5 Minutes With… Nick Bailey ECD / AKQA in Amsterdam
Interviewed by LBB editor, Gabrielle Lott
LBB > Congratulations, AKQA was awarded Digital Agency of the Year 2011 by both Campaign and Advertising Age… How does it feel to have been awarded such an accolade from both sides of the pond and does this present new challenges for the future?
NB > Thank you. Obviously it’s a fantastic honour and a testament to the hard work of all our teams on both sides of the Atlantic. But while it’s of course fantastic to be recognized for our work, it’s not an objective in itself; as an agency we’ve always believed that we’re only as good as our last piece of work and it’s that mission, to continually raise the bar and add value to our clients’ businesses and their consumers’ lives, that drives us forward.
LBB > AKQA has always spoken about innovation and you yourself have spoken in the past about the agency ‘delivering to brand and consumer expectations’… How is this achieved and how does this affect the type of clients that come to you?
NB > Our job is to build brands through innovation, because only through innovation can we take our clients’ businesses further than they’ve been before, and genuinely delight, surprise and improve the lives of consumers. It may sound grand to talk about ‘improving lives’ – but it’s a great test to apply to our own work and ensure we’re meeting the standards we set for ourselves: are we giving people what they want, or trying to persuade them they want something they don’t? If it’s the latter, we’re doing it wrong. Our clients have successful, inspiring and exciting businesses because they’ve always been excited by the future and have continually innovated – we’re privileged that many of them have chosen us to partner with them on that journey.
LBB > You have a degree in Fine Art from Goldsmith’s College and as soon as you graduated you went straight into Copywriting. Was advertising always the goal or did you just fall into it?
NB > Well – that’s not quite the case. Post-graduation I worked for a year or so as an artist (and waiter; well, mostly as a waiter) and exhibited in a couple of shows. I was always interested in technology and made work using computer simulation and video, which viewers could interact with. On the basis of the work I was doing I was invited to work for a small start-up dotcom agency as a loosely-defined ‘creative’ and jumped at it because of the opportunity it offered to get to play with all these great new digital toys. Writing had always been my other big passion, so after a while it began to take over; what’s been great about working with technology is that I’ve been able to continue to combine writing with making cool new stuff – which still feels like an amazing privilege.
LBB > You moved to Amsterdam in 2006 from London. Did you move for the job or was it out of love for the city? What is it like working and living in Amsterdam?
NB > Being on the Nike account at AKQA London meant I worked in Amsterdam a lot, as it’s home to the brand’s European headquarters and I’d grown to love the city – so when the opportunity came up to come and work here it was an easy decision to make. What’s great about Amsterdam is you have the best of both worlds – a dynamic, creative and fun urban centre, and the sense of community, tranquillity and ease of living of a village.
LBB > Cannes Lions 2011 your work “Star Player” won a Gold Lion. The logistics sound challenging but the work was truly ground-breaking, can you tell us more about the campaign?
NB > Star Player was born of a couple of very simple insights. First: watching every game of football, whether you’re a hardcore fan or not, there’s a number of ‘lean-forward-in-your-seat moments, when you’re fully engaged in the moment with the outcome of a particular passage of play. Second: the majority of viewers are using a second screen – their phone or laptop – to chat with their friends and speculate about the action. We recognized that if we could ‘gameify’ that natural behaviour, without interrupting the action, we’d have a really compelling product that would meet Heineken’s brief of making the experience of watching the UEFA Champion’s league even more engaging for a global audience who are watching for the quality of the football, rather than necessarily because they’re loyal fans of the teams playing. After that it was just a question of holding on to that vision and making sure we stayed true to it through the technical complexities and creative challenges of bringing it all to life
LBB > “Heineken Hugs” - when the brand hit a million “likes” on Facebook you sent a bevy of attractive models out to the bars of Amsterdam to give out ‘hugs’ to all Heineken drinkers. Do cultural differences allow you to have more fun with the brands in Amsterdam? Are the Dutch more open to ideas such as ‘Heineken hugs’ than they would be in the UK or elsewhere?
NB > A hug is something absolutely universal that I think everyone responds to in a similar way – Dutch, British or from wherever. However I think where Amsterdam differed from a place like London for this production was our ability to secure permission to film from a number of centrally located bars really quickly, and to film openly without getting hassled; that was certainly an advantage!
LBB > You’ve worked with huge brands throughout your career…. Nike, EA Sports, Heineken, Mercedes Benz, Diageo and you’ve won over 60 international awards for your work. What do you believe is more important, creativity or effectiveness and how important are awards to you?
NB > I think creativity and effectiveness go hand-in-hand. If an idea is truly original and innovative (which is what creativity means to me), then it will surprise and delight; it will move consumers’ minds and raise the bar for the brand. Regarding awards, I’m afraid I’ll rehearse the time-worn cliché and say that, although they’re nice they’re never an end in themselves. Just like an actor who goes into his or her profession because they want to win an award will never earn one, in our business if you’re not primarily motivated by the love of making stuff, you’ll never be recognized for the work you do.
LBB > Do you still enjoy working in advertising? If yes, what is it that makes you bounce out of bed in the morning?
NB > The same thing as when I was at art school – the fun of making new stuff (although I’m not sure I’m quite as bouncy and elastic as I was when I was 21).
LBB > What do you see in the future for large networks and are there plans to increase AKQA’s offices?
NB > The one thing I can predict with absolute certainty is that if I attempt to forecast the future I’ll be proved wrong. The great thing about this business is that it continues to surprise and confound the expectations of clients and agencies alike. With regard to AKQA, we’ve always grown in response to our clients’ needs; so if a client needs us to open up shop in a new city, no doubt you’ll hear about it soon.
LBB > What has been your favourite job in the last 12 months, something that has really resonated with you… and why?
NB > I’ll have to say “Star Player”, because it was a job which genuinely opened up new territory for ourselves and our client; and because despite the complexity and the challenges the end product was completely true to the vision we had for it right at the start of the process.