The Art Directors Club of Europe galvanised the continent’s creatives to apply their talents for a better world, writes LBB’s Alex Reeves
“They will be watching us,” said Fernanda Romana in a pre-recorded video message to the ADCE Festival audience last Friday. She was talking about the activists and businesspeople who’ve demonstrated over the past year how to make an impact on the issues that matter - from teen climate icon Greta Thunberg to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Serena Williams. She’d just shown a clip of these and various other brands and individuals by way of setting the tone for the festival programme she’d curated around the theme ‘People of Tomorrow’.
Fernanda apologised for not being able to attend the festival. Duties in Brazil, where she is executive marketing director for Alpargatas S.A. (the company that owns flip flop brand Havaianas), kept her from joining the audience in Barcelona’s Disseny Hub. This year she has moved from working in design and advertising to being a client and she noted that she’s motivated by Greta and co. to help make a change to the world in her new position. “I pledge that I am going to be a person of the future,” she said.
“We have to start now,” agreed ADCE president Ami Hasan, following her address, stressing that with the climate emergency becoming ever more urgent, businesses need to “get stuff done” in this regard.
For the past six years the ADCE’s European Creativity Festival has brought an eclectic mix of creative thinkers from every corner of the continent to collectively ponder the state of the creative industries. This year Fernanda’s roster of speakers included thinkers from the agency, design and non-profit spheres packing out a programme of thought.
Serviceplan’s global CCO Alexander Schill kicked off proceedings with a talk about the importance of collaborative mind-melding when it comes to innovation. He stressed the value that he’d found in working closely with external design thinkers from outside of the agency, promoting diversity of thought and said he revels in the chance to design the right teams for the challenges of today.
Speaking about the years the agency has spent working closely with Korean innovation firm DOT, Alexander showcased the technological products to help the visually impaired that they had developed together. Their Braille translator, he claimed, now uses AI to attain over 94% accuracy. “None of us could have done that alone.” he said.
Alexander went on to share an inspirational list of cases that prove the good that can come from new collaborative models, such as the tool Indorse, which attempts to fight prejudice by removing qualities like gender and ethnicity from process of evaluating skill in the coding world. Or the ReDi School in Berlin, a non-profit digital school for tech-interested locals and newcomers in Germany offering students high-quality training and the chance to collaborate with the start-up and digital industry.
You cannot innovate “in one locked room,” said Alexander. “We are not allowed to be a vain and only stay in our agency.”
Laura Hunter, creative director at Futerra, a sustainability consultancy / creative agency, took on one gigantic and pressing issue as she looked to creativity tomorrow - the climate emergency. Building on the excitement about innovation that Alexander had touched on, she suggested that sustainability “is the most exciting game in town,” because it needs logic and magic to create change. She spoke about the “brutal truths” of the disaster we face, but contrasted them with “beautiful possibilities”.
While many are calling the dying out of wildlife we are going through the ‘sixth mass extinction’, Laura pointed out the great comebacks that nature has made in the past when it’s faced similar die-back. A truck load of clothing goes to waste every second, she said, but on the bright side, the resale market in clothing is growing 21 times faster than traditional retail. And while poorer and more vulnerable communities in the world are often hardest hit by environmental issues, she suggested that a robust response to the problem could address inequality if it was to create jobs and stimulate economies.
“Can we redesign our world so it is even better than it is now?” she asked, reminding the room of creatives and designers that they are the architects of what’s cool and that they now had “the creative brief of our time” to make an impact on how people view sustainability. Advertising needs to create a new kind of culture and, she argued, brands should be excited about playing a key role in building this.
The third session of the day was ambitious to say the least. IAM co-founders Lucy Black-Swan and Andres Colmenares presented ‘The Everything Manifesto’ - a holistic vision of what the next billion seconds should look like. In that time the world’s population will have grown to 10 billion. Their talk posited many jumping-off points on huge debates, such as how the most powerful corporations were once built on the extraction of natural resources but now they are those that extract data from human behaviour. A fact that illustrates this neatly: Google now makes more money than Saudi Arabia’s GDP.
It’s all very complex, they admitted. But they were clear that the climate is in an emergency for which they proposed a direction of movement that designers need to consider heading in, or a “meta brief”, embracing complexity and uncomfortable truths.
Lucy and Andres finished with five key values to design for.
Responsibility and accountability
Empathy and tolerance
Add a small dose of Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’ and the auditorium felt the full weight of the complex and existential issues the world is facing today.
The Pi School’s co-founder Jamshid Alamuti brought his reflections on this year’s Creative Incubator collaboration to the stage next, beginning by considering the word ‘incubator’ and how many human babies would die without the medical intervention of one. He asked those who owed their lives to one of these in the audience to raise their hands. “If you were a baby lion, you would have been fucked.” Something to reflect on, although I’m not sure exactly what.
That’s kind of the way Creative Incubator works though, as two of this year’s 70 participants from 20 countries - Sigrid Sitnikov and Ossi Honkanen - demonstrated in their discussion of the process that took place across the year in Rome, Barcelona and Berlin. Ossi described being immersed in the process as “a sharp cut into a world of chaos” and Sigrid said “as soon as you’re comfortable you’re immediately thrown into cold water”. Both discussed the process of learning how to be uncomfortable with uncertainty, embracing chaos and not worrying about where thoughts are heading exactly. The pair then shared some fascinating ponderings on creativity, which will form part of the Incubator’s forthcoming white paper, asking questions like “how much do we share with animals when it comes to creativity?” and proposing the idea of ‘creative string theory’, which posits that creativity works like a length of string (it’s complicated but intriguing).
