Campaign Craft: Profile - Coca-Cola creative masters Dutch office politics

Wieden and Kennedy’s HQ is laid-back in a dynamic sort of way. By Emma Hall.

Wieden and Kennedy’s HQ is laid-back in a dynamic sort of way. By

Emma Hall.

A powerful BMW, driven by an equally well-built Dutchman, speeds its way

from Schiphol airport to the centre of Amsterdam as if wasted seconds

could cost lives.

But car and driver are simply transporting a Campaign reporter on her

way to Wieden and Kennedy’s European headquarters. And, when I get

there, I am left reading for half an hour.

This odd mixture of mad dynamism and easy-going calm characterises the

workings of the agency as a whole. On a tour round the creative

department, almost all the desks are empty, even though the creative

proposals for Coca-Cola’s World Cup ’97 campaign must be presented to

the client within the week.

It turns out that some of the creatives are at home, recuperating from a

transatlantic flight before coming into the office. Another cluster are

poring over work in the basement, while yet more are discussing their

labours over lunch.

Jon Matthews is the creative director responsible for the agency’s

output across the Continent, from Portugal to Eastern Europe. He is also

in charge of putting together the right combinations of writers and art

directors to work on all the projects that come in from the agency’s

clients including Nike, Coca-Cola and Microsoft.

Matthews describes the environment: ’It is like being shipwrecked. You

end up eating each other or ploughing the fields together to provide


So far, the land has proved pretty fertile. There was last year’s ’good

versus evil’ spot for Nike, which featured a team of the world’s top

footballers taking on (and beating) the forces of evil in a

gladiatorial-style combat.

And, for Euro 96, Wieden and Kennedy Amsterdam took Coca-Cola into the

heart of football, with Matthews’ inspired line: ’Eat football. Sleep

football. Drink Coca-Cola.’

On their own, the snappy line and the shots of football fans weren’t

enough to convince the Coke bosses that they had a strong campaign in

the making. Matthews knew that the right music would make the difference

and found it in Amsterdam’s largest record store - a track by the band,

Collapsed Lung.

The campaign has been adapted across Europe and South America, with

variations appropriate to different languages and cultures, Predictably,

bikini-clad female fans were included for the South American cuts.

While Wieden and Kennedy creatives may miss out on the glory of pointing

out every last bit of their work to friends and family in their home

countries, Matthews points out: ’I would rather impress my mother with a

phone call from Barcelona where I’m working on a job she’ll never see,

than be boasting that I created the tedious soap-powder spot she sees

every day.’

Matthews and his colleagues travel across Europe on ’cultural immersion’

trips. Major European sporting events attract a posse from Wieden and

Kennedy, and shoots and client meetings demand an exhausting


So how do you get to be the creative director of Wieden and Kennedy


As a rather unconventional first step, Matthews became a computer

salesman in rural Wales during the miners’ strike. It left him with a

thick skin and a sales patter that reached for the impossible. Next, he

moved to Unilever, where he became involved with the company’s

advertising and its agency, J. Walter Thompson.

He must have been a nightmare client because he almost always thought he

could do better than the agency. At last he got the chance to prove he

was right when he got a job as a copywriter at JWT and, soon afterwards,

moved to Collett Dickenson Pearce.

Matthews later joined BMP DDB Needham, and from there worked on the

Volkswagen business in New York. He lost his job when the US agency

concerned lost the account, but was soon working as a freelance for

Wieden and Kennedy Amsterdam. Less than two years later, he is the

agency’s sole creative director. A joint creative director is being

recruited to replace his previous partner who, rather romantically, ran

off with an Italian client.

Matthews is at the heart of the agency’s ’hub and spoke’ system, where

satellite offices form the ’spokes’ around Europe, the ’hub’ of which is


Matthews proves pan-European advertising doesn’t have to be bland

nonsense that appeals only to the lowest common denominator. He shows

that it is possible to come up with ads that achieve the opposite, that

appeal to Matthews’ ideal audience, the ’highest common multiple’.