that it
was interesting because it lived on many different levels. We knew that
we wanted to capture the event, or the events themselves. It was the rehearsal
in Brooklyn, we had a warehouse where all the street musicians, all the
20, 30 acts, were rehearsing in the morning with the band, so the band came
there and heard their own songs that they had been playing for a long time,
heard them again in very different takes on them. And then they went out
and spread around the streets of New York, and we got people there but it
was actually the music that made it all easier for us. The music gathered
people, gathered everything, and was kind of the helping hand through the
L.A.: It was the first top-ten
album for Oasis in years.
Pelle Sjönell: Yeah. Ten years.
L.A.: Quite a success, then?
Pelle Sjönell: Yeah, you never
know which part did it, but we are very proud to be part of that success,
whether it was the part that did it or not. Probably it was more novel songwriting
than our idea, I’d say. But, yeah…
Calle Sjönell: It got us lots
of PR, lots of mainstream press. So I think that a lot of people that hadn’t
seen or heard about Oasis for a long time had their interest sparked through
Pelle Sjönell: I think for the
band, what we heard from them, they are always struggling with media to
be real, to be what they are. And this was a way for them to connect with
other musicians rather than with media. They felt it was about the music.
So that was something that we were very glad to capture, the musicians meeting
musicians, and what happened was that we could just sit and didn’t have
to do anything. It just happened around the music, it was just …
L.A.: So did you buy the CD?
Calle Sjönell: Yes, they gave
us the CD.
Pelle Sjönell: I bought it as
Calle Sjönell: I did, too. Haha,
I actually pre-ordered it some time before the project.
L.A.: On the website?
Calle Sjönell: Yeah. Because we’re
both old Oasis fans, so it was fun to meet your heroes.
Pelle Sjönell: I bought it on
Calle Sjönell: Same thing.
L.A.: And I suppose when you hear
a street musician playing Oasis here in NYC, you’re happy to donate something?
Calle Sjönell: Yeah, they are
actually still playing the songs. Some of them, they are still playing the
songs regularly. They are earning money from it, so it’s great.
L.A.: But also, could it be a
solution to a problem? The problem being the fact that the music industry,
the distribution mechanism, is broken. Did you have this problem in mind?
Pelle Sjönell: That was at the
start of the project, the problems of the music industry, or what has happened
to the distribution with iTunes coming up. So the big changes in the music
industry were the inspiration for this project. We wanted to help in a way,
we wanted to see if we could come up with a way to do it differently because
it has been so typical. You release a single, you do a video, the video
gets successful, you release a second single, eventually release an album.
And, we thought, it’s not really so much about the music, the songs, they
don’t sell themselves forever; it’s almost like they need another format.
Calle Sjönell: For the fans, to
hear the songs through other people playing them before they hear the real
songs really sets off the imagination, the different versions being played
and fans wondering what the Oasis version would be like when it finally
came out. So it’s an interesting way of getting to know the music before
it actually comes out – through these street musicians. Of course, we chose
a very diverse group of musicians, and the music became very interesting
Pelle Sjönell: But we also think
that it’s very brave from Oasis to have others play their music. And I think
it’s quite rare for bands not to be so precious and have the partition.
They are probably perfectionists in their way and it said a lot about the
band being a brave band doing that, so I’m guessing they saw that in the
project as well: that it said something about them, that music is more important
than maybe performance as well.
L.A.: Being brave is the only
way of coping with the changing landscape in terms of copyright protection.
A whole new generation is used to downloading stuff …
Pelle Sjönell: I think that copyright
was an interesting part of the project. When the street musicians were going
to learn the songs, we had to have password- protected websites for only
them to see, and we couldn’t start spreading it – even though the project
was spreading it but in another form. So it was an interesting sign of the
times, where we have a lot of illegal downloading, and this was spreading
before it was out, and giving it out there for free.
Calle Sjönell: And I think it’s
also interesting that music nowadays is turning back to live performances
and touring and that sort of thing. Performances of music out in the street,
and you go to experience music, not just to listen to it on your headphones.
So I think it’s interesting, and the touring is really picking up, and all
these artists are coming out and playing because that’s a way for them to
make a living, by playing the music. And it’s very refreshing that so many
people are now getting more out there and seeing music for real. I think
that’s healthy in a way.
L.A.: The amateur through the
internet vs. the professional. What’s your take on that?
Calle Sjönell: I think it will
always be about people doing something that is really, really good that
people congregate to. And I also think, in the age of the amateur, it’s
more about creative expression. So I think you will always congregate to
what is good. Now, with the age of the amateur, especially with YouTube
performances, it’s not how they perform but how they capture the energy
– you know, whether they make something that is very stupid-looking or very
brave, or extremely dangerous – how they do things. So it is more about
finding new extremes in terms of performance. But it will always be the
ones that do something that is a bit over the top, or that is really good,
that people congregate to. All the masses of people that are doing things
that are not so good or mediocre – they won’t be paid attention. But when
they do it, they feel they have been seen, and that’s what the internet
is all about. And we are social creatures, we want attention from other
people. So it’s liberating for the amateurs to do it, but I’m not sure they
all get the attention they think they’re gonna get. Because, finally, people
will always be congregated towards the quality.
