Whether through the work he has created over the years for New York agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB, or Deutsch, or the campaign he came up with for Lürzer’s Archive itself, there has barely been a year in which Menno’s work has not featured prominently in our publication. So editor Michael Weinzettl decided it was time to chat to the multiple winner of Gold Lions (as well as numerous other awards) and, as of June 2017, NA CCO at the 360i agency, about his brilliant career in the US, one that has now lasted for much longer than originally planned.
Hi Menno, we at Lürzer’s Archive have known you for more than 12 years now. You won the very first Lürzer’s Archive Student of the Year Award in 2005. Since then, a total of 40 print campaigns of yours have featured in the magazine. You’ve worked at various US agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, Y&R, and DDB. Can you give us an overview of what happened since you arrived in the US?
My career has always been in the US, and I have always loved
being here. The short story is I have always sought out people that I wanted to work with. So, for instance, when Tony Granger moved from
Saatchi & Saatchi to Y&R, it was more or less a given that I would come along. From Y&R I went to work for Matt Eastwood. I knew him previously through Sarah Barclay. Over the years, I had come to realize how similar Matt and I are in how we approach things. That was the very simple reason I wanted to join.
During my time at DDB, I would walk over to his office plenty of times to share thoughts or ideas that I thought were great, and often he would immediately reply: “Yes, I already did that ten minutes ago.” I would walk off impressed with Matt and angry at myself for being so slow. When Kerry Keenan joined Deutsch, we started talking and that was that. Most of the moves I have made during my career I have done with people that I have known for years.
Why did you leave Europe for New York in the first place? Do you consider yourself a real New Yorker by now?
I left for New York because I thought that an internship in New York would get me a job back in Europe. That is the truth. I even chose Saatchi & Saatchi because the name really meant something back home in Europe. I love New York and I am most comfortable here but, strangely enough, not sure if I see myself as a true New Yorker. I am too European for that, I think, but maybe I have become one and don’t even recognize it myself!
Can you tell us a bit about your early days? You’re from the Netherlands originally, right? Was advertising something you wanted to get into at an early age? Do you remember seeing the work of Paul Meijer and Karel Beyen back in the 1990s? Or what made you want to get into advertising via Miami Ad School?
Correct, I am Dutch. Of course, I remember seeing the amazing work by Paul Meijer and Karel Beyen. Dutch advertising was among the best in the world back then.
Another Dutch creative that truly inspired me to get into advertising was Jaap Toorenaar. He created some of the all-time most favorite commercials from that era. I saw him speak once, because he was pitching the creative account for my university back then. Already at that point I was friends with the marketing communications department, although I really had no business being there. But they asked me to sit in on the pitch from the client side to get the student perspective. Jaap was with TBWA then and, honestly, his presentation is something that is still with me. He presented as himself, he presented smart ideas, and had a clear vision of what he wanted. Articulate and thoughtful.
On his portfolio site now he features some of the classic lines he wrote that have become part of Dutch culture. No massive award list, no fancy case studies. What’s most prominently featured on his website are the words that everybody in the Netherlands knows. A true copywriter. That notion, to create things that become part of culture, and the pride that comes with creating something which consumers see and remember, was the drive for me to get into this industry.
Who are some of the creatives that you’ve met over the course of your career that impressed you most?
Tony Granger and Matt Eastwood had the biggest impact on my career. Tony was my first CCO and I learned so much from him; that experience has had an impact on me until the present day. What he did, I try to do now every day. I often think back to the times at Saatchi & Saatchi with such fond memories. Also working together with Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico back then, who shaped me from a conceptual point of view and from an executional crafting perspective. I would eagerly wait outside their office to show them my work and hope that they liked it. The work they do now at their agency, Johannes Leonardo, still really reflects that mindset of conceptual excellence that is carried all the way through with executional excellence. It’s something I still very much admire. I loved discussing work with them and my team partner from that time, Icaro Doria.
Matt Eastwood is now the global CCO for JWT and I learned a lot from him as well. We worked together at DDB in NY. He really knows what he is doing. Very methodical, very eloquent, and he has the track record to prove it all. Within no time we were doing things that were getting noticed and we were winning more than the agency had done in a long time.
A creative that also really influenced me early on was Martin Roedolf, a Dutch graphic designer. He is not a famous advertising guy and I don’t think he wants to be, but he lives a truly creative life. Making, creating, throwing parties, doing whatever he feels like. Just being around him inspired me to think more creatively, act more decisively and, most of all, to not be afraid of what people may think of your work. Martin was a baker originally so he didn’t really have the restraints that most creatives have; he makes whatever he feels like, he says whatever he wants to.
Can you tell us about the changes in advertising, particularly in the US, that you’ve experienced over the past 15 years? What are some of the developments in recent years that you find either alarming/dangerous or, perhaps, encouraging?
