Johan Kramer on ADCN’s new Award category ‘Experimental in Next’

Club ADCN, 18 January 2018

johan kramer

ADCN will launch two new categories for the ADCN Awards 2018, ‘Business’ and ‘Experimental’, both part of the Next Awards for next generation creativity.

This last category has been brought to life to celebrate self-initiated projects by creative agencies and professionals. Something Johan Kramer, the advertising icon turned exquisite filmmaker and a member of the ADCN Hall of Fame, encourages as he believes creatives should keep on experimenting with own projects to keep on developing and fuel their creativity.

What does ‘experiments in creativity’ mean to you?
There is a weird, but understandable mechanism in the advertising world. Creatives are always asked for new projects based on previous executed work. Never on work that possibly could be created in the future. This happens to agencies, directors, sound studio’s, actually to everybody that works for assignments. At KesselsKramer we received a lot of assignments after the campaign for Hans Brinker Budget Hotel from clients wanting the same sort of campaign. The same happened after we created the campaign for Ben.

This is something you also notice as a director – you receive a new assignment based on what you have done before, but as a maker/creator, you want to do something new. Your own projects are for that reason very useful to develop your skills and yourself. They are actually necessary if you want to keep on developing and fuel your creativity.

How do experiments start?
They start when you, as a creative, enter new territory or when you try to make something without a vision about where you are going, what the end result will be.

How do you make time for experiments?
Most people in this industry are extremely motivated. They have a huge drive to create something new. Unfortunately, a lot of creatives forget to create time and adjust to the conventional way of working. Back in the days, this became clear in the way students and professionals organized their portfolios.

Students that just came from the academy did not have an organized way of presenting themselves. Portfolios were all over the place, but original and personal. Three years later, when these students weren’t students anymore, their work had made progress but their portfolios were suddenly very structured. The personal and experimental touch was gone. What was left were only neat advertisements with a logo in the right place. In short, the newcomers had adjusted to how seniors work.

In my opinion, it would be a good idea if agencies would stimulate their creative employees to create own projects and help financing that. Both parties would benefit from this.

Where do you get inspiration from?
Experiences in life. Literature. Museums. Films. Theatre and more than everything: people. There is always the curiosity to look for stories to share with others in a different way then people are used to.

Why is there not a lot of experimental work in the advertising world?
When a creative delivers successful work, it is tempting to continue with that successful formula which is logic as it is easy. Besides, the daily life of a creative is pretty insecure and vulnerable, so if you have something to hold on to that works (for you) then it is logic to do as you have done before. Especially creative directors have that urge to do it this way.

Psychologist Dacher Keltner describes ‘The Power of Paradox’, that says that at one point it gets harder and harder to be open to other thoughts and ideas that are valuable to you. This behavior is strange as creative minds are always on the lookout for something new, but in real life this seems hard. That is why it is good that ADCN is on the lookout for experimental work. Maybe it is not always well thought of or perfectly executed, but in the long run, the creative industry will benefit and further develop from it.

What is your own best example of an experimental project?
One big project was ‘The Other Final’, a soccer match that I came up with between the two lowest classified soccer countries for the World Cup, that would be played on the same day as the World Cup finale. I made an elaborated documentary like I had never done before. It was a leap in the dark, but during the creation process I learned so much and I still benefit from the things I’ve learned.

A smaller project was one with my youngest daughter Lila. One night she asked me how she could become a writer of children’s books and I proposed to do research on this subject together. We looked up ten of her favorite writers. Lila did the interviews and I took photos. The end result is a nice book and an exposition in the Kunsthal. The most beautiful thing about this experiment was the time I spend with my daughter, and both having the same goal – the answer to her question.