5 Minutes with… Al Moseley, Managing Partner at 180 Amsterdam
Interviewed by LBB editor, Gabrielle Lott
LBB > ‘180 is an attitude and not a formula’… Can you discuss with us what makes you so individual and how you challenge the status quo?
AM > It’s a big statement isn’t it! 180 isn’t just the name of the agency, it’s a philosophy that the people who started the agency began with, and that has been developed over time. It is basically trying to look at what everybody else is doing in the market and turn away from the obvious, question and look at the work from a different perspective. We try to do that. Sometimes we strategically change the point of view of a brand, other times it’s a creative shift, sometimes it’s more obvious and sometimes it’s less.
LBB > What is it about that approach that makes it so rewarding to you and your clients?
AM > I believe it is good to have a clear point of view within the agency, that people are allowed to challenge and question. To look at things from a different perspective, which allows you to not get involved in petty arguments, but instead to approach work with the question ‘Is this 180 work?’, ‘Is this good enough?’, ‘Should we be producing this?’ and, ‘Does it have 180 thinking at the core of it?’
LBB > You’ve worked on huge brands. In the past 10-12 years, you’ve worked with clients such as Coca-Cola, EA Sports, Playstation, Omega, BMW…
AM > Yes, and I worked on Apple years ago. I’ve been lucky to work with some of the biggest brands in the world.
LBB > Some of your work is regarded as iconic. It’s award winning and it’s down in advertising history as some of the best work created in the last decade… one great example being your ‘Happiness Factory’ work for Coca-Cola. What is more important, do you think, creativity or effectiveness?
AM > (Laughter) I think that great ‘step change’ creative work, the really creative work, is the most effective. Creativity can create a white space around a brand, so it can lift them out of the ordinary and mundane and make them stand and speak with their own voice. And that makes a brand effective. So, there isn’t a difference.
We try to find a brand voice. The work that we create here is usually not for competing in one market. Often the work is with global brands and as such with global brands they have to have a voice that will work around the world and that connects with all people. That takes years to develop, and with brands that are the size that we work with, doesn’t happen overnight. So everything builds - one piece of communication builds onto another piece of communication and then onto another to create this voice, so that when we meet with the brand we connect with it emotionally, we become an advocate of it. We look for great creative thinking but we also have to work out ‘Where is this going?’, ‘What is the story of this brand?’, ‘What does it mean to people?’ and, ‘Why is it important?’.
LBB > In 2009, you returned to Amsterdam after two years in London. So what is it about this city that you can’t escape? You’re from Essex originally…
AM > How do you know that?
LBB > Detective work…
AM > Amsterdam is a great place. There is a great creative community here. I’ve talked about this a bit in the past; on why Amsterdam is the hub of global business. It’s because it is equidistance, we have clients from Japan, we have clients from Germany, from all over the world and we are right in the middle, which is really nice; the opportunities it presents. I love the UK advertising industry and it’s where I grew up. I think it is exciting, but it is very different here. All of our clients are from different countries. You are at the epicentre of this client business that is from across the world and therefore the opportunities to see your work from Kuala Lumpur to Peru are much more likely here and that’s really exciting. I call it ‘creativity without frontiers’. In this company we have 20 different nationalities and we are creating global work from one office. I love Amsterdam, but it is just the place that we collect and we gather.
LBB > Your recent work for Playstation Vita ‘The world is in Play’ is fantastic, and is very reminiscent of ‘Double life’.
AM > It’s not dissimilar to ‘Double Life’… that work was a benchmark in PlayStation history for PS2, the console version. You would stay indoors and play a game, which would make you enter new worlds. But with Vita it’s not a double life, it’s your life because you can play Vita anywhere. So, it actually pays homage to ‘Double Life’ in that it takes ‘Double Life’ into ‘Your world, in play’. I think people really liked the spot. It was beautifully directed and emotional and that emotion is different to the console campaign.
LBB > It’s lighter, it’s brighter. ‘Double Life’ had a dark and ominous feel to it.
AM > That was a time in PlayStation history where you could make that kind of work. The brand now is more mainstream. There are three ages of gamers that we talk about. The console was in the bedroom, then it moved to the living room and now it is out on the street. We are in the ‘third age’ of gaming and as such, it is much more visible as a brand.
LBB > PlayStation Vita is a brand new product that they came to you with. How do you even begin to tackle a challenge like that?
AM > We play it!
LBB > You play it… What’s it like?
