To find the creative heart of the advertising business, we should
look to Amsterdam. Holland’s culture affords nearly perfect conditions
Let’s start at the beginning. The Dutch are ingenious because they had
to be; the polder system of reclaiming land from the sea required hard
work and engineering inventiveness unmatched in the rest of the
Combating low sea-levels concentrated the minds of the Dutch, matching
their religious discipline and engendering an outward-looking
From the beginning, the Dutch mastered the sea, first with dikes and
then on the oceans.
Thus the Netherlands opened itself to influences from abroad and became
the most prosperous trading nation in the 17th century. When Holland
prospered commercially, so did the arts. Outbursts of intense creativity
from Holland become commonplace during periods of prosperity, and the
ability to absorb influences and put a Dutch spin on them have made the
country a creative hotbed.
The Dutch have a barbed sense of humour, based partly on the closeness
of their culture to the English. Like the English, Dutch reserve is the
font of ironic stories, told with long-winded wordplay or visual
And that is where they excel in advertising today. Arresting visual
storytelling is becoming a Dutch advertising trademark - although the
Dutch also excel at language skills. Dutch advertising can be wordy and
colloquial - as English work can be - but this type of creative
expression doesn’t play well out of Holland, and so the adaptable Dutch
have focused on visual international advertising.
Agencies in Holland earn good margins, offer integrated communications
as standard, have institutionalised planning better than any other
European market - and display a brazen confidence in their own
excellence. And this results in brave work. Perhaps that’s why Wieden
and Kennedy has Amsterdam as its European office base.
The Dutch are now spreading their wings; the directors, Allan van Rhijn,
Paul Meijer and Will van der Vlugt, and the businessmen, Johan Hofstra
and Albert Winninghoff, are all international players. Don’t take my
word for it; look at the reels of DDB, PPGH/JWT, FHV/BBDO, Lowe Kuiper
and Schouten and the ’third wave’ agencies emerging. Creatively, the
Dutch are red hot.
Richard Block is the regional planning director, Europe, the Middle East
and Africa, of J. Walter Thompson.