We get to know the Åkestam Holst creative team who’ve battled fake news, changed the pharmaceutical business and created a completely new advertising media model
Copywriter Simon Lublin and art director Martin Noreby hit the ground not just running, but sprinting, when they began at Stockholm’s Åkestam Holst in 2017. The pair were fresh out of school, but that didn’t stop them getting to work on creative projects that instantly grabbed the industry’s attention, both inside Sweden and beyond its borders. One of the first projects they worked on was Billboards Beyond Borders for Reporters Without Borders, which challenged oppressive regimes with messages about freedom of speech and social justice, seemingly on these regimes’ home turf, by replacing existing billboards on Google Maps with quotes from silenced journalists.
The pair have continued to churn out innovative, unique work ever since. LBB’s Alex Reeves asked them to talk about their still short but already impressive creative careers.
LBB> Where did you both grow up and what were you like as kids? Any clues about your creative futures back then?
Simon> I grew up in a place called Södermalm, in the southern part of central Stockholm. I have a lot of siblings, seven of them. Having a lot of siblings makes you kind of competitive, because you have to fight for attention all the time. So with eight of us, I guess I always tried to come up with different ways to make myself the most interesting one. Maybe that’s a starting point for my creativity. It might just be something I’m coming up with right now because I don’t have any other ideas of where it comes from.
Martin> I grew up in a small town called Kalmar, in southeastern Sweden. I’ve always liked to do creative stuff from a very early age so that I ended up with a creative job is maybe not completely shocking to those who knew me as a kid.
LBB> What was the thing that first got you interested in a career in advertising?
Simon> My older sister worked as a receptionist at McCann in Stockholm for a couple of years, and sometimes in high school me and a friend helped them with some stuff, like writing addresses on invitations and serving drinks dressed up as 18th-century lords. I remember being impressed by the fact that they had a nice office and a table hockey game. I think that’s the first time I realised that advertising, as a career, existed at all.
Martin> For many, many years, graphic design was the thing that I thought would pay my salary as an adult. Just like Simon, I didn’t have a clue that you could work as a creative in the advertising industry. I think the first time advertising caught my interest was in graphic design school where we got the task to come up with an ad for something and then design it. I realised that I enjoyed, even more, to come up with the idea and craft it than actually designing it.
LBB> Where did you meet and how did you know that you'd work well together?
Simon & Martin> In 2015 we both started studying at Berghs School of Communication, where we got drawn to work together on the first assignment. We realised right away that we worked well together, both on and off work. But at Berghs, you can’t choose who you want to work with on school assignments, so we started to participate in student competitions to be able to do so. After doing a couple internships during Berghs (at F&B, Edelman Deportivo and Åkestam Holst) we knew we wanted to continue working together after school as well.
LBB> When you came to Åkestam Holst, what was it that made you realise it was the right home for your talents?
Simon & Martin> When you start at an agency fresh out of school you shouldn’t necessarily be looking for an agency that you think is good for you, but for people that might be good for you. We were immediately taken under the wings by some really talented and experienced people from whom we learned more a month than we did for two years in school. That, and a sense that anyone who wants to do great stuff, can do great stuff (with loads of time and effort spent), is something we think is quite unique for ÅH.
LBB> A Hard Pill to Swallow was a really punchy creative way to raise awareness of a horrible reality. And for a pharmacy brand too! Where did the idea for the fake drug come from?
Simon & Martin> Honestly, the idea came from a late night at the office with our creative colleague Joakim Khoury. We had read somewhere that the tap water in London contained huge amounts of cocaine, and were joking around about it, discussing whether it would be possible for them to extract cocaine straight from the kitchen tap then. Somewhere at that point we realised we were working on a brief that touched on a similar subject, medicine supposedly polluting the waters in India.
LBB> What effects has it had?
Simon & Martin> With a project touching on a subject like this, it’s great to see that it’s actually making a real difference. Besides having ongoing discussions with Swedish politicians about the issue, the campaign has led to requests from two major global pharmaceutical manufacturers on how to get the “Choose with your heart” label (Apotek Hjärtat’s label for environmentally friendly pharmaceuticals) on their products and what changes they need to do to get the label. Most importantly, the label is about to become a national standard in Sweden, when all major pharmacy chains will join forces with the first national sustainability label for pharmaceuticals. As the problem isn’t exclusive for Swedish pharmaceuticals, we of course hope more will follow. The campaign is still ongoing.
LBB> What was the experience like battling fake news with SVT?
Simon & Martin> It’s a very delicate subject, and we researched and learned a lot about the mechanics behind fake news and misinformation during the development of the idea. Even if the film is a fictional story based on an old Swedish expression for exaggerating and distorting the truth (“Making a hen out of a feather”), the storyline is closer to reality than people may think. The Swedish Television (SVT) is also a very brave client who was as dedicated as us in making this campaign something good.
LBB> And you pioneered a whole new media channel with E2E marketing! What are your big takeaways from that campaign?
Simon & Martin> This is the kind of job that we like a lot. It’s just a funny, stupid idea that came to life thanks to a client willing to take a chance on it and a great account manager. I mean, putting contact lenses with a cinnamon bun offer in the eyes of your employers might not be the safe way for a convenience store to advertise. It’s nice to feel that everything doesn’t have to be so serious all the time.
LBB> What other work have you been proud of recently and why?
Simon & Martin> The Legally Binding Beer Contract, where we made bailers stick to their word or end up in court was a lot of fun, and an idea that almost everyone can relate to. Who hasn’t said “Let’s grab a beer sometime” without meaning it?
LBB> What's the biggest creative challenge you've come up against in your careers so far and how did you get over it?
Simon & Martin> One of our first campaigns at Åkestam Holst, Billboards Beyond Borders for Reporters Without Borders, was the kind of project where everything was a challenge. ‘Hacking’ Google Maps with quotes from censored, jailed and murdered journalists wasn’t something we thought would actually be possible at first.
LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Martin> Tough question. I don’t know. If I knew exactly where my inspiration came from, I wouldn’t do anything else than just that. But I watch a lot of movies and TV series. I guess that’s at least not bad when it comes to being inspired.
Simon> Mostly from all the people I have around me. I also read a lot, anything from Facebook posts to instructions on how to fix stuff in my apartment.
LBB> What do you do outside of work to cool off?
Simon> I run to clear my head. I once ran a marathon and some time I’d like to do that again.
Martin> My favourite activity right now is to do exactly nothing. Not even watching a film, even if I like that a lot as well. But just laying down on the couch and thinking about nothing is something I want to find more time for in the future. I'm also thinking about starting training, but that’s another subject.