AM > It’s amazing. It’s amazing. We had a session where we played with it, got our hands on it. It’s an incredible machine. We didn’t want to give it back at the end. We had to give it back as it was one of two out of the testing site in Japan. Yes, we play it. We learn about it and we understand it. I believe it is one of these step change products for gamers. Gaming has never been good when it is away from the game console - before now - and once you play this you realise that it is really good. I’m not a great gamer, even though I’ve played games for years and years; I’ve worked with PlayStation now for a large part of my career… but I played this and I could get into it really quickly.
LBB > Your work for Coca-Cola, ‘Happiness Factory’ was ridiculously successful. You were the most awarded spot of that year… It also propelled the animation house Pysop. How did it feel at the time and where do you go from something so big?
AM > When large clients have a lot of success, it is very difficult to move on from that because all the numbers, and all the feedback is brilliant. Personally, you have to move on. One has to move on, eventually. The brand still makes the work now; it’s become a franchise for them.
Regarding Pysop, I really like working with people that are on the cusp of greatness and I think this is really important; you hire people for what they are going to do, not for what they’ve done. In my career, whether I’ve worked with directors, animators, creative teams, writers, art directors or designers, you try and look at the potential for them as people, as creative people, rather than the work that they’ve already accomplished. It’s very safe to go to someone who has already done it before and say ‘can you do another one of these’. That does happen, but hopefully with the choices that we are making, and the people that we are hiring here at 180, we are discovering great new talent.
LBB > That’s my next question. How do you find new creative talent?
AM > We have a recruiter here that is full time and my wife runs a creative recruitment company - I shouldn’t give her a plug in this… They’re called Sacker Gooding, and they are… very good (Laughter). Her name is Victoria Sacker. Better check with her that she is happy for me referencing her.
I look at work all the time and it’s quite a big decision to hire people here. It’s different to when you are hiring people in London or the US…maybe in the US it is similar… but people have to move here. We hire people from all over the world and we are asking them to leave their home, friends and to come with their family to work for us and make us the focus of their life here. So it’s a big decision, we have to be really sure. I am quite slow in hiring. We have quite a few open positions here now and people worry, but it’s only because it takes time to find the right people and I believe that you have to be sure you know what you are doing. Also, to hire ‘people’ rather than books and work that they’ve done, I think it is important that you find the right person. Coming to Amsterdam is a big deal, not just for the person that works at the company, but their family as well because everyone has to be happy, otherwise it doesn’t work.
It’s funny though, a lot of people who work here are single and quite young and it’s the place where they meet. 180 romances…there are loads - it’s ridiculous! I don’t hear about them until they’ve been dating for several months. People like coming here, all their mates are here. We’ve got running clubs, football clubs, there’s a games room here, we have food laid out all the time…it’s quite a nice place to work.
LBB > How did you get into advertising?
AM > I left art school and I wanted to be a director. So, I went round and saw a number of different film companies with my directing reel – which I was very proud of - and I got offered one job, as a runner. I ran on some commercials and I was quite excited by it because I hadn’t really thought about getting into advertising, until then. I met a few creatives and talked to them when I should have been doing other things and I put a book together of ideas and just went to see people. I was a terrible runner because once I got the bug of what I wanted to do I was constantly pestering people to look at my book, when I should have been making tea and running around. I got offered a job after about six months.
LBB > What importance do you put on awards and winning them?
AM > You could say the obvious thing - that it is very nice to be recognised by your peers and I think that is very important for anyone, in any industry, whatever they do, to have that kind of recognition. So, I think they are important, but you don’t just create work to win awards. Awards are nice things to have, but we don’t think that awards are the only thing that you should be doing.
LBB > You were once reported as saying that ‘it is dangerous to latch onto a digital trend for the sake of it’ and that the work should be relevant. You referred to this earlier, when you spoke of 180 as a whole but can you elaborate on that as well?
AM > You’ve been doing your homework. I just think it is very easy to go and create work that is trying to be ‘of the moment’. A lot of people look at what is ‘of the moment’ and they say ‘I’d like to have one of those’. I think we need to create work that is of the ‘next moment’ and try to do what is right for our clients, rather than try to force fit something.
LBB > When you win awards… it must bring confidence to younger teams…
AM > Yeah…they normally come in and ask for a pay rise - I know I used to! It breeds confidence. It’s good for the younger teams to win awards. Nothing makes me happier than to see a team doing well, winning awards and being recognized…and people trying to poach them. Having to fight for them, pay them more… it’s brilliant!
LBB > What has been your favourite work in the last 12 months?
AM > My son. He was born seven months ago. His name is Marlowe. He is my second child, but the only one born in the last 12 months. He is an absolute joy. People tell you that babies are hard work, but they are lying. He makes me happy.
LBB > Do you still like advertising?
AM > Yes. I love it and I feel privileged to have a job of this kind. I just hope advertising still likes me.