Anna Qvennerstedt： Try to stay true to it
Anna Qvennerstedt is a Copywriter, Senior Partner and Chairman of the Board at Forsman & Bodenfors in Sweden. In the past ten years, Forsman & Bodenfors has been named one of the best advertising companies in the world. Anna joined Forsman & Bodenfors from 2004, and was appointed chairman in 2012. In 2007, Anna was awarded the Platinum Egg as the youngest person ever given this prize honoring individuals who have had an exceptional impact on the advertising industry in Sweden. This makes her the second woman through history to be elected onto the The Platinum Academy (the Hall of Fame for people in advertising). She’s well known by Chinese people from the ‘the Epic Split ’case for Volvo Trucks. She’s going to come to China for the first time and share with us her idea of innovation.
Q: Why did you choose to join the advertising industry?
A: I thought I was gonna be a designer, so I started an education to become a product designer but then I changed my minds. So I didn’t go through university really. I started it but I quitted. You know being young, you just want to try something that sounds exciting but I don’t know if I have any talent for it or if I was passionate about design. But writing is something that I have been doing in my whole life.
So when I went back to Sweden, I went straight in the advertising school. It was basically because I like to write. It was to go for interest. I joined this industry when I was 21 or 22, and after that I never left this industry. The first company I joined is a Swedish local agency, a small one, and I stayed there for only 6 months. Then I moved on to an another local Swedish agency where I sort of really got the opportunity to show what I could do.
Q: We both know that Nordic has a lovely atmosphere for creatives and designers. What do you think that it makes the region so special?
A: I think we are quite early adopters to the digital landscape when it comes to communication at least. We have been a little bit ahead. I don’t think we are any more but we used to be. But also I think maybe we have the working climate that is good, at least in Sweden.
We are very collaborative people, enjoying working in groups. And we have taken it into the extreme in our company. Because we don’t have any titles. We just try to create an environment where everyone feels safe enough to think freely and they don’t have to worry about what their boss would think. It is a kind of nice environment in that way. It is not about fear and competition. It is about collaboration. As a creative, if you always think about what other people would like, and the best solution to solve the problem, you won’t be as creative as you could be.
Q: So based on what you know about your country, could you please compare it with the creative industry in China?
A: It is difficult because it’s my first time in China. I came here 2 days ago, and I’ve just seen some works now. It would be very difficult for me to very specifically say too much about the Chinese industry. Something that I have noticed though, when I looked at the works, the whole communicative landscape is rather huge and complex. And in some cases and ideas are also very complex. When you listen to the case study, it is a media strategy rather than a creative idea. So sometimes I have a hard time to just see what the creative leap is. When you go though the first round of judging, there are always a lot of things like that, but then when you see the finalists, you will see the really good works. It is fascinating to me that many good ideas seems to transcend the culture, differences and everything. I have seen at least two innovative ideas from Baidu, about big data, taking us to very creative ideas. That is something I find is very interesting, like how can we take all our search data from a whole year and turn that into piece of music, for example.
Q: Do you have a plan to attract more Chinese brands?
A: Yes, we are working with a Japanese brand SK II and we did a campaign for SK II in China which has been successful. It is a lot fun to do it. It has been such a great experience because we had the opportunity to come to China and interview a lot of women here for a few months and tried to understand the target audience. It has been really inspiring to the whole team to do that, and the campaign has been successful. So now we see that there is an interest from brands here.
I think coming with the outer perspective can be interesting in a a way but we still need to understand the market and local insight. If we are going to keep working with Asian brands or in the Chinese market, we need to have representation here. At least on some level we need insights.
Q: Because I think the ‘left woman’ is a quite sensitive topic in China and I think no other brands have ever talked about that. How do you persuade your client to be the one to speak this out?
A: Coming from the outside, we don’t really know exactly how sensitive it is. We are sort of naive maybe in that way. But as I understand, because I am not working for myself on that account, it has been a very brave client. They have loved the great idea from the very start. They wanted us to make it bigger and they are very trusting. We are also planning our next campaign with SK II.
Q: You are the chairman of the board in F&B and ‘The Epic Split’ — the TVC of Volvo Truck is a great success. What’s the key factor to the great success？
A: You know it wasn’t the first campaign we did. We did a series where they put trucks in different experiments. They were also pretty successful. This was the №6. They got viral. But it was something with this particular one.
