Ranked third-best creative director in the world after Cannes Lions 2016, Björn has been in advertising for 29 years, eleven of those working for Lowe, in both Stockholm and in London. Creatively, the agency has gone from practically nowhere to be ranked #3 in the world, after Cannes Lions 2016 awarded “Agency of the year” at Eurobest 2017, and is No. 6 on Fast Company’s list of “Most Innovative Companies 2017.” Björn has been a juror at many high-profile award shows, among them Cannes (twice) and D&AD. He has won some 180 awards, including Titanium and Grand Prix in Cannes, as well as a Black Pencil. The following interview with Björn was conducted by Michael Weinzettl via email.
Hello Björn, first of all thank you very much for curating the Digital section for Vol. 3-19 of Lürzer’s Archive Magazine!
Thank you, I’ve been reading Lürzer’s Archive since the 90s and it’s always been exciting to have work featured. It’s an honor to do this.
Did you find it hard to come up with your selection?
It’s hard to draw the line between what’s digital and what is not. It seems everything is more or less digital today. And it has to be fresh work too. It took some time but I think I have a great list, of which some work we’ll see winning in Cannes this summer.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and INGO Stockholm?
INGO has always had an international perspective on communication, being less influenced by what’s happening here in Sweden and more influenced by the great international ideas. It’s rare that we work on a channel-based brief from a client. We always try to move it up a bit to find the sweet spot between creativity, distribution and PR, i.e. a great idea/thought not connected to any channel. Like a restaurant (Dill), a phone number, or simply changing the name of a burger. This has proven successful for us and our clients. We have won more than 40 Lions over the past 5-6 years – not forgetting, of course, the Black Pencil for The Swedish Number. As we all are aware, award-winning work sells products.
You’ve been in the ad business for 29 years. What, over this period of almost three decades, have been the biggest changes that affected you personally?
I think I am the luckiest guy in the world to have this job. I’ve been able to constantly move forward and learn new things in a business that’s been going through big changes. I feel fortunate to be in the middle of this huge change in society and communication. And it’s happening now. Like right now. There was the start of the digital era in the late 90s with all the crazy startups and the first digital baby steps. Then the complete change of how we consume media with the launch of the smartphone and the app explosion. In both cases, we saw specialist agencies try to step in and take over. Didn’t happen. The traditional agency setup is rightfully on top of the food chain because we have all the right specialists under one roof. Remove one of them and communication suffers. It’s actually 30 years this year. I’ve been around for a while, seen many things come with a bang and end with a whimper.
Do you miss any of the aspects of creative advertising from early on in your career as opposed as to what it has now turned into?
Don’t miss a thing. Creativity is the same. Only the channels and the creative ways to reach people have changed. It would be boring if we worked the same way we did 20 years ago. And not very efficient for our clients. Of course it was more relaxed back then but, compared to today, maybe in a not so professional way. But I like the way advertising has developed. We are dedicated super professionals that can make a big difference for brands and boost clever marketing people’s careers.
What role does digital/experiential advertising play in Sweden today?
Sweden was a frontrunner in the digital revolution, due to it having been one of the first countries to have high-speed internet. Early on, we were used to more or less sophisticated digital solutions. So thinking in digital opportunities is in our genes. In more or less all of the great ideas from Sweden in recent years, there’s been a significant digital part.
Do you think that the present is a good time for a student to go into the ad business?
There is no difference going into the business today than when I started 30 years ago. The challenges are the same, the objectives are the same, the vibe in the agencies is the same. There will always be a demand for finding creative ways to portray brands. But there are more tools in the box now, more, bigger and better opportunities. I think it’s a perfect time to go into advertising.
Do you see any future for print advertising? How important are strong visuals nowadays?
Print advertising has suffered a bit because of the focus on digital solutions. But it’s changing back. We have seen some great print work that adapted well and connects traditional print with the digital world, as the Swedish “Pee Ad” for Ikea did last year. And we’ve just made an outdoor campaign here in Sweden that does the same. But every time I read Lürzer’s Archive or walk around the print exhibition in Cannes, I am always stunned by a few straightforward, good old-fashioned print campaigns from somewhere in the world. A great visual and a great line is still magical. Print will never go out of style.
