The creative director at TBWA\MAKE New Zealand on a family history in the advertising industry, working on Immortal finalist campaign Mr Humfreez and greeting Greta Thunberg with a flotilla
Just one year ago, Wiktor Skoog joined the team at TBWA\MAKE in New Zealand as the creative director. The Swede by birth was previously in London working on a brand close to his nation’s heart: Volvo. In fact, it was this brand that first got him into the industry. Despite having a family background of advertising professionals, Wiktor’s father wasn’t set on him joining the industry. Instead he holds a degree in engineering from the Swedish Royal Navy – which comes in handy now as his day job revolves around delivering creative product design.
LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Wiktor to hear about his early days in Sweden, how the idea of transforming Mr Humfreez into a sheep came about and his most exciting projects to date.
LBB> What were your early years like in Sweden? Which part did you grow up in and was there ever an inkling you'd be a creative?
Wiktor> I was born and raised on the west coast of Sweden: Gothenburg. My dad was in advertising and my mother was a nurse working in the night ward at the hospital. So, growing up I was exposed to both compassion and commercialism in a sense. Creativity and new ideas from my dad, and I guess more traditional aspirations from my mum. They separated when I was quite young, so it was a little bit like living one life with Dad and another with Mum.
Whilst I definitely had a distant ambition to do something creative as I grew older and I loved inventions and ideas, advertising wasn’t really something my dad wanted me to pursue. So I applied my creativity in other ways. I only went into the creative industry after my dad passed away. It was my younger brother John-John Skoog and my neighbour at the time Klas Lusth who gave me the necessary encouragement to do so.
LBB> I know you studied engineering at university - what was your journey from here to creativity?
Wiktor> I have always been quite enticed by engineering and its relationship to design and art, and since my dad, uncle, aunt and granddad all had backgrounds in the Swedish ad industry I “felt” I had a bit of a read on what ideas were, what “brands” meant and what good work looks like. But I went to vocational college and then into the Swedish Royal Navy and then various ventures of my own. So it wasn’t a clean entry by any stretch. Also at the time creative agencies in London were very much a white collar academic affair and I didn’t have much in that aspect of getting an internship or placement. I applied for roles here and there while working in a pub.
As luck would have it, in 2013 a Swedish car brand, Volvo (from Gothenburg) invited Grey London to pitch for their business. A week later I found myself in a room in Hatton Garden being interviewed, I think because one of my past ventures was a car dealership. The brand, Volvo, was from my hometown and something I said was good enough to get a call up for the pitch and then for the first time in my life at age 28 I had a “proper” job - so, luck.
LBB> You've had a pretty international career, what has this been like?
Wiktor> The international aspect comes from being from a relatively small country up north. You grow up and then you go ‘Viking’ for a bit, kind of see the world. I’d meet other Scandos everywhere I went. The move to London was the allure of learning and living in a big bustling proper city, which became working in a big bustling proper creative agency in the making. When an opportunity to go to the southern hemisphere presented itself, I felt it was a good time to move and find something new and exciting. TBWA\MAKE became that new and exciting thing for me.
LBB> I love Mr Humfreez, It was in our final showcase for the Immortal Awards last year! I’d love to hear more about it from your point of view and why you chose a sheep as the motif?
Wiktor> Yeah, we are really stoked about that. He’s done well our little sheep. In the beginning it was very little about “the sheep” and more about whether we could create something that indicates to you that your home is unhealthy in the simplest, most natural way. We could easily have answered the brief with plastics, batteries and so forth. But that didn’t feel right.
I had seen this guy David Correa’s work with wood sculptures and was intrigued by it. Sent him an email, got on a call and pitched what we were trying to do. Was it possible to code wood to change its shape at an exact percentage of humidity? Like real science stuff. And because David and his team are very skilled at what they do, they made it possible. A world first as they say. As it happened the shape of the little wood samples in our lab testing looked like little horns. Therein lies the genesis of the sheep. It felt very Kiwi but also very good from an educational point of view. Kids love him.
LBB> How important is creative product design in the industry today?
Wiktor> I think it’s really important and there are so many talented people out there that are doing it really well. On the other hand sometimes you meet designers who have a background in industrial design for example and they sit day in and day out making beautiful print ads and posters. I don’t mind that. I love a great print ad. But I also saw a lot of untapped creativity in design and design methodologies as well. So with TBWA\MAKE we try to do more of that. Open up the briefs a little. Learn from other fields and other professions. And that has had a knock on effect on the direction of the ideas we come up with overall as an agency which is quite exciting. After Mr Humfreez, clients are a little more likely to come and say “can we have one of those please?”
LBB? You've worked on so many amazing campaigns throughout your career, can you pick any favourites?
Wiktor> Pulling off a 18-boat flotilla to welcome Greta Thunberg on her arrival by boat in New York for the UN General Assembly is the one I will never forget. It wasn’t advertising, it was more important than that. Then my mother called and said that she saw it on the news as it happened. That was a great feeling after a very sleep-deprived week.
LBB> What advice would you give creatives entering the industry today?
Wiktor> I’ve been asked this before and I’m quite uncomfortable giving advice on it. Because everyone is so different, and different people thrive in different situations and in different cultures with different leaders and structures. Personally, I try to surround myself with people with passion for ideas and see potential where others see barriers. Not just the talkers. But the ones who dare to take a chance and create room for the uncomfortable. So look for those people. Also don’t just wait for “That one Brief” to have a chance of creating cool work that you want to get in your portfolio. Pick up the phone, send an email, knock on a door. Hustle. That’s what the world's best creatives do in my opinion.
LBB> Outside of work what does life look like for you?
Wiktor> I play around with motorbikes quite a bit so that gets a fair bit of time when it's time to relax and also right now just appreciate the freedoms we have in this part of the world.