Pelle Sjönell: The thing that
just happened is that the amateurs, what’s called an amateur, are seen as
something much bigger now to become pros. It’s just that there used to be
structures around what is a pro and what is an amateur, there used to be
certain doors you had to pass. The doors are now gone. And if you have talent,
you can quickly go from amateur to pro. But it’s not that the amateurs have
become better than before – it’s that they just weren’t heard as much.
Calle Sjönell: It’s a much more
democratic process, in a way, because the talented people get chosen by
the public instead of by A&R guys. It becomes a much more democratic process
of selection of quality. Because it happens out there for everyone to see.
So it’s not an A&R person deciding who gets a record contract. So if you
get a great song out on YouTube and tons of people start watching it, you
get distribution by yourself and you can sell it through iTunes. So I think
it’s much fairer, for talent, in this day and age.
Pelle Sjönell: But then there
is also A&R talent. Seeing what’s right. And they also have a bigger archive
to choose from. So you can’t really say they’ve become useless. I think
it’s the opposite – they’re more important than ever
L.A.: The flamboyant, fast-living
breed of A&R guys, the kind that discovered the Springsteens and Dylans,
is that basically a thing of the past?
Calle Sjönell: These people who
see potential in others, there is always gonna be a role for them, whether
they are producers, A&R people, movie moguls ... If they see, wow, this
director can become really great if I steer him in the right way … so I
think the people who select what’s going to be big will remain important.
It’s always about finding the people who are really good.
L.A.: YouTube, Facebook, and the
social networks for self-expression and democratization – so you basically
see all that as a positive thing?
Calle Sjönell: Yes, I think it’s
something really important because I get to be with other people when I’m
not around other people. We are social creatures and if there’s another
dimension of being social available to us I think it’s great that it’s there
now. I don’t think it’s taking anything away from seeing people for real.
We will always do that. I don’t think we as a species will choose to … I
will sit in my room now, be in front of my computer instead. That’s not
how we function. We just have another dimension available to us now, and
I think it’s a good thing.
L.A.: And not necessarily a lonely
Calle Sjönell: No, even though
they are in front of their computer, they are communicating with other people.
It’s just a matter of how they do it. And of course the people you want
to communicate with through the computer, you naturally want to meet them.
It’s more about expanding who you are interfacing with.
L.A.: Let’s come back to your
creativity, your work. What other projects of yours were you involved in
Calle Sjönell: We did a project
for Axe called the 100 Girls that is out now. It’s for the shampoo and styling
range, so we have this group of girls called the Axe Hair Crisis Relief
who are telling guys across America how important their hair is for them
in the mating game. But the guys don’t know that their hair is in the way
of getting the girls. So you basically see the room full of girls and you
can upload your photo to them, and they will judge you in real time to see
how good your hair looks.
Pelle Sjönell: And 100 girls can’t
all be wrong at the same time. It’s a website with a live feed of 100 girls
judging your hair in real time.
Calle Sjönell: Because the first
question any American guy will ask is, “Is my hair ok? Do girls like it?”
And then, on the web, they can get the answer quickly.
L.A.: You started out in Sweden.
Looking back on your development, what would you pick as the most important
piece of work you did in the different agencies – your milestones, so to
Calle Sjönell: We did a project
for Lycos, the web portal.
Pelle Sjönell: We didn’t work
together in Sweden. Back in Sweden, we were working in what we were then
thinking of as two different fields. Calle had an interactive agency with
partners for ten years, and I worked in an advertising agency with partners,
a traditional one. And, for ten years, we didn’t really realize that we
were actually in the same business: it was “Computer Calle” and “Ad Pelle.”
And then, the last couple of years before we left, we realized that I needed
to learn what he knows, and vice versa. So we left Sweden and teamed up
– and here we are. So that’s the story.
L.A.: Your story is, in a microcosm,
what smart conglomerates are also doing, right?
Pelle Sjönell: Exactly. I think
we are trying but we are, in a way, a working example of how the industry
has developed. And we are trying to be on the front of that, trying to see
L.A.: And now, when you’re teamed
up and the brief is to create a traditional poster campaign, for instance,
or radio commercial, TV commercial, you sit there even if it’s not involving…
Calle Sjönell: Then we usually
convince the client otherwise first.
Pelle Sjönell: No, I think if
it’s a traditional poster campaign, if you call it that .. for us, in the
new days now, it’s important to ask what it’s about. If it’s about what
the brand is doing, we of course have to talk about it that way. If we are
just saying what we are, or telling someone what we want them to think about
us, then it’s different. So whether it’s a sticker to a fully integrating
interactive campaign, one of the things important to us is the doing vs.
saying, messaging vs. interaction.
