From advertising to gaming, Poland is bursting with creative ambition, finds LBB’s Laura Swinton
Polish advertising, says Dawid Szczepaniak, is ‘still a bit of a Wild, Wild West’. On the one hand, explains the executive creative director and partner at VML Poland, that’s because of agencies in the country tend to work on a project-by-project basis, which means constant pitching and hustling. On the other, it’s still a relatively youthful industry, which means there’s lots of hunger and opportunity.
It’s a potent combination. Over the past few years, a quiet revolution has been brewing. Thanks to growing creative ambition, greater focus on the global awards circuit and the democratising power of digital the country has slowly nudging upwards. And if you haven’t noticed it yet, you soon will. In the worlds of design, filmmaking and gaming the country has made a mark on the global stage – and the advertising industry is not far behind.
“The Polish advertising industry is still very young,” observes Patrycja Bruź-Soniewicka, MD at Saatchi & Saatchi Group Poland. Saatchi & Saatchi arrived in 1991, two years after the fall of communism in 1989, and the rest of the decade saw other big network agencies started flooding in. As a result the newly minted ad industry had to hit the ground running. “Over the last 25 years we have learned how to do advertising, still there are not that many campaigns that gain worldwide attention. I guess we are still learning how to promote our work!”
That looks like it’s changing though – as you’ll see the past year or so has seen Polish agencies produce flashes of strong creative. What’s more, says Patrycja, the industry’s relative youth also lends it a punchy, ambitious energy, which is showcased in a 2014 campaign Saatchi & Saatchi created for the country. “When I say young, I also mean that our creative thinking stands for those things that youth is all about: not incredibly experienced but fresh and courageous. Our advertising mirrors the shape Polish people are in; ambitious, hardworking and creative – that is our DNA. Let’s say, we do dare to dream big and are not afraid to face challenges in advertising champions league!”
After years of scrapping and scrambling, learning on the fly, the Polish industry is finally at a place where it can afford to think big. Dawid recalls his own experience, opening indie startup Pride&Glory Interactive seven years ago with a friend. “I had 500 Euro in my bank account and international awards were the last thing on my mind. My main concern was to produce enough websites so I could pay next month’s salaries,” he says.
The agency grew to a 70-strong shop, merged with another agency, and was acquired by VML. All of a sudden he was plugged into a global network – he’s recently returned from the VML global creative meeting in Kansas City – with access to a world of inspiration. “I guess that’s a good illustration of some really dynamic changes in the Polish ad industry. There are more stories like these among our friends at other agencies.”
Increasingly Polish agencies are able to ‘think of more than just surviving’, says Dawid.
That’s translated into a greater passion within the industry, reckons Saatchi & Saatchi Deputy Creative Director, Michal Desowski. “It seems that there are more and more people in Poland that really ‘love this game’,” he says. When someone makes a good campaign, others see it and want to do something great as well – it is like a snowball effect. At least we want to believe it.”
That’s something that Platige Image, the super star creative studio, has observed. The 18-year-old company is known for its production, animation, CGI and is mentioned by several local agencies as a real hot shop – and they’ve noticed the growing quality of the creative advertising. “Indeed, the number of good and very commercials produced in Poland has been steadily on the rise over the past couple of years,” they say. “The industry is brimming with young creatives drawing inspiration from the best campaigns in the world, sharing experiences with other creatives worldwide. As a result, they're able to deliver campaigns that are as good or even better locally. We'd like to emphasize that the creative ambitions of the Polish ad industry are still very high, they haven't just popped up over the past two years. Poland is a country full of ambitious, talented people who crave success.”
Awards, awards, awards
That belief has been tempered somewhat by the global awards circuit. Last year Poland took home just two Bronze Lions (which went to FCB Warsaw for their touching Prima Coffee campaign and DDB & Tribal for McDonald’s project ‘Move’) despite a whopping 243 entries from the country. It left the industry disappointed – local trade site Wirtualnemedia.pl described Polish campaigns as ‘in the shadow of global innovation and inspiration’, while in the same piece, DDB & Tribal ECD Maciej Waligora described the Polish presence at the festival as ‘negligible’.
On the other hand, though, the record-breaking number of Polish entries shows an ambition to be recognised globally. Traditionally, though, there has never been much of an ‘award culture’ in Poland; the practice of trying to force ‘award worthy’ ideas to clients despite the fact that they don’t fit their brief or solve their problems is largely absent in the industry.
As Polish agencies get to grips with the science (or, perhaps, ‘dark art’) of the case study video and take a more proactive approach to awards, it looks likely that there’s a real belief that more of their work will get an airing at global platforms like award shows.
“I guess it’s not really about creative ambition. It’s more about money and about understanding what it takes to win Lions on a regular basis. There’s a sort of science behind it and we’re finally getting there,” says Dawid. “Please notice that in the past there was no single Polish agency that would reliably win global awards year by year. All Polish Lions used to be sort of accidental. But it will change. Poles are coming.”
Work to be proud of
So in 2015 the display cabinets of the Polish advertising community may not have been bursting with global awards, but over the past year we’ve seen a steady stream of interesting work emerge from the country (it’s the very reason LBBonline decided to take a deeper look at the Polish industry).
Case in point, VML’s recent campaign for Poland’s Ministry of Health. The spot was a big hit in the LBB office, but Dawid reckons we’d get even more out of it if we could understand just why it worked so well in its original Polish. “Well, this is one of these projects that you do for fun of it. And for your creative reputation. It’s a pity that you get just the English version created for PR reasons. The Polish copywriting was hilarious. One more example of work that is so hard to present outside Poland.”
