“The reason advertising exists is to make brands culturally relevant,” says Tony Hogqvist

Newsroom 03/12/2015 | 11:31

Founder of the Swedish agency Perfect Fools that he launched in 2002, Tony Hogqvist has signed as creative director campaigns for Adidas, Converse, KFC or Swarovski. He also won awards in international festivals like Cannes Lions (Cannes Grand Prix included), D&AD, Eurobest and One Show. Being present in Romania as the Internetics 2015 president of the jury, BR met and talked to him about the latest digital trends, the advertising industry and its continuous challenges.


Romanita Oprea


Is it your first time in Romania and interacting with the advertising market?

First time in Romania, but, as many other people, I’ve been seeing a few cases of Romanian advertising before. The most obvious one is the Grand Prix in Cannes some years ago for Rom. That sparked my interest of Romania. I like when small and emerging markets are popping out of nowhere and that make me see that something was happening over here. Then I got the opportunity to come here and I accepted immediately.  Because I have never been here and I am interested in seeing new places all the time.


How do you consider the Romanian advertising at the festival?

Emerging. On the whole, average. Big pieces completely shit. Too much focus on short-term profits and numbers, very little examples of long-term marketing building. On the other hand, the few cases that won at this award show were good. They were good and had international fight level.

I expected to be surprised and I actually have a list of some favorites and there were also the favorites that the jury awarded. Otherwise, I didn’t know what to do. There were a few cases I definitely wouldn’t want to extend an award to.

But this is the way it is. It’s like when you judge culture, even if it’s music or art. It’s a lot of personal preferences and cultural relevance that is related to you and your culture. For me, sitting in a jury is all about having a point of view. And that was the most important thing for me when I came into this jury.

I believe in advertising that moves this industry in a right direction, I don’t believe in short-term gimmicky stuff that just have an effect. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Advertising needs to change culture, needs to change people, the environment we live in. Otherwise we are just business consultant people that help brands to make money tomorrow. But we need to make relevance in this society, to make brand relevant to people. If we don’t have a better meaning then just numbers we are doomed and we will never survive as an industry.


You don’t believe in advertising segmented on digital, ATL, BTL, PR anymore, do you?

This is just terminology. If you say mobile advertising 99 percent of the clients wouldn’t even know what to think about. They think that maybe is mobile manners or mobile social media. But it really doesn’t matter. You’ll always find logistics ( like Facebook is a platform and you can buy Facebook ads, Google is a platform you can buy search words) all of these things are clever and smart and make a lot of sense, but on the long run advertising is about making brands culturally relevant. You need spread, but you also need insights like touch points with people, you need emotions, you need a lot of aspects. You can’t sort it with one thing.


So you believe that when a client comes and asks for a campaign he should be then advised by the agency what media to use and why. Not the other way around: the client coming and asking for a tv or digital or BTL campaign, even that may not be what he really needs.

To convince someone to believe in you or respect someone or convince him to follow you, in order to build brands and communities you need different touch points. It’s completely impossible to try and force something down the throat of people. We need to reach them from different touch points. We need ambassadors to talk about it. We need a tv commercial to show credibility or scale. We need outdoor ads because it also shows some kind of respect, if that’s what we want to tell with the brand. And digital is just a tiny piece of all the communication we need in order to touch the consumer. The importance of digital is huge, because people are more and more present on the digital platforms, but digital advertising in general is just a part of the show. I am just thinking about the touch points.

The problem is that most of the clients I had over the years and that are right aren’t educated. They do not even care about the advertising. They went to business school and they want advertising because they think is about turning numbers around, but it’s not about that. Advertising is about changing culture, about making brands relevant to people.

If you don’t care about music, about art, about storytelling, about films, it’s impossible to understand the role of advertising. But 99 percent of the clients don’t care the culture or the branding, they care about the profit and the stakes. And we just need to start educating them. Some clients are amazing, some are brilliant, some listen and care. You see it even in the most emerging markets: a lack of respect for the term advertising.


You said you like some works that also won at this year’s Internetics. Do you think they stand a chance at international competitions?

Yes, I really think so. I saw two cases that I think have international approach. “Street View Test” it’s maybe not a piece of advertising, it’s an utility, but it builds brands and so it needs to be a piece of advertising. Utility is one of our best tools in marketing. And in the future will be the most important tool, like Nike+. For the brand, ACR, to launch a platform that is so innovative shoes that it’s a brand actually there, ready to do stuff. That campaign has already gotten some international recognition. And it will do more so.

The other was the “Fan’s Arena”. I think it was clever to fill up an arena, turning the negative approach around. I also liked the McDonald’s case, “#MecSaysHiToJunimea”. I think it’s quite brave for a brand like McDonald’s to challenge its target like that.


If you were to give an advice to the Romanian advertising industry what would that be?

To the clients: think long term! Build relationships! Find someone you trust and shape them not go out and shop agencies.

For agencies: dare to fail! It’s easy to get scared and blown away by all the budgets and the media, but if we don’t have courage we can never evolve. We need the brave people, the picks to put Romania on the map of amazing advertising and if we do a lot of people will follow. If you attract talents you will attract brands.

