Before joining TBWA, Darre was CCO at Ogilvy & Mather Amsterdam for ten years. With a special focus on this year’s Cannes Lions, Michael Weinzettl chatted to the seasoned CD who’s seen – and won – it all before.
Hi, Darre. First off, many thanks for selecting the digital works for this issue of Lürzer’s Archive. You were at the Cannes Lions this year. How was it for you? How did you like the Grand Prix-winning work?
We had a pretty good year with TBWA but, unfortunately, none of our offices brought home a Grand Prix. That is, of course, a pity after last year’s two Grand Prix MAL took home for the Apple HomePod work. Still, with 61 Lions, 11 of them Golds, we were quite happy with the 5th place we took as a network. But, in all fairness, I think the Grand Prix of this year were amazing pieces of work. The Dream Crazy is so powerfully done. Nike backing up athletes in this way is beyond advertising. Or maybe this is just the bravest a brand can do.
Next to meaningful, I also liked Whopper Detour very much. They totally went over the top in a funny, good way, turning around the challenger brand philosophy in advertising. The case film was also packaged very well. Go for it, Freddy! We work for McDonald’s, and it is one of our coolest clients in the Netherlands, but because BK is the challenger it is totally different work to what we do. In fact, two years ago we had a similar idea: Three million people in the Netherlands have the McDonald’s app, so we wanted to place a beacon in a Burger King sending everyone with the app a push notification giving them a thirty-second countdown to reach the next McDonald’s to get a free Big Mac. But they said, nah, that’s not us.
How was, in your estimation, the overall quality of work you saw at Cannes?
A lot of the work that gets awarded has a lot of purpose-driven ideas in the core. I’ve seen and heard the line “It’s time to take a stand” more than once. So, apparently, we as a creative industry feel the need to award the brands that embrace purpose. Work like “Changing the Game” for Microsoft’s adaptive Xbox controller. Or the work from Adidas, “Here to Create Change,” by my colleagues from TBWA\Chiat\Day, won big. The other thing is that the cases are packaged better than ever before. It is almost like Hollywood trailers. That means it will, looking at the quality of the winning cases, become tougher to win big in Cannes.
Did you come back with renewed inspiration? Of do you get inspiration for your work from things other than advertising?
Seeing the work gets me inspired, for sure. Not only the work but also the people behind the work. I know a lot of people in the industry, which means my timeline is annoyingly filled with big winners. That also means, each and every year, that it is frustrating and inspiring at the same time. It is a competition and you can’t always win big but you want to be part of the world’s best work. The other thing is: How do you inspire the whole agency and not only the people that go to Cannes? A week after Cannes, we always organise our own Cannes Festival party in and around the office. We get speakers in, drink lots of rosé with French Riviera food and some DJs playing summer tunes. But I also always take the agency through the best work I’ve seen. One of my CDs that was a juror this year takes them through some of the work from his category, and one of the Young Dogs that went showed the agency his point of view, that of a young creative.
What struck you most about Cannes Lions this year?
The fact that our global client, Apple, was named Creative Marketer of the Year, a prize the brand hadn’t won until now – despite its impact on advertising over the decades. The award comes after last year’s remarkable showing at Cannes Lions. The brand’s in-store retail workshop program, “Today at Apple,” took two major prizes, the Grand Prix for Brand Experience and the Titanium Lion. And, of course, Apple’s Spike Jonze-directed “Welcome Home” film won the Entertainment Lion for Music Grand Prix. The brand won 22 other Lions across 10 different campaigns in 2018 alone.
Your own personal haul numbers over 200 awards from all major festivals, including a Grand Prix in Cannes. How important are these industry awards to you and TBWA Amsterdam in general?
It’s a good question because not every client thinks of it as that important, although we try to inspire them by showing them the same work that we share with our office. I think you always have a local context and a global perspective, meaning that I’m part of the global creative core within TBWA, where we always look at the work with the mindset of bringing the whole collective further. And, on the other hand, I’m CCO of TBWA\Neboko, meaning we are a Dutch affiliate of the company. Some 85 per cent of our business is for the Dutch market. Last year, we won two Silver Lions for Albert Heijn, the biggest supermarket chain in the Netherlands. I thought that was epic because they are our biggest client and they never won a Lion, but for them it’s just nice to have – because day-to-day business is more important than the recognition given to some creative work.
How did you guys (TBWA\Neboko) score this year?
We won 16 Lions over the last two years but this year – BAM! – back to reality. Only shortlists. We were so much focusing on the business that we did not put enough work into the case studies. And, because of some big pitches, we did not have groundbreaking enough work that cuts through in Cannes. Plus, some of our work that wins big in the Netherlands is too cultural to turn it into an international case study. But, then again, not taking home Lions creates more hunger for next year. We’ve been working on a huge project for two years now that will be out in November. So, next year, we are going to have some work that I have high hopes for.
What are the campaigns you created over the years that you’re proudest of?
