Roundtable Discussion - Trading on great brand stories

Our experts joined Campaign in Amsterdam to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing clients and why the city's creative businesses are particularly well placed to face up to them.

If Campaign's first Adland in Amsterdam roundtable debate is anything to go by, the claims made on behalf of the city, its people and its advertising community are true. Agencies in the city are getting more international briefs and business. The debate below shows why they think so, why they are particularly well-placed to produce advertising that resonates in many different markets and why more brands and businesses should look to the city for answers.


Sandra Krstic, deputy managing partner, Tribal DDB Amsterdam: Consumers expect brands to be more authentic and also to be what they say they are. Consumers can get to that core (message) pretty quickly through the amount of channels of media at their disposal. If you aren't an authentic brand that stands for something and add a certain value then you will be obsolete.

Stein Janssen, head of strategy, BSUR Group: More and more people are finding that if you don't help or make life easier, better or more interesting, they don't want to be involved with you. It's either "help me, or inspire me" by showing me "what you are and what you are facing", rather than what your philosophies (as a brand) are.

Al Moseley, executive creative director, 180 Amsterdam: Consumers now say "we have lived in a very irresponsible world", and they want their brands to be responsible. What was considered corporate social responsibility, maybe a few years ago, is now being pulled into the mainstream, and people are responding to that.

Alex Bennett-Grant, managing director, We Are Pi: When we started WE ARE Pi, we had a real belief of sustainability and "green" and "share" values were the number-one things brands had to prioritise. We realised quickly that it's not as simple as that with sustainability, or about being green or good; it's a combination of that and the social behaviour of customers. This behaviour, like collaborative consumption, is where the brands start to become more human and start to become better.

Kerrie Finch, chief executive, FinchFactor: We, as consumers, can interact with brands. Ten years ago, you couldn't lie in bed and book a Greenwheels car for an hour or two, Tweet your friends that you've just done it and then post a picture of yourself booking - from your bed - that car. It's transparent. The walls are down - that's why we have so many issues with privacy and so forth. I think it's a great opportunity that brands are springing up (to take advantage of this).


Victor Knaap, chief executive, MediaMonks: In the past two years, we have seen a lot of social, and in every brief (we receive) there is a social component. Mobile is the next big thing - it has been for ten years, but now we actually see the numbers in campaigns start to match the talk. Mobile seems to be more about platform and less about campaign, so mobile tends to be a piece of technology where you need to add value for people to use it.

Chris Baylis, executive creative director, Tribal DDB Amsterdam: Mobile is where the internet was 12 years ago. Now it's " we need an app", but no-one has figured out what the brand role is in that. I've got 50 apps on my mobile; I probably use five. Brands have to figure out what their role is, and what their strategy is to be on that platform.


Remco Marinus, creative director, Lemz: We are here to help clients rediscover themselves. Can any brand make this change? I think some can't, but I think a lot of them can - like the guy from Airbnb who showed that it has found something in consumers' lives that can be really relevant to them and that they can connect with; suddenly, they can use their 20 years of experience and reuse it again to find this purpose. It can be in a great old ad that they want to make, or the chief executive making it in a Christmas speech: "That's what we're about and that's what we want to emphasise, so we can make meaning in consumers lives again."

Bennett-Grant: Competition can come from anywhere. The fun thing about this is there are loads of companies that don't need agencies; Spotify, Facebook, they never use them. The interesting thing is when you take some of the principles of advertising, storytelling and meaning and apply them to business, you know that about 50 per cent of what we do is applying that storytelling, which is vital as any proposition or insight into the business.

Marinus: I think of how fast clients are able to adapt to the changing world, and being upward-facing rather than inward-facing, continuing with whatever they have been doing for x-years, and I guess that's the reason why lots of these smaller ventures are more successful, because they don't have to deal with organisational silos.

Knaap: Brands have to make sure they connect in the right way to all the different platforms they're using. New platforms are increasingly fast, so we have less time to adapt to a different system. We (as an agency) have to adapt this idea on 15 different platforms that are constantly changing, and they all need to be connected to each other, so that is our biggest challenge. User experience needs to be really simple - everybody has to navigate really easily through their apps or their online experience - but the back-end is getting increasingly more complex. With all these different mediums, and all these different ways we talk to consumers, it is even more important that brands know what it is about. It is time to find that authentic storytelling, and it has never been so important - when you talk about how they are all connected - that the message is consistent.