Other projects that caught our eye earlier in 2015 include Isobar Poland’s ‘Freedom Tattoos’ project, with The College of Social Sciences. In it they transformed botched and crude prison tattoos, which can often be used to stigmatise ex-convicts, into works of inky art.
VML’s rough and ready spoof of Fast & Furious 7 (think Grand Theft Tractor), proved a hit around the world, gained over five million views and was picked up by international news outlets. The campaign saw Orange team up with popular Polish YoutTuber Cyber Marian for his unique interpretation of current movie trailers. And if you ask us, their 50 Shades of Grey film might be even funnier.
A culture of creativity
Outside of the advertising industry, Poland’s creative culture is a buoyant mix of rich heritage and exciting new technology. The prestigious Lodz Film School boasts alumni like directors Roman Polanski and Agnieszka Holland and DOPs like Hoyte can Hoytema. The Se-ma-for http://www.se-ma-for.com/ animation studio, founded in 1947, pioneered the wonderful stop motion movement of Eastern Europe – and its 2008 Oscar for the short film Peter and Wolf is a source of immense pride.
That heritage is seeping into a new generation, that is putting their own spin on things. Michal at Saatchi speaks admiringly of inspiring young directing talents like Sebastian Pańczyk, Michał Poniedzielski, Damian Nenow , Sasha Kanavalau, and Kijek/Adamski. Meanwhile his colleague Kamil Majewski refers to designer Edgar Bak, who he believes is the true inheritor of the ‘Polish School of Poster’, bringing typography and minimalist design to a new generation. There are worse ways to spend half an hour than checking out their work.
Beyond film and design, Poland’s also standing out in more contemporary arenas. The blockbuster video game series Witcher proves that the country is capable of having a huge impact on global pop culture. The second game in the series, Witcher 2, was gifted to Barak Obama on an official state visit to Poland. And the latest game, Witcher 3, earned developers CD Projekt Red a net profit of $62.5 million. The games are based on a series of fantasy short stories and novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski and the games blend local folk art aesthetics with cutting edge game tech to build a rich world.
Platige Image created a gorgeous promotional film for Witcher 3, and for them the games’ success epitomises Poland’s creative potential. “The Witcher and its success served as a sort of impulse and inspiration for the entire gaming and creative industries. It has demonstrated that Polish companies working in that particular market can be successful on a global scale, while Poland itself is a perfect vehicle for creative endeavors.”
Over the years Platige Image has found itself working more closely with the wider games industry more generally, with films and cinematics for the likes of upcoming Ubisoft title For Honor and the award-winning Super City game.
As well as CD Projekt Red, Poland is home to other huge games developers, such as Techland (the brains behind Dead Island and Dying Light) and 11 Bit Studios who created the hard-hitting This War of Mine and This War of Mine: The Little Ones games.
The influence of the local games giants and their global success is apparent in a recent spot for Polish cancer foundation Alivia. Directed by Karol Kołodziński, the spot meldslive action with breath taking VFX to bring into the alien landscape of an FPS-style game. Produced by Dobro (part of the Platige Image group) and post-produced by Platige Image.
That wider creative culture means that there’s a rich seam of production and design talent to tap into. However the shortage of ad schools and the lure of a sexy and profitable gaming industry means that agencies are fighting over the best people.
“To be honest, it’s not great. There are not enough young creative people looking for work in the ad agencies here. It’s due to several reasons: not many schools that produce advertising talents, youth leaving to the EU and many looking for jobs in the fast growing starup scene and game development scene of Poland,” says Dawid, who also mentions that the tricky Polish language could be off-putting.
There is positive side to all this, for creatives looking for opportunities in a new market, says Saatchi & Saatchi CD Kamil Majewski. “If you want to work as a concept creative, there is no other place to go than Warsaw. Here are the biggest agencies and the biggest clients. And as we work more and moreon regional and global teams, it’s actually Eldorado for English native teams.” (Yes, he’s hiring - drop him a line.)
Come on over?
From digital innovation to creative agencies and production, there’s a lot going on in Poland. And in coming months and years, we’re expecting to see Poland come up more frequently in conversations about rising creative stars on the global ad stage.
In fact, after decades of global agencies making inroads into the Polish market, that movement is starting to reverse, with Polish talent bringing their expertise with the world. “The industry in Poland is fairly stable and has accrued immense experience,” says the team at Platige Image, who opened a New York office three years ago. “Increasingly often it's Polish ad people who travel abroad to share their experiences with other creatives and not the other way around. They have found a perfect niche in responding to clients interested in genuine emotion and authenticity.”
Polish agencies have also found their way to the global stage by collaborating with network offices in other country. For Saatchi & Saatchi Poland that has translated into the recent Theraflu Thermoscanner project, an outdoor ad that detects feverish temperatures in passers-by; it was created in conjunction with the network’s Switzerland office. Similarly they were also part of a wider team that launched the new Toyota Avensis model.
It also looks like we’ll be seeing more some big global campaigns coming out of Poland in the coming year. Dawid at VML remains tight-lipped about the juicy details but says he’s ‘super excited’ about a huge integrated campaign that will be airing in over 40 markets in the Autumn.
What’s clear is that Poland is at a tipping point and below the surface there is quite a bit to inspire ambitious creatives, clients and producers in terms of art, skills and cutting edge digital innovation.
“There is this huge hunger and drive to finally catch up with the West when it comes to creativity,” says Dawid. “And it will happen anytime soon.”
So what are you waiting for?
To check out more news and work from Poland click here.