I've made a date to meet Per Eriksson, Creative Director at Studio Total over a coffee. One of the people responsible for the Zombie invasion in Stockholm an otherwise ordinary Friday the 13th for Canal+. One of the people who donated 100000 kronor to the Feminist Party so that they could burn it. The guy behind the worlds biggest iPod dock a.k.a the wall of sound.
I half expect something strange to happen, perhaps studio total will crash in through the windows of the café, instead of using the door. Their ad ideas have always seemed to be about taking another route in, why not in real life? Instead a tall Per walks in, with a well groomed full beard and understated modern elegance in the cut of his coat and sleek shoes. Our conversation ends up being deep, and surprisingly discreet with everyone else at the café several decibels louder than us.
Advertising isn't the same as it used to be, on that we both agree, though some areas are stuck in a rut. "If you look at the print ads of today, and print ads of yesteryear, what's changed is the visual language, the core ideas are exactly the same" says Per who is born into the business, as his father was an ad-man before him. We also agree that art directors and designers good style seems to grow on trees in Sweden: "But should things always be sleek and pretty? Is ugly and hated Ryan Air doing better than understated and elegant SAS? Yes."
This is where the ads as stunts come in. It's not for the stunts sakes, it's to be noticed. Death in advertising is to not be seen. Per compares it to a bright yellow hat worn at a party, everyone will look at you in that hat. People might even say it's a really ugly hat.
To stick out, you need to dare to be hated. It's wearing a bright yellow hat to a party. Everyone will see you. But you have to own that hat.
Hated? There has been a backlash against nearly everything that Studio Total has done, from the fake blogger for the Malmö Opera, to the burning of cash for Fi!. "If you own it, it'll be fine. Gudrun Schyman stood her ground regarding the money, wrote debate articles about it. If you ask people now, they remember the message, not the backlash in the press. And, Fi! had more votes in this election than last."
I tell him how much I dislike "fake" ads, where senders are secret and the campaign pretends to be something else, and bring up Karen as an example. So, is that the key? To stand your ground? "This is where the honesty is, if the message is one that you honestly mean, and you have backbone to keep stating it, you earn respect on that even if the initial release of the message was fake in some way."
We've seen "fake" in so many ways, Per brings up the Ray Ban glasses "as you watch that, you catch on after a while to it being done in post, you're in on the joke." Too much and it becomes even more obvious "With the jean virals they were shooting themselves out of cannons after a while weren't they? Of course that's not real." I point out that both of these seemed to have been born from the old Zippo site, where people would show their crazy ways of lighting their Zippos, and we soon end up discussing art and building on other ideas. Or ripping them off like Toshibas space chair film.
"That's not right, advertising is inspired by art, as anything else because art is all about provoking emotion, which is advertisings ultimate goal. You can homage the visual language, reference the thought-process, but you need to add something more to it."
For example, the Beautiful Agony (previously discussed here) images inspired the Arvika festival film, where a young woman masturbates on camera, but all we see is her face.
That ad never managed to stay up on youtube - "It was deleted as soon as it appeared", and was later banned by the reklamombudsman, something Per agrees was toothless. "They just say 'don't do it again', we weren't planning to."
"We don't have clients, we have projects" explains Per, and speaks about clients in Austria as well as Sweden.
"Are Swedish agencies conservative?" I ask, because I know that they tend not to hire outside crews for internal jobs. "Yes, that's it, Swedish agencies want to do everything in house. Look at London, where a large client will take the advertising to the agency, and turn to a design house for their design. This isn't done in Sweden, the ad agency wants to be an expert in everything."
So what are clients in Austria like? "Very open-minded, our current client instinctively understands that to provoke enough to stand out, they might be a little hated. They're embracing it, he even asked 'can we get thrown in jail a little? That would be good.' This is a businessman who knows business, he's not stuck in the old way of thinking. Swedish clients, and by extension their agencies, are often afraid to provoke too much."
It might be breaking the Jante Law, to stick out, but as Per notes:
"What we think is "pretty" is a cultural idea, what we are used to. What is remembered is what stood out. When it first appeared, it wasn't pretty."
That's when I realize that by being the quietest people in the café, we're sticking out like sore thumbs.