We talked about Rom before, that is one of the few cases in which Romania exports advertising and brands to the world. 90 percent of the stuff I look at in the award show is from the big companies (P&G, Kraft, etc), big international brands that are localizing. So the difference is made this way: the brands that Romania has as a nation are going outside and the advertising community works to export Romania as a brand, as tools, as marketing, like in Sweden where you have IKEA, H&M, Volvo and a lot of international recognition for a lot or Swedish brands. Here in Romania I see a few local brands in the festival. Dacia, for example, wasn’t even one of the submissions. Why don’t we have more Romanian heritage brands that are actually promotion themselves internationally? Why are all the cases McDonalds’s, Procter & Gamble, the big players that just come to Romania to put a pin on the map and just say “let’s claim the turf”. Because this is not about protecting their turf, is about growing Romania internationally.

The creatives need to be challenging the clients as well and also need to embrace the local brands. Otherwise the Romanian advertising industry will never get the international recognition it deserves.


How is it to be an entrepreneur in Sweden?

It has always been about making a living out of my hobby and I think this is what kept me going all these years. I said no to amazing budgets and brands. I dare to fail and say no, because life is not only about cash. In the end is also about shaping it and controlling it. In some markets everyone needs to survive, so I am in a lucky spot, not being forced to pass through that. We also had some tough years when we needed to sell everything, because you can never underestimate the power of a good profit. Because it also gives you freedom to do other stuff. It’s about reinvestment. The philosophy that we always had was that we always reinvest in the agency: spend the money on your staff, on you, but then it should be about the tools and environment and education.

A lot of people build stuff in advertising to make profit. I am in advertising to make a lifestyle. I want to travel around the world, I want to work with the best brands and people and if my agency finances that I don’t need to bring a lot of money from outside the industry. It’s not my interest.


If you were to go back and redo something in your agency what would that be and why?

I wouldn’t start the office in New York that failed. It failed because we only attracted one client – Ford. You know when you put all your eggs in one basket and you invest in the wrong horse. I put a lot of my pride and my friendship and real investment into winning one client and we won it. But Ford was bankrupt in a couple of years and as soon as that happened in Detroit in only one night we lost almost all our income in the NY office. So I don’t regret New York, but I think I was naïve.

Why Perfect Fools succeeded over the years is because we invested in different pockets. If some client fails us we still have another, if some people fail us I still have the relationship with some of them. The inner circle of people and clients can never kill the agency. I’ve always been that smart and have control over that inner circle. In New York I let the inner circle kill all the foundation, due to the fact that it was just one client. But it was a learning.


You have an office in Amsterdam. How did you decide to open it?

The only reason that Amsterdam exists is culture. I have a family, a wonderful wife, I have time off that I need to have to feed all the culture back to my life. Not even the closest friends in my agency can feed all the culture that I need from the world and our Amsterdam office celebrates culture every day. We have gigs every week, upcoming bands, we have different people coming in and renting our space, we have people coming by from different design houses and bands.


It’s more than an advertising agency, it’s a creative hub.

That is the point. The reason advertising exists is to make brands cultural relevant. I can have as much production in Stockholm as I want to, but people will not buy the services if I don’t know their culture. And if I can’t tell the clients how their world works why would they hire me? That’s where we get our insights in order to generate ideas.


Can you say that there are some things that work in the Scandinavian advertising but in the Western or the CEE advertising would never do and vice versa?

Yes. Always humor. The local humor can never be copied. A lot of successful Swedish campaigns that try to use the humor are failing internationally. In Sweden there is a lot of irony, humbleness in the humor, a lot of making fun of themselves, in some other cultures this just doesn’t appeal to people. In some other cultures we can see a nasty humor, where people fall and hurt themselves for example. The Eastern World is completely different form the Western one, it’s just something that we have to accept.

I also believe that the American advertising is not that loved in many countries because it doesn’t have the humbleness. As a brand making fun of themselves is something really hard to do. The American brands many times have the approach of being “the best” or “the oldest”.


What would you say that are the 2016’s digital trends?

On a social scale I believe that the mash ups. More and more brands are trying to combine things. Everyone is a creator. You hear something, you learn something, a song or a movie or a piece of technology and you mix it with all kinds of other “ingredients” and you create a wired “mash up”. That will definitely be the next big trend.

For years people have been talking about virtual reality, but we are even close there yet. It will not be mainstream until in a couple of years.

Social media will no longer be what we know to be today social media. It will be sponsored and bought ads. Today I hear clients coming to me and asking me for a social media strategy and what they mean is social media platforms, but in fact it’s just regular ads. I think that a big trend we are already seeing shaping is that people start to realize that you can’t survive if you don’t start telling things as they really are.

And I also believe that the entertainment format is shaping: individual people, talents, comedians are starting to do their own shows, their own content and earning so much money that they are becoming important media channels themselves. Sponsorships and ambassadorships are coming their ways. People had started talking about this 2-3 years ago, but I saw a shift already happening last year that I think will be more mainstream next year. Now big brands are starting to accept this trend and understand it. A TV channel can be less important than one individual that is running a YouTube blog. It’s easy to say that this is old news but think about how many are they really in Romania, count them on the fingers of the hand. How many Romanian YouTube celebrities do we have? Maybe 5. Or Swedish? Maybe 2.

We have to look on the business’ side and see when it starts to work for the brands and not remain at the stunt level.

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