WORLD: ANALYSIS - Bakker thinks outside ads to tackle Dutch brand problems

Joeri Bakker takes the view an ad isn't always the right answer, Robert Heeg writes.

The Dutch owe Joeri Bakker. He provided them with a cow on their milk cartons, buried executives in giant bean bags and helped Grolsch launch a brand new beer.

Bakker, the creative director at the Amsterdam advertising agency Only, is convinced that an ad is not always the solution to a communications problem. Nothing new there. His theories, however, sometimes puzzle clients and colleagues.

"You see that cow on the milk carton?" Bakker asks during lunch in Only's silver conference room, in Amsterdam's restored Olympic Stadium. Indeed, on the packaging there is the familiar sight of a cow grazing the flat Dutch pastures.

The image was not that familiar 12 years ago, Bakker assures us. That's when he persuaded the milk company Melkunie (now Campina) to put a cow on the carton. "At first, Melkunie thought a cow was a dirty animal nobody wanted to see," he says. Nowadays, it's hard to imagine its product without a picture of its origins.

Bakker's unorthodox approach stems from his background as a conceptual artist, writer and director of children's programmes for Dutch TV. Before founding Only, he worked for a range of advertising agencies including N&W/Leo Burnett, O&M and PPGH/JWT. He spent most time at FHV/BBDO where he was a creative director and partner. Tired of being nothing more than a good copywriter, he decided to launch his own agency.

When Grolsch approached FHV/BBDO in 1997 requesting a concept to celebrate 100 years of its swingtop bottle, Bakker applied his "beyond ads" theory.

Instead of a campaign, he suggested Grolsch brew six new lagers during the jubilee year. The strongest one, Het Kanon, became such a success, Grolsch added it to its regular range.

"Every industry deals with creativity problems," Bakker explains. "Often, these have nothing to do with communication, and everything to do with the brand, or with the product itself."

Soon after its launch on 1 January 1999, Only began winning accounts such as Mexx fashion, ING Bank and Universal Music. Bakker founded the agency with his creative partner, the art director Harry Puts, and a managing partner, Michael van Kerkwijk. The strategy partner, Marcel Rijkenberg, joined two years ago.

Bakker and his team's approach dazzled the Dutch advertising world and the clients. "Here at Only, we love digging inside the actual product, trying to figure it out. It takes a while before we even look at the advertising aspects of it. Everything is communication: what you wear, the things you say. We look beyond the confined advertisement spaces," Bakker explains.

During the dotcom explosion, the IT company Syntonic wanted to communicate its new mission statement. Looking inside the company first, Bakker took the several hundred employees on a five-month course on self-expression.

Another dotcom hopeful - the incubator Newconomy - wanted to show potential investors it was truly guiding them to a new economy. Only fabricated a mysterious but ubiquitous campaign, that proved Newconomy's powerful presence.

But Bakker and cohorts also refurbished the interior of Newconomy's head office. They included giant bean bags, with the purpose of making the "old" economy's visiting executives feel smaller and less important.

Those days are over, Bakker realises. The old economy crawled up from its bean bag and such long- term, involved projects are rare in these lean times. But there are still plenty of opportunities for Amsterdam's bad boys of advertising. Their latest project is for the Dutch Salvation Army. In order to rejuvenate its image and to promote the charity's traditional intake of used clothes, Bakker and Puts developed an exclusive Salvation Army fashion line, made of used garments, sewed together to create new outfits, hence the name 50/50 for the line.

This month the department store De Bijenkorf launches 50/50 with a fashion show.

Bakker is the chairman of the Dutch Art Director's Club. In 2002 he joined the print jury at the Cannes Lions Festival.

Earlier this year he was invited to judge his fellow creatives at the Kinsale advertising festival. There, he gave a presentation of what Only stands for. His presentation featured just one ad. "Sometimes it's easy to forget that we are an advertising agency at all," he states. "I love getting involved with the actual product, and all the other aspects of putting a brand on the map. That's difficult sometimes, because our industry is very much divided into specialists. I don't believe in that."

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