For us at 360i, change is always great. It’s our offering: Knowing how to deal with it, how to adjust, how to set up and run client brands in a way that makes sense creatively and financially. Change is always exciting because it comes with a discovery phase, a grey area phase, and a phase where the clients still truly need us to help them adjust and capitalize on what’s new and what’s next. When you think back to even the early 60s, Helmut Krone basically dedicated his art direction life to finding “the New Page.” To reinvent the way a page looked and he did that by accumulating skills and styles from other creative fields like editorial design. If creatives are not embracing the new, I would be inclined to argue that they are potentially not that creative. The most legendary creatives in art and advertising are the ones that pushed everything forward. The ones that were brave enough to venture out into the unknown rather than complain that the new unknown exists and how it’s ruining the party they thought they were having.
Please tell us a bit about 360i, the agency you joined some months ago as CCO. It’s quite a new agency, isn’t it?
Its relatively new. It started in the late 90s and has continued to grow from there. The leadership is incredible and they are honestly some of the smartest people that I have encountered in my career so far. They understand business, they understand their clients’ business, and they understand the fast-evolving consumer landscape. The thing that still blows my mind, even after a couple of months in, is the impressive client list: HBO, Champion, NOLA, Coca-Cola, Oreo, Jameson, Nespresso, Absolut, MINI, Nestlé, Perrier, Nat Geo, Canon ... the list goes on and on.
In what way does it differ from the big network agencies you worked at before? What’s the philosophy there, what’s the agency culture like?
We operate under the notion of helping brands to capitalize on change. It’s truly why I believe 360i is winning and will continue to grow and succeed. The difference in energy is noticeable. More assignments flowing through, and more opportunities from clients that are asking you to show them something new and different, which isn’t always the case at some other shops.
What is the work or projects in your career you’re proudest of? Is it the one that won you all those Lions at Cannes?
Actually, I tend to love the projects that were the best life experiences. The projects that are truly memorable are the ones that you think back to and remember the people you worked with and the great time you had. For instance, I’m traveling to Toronto right now and can’t help but remember the Glide pig we put in between two buildings there. It didn’t win many awards, but I think back to the road trip we took to get there with the producer and the team. We visited Niagara Falls on the way up and drove long into the night to make it there on time. Then spending the next few days in midwinter, shooting on brutally cold days.
I think of the #FirstWorldProblems project we did with WATERisLIFE. Traveling to Haiti in an ancient D2 propeller airplane. Literally having to get out of the airplane to push the tail and turn the plane around. Sleeping in tents and drilling the wells for water at the same time that we were shooting.
I think back to shooting on top of the World Trade Center for New York City Ballet when the tower was still a construction site. Being up there at sunrise, at such an incredibly powerful and emotional place. Laying the floor for the dancers, working with Christopher Wheeldon, and being truly awestruck by the grace and ability of the dancers.
These projects were all so memorable for me personally, but they all also struck a chord in culture.
What is your take on ad festivals? Are there too many awards nowadays? What are the ones that still matter to you?
I like the shows and why not? It’s fun to go to Cannes every year and see the work. This year, I was on the One Show jury and it was great to discuss work with all the other jury members in lovely Bermuda. D&AD is one of the most important shows for me personally. It’s incredibly competitive, so the win there feels hugely rewarding. I was lucky enough to judge multiple categories one year. It was the year there was a volcanic eruption in Iceland and the smoke prevented a lot of air travel, causing many jury members to cancel their trips. I was already there and happily stepped into their roles!
What are your ideas on the rise and fall of creativity in agencies? What do you think is responsible for the change in the (creative) fortunes of agencies? What, to you, are creativity killers?
It all comes down to individuals. It’s actually what I truly love about advertising. The one person that has the right mindset, the right skill set, the right goal, can truly have an impact on the entire creative output of the organization. It’s the individuals that make the agencies great.
You’re still in touch with – or even active at – Miami Ad School, and you recently given a much-applauded lecture there. What do you tell the students? What advice do you generally give to young people starting out in the ad business?
Know what the goal is, know where you want to be 10 years from now, know who you want to emulate. Think about why some things are the way they are. Advertising is not hard if you are willing to take a good look at how it’s done. Other than that, make the job of your boss easier and you will do fine.
You’ve had such a remarkable career in advertising.
Have you ever thought about doing anything else? And what would that be?
If that could be anything, the dream would be to be like the Mugrabi family, who specialize in the mass collection of Warhol work. I would specialize in Kaws. A warehouse filled with art by Kaws is the dream. If the alternative career has to be based in reality, it would still be something related to art. I think I am good at discovering talent and that is something I would put to use. Maybe open a gallery with emerging artists.
What inspires you? What was the most inspiring thing you have seen or done recently?
Chinese contemporary art inspires me. The work is truly representative of everything creatives should be. They are masters of conceptual thinking and true masters in execution. That, plus pure dedication to their craft. A project like Sky Ladder from Cai Guo-Qiang is the ultimate. Something so poetic, so exciting and complex to pull off, must truly be rewarding as a creative individual. All that effort for just a brief moment of creative fulfillment. Amazing.