Björn Stahl: Small market size requires more creativity

August 17, 2015

Interview with Björn Stahl, Executive Creative Director, INGO Stockholm (Sweden) and Balticbest 2015 jury member.

Looking at the size of the population and the number of awards you’ve collected in Sweden– the Swedish advertising industry is on top of the world. What do you think is the reason for that and is there anything that Baltic agencies could copy or learn from Sweden?

I can’t agree with you 100%. I think we’re actually declining. Sweden was the first country in the world where broadband Internet was introduced. Agencies became used to the high-speed connection and quickly sprinted ahead from the rest of the world. If you look at the beginning of the 2000s and up until a few years ago – Sweden had a definite advantage compared to others. Now, other markets have caught up. And as a result, Sweden’s creative success is gradually going down.

On the other hand, Sweden, just like Estonia, is a rather small market with small budgets. This means that you have to be more creative and is also a reason why Sweden’s been performing good.

Estonian agencies would argue that the budgets are too small for great creativity.

It’s a bad excuse because there are so many proofs of great ideas, which don’t take much money to execute. With big budgets, you tend to rely on the money instead of ideas.

Looking at the Cannes Lions this year, you see a trend of strong opposing ideas. For instance, DROGA5’s cookie brand campaign supporting same-sex marriages, thus opposing themselves to those against it. However, in a small market it’s hard for brands to make strong statements, because you loose half of the consumers. That’s how boring advertising is born. You have to create dull advertising in order to please the market.

If you want to do good advertising – you cannot please everybody. You have to have people who hate your work. Otherwise you won’t have people who love it. The goal is to find as many supporters as possible (but you do need both!).

Estonia has never won anything in Cannes. The industry is lacking ambition. Agencies are blaming clients for being too conservative. Their fears are blocking good ideas. How to convince clients to run with the brave ideas?

First of all I don’t believe that the industry in Estonia is lacking ambition. I am certain that there are many super clever people in advertising here and it’s a matter of time before Estonia wins Cannes Lions. But if the clients don’t buy the good ideas you need to sell them more skillfully or finding alternative ways of making them being on air. An idea that 80% love and 20% hate is much more profitable for the client than an idea that no one cares about. It’s a win-win.

I’m not that familiar with your circumstances, but we do have difficult clients in Sweden too. The thing with great advertising – you have to have a nervous pain in your stomach, some room for doubt. Otherwise, your advertising just isn’t good enough. And if you feel nervous about an idea, imagine what the client feel.

Keep challenging yourself! It’s more convenient to do work that no one will criticize and you can go home at five o clock and forget the job. But that’s not how it works. I always remind my creatives that making great advertising is fucking hard. Great ideas don’t come on their own. If I look at our award-winning work, it’s always the campaigns with the most work hours in them.

Interviewed by Hando Sinisalu, Best Marketing International