La Casa de Carlota & Friends
The final session of the first day gave José María Batalla a chance to show what his agency La Casa de Carlota & Friends does, which is interesting because it’s quite different to most agencies, incorporating people with Down’s syndrome and autism into the creative process in new ways that harness their creativity. He stressed that the agency is far from a charity. It employs these neurodiverse people because it gives the agency access to new ways of thinking, giving the agency and its clients a business edge. José María went on to share some of the agency’s work and the results are compelling.
The following day’s brain massage started with MullenLowe London CCO Jose Miguel Sokoloff rebutting the ever-present suspicion that “you can’t change that”. He began by noting that these kinds of conferences are often way too sober in their mood, and could benefit greatly from the appreciation that “we’re in a fucking awesome business” - one of the few fun professions still around, he suggested. So to start off he showed a couple of the most entertaining ads the MullenLowe Group has been responsible for in recent years, just to lighten the mood:
His presentation was mostly comprised of a string of case studies of the amazing work he’s been involved in, from Burger King ‘Real Meals’ to fight back against depression to the agency’s work with Lifebuoy to improve hygiene and stop diarrhea in India, right through to his work in Colombia over the years to help demobilise 18,000 guerilla fighters. He admitted that not everything had gone right over the years, but tied all this work together with three inspirational notes:
Think long term
Do your best every time
Marian Salzman, a PR guru who now works for tobacco company Philip Morris, admitted that her role did put her somewhat on the back foot at a conference full of creative do-gooders. But her career is impressive. And she ran through a lot of its highlights, from being part of the 1997 Apple ‘Think Different’ campaign to being one of the driving figures in the word ‘metrosexual’ being popularised while she was chief strategy officer at Euro RSCG Worldwide, right through to her work with Wycleff Jean trying to get him elected president of Haiti.
Greta Thunberg didn’t go long without a mention at the ADCE Festival this year and Marian was obsessed with the young activist. Imagine pitching Greta as a concept to a big corporate, she considered. It wouldn’t go down well.
Marian’s role now is somewhat paradoxical. As SVP for communications at the tobacco giant, she wasn’t instantly comfortable with the role. “I kept asking myself ‘did I do the right thing?’” she said. But she’s made a surprising mission for herself - to make Philip Morris into a force that fights smoke, rather than promoting it through the ‘Unsmoke Your World’ campaign. Having only ever smoked two cigarettes in her life, she admitted she still has no idea how to sell a pack of Marlboros. She finished with an easy to digest takeaway for everyone: “My campaign is Unsmoke and I encourage you to find yours.”
Sustainable fashion was the topic of Oskar Metsavaht of Osklen’s talk. He discussed the pioneering work he’s done on the Institutio E collection, ASAP (As Sustainable as Possible), which takes an optimistic yet honest approach to making fashion Earth-friendly.
Oskar dismissed absolutism, admitting that whenever we talk about 100% we are being naive, but that we all need to help companies change as much as they can, as fast as they can. He came back to the theme that many of the festival’s speakers had highlighted - that it is advertisers’ and designers’ job to make sustainability cool. He didn’t pile on the pressure. Just get out there, make a start and do something, he suggested.
Julián Zuazo’s short presentation outlined an example of taking a problem and doing something limited but achievable to make a difference. He shared the concept of Topmanta Topmodel - a non-profit project that supports young African migrants by representing them as models.
Sustainable designer Núria Vila followed up with her own short demonstration of inspirational work, built on the insight that 70% of a product’s environmental impact is dictated by the design phase. She runs a lab as part of her design studio that innovates with materials, providing ways that her designs can be manufactured to minimise their environmental impact. Núria shared some of the innovations she’d worked on in the areas of biodegradable packaging and ink. She’s even been growing mushrooms to see if the future of materials lies in fungus.
72andSunny Amsterdam deputy executive creative director Laura Visco’s emotive presentation implored the audience to engage in ‘creative altruism’ - the idea of genuinely doing something for the good of others rather than engaging in shallow ‘woke-vertising’. What if we started thinking about ‘societal profit’, she considered?
One societal cause which Laura applied her creative resources to recently was fighting to legalise abortion in her home country of Argentina, making the point that if you don’t support legal abortions you “aren’t pro life, you’re pro coat-hanger”. She received very little credit for the video, but it was widely shared and although abortion remains illegal in Argentina, it continues to make a strong point that will no doubt shift opinion.
Laura also discussed a project she’s been working on about ending the stigma against sex workers. She came to Amsterdam with very different views on sex work to how she feels now, she admitted. Having met and become friends with some of Amsterdam’s red light district, she’s been working on a creative endeavour to help normalise what they do, to prevent the insecurity that they often face due to being unable to get mortgages, credit cards or to retain custody of their children after a relationship ends. She shared a rough cut of a film she’s been making with a sex worker friend of hers, which looks set to make an emotive and powerful point on the issue when it’s released.
Finally, she shared a project that her agency came together for on International Women’s Day this year. Basically, they floated a load of inflatable boobs of all shapes, sizes and colours down the canal. The point was that 74% of women have felt embarrassed of their breasts at some point.
Laura ended with a message that summed up the general go-and-do-it theme of the ADCE Festival 2019:
“Ideas, not logos.
Causes, not egos.
More empathy, not chasing reward.”
Pick a cause, she said. And volunteer your time for it.