Editor-in-chief Michael Weinzettl on the Budapest agency that lands the first ever Hungarian cover on an issue of Lürzer's Archive.
I may have been a bit unkind to advertising made in Hungary in my previous blog but I have done worse: Several years ago, seven or eight I'm not quite sure, Hungarian trade press publication Kreativ asked me to be a judge on a national advertising award organized by them. This was all done online and I was aghast at the quality of the submissions. There was not one thing – film or print – that I would have wanted to feature in Lürzer's Archive. I did not see the point of giving awards to work that mediocre. I told them how I felt about this and asked them to be excused from the jury. Kreativ then published my email in their next edition – which, I was told, made for quite a fracas in the Hungarian adland. Anyway, this year they asked me once more to be part of a jury judging the so-called Hipnozis awards. I accepted because I value and respect Mark Tungate of the Epica Awards, who was the jury's president this year. This time around, the quality of the work had improved quite a bit, though mostly in the area of Digital. There were some cool interactive things documented by way of case films. I also asked the organisers to consider an ad by Budapest agency White Rabbit, which had been submitted to us a few weeks ago and which immediately caught my attention. In terms of craft it was, I felt, way above all the other entries in the print category. And it is this very ad with the muzzled piranha – the gist of the ad with the headline “Nice try” is that, unlike most shopping malls, Allee allows dog owners to bring their darling pooches onto the premises – that will grace the cover on Vol. 3-16. It was a unanimous decision for us at Archive, in the readers' voting I did last Friday it came in second, after DDB, Berlin's VW ad with the ostrich in a leopard coat. (We at Lürzer's Archive thought it was a great image but perhaps too predictable for us, too much "typical Lürzer's Archive cover" for its own good – and "predictable" we try to avoid!)
I talked to Istvan Bracsok and Levente Kovacs, the creative directors behind this ad – the brilliant illustrator is Bence Farkasinszki, aka BENZE – to find out more.
What did you guys do before White Rabbit?
Levente Kovacs: After finishing university, I went to London to experience a great variety of inspiring jobs: delivery man in Chinatown, washing-up assistant in a French creperie, house-cleaner, gardener, menu-maker and construction worker. Then I came back to Hungary and got a copywriter position in a small Hungarian agency. Two years later I joined JWT, Budapest; I became a senior copywriter, then a Group-head. After 6 years at JWT, White Rabbit entered the scene.
Istvan Bracsok: I worked for some big names like Ammirati Puris Lintas, Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB and JWT. My way up the ladder has been the usual one: from junior art director to creative director.
Were you among the founding members 10 years ago?
Istvan Bracsok: Yes, we were. Ten years ago this September we had a chance to set up our own agency and with Levente Balint, Client Service Director and Csilla Kovari, Strategic Director White Rabbit was born. An independent, 100% Hungarian company.
Levente Kovacs: How easy it seems talking about it today! Back then it was a pretty difficult decision to make. Leaving the safe bay of an international agency and its fixed clients and jumping into the unknown world of privately owned agencies. But we thought it was kind of cool. And hoped it would work.
Istvan Bracsok: That was our make-it-or-break-it moment. If you spend a certain amount of time working for an agency and don’t dream about founding your very own, you’re not doing it right. But dreaming is just one thing. You need luck as well and we had that too.
Levente Kovacs: And a brave client, Heineken, who gave us its Soproni beer; it was the third player in the mainstream category at that time. And within 5 years we made it a market leader in Hungary. That was our first huge success as an agency; during those years we collected 5 Effies and a Cannes Silver Lion with Soproni.
Why White Rabbit? Is it a reference to Lewis Carroll or Jefferson Airplane or both?
Levente Kovacs: Whether it’s Jefferson Aiplane or the Matrix – the character of the White Rabbit originates from Lewis Caroll’s famous book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Actually, that was our original source of inspiration. And we have a sort of philosophy behind, it goes like this: just like the White Rabbit leads Alice into the world of Wonderland – White Rabbit, the communication agency, leads its clients into the wonderful world of brands.
Istvan Bracsok: We liked that cute, funny and lovable character, who perfectly positioned our agency as a “leader”, a sort of “guide” in the complex world of communication, that can support clients in their ways to create succesful brands. We believe that over the years White Rabbit has become more sensitive and experienced in that guiding role.
Maybe tell us a bit about the client, the Allee shopping mall? Is this your first work for them? And what is their other advertising look like?
