Ad Chat: Bo Hellberg - ECD at Brave and Billington Cartmell

Next in the hot seat is Bo Hellberg, who like a modern Swedish viking has gone on expeditions all around the world. Hellberg has just accepted the position as ECD at Brave and Billington Cartmell, he spent two years at Megalo & Company in France. Previously he was creative director at DDB and the executive creative director of Tribal DDB, also in Paris, and before that you could find him in the team behind the first 'Campaign for Real Beauty' for Dove when he was creative director at Ogilvy London.

db: What was the trigger that lead you into advertising?

Hellberg: There was no particular event or epiphany (or trauma) as far as I remember. It was more a synthesis. I was ok a writing but didn’t have the patience to become a proper author. I’d lose interest after a couple of weeks. And I had a few too many ideas for my own good. And I held myself in a fantastically high regard…if anything, it would have been a random application to the Swedish school Berghs that perhaps was the trigger.

db: OK Go is an interesting band, their videos are so creative. I felt that when they did the Needing/Getting Needing/Wanting music video with the Chevy car-stunt, they had become the first band whose videos were truly a channel, ripe for sponsorship. Unlike Lady Gagas "" markers and various hip-hop artists constant playing with cellphones. Is this where branded content is heading?

Hellberg: I hope so. Branded content, or branded entertainment, isn’t as well defined as other categories. Which was pretty obvious when I judged the OneShow this year. More to your point though, the trick with branded content (like with everything else) is to make it your own. The way OK GO and some other bands do.
But whichever way, it’s the band that the people choose to watch or follow. Not the brand. And Chevy got free ride, pardon the pun. But I think there are better and bigger examples where the content or entertainment is the entry point - and the brand or product still can be integrated. Like PJ’s ‘’Beauty Inside’, which is one of my favourite pieces this year.

db: You've worked in Sweden, Australia and now France, and I'm fully aware of the advertising world being a planet all it's own, in a sense. But markets are different, and I see a distinct different in advertising styles between these countries. What have you learned from each market that you think enriches advertising for all?

Hellberg: Oh God. My memory is like sieve, I don’t remember shit. I think I’ve picked up stuff, ways of working, and appreciations for different kinds of aesthetics, stories and expressions.

So, first of all, it’s all good, i.e. no country, no culture is overall better. But. I do find that the stereotypes are true, to a large extent. Australians approach things with a quite brash in your face kind of an attitude. Which makes for brave and bold stuff.

In Paris, it used to be very much about fantastic craft with agencies like Grouek. Although it’s changed a lot over the last few years. I think BETC and Ogilvy and the Buzzman really deliver on strong ideas. But again, if there’s anything I take from Paris it’s better understanding of craft.

With Sweden, I like how un-sentimental the agency industry is. Creatives just don’t seem to hang on to the good old days the way they do elsewhere. They just jump on the next creative train, whatever’s trendy, happening and new – in style, story, technology or craft.

db: I never thought about that, perhaps it's the national IKEA 'slit&släng' (use&throw away) attitude ...There's a lot of creativity hiding in craft, which sometimes is overlooked at award shows due to the trend of universal idea and emphasis on storytelling. Do you think there should more accolades for craft? Is craft dying as we're all getting to be less specialized and more fluent in our roles?

Hellberg: I would disagree little bit with your last point. I think craft is getting revival with all the hipster arts&crafts projects around. But on a general note, I guess what is happening is that much of the craft is becoming ephemeral.
The real appreciation for design is taking the backseat because it’s either invisible (user interface) and makes things work beautifully. Or it’s design that shouts for attention (mostly ‘ad’ design) for brands that just want to stand out without an necessary substance.

Some of the most pure craft in design is probably found in branding, which rarely receives the accolade it deserves. Writing is in a similar position. I mean, how often do you see people cooing at award shows over a copy ad or beautifully crafted DM?
On the other hand theirs is craft that is getting attention, liked coding, especially with Cinder winning Cannes Grand Prix 2013 Innovation category.

db: With even the oldest of old-school agencies becoming more digital, where does branding fit in?

Hellberg: Branding should sit with branding agencies, non? Unless you mean the overall brand ownership. Which is a different questions that depends on people, not if the agency is digital or old-school. The brand ownership on the agency side ought to sit with strategic planners and creative that get the consumers. The audience. People. Their habits.
And of course what makes those sparks of connection between the people and the brand. That’s pretty much it. The rest is just a question of what the client feels more comfortable with; staying in a safe place or if they want to see what’s out there.

db: When it comes to teaching the new crop of students the business and showing them the ropes, there are a few new tactics being applied these days. Internships and placements aren't what they used to be, and students are packaging and selling themselves in more elaborate ways than ever. I'm sure you have come in contact with the best and worst of them, so if you don't mind could you briefly describe the best idea and the worst?

Hellberg: Well, it’s gone a bit weird. It used to be that you had to beg to get your portfolio in front of a Creative Director, to get a book crit. And then go away and do it all over again.
Now it’s gone a bit – oh, “I’ll just do a fake case study and post it on Vimeo about rehousing homeless ferrets“ #hyperisland.
Another thing, if you really have time to put together a great DM, you have too much time on your hands – which you should use to write, design, code, smoke while you come up with ideas...
I had couple of creative in Paris sending me the most elaborate pieces of art work to my office. Unfortunately, their CD-DM was the best work in their entire portfolio.
Getting attention is always great, but what’ll get you in and staying is the same thing as always, great work.

db: what's the one piece of advice you wish someone would have told you when you were starting out (in advertising)?

Hellberg: I wish someone had told me: “Stay in law school”
Seriously, I think something along the lines of “it’s supposed to be fun”.
Because there are so many people trying to make this into something serious. Which it isn’t supposed to be. We join this industry because it’s enjoyable, inspiring, filled with new ideas, like shiny pearls, that we find and polish every day .

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