5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes with… Dieter de Ridder

Advertising Agency
Brussels, Belgium
Creative director at DDB Brussels on the moment he decided to write ads, his passion for Dragon Ball Z and creating the second most shared ad of all time
Dieter De Ridder made his name with a piece of Belgian-made advertising that travelled the world in an instant, becoming a genuine viral moment. 2012’s thrilling 'Push to Add Drama' stunt for television network TNT became second most shared advertisement of all time.

For Dieter, the spot was the moment several things aligned for him, bringing together his background in a small, boring Belgian town and his experience and ideas working in TV production for four years.

Having worked at Lowe, McCann, Michael is Dead, Duval Guillaume and most recently Air, Dieter joined DDB Brussels as its new creative director earlier this year. LBB's Alex Reeves got to know him a bit.

LBB> Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?

DDR> I grew up in a small town in Belgium where nothing really happened. But I had a great childhood. I was completely into skateboarding at that time. Every free minute, me and my friends were riding our boards. We had great fun and challenged each other all the time. Both on and off of the ramps. But as soon as I had a motorcycle the love for the board was over. On the other hand, I never quit snowboarding.  

LBB> What do you remember about your early thoughts on advertising? Were you interested from an early age?

DDR> I remember I already had tons of imagination as a kid. I used to tell myself stories in bed and in school I often visualised in my head the teachers as chickens, rabbits or bears in swimming trunks. Later it became clear that I was not that bad at writing. I wanted to become a journalist, but I never thought about advertising. As an 18-year old I once started writing a movie script. I was too lazy to finish it. But then I heard this series of commercials for Axion, a financial account for youngsters, on the Belgian radio, they made me laugh so hard… I immediately decided to become a copywriter. Even if I didn’t completely understand the word copywriter.

LBB> For four years you worked in TV production for De Filistijnen. Do you still draw on your experiences there in your day-to-day as a creative director?

DDR> Inventing television formats and making advertising is quite similar. Both work with creative concepts, both try to tell a story in an original way and both try to stay relevant for their target audience. So yes, I use my television skills for advertising and vice versa. The biggest advantage, I guess, is my experience with the editing process. 

LBB> You were behind one of the most shared ads of all time - ‘Push to Add Drama’ for TNT. How did that come about as an idea?

DDR> I already came up with the idea 10 minutes after the briefing. It was a recycled idea. I presented the red button concept a couple of years earlier to a television station as a new TV format. But they weren’t interested at that time. Luckily for us TNT was – although they asked for a press conference in the briefing. Together with my former partner Ad van Ongeval and director Koen Mortier, we wrote a new script. But no Belgian village allowed us to film it. Only one day before the deadline, Aarschot, another little town in Belgium, gave us the green light. They were our only option. The shooting of the commercial was also a big risk. We all got 10 years older that day. The chain of stunts repeatedly failed during filming. But in the afternoon everything finally worked out as planned. 

LBB> What did you learn from that career-defining project? How did it change your life and the way you approach your work?

DDR> This particular project taught me three things: 
1. Believe in yourself, you are the captain of your dreams. The first time we presented the idea internally at Duval Guillaume, everybody declared us crazy. They even selected another idea! The day after I went to the creative director and declared him crazy for not picking this idea. I kept on pushing and even implicated another creative director to convince him. Finally, they all followed, the client included, and we did ‘Push to Add Drama’. 
2. Put yourself open to the talents of others. A lot of creatives stay way too long in their own corner. They want to do everything by themself. Focus on your strengths, compensate your weaknesses with the talents of others. They can make your idea bigger and better. And your productivity is rising!
3. You always need some luck. There are so many elements that can have an influence on the impact of your idea: really every element has to be right. And that’s not always under your control. Going viral isn’t a strategy, it’s a lottery.

LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?

DDR> Geoffrey Hantson: he was my creative director at Duval Guillaume. He made me believe in my own advertising dreams. I hated the way most brands talked to their consumers. I wanted to change that. I wanted to create ads people really wanted to see. Geoffrey gave us complete freedom. He stimulated us to colour outside the lines. 

Koen Mortier: Multi award-winning advertising director and my creative soulmate at the time I still worked as a creative. We gave him our concepts and together with him we realised them and made them better and bigger. 

San Goku: As a kid, I always wanted the same haircut (and powers) as San Goku, the famous kung fu hero of the legendary television series Dragon Ball Z. 

LBB> Which recent projects are you most proud of, either at DDB or previously at Air? 

DDR> 'Call Brussels' for Visit Brussels. 'This was Louise’s Phone' for VOO, 'World Heritage' for NMBS and 'Your Ad on my Prosthesis' for CAP48. All made at Air. It’s only my third week at DDB [at the time of the interview], so still too early for new work. I’m only now beginning to know everyone’s name…

LBB> Your role as creative director must be pretty varied. Which aspects of the creative process are most enjoyable for you?

DDR> The most enjoyable moment is still the same as when I was a creative: that one specific moment you find or are confronted with a great idea. It’s like a drug, you want to experience it over and over again. And the moment a client buys that idea is a second great kick. The funny side effect of great work getting done is that it not only makes you feel great: the client is happy, the creatives are proud, your agency is hot and the spectators or users are going nuts. Five for the price of one!  

LBB>  How are you settling into your new role and what are your main aims and ambitions for DDB Brussels moving forward?

DDR> My main goal will always be the same: make meaningful and original work that people want to see or hear, spontaneously. And if not, entertain! But please, don’t get boring. The big challenge for today is to stay creative and emotional in this hyper-rational world of artificial intelligence, hyper-personalisation and lead generation. I agree, results are important, data is a powerful tool for insights and yes, I’m a big fan of integrated campaigns that use different media in function of the different target groups, but we have to stay creative. Otherwise the audience will continue fast forwarding, skipping and blocking our ads. And that’s some valuable data too. At DDB I’ll try to focus very hard on data, technology and content.

LBB>  Are there any particular brands or challenges at DDB that you’re looking forward to getting stuck into?

DDR> DDB Brussels has a lot of interesting big and small brands; that’s one of the reasons I decided to choose them. And honestly, I am looking forward to working on all of them. But there are three brands in particular: IKEA, an international creative icon, Volkswagen, an iconic car, and Studio Brussel, a Belgian icon. It’s always exciting to work on brands that already have a creative heritage because the bar is high.  

LBB>  What lesson or piece of advice do you wish you'd had earlier in your career?

DDR> “Hear everybody but only listen to yourself.” The day I read this quote, I immediately realised I was always trying to be loved by everyone. A day later I became another person. Suddenly, life was a lot less stressful.

LBB>  What do you like to do in your spare time? When you’re not working, what keeps you inspired?

DDR> I’m a night wolf. I love to walk when it’s quiet and dark outside. My best ideas I often find between 12 and 2 o’clock in the morning. In the garden. While I’m smoking a cigarette. Or two. Ok, maybe three.
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