I think it is the strategy we have been working on for quite some time and we spent a lot of time on the strategy part. It is really based on a very strong strategy. I think it is something with the craft that everything came together in a way.
Q: So did you feel some pressure after that one?
A: Yes I thought so. I thought where are we gonna go from here. But somehow I think there is nothing that is more inspirational to people than someone in the office making a success. I mean if you see your own colleagues making a success like this, you want to be there too. And you feel that if they can do it, I can do it. It is not like seeing something that someone else did, because you will feel that is out of reach. Suddenly you start looking at your own brief and your client, and you think they can go there like the truck.
So I think it hasn’t really been a burden. It wasn’t us successful because it is impossible to repeat it, but we did several campaigns that were really good, and they won a lot of awards. I feel it sort of raised the bar within the company in a good way.
Q: Because you are a copywriter, you need to be creative everyday. So in the process of creation, what kind of factors are more important, intuition or thinking or your background or your experience?
A: I think, for me at least, I need to focus 100% on trying to understand the problem and trying to just find a solution to the problem. And it is hard because there are all other kinds of distractions all the time, pleasing the clients and winning awards. I just find if I manage to forget about all those thing, forget about what the clients expect, just try to think what could actually work, then something interesting could happen. You need to feel real and honest. The process for me is about to take away everything you feel dishonest and just get to that. But it is same hard work for everyone. There is no recipe. You have no idea on how to do it, and spend quite a lot time in despair, not coming up with anything, then you go through same anxiety and then you sort of navigate around all the bad ideas. After that you have something you feel strongly for, but it is difficult every time.
Q: Do you have the kind of fear that young people can be more energetic and creative than you?
A: I think you can contribute in different ways throughout your career. That is also what I like about the way we work in the office. When I work on something together with my art director, we would show works to each other. When we have some first ideas, we bring people in the room. We discuss it then I get the feed of other people’s thoughts. If we have young creatives, they will bring their fresh ideas on it. For them it is of course valuable to have people with a lot experience.
So I think as long as you are open to listening to what other people say, as long as you believe you don’t have all the answers, you can keep going and then also maybe you can help young people to move forward, giving them a little support, space, and trust, and all the things you need for yourself.
Q: And I wanna also know what makes you team so outstanding?
A: I don’t think we are smarter than anyone. It is the working climate in the office that make people feel they can suggest anything and they can come up with their ideas. No one will think they are bad. Because of it, they have the support of the whole agency. They don’t have to be afraid of making any mistakes. I thinks it is the context. It is very interesting to me that in the right context, you can feel very secure that you are good. Putting you into another context with other people, you can feel you are totally useless or worthless.
So the context is so important. In the right context, we can have students in the offices, coming up with brilliant ideas, because they have the rights and they have support. And when we hire people, it is much more about chemistry, than talent. Of course we look for the portfolio and everything. But It is just one side.
Q: Could you tell me the most important thing you care about while judging the works？
A: It sounds boring but I guess it has to be the creative ideas. I want it sort of taken from the god. Feel this open my eyes and I have not seen it a thousand times before. That can be either in the idea or could also be in the execution. Sometimes the idea may not be revolutionary, but the way they did it makes it more standing out and moved you. It can be either.
Q: People are talking about new disruptive technology, such as VR and AR. Recently, Alibaba has produced AI programmers which can design banners themselves, even they are not so creative. But gradually they are replacing some works made by human. What do you think of this trends?
A: I think they are positive, definitely. But they cannot replace creativity. It is the matter of using those tools in a creative way. To the extend that you need mechanical staff, I wouldn’t be too bothered if it is made by a robot. This industry is about storytelling, ideas and that is something that never gonna be made by a robot. Because the really strong creativity is irrational, it takes a leap from all the statistics, strategy and smartness. And that leap is what we should represent. That is something that I would say the industry is extremely good at doing and it would be needed in the future as well.
Q: So the last question. What’s your suggestions to those people who are dedicated to working a creative industry?
A: There must be a reason why you want to do that and why you get interested in that. At least for me, to try to remember what it is and try to stay true to it is the most important thing. Because It is so easy to be distracted by what other people say when you start work. Of course, you had to learn. What is important, is to try to learn as much as you can but still just keep very true to your own mission and what you want to contribute and not to lose that.