Before you got into adland, what were the options you had? Could you imagine having worked in any other field back then, or had an advertising career always been the main goal?
This is probably the only job I can do. I sometimes think about other work that I could have done and enjoyed as much. Actually, my teenage daughter asked me this question about a week ago at dinner. The only option that popped up was to have worked on a tugboat or a pilot boat or something ocean-based. I love being on boats. That’s what I told her. But I think it’s fascinating that, for all these years, I have been talking directly to board members and CEOs of big, sometimes international, companies. and that the work I do actually makes a difference for them. What other jobs on this level make people pay so much attention to a guy wearing a tee, ripped jeans, and hair that hasn’t been cut for ages?!
What is it that still fascinates/interests you about advertising and the way it presents itself, with so many different media now involved? What is today’s lead medium?
It’s a business that constantly moves forward. And it moves with society and pop culture. Not ahead of it, not behind it, but exactly at the same pace. And you have to move with it. You always have to think of new ways, new tech solutions, new angles. As soon as you stop, I think you lose it. Seen it happen several times: someone gets super successful and decides to take a break and go lie on a beach in Thailand for six months, and then comes back thinking things are the same. Well, they aren’t. Six months is a lifetime in our business; you can never relax. Then there’s the thrill. When everyone is comfortable and cool about launching a campaign, then the result will be mediocre at best. If you’re not nervous right before the launch, then your idea probably isn’t good enough. There has to be some nerve in it, you have to be scared.
Can you think of some campaigns that really got your attention over the last year? Contenders for Cannes?
My personal favorites this year are the Kaepernick ad and The Gillette TVC “The Best A Man Can Be,” both really big campaigns that will probably win big. Aeromexico’s DNA travel is hilarious, and A Shave to Remember, from South Africa, a wonderful idea. All ideas for big brands, and I like that.
What was the work that you were proudest of, that you personally were involved in.
It’s a boring answer but as soon as you’ve launched a campaign then it’s gone and you focus on the next. Yet there is always something, big or small, that you wished you’d done differently. I still haven’t made the perfect campaign. Twist my arm and of course I say that I am proud of The Swedish Number, and The Not Big Macs that we recently made for Burger King. Both multibillion-impression campaigns.
Is there anything typical about Scandinavian advertising? I remember a time – in the 1990s – when Swedish or Norwegian ads (commercials mainly) really stood out because of their particular humor and style. Has globalism and the desire to communicate with as many markets as possible taken its toll on this? The quirkiness I tend to associate with ads from Scandinavia seems to have been pretty much lost nowadays.
Yes, there was a Scandinavian way of doing advertising in the 90s. Our budgets were tiny and we had to be very creative to cut through. We were also ahead of the world when digital stepped in. Sweden practically dominated the digital categories in the big award shows. But then globalization. The rest of the world caught up, and if you look at the results the last year, we aren’t as strong as back then. There is the occasional great idea, but not the dominance we used to have in some categories. We’re a small country and we just have to keep on trying harder than the others. But that’s what we’ve been doing up here by the North Pole, in this cold and dark place, since the Stone Age. It comes with our mother’s milk, and it will not stop – not ever.
Who are some of your heroes/people you admire in advertising? Or in general?
When I worked as a writer at Lowe in London in the early 2000s, my CD was Charles Inge. He, in my eyes, is one of the best creatives ever, being behind iconic work for Stella Artois, Malibu Rum, and Weetabix. He taught me to never stop working on an idea, to keep on developing it to the bitter end. When the idea was there, that’s when the real work started. I also had the pleasure to work close to Tor Myhren, who is now with Apple. That guy is a true genius when it comes to communication. And then there is the brilliant Fernando Vega Olmos, who I worked with a couple of years during my Lowe years. The crazy and super talented Diego Medvedocky from Grey LATAM, who played air guitar in my kitchen at 3 am, just hours before he boarded a plane to Argentina. And, of course, Fernando Machado at Burger King, another genius. He has taken the role of a global CMO to a new level and redefined the relationship between client and agency. I can make a long list. I have worked with so many truly great people in this business. Like I said, I am a very, very lucky guy.