5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes with… Michael Kutschinski

Advertising Agency
Berlin, Germany
Wunderman Thompson’s new CCO on his passion for data, the problems with German infrastructure and why he’s excited to help build better customer journeys

Last month, Wunderman Thompson Germany announced the appointment of Michael Kutschinski as chief creative officer in a newly created position. Specifically, it was announced that his focus would be increasing the agency’s creative reputation on an international scale and developing an innovative approach to the firm’s customer journey strategy.

Based in Hamburg, Michael is a creative with a passion for technology that goes back to the ‘80s. He’s worked for agencies from Pixelpark to Jung von Matt to Ogilvy on global brands such as Allianz, CISCO, IBM, IKEA, Leica, Lufthansa, MINI, Nescafé and Volkswagen on the cutting edge of technology at all times - although what was considered cutting edge when he began his career seems almost quaint now.

As he embarks on this new journey, LBB’s Alex Reeves got to know Michael a bit better.

LBB> You've only just started at Wunderman Thompson Germany as CCO. How are you finding the role so far?

Michael> Good. One of the reasons I joined Wunderman Thompson was that it's a new entity. We have two very traditional names in our company name, Wunderman and J. Walter Thompson, but it feels pretty new. It's really a young company, a very modern company. And that was what I was looking for, to find a new haven which is more going in different directions to classical advertising.

LBB> You’re clearly interested in data and technology, but you’re the CCO not CDO or CTO. What role do you see data and tech playing in creativity right now?

Michael> I love data. For me, data is really really inspiring. When people adopt technology, everything changes completely - how we communicate, how we behave, how we buy things and so on. It's really inspirational, and it's the same as data. The good thing is data isn't lying - it's the truth. 

If you look for example at what we did for Rexona - Degree Inclusive. It's a fact that 1.1 billion people have a disability, whether a loss of senses or being born without a hand, or whatever it is. It's a new target group, more or less, because before that wasn't on our radar. That is based on data. Data helps you to prove your thinking, helps with selling your ideas and also to solving problems.
We have awards categories like creative use of data and creative use of technology. A lot of  creative technologists, through trial and error, play around with everything new - AR or VR or whatever. I think it's just the beginning. I think in 10 years time we will laugh about what happened right now, maybe we'll all have VR glasses on, I don't know. We are living in that universe. To me it's very inspiring because it gives us opportunities to use that in a creative way. That's exactly what I love. It's my passion.

LBB> One of your goals will be increasing. Wunderman Thompson Germany's reputation internationally. What do you think is going to be the key to achieving that?

Michael> The key will be exactly what we want to do internationally - we inspire growth for ambitious brands - no question. So, again, that Rexona work is bringing a new target group to an existing product, which is automatically growth. On the other side, you do something really great, because for these people the world is a bit better than it was yesterday. Everybody needs to have a deodorant, but if you can't use it that's completely pointless.

My ambition for the German market is to make clear our position in the market. For me that was also a reason to join because it's a different approach, or purpose you could say. I absolutely love that we have that word ‘inspire’ in there, because I think we can inspire everywhere. Creativity is one of the world's most valuable assets. And you can solve so many problems, you can find so many things, when it's different.

LBB> Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?

Michael> I was really born into an advertising agency. My father was a creative photographer and an art director. My mother was a head of account management. And my first job in advertising was as a photo model for little toy cars. And for me it was quite clear (after the dreams of being an astronaut or race car driver) that I definitely wanted to go in that direction.

Then pretty early, I think in '85 or something, I bought my first computer - a Commodore VIC-20. I was really fascinated by designing things for the screen, which was definitely new. My father hated it. I bought the first Apple Mackintosh for his agency. He never had a relationship with software or hardware, and I totally loved it. So many opportunities! It was quicker to do things like just writing a headline. Before that was done with little letters you had to position. There was no printer, so everything was going to the photo laboratory. A computer was always a tool, not an inspiration, but it helped so much.

LBB> What were your first steps towards your career?

Michael> I looked for a university in Germany with computers. And that wasn't available. I signed up for two universities. They had one Macintosh for all students. You had to sign up but then you could go in their computer room for an hour a month, or whatever. 

And then I found an institute in Hamburg that had a Macintosh for each student. So I went there. Then the whole journey started. 

I think it was '91 when one of my professors showed up, said an agency called, but he had no clue what they were saying because they were talking about multimedia and he thought maybe that's something for me. I went there, talked to them and presented my work on a disc. I showed them what I was doing. They said it was exactly what they were looking for. 

So I was very early to the internet thing. For example, I designed the first website for Lufthansa, which was I think in '94 or something. I believed that there would be a day when we could book a flight on my mobile phone or computer, without going into a travel agency or calling somebody. And that dream became reality.

LBB> It 100% did! What was your trajectory from digital design to a more integrated advertising world? What were the big changes?

