Studying commercial law at business school and playing in punk bands was Anna Salonen’s thing before she found advertising. Now a creative director at Nord DDB Stockholm, she’s driven by creating stuff that makes people feel something. Obsessed with pop culture and how brands can be a part of it, she’s constantly on the lookout for the next cool thing happening online or offline – or busy creating it.
She was awarded Best Swedish Young Talent and Swedish Creative of the Future in 2020. In addition, there are 150 awards and honours to her name collecting dust somewhere, including a nomination for Best Swedish Art Director in 2021.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Anna to hear what she’s all about.
LBB> Your pre-advertising background was in commercial law and punk. What got you into that mixture of interests?
Anna> Paradoxes intrigue me, as I don’t believe in boxes. Growing up, I was always going from one extreme to the other, and I spent my time shuffling between classical ballet classes and learning to play the next punk riff on the bass. It has always been about entropy, or the number of ways a system can be rearranged and have the same energy, while creativity and expressing it in different ways has been the North Star. And yes, commercial law does tickle my creative senses. I don’t know what that says about me but I’m here for it.
LBB> And how did you get introduced to advertising?
Anna> MTV’s odd channel idents! There was one in particular that stuck with me, where this odd, blobby figure stabbed a huge rock. Not to mention the one where they put an MTV flag on the moon. I was mesmerised by how someone would advertise their own channel in such a weird, gutsy way. I loved every second of it. I guess it took a couple of years before I found out that it was an actual profession, coming up with that stuff.
LBB> What was the first campaign you worked on at Nord DDB and what did you learn from it?
Anna> We decentralized marriages and let same-sex couples get married on the Ethereum blockchain
, which can’t be governed by narrow-minded states or religions. The mechanics of a marriage and the blockchain are basically the same; both are just contracts between two parties. But one week before launch, GDPR happened. Given a blockchain is immutable, you can’t remove the information stored in it. We had a bunch of anxious lawyers telling us that our idea basically breaches the very core of GDPR. The lesson here is: have a good production manager who doesn’t budge when the going gets rough.
LBB> What work have you been most proud of recently and why?
Anna> We did a global campaign for a Swedish fintech giant, Klarna
, together with A$AP Rocky. For me, it combined everything I hold dear: music, fashion and a team consisting of crazy, talented people who dared to dream big. Definitely a moment when I felt alive and creatively fulfilled. I know, I’m such a cliché. But the ad turned out great, so I guess there’s that.
LBB> Pop culture and making brands part of it is something that Nord DDB makes a point of setting a good example on. What do you do to make sure you’re equipped to do that for your clients?
Anna> By staying curious! My inner people watcher loves seeing what makes people tick, whether it’s in art, design, fashion, music or architecture. Also, watching people co-create culture in real time online (and offline) is definitely a ride you don’t want to miss.
LBB> Tell us more about your background - where did you grow up, and what early experience do you think inspired your creativity?
Anna> I grew up in the countryside, in a time before algorithms hijacked our attention spans. So I would definitely not underestimate the power of boredom in all this. My brothers and I were always keeping busy creating something, whether it was writing spinoffs of blockbusters and recording them on our dad’s VHS camera, animating short films in PowerPoint (yup, a case of work with what you have…), or pirating hyped skateboard brands and screenprinting our own T-shirts. Then, that creativity shifted into music. I learned to play the bass by listening to Nirvana. Krist Novoselic was a tough teacher. And my parents had nerves made out of steel.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?
Anna> The crazy ones. The outliers. The people sticking it to the establishment. They push the needle forward.
LBB> How do you think living through the pandemic has affected advertising most?
From the viewpoint of an Excel sheet, creativity is usually the first thing to fly out the door in challenging times. With that said, I think creatives are bursting at the seams to be creative again, and I hope the apocalyptic setting we’ve been living through lately summons a creative push for positive change for society as a whole. And now I’m not just talking about advertising, because advertising can’t save the world. But at least we can help give way to a better narrative, and put some pressure on our clients. We’re past washing stuff.
LBB> Outside of work, what’s inspiring you right now?
Anna> There are a lot of up and coming creatives killing it in Stockholm right now. Unifrom
by Haisam Mohammed is channeling Swedish high rises and turning them into scents, while creative platform tukio.se, founded by Nino el Khoury and Ibrahim Handulleh, is painting the airwaves with creativity from people who are defining culture, both now and in the near future.
There’s also a bunch of new Swedish brands pushing the sustainability agenda, and looking good while doing it. Hodakova
and Rave Review
are making (upcycled) waves in fashion at the moment. I’m definitely also fan-girling at Cake
’s electric motorbikes. And freight tech company Einride
. It’s about time all the (hopefully sustainable) stuff we buy gets shipped without a massive carbon footprint.