Calle Sjönell: I think the clients
are on the same journey as the agencies, or trying to find a way for all
of these things to come together and to work together in the marketing,
instead of cancelling each other out. So we are constantly learning together
with our clients how to do that.
Pelle Sjönell: They have been
just like us – organized against what needed to be done. So they separated
digital and advertising, traditional advertising, and so did the agencies.
And now we are figuring out, all together, how to get all of this to merge
again but there aren’t any rules. There used to be but now they are gone.
And I guess that’s why it’s great!
L.A.: So exciting times to be
around in the digital age?
Calle Sjönell: Very much. I wouldn’t
choose any other age of advertising to be in.
L.A.: Are there more possibilities?
Pelle Sjönell: Oh, so much more.
If you’re a creative person today, there’s so many more things you can be
creative with. The palette is so much bigger now. I started as a traditional
art director, and posters were fantastically done, but I had no idea at
that time that, later on, I could do so many things that I can use my creativity
on now... I feel very blessed.
L.A.: What’s the main benefit
Calle Sjönell: I think it’s you
create ideas that people want to participate in and engage with, rather
than things being said to them. People can naturally be part of something,
and I think that is very positive. Both for brands but, of course, for the
audience to be involved in, in collaboration with companies, rather then
just being people who sit there and just see the message.
Pelle Sjönell: Also, as for advertising,
there are so many good things, but also so many really bad things that interrupt
people and are annoying. So when you tell someone, “I’m in advertising,”
you want to add, “but not the kind of advertising that you instantly think
about, but the good one.” And the great thing about what is happening now
is that you can’t really hide. If consumers are supposed to find you and
judge you, you can’t hide anymore, you can’t do anything bad anymore.
Calle Sjönell: And it’s the same
for the age of the amateur. Brands won’t be seen if you don’t do something
good in the future. So, now, we are seeing a lot of bad advertising but
in the future, when you can choose not to, it’s really the things that you
want to engage with that will get seen.
L.A.: I’m a big fan of the age
of the amateur. I think it’s exciting. I think that the old distribution
model is being broken, I’m not crying about it.
Calle Sjönell: It creates so much
more diversity. It’s so many different levels of expression you can see
and take part in because it’s not guarded, what’s going to be seen, so I
think that’s very positive for everyone.
L.A.: So, Calle, which of your
Swedish campaigns are you really proud of?
Calle Sjönell: I did a campaign
with my agency Moonwalk that was called “Make love not spam,” and it was
for free email from Lycos, a spam-free email. So what we did was basically
taking on spam and actually trying to work against spam. So what you did,
you downloaded a screensaver that actually started to counterattack all
the spam-servers around the world. So it made a lot of unnecessary hits
on their servers to make them become slower. And that was a huge success,
and then a lot of lawyers got involved. But, initially, we actually slowed
down the spam traffic by 5%, according to the internet research study that
was made during that period.
L.A.: This must have got a lot
Calle Sjönell: Yeah, it did. It
was a lot of polarizing: Can you do that? Is it legal or not legal? But
it was a really interesting project, and also to have all those people engage.
Because, of course, nobody likes spam, and trying to go after the ones that
are irritating us so much was an interesting thing to do.
L.A.: An interesting way to deal
with the crap on the internet.
Calle Sjönell: Yeah, and also,
of course, it was something that Lycos then did, trying to protect all of
us from it. So of course a lot of people wanted to be part of the campaign
and download the screensaver, and be part of the movement against spam.
I’m also very proud to have been part of a campaign that has been going
on in Sweden for ICA for a long, long time. It is a chain of supermarkets,
sort of like the Swedish Wal-Mart. What we did was a soap opera, a retail
soap opera on TV. When I left three years ago, we had done almost 300 episodes
on TV, so every week there would be a new episode. It’s about the little
branch of the chain, the people who work in the store. And it’s about showing
on the brand level how they can be very human, not being a big brand, the
relationship they have with your local store. And what was also interesting…
we had this human interest story and, at the same time, we’re showing the
products that need to be sold that week, with the prices shown suspended
next to them. So it was a combination of retail and brand-building at the
same time. That’s been very, very successful, and has been carried to different
formats. Viewers were actually looking forward to what was going to happen
in advertising rather than being interrupted. We felt that if we asked for
their time, we might as well entertain. But it was very interesting.
L.A.: Last question. Why are you
Calle Sjönell: I don’t think I
can NOT be creative. It’s a force that can’t be stopped, so why not let
it happen in as many avenues as possible?
Pelle Sjönell: I think being creative
is about not being satisfied. If the world was perfect, then we wouldn’t
have to come up with something new. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
So I think the will to change, the will to find something better, to come
up with … I think it is also reacting to the fact that what’s already there
I can’t really change. But if I come up with something, then I can do something
else that I can, I guess, in a way control.