Bennett-Grant: Two of our biggest clients - Lego and TED - both just tell stories. TED is almost a reverse business model. Everyone looks at it as a nice platform where everyone is sharing. Obviously, every TED-Talk is a story, otherwise its not good TED-Talk, but underneath that is an organisation, a global infrastructure. On the flip side, Lego's business grows purely on storytelling; it doesn't grow because they invent new bricks. In fact, it failed because it invented too many bricks and then went back to storytelling.

Jan Rijkenberg, chief executive, BSUR Group: This year, the 2012 London Olympics got it right. It was authentic and it wasn't a nationalist, showboating endeavour. It was something that was really very honest and authentic. For me, that has been the standout brand in the past few months.


Jane Zoutendijk, foreign investment manager, Amsterdam in Business: There are around 180 different nationalities (in the city). There is a big exchange of cultures and experiences, and I think that really helps companies come up with different ideas, campaigns and views on how to make contact with the consumer. Everyone is well connected, and it is very easy for everyone to find each other to share experiences and information.

Janssen: I also think it's the people; it's quite a clever city; 44 per cent of people in Amsterdam have been in higher education. We work for the Netherlands Board of Tourism promoting Holland and we market our core brand value: open-mindedness. This stems from the fact that the people have always had the outward view - but also quite a down-to-earth view. We are not too arrogant; we are more or less pragmatic - people can call it rude - but we also build bridges between cultures and between clients and agencies. The city itself has more than 1,200 bridges!

Rijkenberg: I would summarise it as mental agility - I think it has a lot do to with that. That's what we are: flexible. We were trading all over the world, for hundreds of years, and we were very optimistic traders. Why is Amsterdam a good city in this era? As agencies, we have to do so many things at the same time, and I think the people in cities such as Amsterdam and Stockholm were never made lazy by big budgets. We always had to get the most out of small budgets. That is why we developed a kind of business creativity, and that is now in the DNA of many agencies here. Amsterdam is the Silicon Valley equivalent for creative advertising. Amsterdam's talent is storytelling. It's driven from Latin America, China etc, but it's about coming to Amsterdam and having your own niche cultural stories to tell. I think the incredible pull, and main difference between here and London, is the amazing pool of individuals. And everyone in this room has met each other due to the size of the city.

Finch: The creative and design history here results in a creative pool like no other. The Dutch speak English, and there is a wealth of cultures working in an international business. This is not the same as in London, and changes the way work is produced.


Wesley ter Haar, chief operating officer, MediaMonks: Something that is unique to Amsterdam is that we have a certain stubbornness to not listen to others and do our own thing. If you look at how that translates to media and marketing, we have done everything different. When it comes to digital production, we just don't think people know better than what we do. I think it is a local trait. We have a very loyal workforce, people aren't (just) "resources" and you have loyalty to your workplace and your colleagues.

Baylis: For clients and anyone in agencies, I say take the opportunity to work abroad - it gives you a whole new global perspective. We hire a lot of freelancers locally, from the US and from London. I would say the most local thinking is from London at the moment - which is quite worrying - whereas the more international thinking is coming from other countries, especially from people who have relocated. I think a lot of agencies around this table are stubborn enough and creative enough to really help brands make sense again. We need to get in touch with the consumers again, and I think Amsterdam is a great place for that because of the talent pool, the mentality, the stubbornness and the creativity of the people. I think that is why it is a great place for brands to come and for creatives to work.

Knaap: Brands and agencies need to try out new stuff quickly instead of over-thinking ideas. Build prototypes, try it out on consumers and see how they react - trial and error.

Ter Haar: I don't like error. Trial and succeed.

Moseley: Other cities say they are multicultural where different cultures come together. Actually, I think there are lots of divisions in those cities, whereas Amsterdam has this very clear melting pot. I think we are all a kind of "thinking-tank" of these different cultures, and it explodes to create a broader cultural horizon. That is what the place is about, and I think that is why it has been interesting today.

To read more about the debate and watch video of our Adland in Amsterdam experts in conversation, please visit


180 Amsterdam
Al Moseley executive creative director

BSUR Group
Jan Rijkenberg chief executive
Stein Janssen head of strategy

Kerrie Finch chief executive

Remco Marinus creative director

Victor Knaap chief executive
Wesley ter Haar chief operating officer

Tribal DDB Amsterdam
Sandra Krstic deputy managing partner
Chris Baylis executive creative director

We Are Pi
Alex Bennett-Grant managing director

Amsterdam in Business
Jane Zoutendijk foreign investment manager

Philip Smith head of content solutions
Suzanne Bidlake consultant editor