5 Minutes with… Andrew Watson
Senior Creative Director / Blast Radius
Interviewed by LBB editor, Gabrielle Lott
LBB > Talk to us about Blast Radius. Who are you guys, what do you do and what is it about your offering that is so enticing?
AW > We’re a bit of an enigma aren’t we?! Not many people really know much about us, and yet chances are you’ve come into contact with our work. We’re a digital agency that grew up in Vancouver during the 90s and we now have nine offices between Canada, the States and Europe. The Amsterdam office has been open for around a decade already!
We work with some of the world’s most successful brands and pride ourselves on creating not just exciting and engaging work, but also on paying close attention to the effectiveness of what we make. The official spiel is that we create networked brands - fostering connections between communities, people, products, conversations, culture and media touch points. Simply put: these days, most clients can’t afford to throw out a nice experience here and a fancy film there, they are looking for long term digital strategies that will build their brands with well thought-out creativity and engagement. We’re very good at that.
LBB > You’ve been with the agency for the last year, coming from Amsterdam Worldwide where you were a CD. What does being a Senior Creative Director entail and what do you enjoy about your role?
AW > I basically oversee the creative department in Amsterdam, dabbling in most of the accounts. I spend most of my time trying to know a little bit more than everyone else - but it’s an uphill battle. I think the ‘senior’ bit is in recognition of my rapidly greying hair.
LBB > Whilst at Amsterdam Worldwide you were responsible for the award-winning Onitsuka Tiger work ‘Electric Light Shoe’ where you combined the beauty of traditional Japanese heritage with modern-day design. Can you talk to us about the work and what were the inspirations behind its creation?
AW > That was such a great project to work on. One of those times where you have an idea, sketch it out, present it to the client and then think: ‘Shit... how on earth are we going to make this?’
Japan has such a rich and distinctive visual language. We picked one aspect - neon - as a starting point, and created an interpretation of a Japanese metropolis in giant shoe form. We’d set the ball rolling the previous year, with a large shoe made from all sorts of Japanese ephemera, built entirely by hand, so for the second round, we looked for a different approach. We found a clever Finnish chap called Janne who runs a company which specialises in 3D design and rapid prototyping, and together we made this very abstract concept a reality. The shoe installation then acted as the center-piece for an integrated campaign that featured imagery, animation, light-writing, interaction, glowing magazines, miniature collectibles and even an exclusive sneaker release. It took on a life of its own and was shortlisted for a Titanium at Cannes.
LBB > How did you get into advertising?
AW > By accident! I was studying for a degree called Media Lab Arts which was all about new and emerging media, but I really wanted to design magazines. Graduating required a 12 month work placement and I was desperate for a job with a mag, but with time running out I was lucky enough to be rescued by my uncle who was an account director at Ogilvy London, at the time. Through him I blagged a placement in the studio and that was that. Mind you, I’ve been lucky enough to work on a few magazine and book designs since, so I scratched that itch in the end.
LBB > You relocated to Amsterdam in 2001 from your native London; what is it about this city that keeps you here and how does it influence you?
AW > I’m not a London native, by any means. I lived in London for a few years before I moved to Amsterdam, but I’m a West Country boy at heart. I suppose that Amsterdam’s scale suits me better for that reason. I still remember waking up the morning after I arrived in the city and hearing bike bells instead of car horns and trains, then walking for ten minutes along a cobbled canal-side to get to work, instead of spending an hour on the tube. It may be a bit of a cliché, but I was sold on the city pretty quickly. I’ve been here for eleven years now and I have accrued an amazing Dutch girlfriend, a handsome son and an over-weight English Bulldog called Johnson. It’s fair to say that Amsterdam has treated me very well.
Does living here influence what I do? I’m not sure, but there’s definitely an entrepreneurial mindset, and possibly a slight under-dog spirit that makes being an Amsterdam-based expat in advertising exciting and limitless with an ‘anything-goes’ appeal (in the best possible way, of course).
LBB > How much importance do awards hold for you?
AW > It would be churlish to act coy and say that awards don’t matter. They do. They help us attract talent, new clients and higher salaries. And they’re nice to show your mum. But to me, most important are the pats on the back you get from your peers, the ones who can smell the blood, sweat and tears that have been spent behind the scenes.
LBB > In the last 11 years you’ve worked for independent/boutique agencies. What is it about a small outfit that attracts you and what do you think will happen in the future to large networks?
AW > I started off in a huge network with around 300 people on one floor, so switching to a start-up of 15 employees and finding myself sitting opposite the founder was a big change. I found that I really liked knowing what was going on around me and feeling like I could make a direct impact. I think it gave me a good understanding of how things work, and made me more sympathetic to the stresses that affect other areas of the business. Also, there’s no hiding in smaller agencies so blaggers are exposed pretty quickly and you find yourself left with just the best people.
I think it’s interesting that, while new independent agencies are still springing-up all the time, some of the old ‘Dinosaurs’ are really fighting back. A lot of the indie agency trail-blazers from the early 2000s are taking top jobs with the networks and changing old habits and reputations. Access to a network of offices around the world is gaining value again as global brands realise that local insights are just as important to new media as they were to TV and Print.
LBB > Do you still enjoy working in advertising?
AW > As long as I’m learning, I’m happy and the one thing that you can guarantee about ‘advertising’ in this day and age is that it keeps you on your toes. It’s a very different business to the one I joined as an intern in 1999 and that’s one of the things I love about it.
LBB > What has been your favourite work in the last 12 months?
AW > In September, the whole of Blast Radius Amsterdam trooped into a nature reserve in the marshlands of North Holland to help conserve a very delicate ecosystem that houses a variety of rare wildlife. As much as I love my job, toiling outdoors on a beautiful day, doing a good deed for nature was incredibly satisfying and something that I’ll be looking forward to repeating next year.