When gezellig means giving brands a human voice

The Dutch word gezellig, though a mouthful and close to unpronounceable (heh-SELL-ick) by all but the natives, aptly describes what it's like to live and work within Amsterdam's ad scene.

With no direct English translation, gezellig can best be described as the relaxed feeling that comes from general togetherness. It’s the very humanity the word embodies that is key to Amsterdam’s creativity.

While we cast the occasional eye on the competition in, say, London or New York, there’s something freeing about the distance from these places. It forces you to define and trust in your own culture.
This frees us up to look for inspiration from other sources, and especially from each other, without the inhibiting effects of endless referral and worry about what our neighbours are up to.

After all, the city is one of the first and best examples of urban planning done on a distinctly human scale, still in use 400 years after the famous canal rings were dug. The same canals that allowed trade and a free exchange of ideas to flourish are now home to a wealth of advertising agencies, both native and transplanted, producing and exporting work that moves consumers, awards juries and brands’ fortunes alike. 

Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam has been part of the community here for 21 years. Our talent comes from all over the world for a chance to do  great work. However, these people bring more than ambition. They come with different perspectives, attitudes, cultural traditions, interests, hobbies, idiosyncrasies, foibles and peccadilloes, which turn the agency into a crucible of inspiration. And, when you chuck in our independent operating structure and distinct DNA, it makes for a heady mix. 

When we get it right, the creative work that emerges gives brands a human voice that moves people more profoundly than any ad campaign.  Dan Wieden said it best: "Nike didn’t discover the power of advertising, Nike discovered the power of their own voice."

Nike’s creativity continues to inspire, whether it’s developing a big idea such as "write the future" for an event with the scale of the World Cup or inspiring young people to move – as our recent work for Turkey showed (the "made by movement" campaign, created by a human printing press
of sorts).

The innate humanity, which I think is a hallmark of Amsterdam and W&K’s best work, also has an impact on the client/agency relationship.  The relationship we strive for is characteristically human too – we’d rather talk to each other as people than follow strict hierarchies or protocol.

If you’re constantly waiting to receive feedback rather than having a genuine debate over the creative work, then the relationship isn’t functioning as it ought to. The frankness and candour (qualities revered by the Dutch) that come from familiarity and trust can go a very long way to getting effective work into the marketplace. 

‘We share the Dutch openness to new ideas, which has served us well as we’ve built an enviable client roster’

Booking.com, one of our newest relationships, is a great example of a modern and gezellig client/agency team. A digital-era company, just 17 years old, Booking.com has only recently started to use communications to build its brand.

Its dealings with W&K are therefore refreshingly free of the baggage and bad habits learned over the past 50 years of the agency/brand management relationship.  The ease with which communication happens within the Booking.com and W&K teams – really, extensions of each other – has been instrumental in us moving as fast as Booking.com’s business. For instance, in just 18 weeks, the team went from pitching the business to launching work in the US (a big bet for the brand). And the work is working. 

W&K is fortunate that our first international venture was to open our doors in Amsterdam. We share the Dutch openness to new ideas, which has served us well as we’ve built an enviable client roster full of opportunity for our people to make outstanding creative that works all over the world. 

In turn, the people who have passed through our doors have been inspired to help build other agencies, cementing Amsterdam’s reputation as a centre for creativity. 

We look forward to what new ideas lie around the next bend of the canal in this distinctly gezellig city.


Clay Mills is the managing director of Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam

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