Levente Kovacs: We’ve been working for Allee shopping mall for more than 7 years. It’s a unique mall that is positioned for a more subtle, more premium audience. That’s why Allee is more than just a shopping mall; its slogan “Joy Allee” refers to those extra experiences, cultural enjoyments (exhibitions, fashion shows, concerts, dance performances etc.) it suprises its shoppers with time after time. What’s more important: the mall’s management is very open-minded and progressive in their environmentally conscious, animal-friendly attitude.
Istvan Bracsok: Allee’s main concern has always been creating elegant-looking, eye-pleasing visuals, that communicated certain events or programs of the mall. These works were always simple and informative. Spreading the news, making people aware of the unique cultural experiences. However, making their mall dog-friendly (N.B. they didn’t stop here; by now the Allee has turned into pet-friendly), was a real opportunity for us to inject some surprise element into the communication. It looks like we succeeded quite well.
How did you find the illustrator of the piranha? Have you worked with him before?
Istvan Bracsok: No, we’ve never worked with Bence (Farkasinszki) before. But we were familiar with his work, he has quite an impressive portfolio on behance.net. We were just waiting for the opportunity to come and have him on board.
Levente Kovacs: We trusted in God – and kept our powder dry.
What advertising inspiration did you grow up with (I assume this was still Communist Hungary?) Who are heroes in advertising for you?
Levente Kovacs: We have a better expression for that era: “before the regime change”. That is the euphemism for Communist Hungary and it helps a lot of people to forget their past. Which they do quite quickly, actually. But as for the inspirations: I don’t remember I found the ads of my childhood inspiring at all, except one spot for a bank. It had a perfect copy I appreciate even today.
Istvan Bracsok: Advertising was more like a funny something in the communist era. No market competition that time. You know, every company was owned by the state. That’s why advertising had no real meaning over here. Funny songs, stupid poem-like copies, idiot visual jokes. Usually in 60 secs. Because we did not have advertising agencies (we had a Mahir-something, but come on…), no art directors and no copywriters. But at the same time some of the print ads were quite artistic. We only had real artists and they were asked to create those ads.The awakening happened after the regime change, when more and more international networks arrived at Hungary and a brand new world of advertising opened up for us. It was a completely different dimension.
Levente Kovacs: We’re trying hard, but we’re still lagging behind. But we have different conditions here, advertising culture is not just a question of education – it’s a question of money. However, it doesn’t stop us from having heroes. My personal one, an all-time favourite is the Socrates of San Francisco: Howard “Luck” Gossage. Steve Harrison’s fantastic biography on him is a must-read for everyone. I’m eager to translate it into Hungarian.
Istvan Bracsok: My advertising hero? The first one Bill Bernbach. Should I really explain why? Don’t think so. And now? I don’t know. Lee Clow and Alex Bogusky, perhaps. But ask me tomorrow, I’ll give you different ones. Okay, Lee would stay on my list tomorrow. Lee is forever.
What is your take on the current political climate in Hungary? For us in the West your government seems rather right-wing and perhaps even repressive. Does the political climate, in your opinion, affect creativity in culture in general and advertising specifically?
Istvan Bracsok: Being a creative guy who makes ads, you cannot really feel the effect of a repressive regime. I mean, not directly. But the political climate affects economy and that could have a huge effect on the creative and advertising industry. Once the economic environment is unstable, the players of the market, the clients, advertisers feel unsafe. so their anxiety and need for bulletproof solutions (what they assume to be bulletproof, of course) grows exponentially. And that’s something you feel definitely. Simple correlation.
Levente Kovacs:We Hungarians have an intrinsic need for repression. It might be some genetic code we carry down through the centuries. We enjoy being repressed. We even look for it. And it has nothing to do with any governments. One of the best Hungarian humorists, Géza Hofi, would say: “A Hungarian man can’t find his place, unless there’s an ass he can lick.” But how much does this political climate affect creativity? I think creativity flourishes in the Age of Deficit. When you lack of something - resources, time, money, opportunities, anything - that’s when you need a vehicle that puts you back in track, that helps you raise your chances of survival. In that sense it is easy to say that repressive regimes (ie. lack of democracy) empower creativity. But regimes can apply creativity as well, the lack of trust from their people force them to do so. Because creativity is a tool not an end. A double-bladed sword and completely apolitical. No communicator can escape the responsibility of how to use it.
The cover of the next issue of Lürzer's Archive, Vol. 3-16. Illustrator: Bence Farkasinszki, aka BENZE.