“Why wait…?” for DELA funeral insurances was showered with awards but it was also something special because the original brief was to make a film about the company’s 75th anniversary. Instead of that, we made a campaign which truly shows how DELA cares – rather than just saying it. That’s how we engaged people to make the most beautiful speech while their loved ones are still alive – instead of when someone has already passed away. Suddenly, this was the most talked-about campaign on a topic no one likes to talk about: death. And DELA got way more attention than just telling a story about themselves.
But I also have to say that the past few years at TBWA\Neboko have been a great journey. The work we do for McDonald’s is always among the best work over here. If you look at the Maestro campaign, that also won Lions. That kickstarted a new kind of advertising for the brand.
We do a lot of format-driven content that has grown our business. Creatively, and in terms of production-wise thinking, that is like making series instead of a few commercials or online videos. Our whole production unit, Vidiboko, is driven on building formats. I’m proud of the fact that, with these kinds of initiatives, we are disrupting the production model and way of working. If you look at “Sjoerd,” the Down Syndrome kid that is Albert Heijn’s perfect vlogger, we now have 60 episodes.
The state lottery was always quite boring, but after we won the pitch two years ago we managed to flip it – and it is now one of the coolest brands in the Netherlands. The story of the little ugly dog Frekkel was the talk of the town during December 2018 and won all the awards in our country. Unfortunately, it did not win at Cannes.
Is there anyone you have met that you particularly admired, or who was a kind of mentor to you?
My ten years’ time at Ogilvy gave me the chance to meet great people, and some of them are still good friends. I think we always encouraged and mentored each other with all the sessions we had together. That’s why the agency was network of the year for six straight years. Tham Kai Meng is still a friend of mine and, of course, also Chris Garbutt, who is now our global CCO, with whom my friendship started back at Ogilvy years ago. When I joined TBWA, he said to me, “Darre, let’s build a group of friends that one day can look back and say: ‘We’ve created a new kind of TBWA.’” New friendships have been born and we are staying true to that belief by coming together a few times a year for inspiration and to shape the work and help each other out.
You’ve been Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\Neboko since January 2016. You are also part of TBWA’s Global Creative Core, the agency’s leadership group responsible for executing its “disruption” ethos across the entire company. The first time, as I heard, was while you were still at Paris agency BDDP. Can you tell us a bit about the difference between Disruption 1992 and Disruption 2019?
Disruption is still very relevant today. Jean Marie Dru just released his seventh book about it, celebrating Disruptive Leaders across the world. We used to focus on breaking category conventions, aiming at long-term brand and communication disruptions. Through the years, we’ve been adding products, services and business to the scope. We’ve developed tools for disruptive innovation. And, over the past 5 years, culture has become our source of inspiration for the Disruption practice, locating and engaging brands in their cultural context. Not just with a long-term perspective but also at the speed of culture – what we call Disruption Live. More than it being just a philosophy, therefore, we see it as a dynamic and practical methodology that we use across the globe as our shared language.
Has “disruption” gained in relevance since the advent of digital media?
I think it has. Because, since digital, more rubbish has been thrown at us. The fight for attention has become bigger than even before. With every post, tag, share, etc., more competition is out there. Brands are competing with culture, not only with brands, and everything in culture is craving for attention. Brands have to be more disruptive than ever before, otherwise you get skipped in the blink of an eye, or – worse – people tell you what they think of you and the whole world can read it.
Who is Darius Dante, your alter ego?
Darre is my nickname. Darius Dante is my real name, the one that I use for my music side. I have my own little studio and used to make records myself but, today, I write and produce mainly music for our own advertising projects. I love making music and that’s why a lot of our work is also awarded in music categories. I produced and sang “The Choice Is Yours’ for Coke that is currently on Ubisoft’s “Just Dance.” That game sold over 80 million copies. Very funny being featured as an unknown singer between Beyoncé and Rihanna.
I’m planning to release some new stuff myself. And, in addition to my advertising career, I am also co-founder of a new record company for young hip-hop artists, Fully Charged Music Group, so lots of music projects to keep me going.
I read you were at Ogilvy Amsterdam for ten years before joining TBWA? Did you still meet Krijn van Noordwijk, or did he start out on his own before you arrived there?
Krijn was gone before I joined. He left to become a full-time director and photographer. But there is another story worth sharing: Bart Kuiper, one of our iconic creative leaders who is now 73, was doing amazing work in the 80s at Ogilvy. Although he was already retired, he gave us a call two years ago, saying he wanted to do an internship at our agency to learn about today’s digital technologies. What made it special for me was that we both led Ogilvy in different eras. I shared my office with him. He still helps us out sometimes.
Would you tell young people this is a good time now to get into advertising, or do you have any other advice for those just starting out in the business?
I think this is the most interesting time ever. We need different kinds of creatives – from YouTubers to music-driven creatives. We need storytellers that understand what it takes to disrupt. And, more importantly, young creatives are born in an era of digital tools.
This is their territory, so let digital not be the idea – what we need are creatives that bring ideas made for digital, that find a way to master storytelling in these landscapes. The world is more fragmented than ever before – so we need new heroes that can nail it.