Michael> I became a kid of that new economy. And we all know what happened. The stock went down and there was nothing suddenly - the dot-com crash. I'd been working for companies who were on top of that new economy like Pixelpark and US-Web, really digital pioneers, then the world changed completely. And I went back to the advertising industry, because they had been looking in parallel for digital talent. They needed to transform everything they had done so far into the digital world.

Joining Jung von Matt was the mix up of those parallel universes. On one side were my roots, because I'd been born into advertising. And on the other side was my passion. To bring those both worlds together was great. And that's what I did for a long time.

LBB> After that you were at Ogilvy for 15 years. A long time in any industry. What do you take most from that time?

Michael> Still my favourite quote from David Ogilvy is "change is our lifeblood". And in those 15 years everything changed a few times, massively and dramatically, and I loved it. I love change. I started at OgilvyInterative and then OgilvyOne, the direct agency that emerged, which was the most logical step because direct communication entered the digital territory more and more. I think the time was up for 3D mailings and white-letter mailings and so on. Everything went digital. 

That was also fascinating for me because then I found out about what customer relationship means - it means to engage with people, to talk directly to them and not just to not just to the big crowds. And maybe help them or sell them services or products. I think I do have a bit of all those different expertise from my history. And right now I can combine it into something new.

LBB What do you think were the most important changes for you in terms of how it helped you to develop as a creative or creative leader?

Michael> I think the biggest changes have been in human behaviour, when people adapt to technologies. Right now, so many brands are right here, always with me in my pocket. They are part of my life, my daily routine. It's changing the world completely. And I think to keep on that wave and stay up to date - that's driving me.

I think right in front of us there will be other big changes. If you think about voice, for example, it's just the beginning. Siri, Alexa, etc. work quite well, but it feels like the first year of the internet right now. I think in a few years, if that is a normal feature and technology and every person will be able to use it, that will change dramatically. 

Or think about the video conferences we're doing right now. Covid was a big push in digitalization. In the last few years I travelled at least once a week to some place, which I don't do anymore. We get used to it, and it's normal that we can feel emotions over a screen with a camera.

LBB> If you are talking about technologies though, what do you find the most exciting to play around with at the moment? And what challenges are most important to overcome?

Michael> They are all inspirational to me. But if you look at the existing infrastructure right now, it's a problem. Things like AR. I hate instructions. So the interface must be intuitive. But right now we don't have the bandwidth or the infrastructure to do that.
One of the biggest problems right now: look at the schools. For me school should be like that like Netflix: "Oh yes! Tomorrow it's history again. I can't wait for the next episode." But it's not. The students aren't allowed to take their iPad to their lessons, but if they did it that way it would be fun for them. But the infrastructure is not here yet. Especially in Germany. I think it's really a disaster - we completely missed the digital transformation. The bandwidth is horrible, and it's killing whole industries. 

But I can't wait to use voice and AR and VR and all the thing - when they really work. Years ago I saw a VR experiment in the States. There was a prison, and you could go into every cell and talk to the inmates. It gave me goosebumps -  a great project. I asked the company who set it up how much of the hardware was and it was $500,000. I said, "Oh my god, that should be available for everybody." The developer told me it would be in five or six years' time, on a PlayStation or Xbox or whatever. I can't wait for that. I love seeing that light at the end of the tunnel and going there. 

And in between that, things happen. None of this is possible, then that is possible, "now we can do this," and "now we can do that". It's changing everything dramatically.

LBB> That must be something that you'll be looking to bring to your new clients at Wunderman Thompson. What might that look like?

Michael> Look at customer journeys. You see something and then you end up getting it and you have different touch points over that journey. If you look holistically at a journey, there's a lack of emotion. And a lot of the time it's not really fun to buy something online. It could be fun. Even just wording. It's different if you say "there's new beauty in your basket," instead of "you have one item in your basket".

So I think the big challenge is these different touch points you have with brands, every single one needs to have a great thought and idea. Maybe just an emotion, a sense of trust or some entertainment. There's a lot of attitude going into the beginning, creating awareness, and there's a lot of effort in doing quick business at the end, at the checkout. In between the whole thing it's not really emotional. 

LBB> Are there any things in culture that you're finding inspiring or interesting right now?

Michael> That's exactly why I love to be in an international, multinational, very diverse company. That is so inspiring to me. Here, when I pay with my Apple Watch at the gas station, it still surprises people - "You don't have a credit card?" In many Asian countries, you don't have to put anything on the counter because RFID or whatever technology means you just go in and go out and it's automatically deducted from your account. I think it's inspiring how people behave and how it's changing.
It's definitely influencing my thinking because we are all on planet Earth together. I don't see this fragmentation anymore into different cultures. If you go to a city like Berlin, you will find I would say at least 50% of the restaurants you can't speak German because nobody will understand you. The person who's serving you only speaks English.

I think it's so interesting culturally even just in that city. If you go to Kreuzberg you'll find a traditional Turkish barber shop next to a gay coffee brand. They're just neighbours and they respect each other.

Work from VML Germany
Fading Memories
Alzheimer Initiative