The third instalment of our Lürzer’s Archive interviews features Flo Heiss, Executive Creative Director at Dare. Flo talks about life in the digital advertsing industy, working at Dare and being President of the Animated Gif Appreciation Society. Enjoy…
L.A: Hi Flo, can you first of all introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Flo: Hi. I am the anglobavarian Executive Creative Director at Dare in London. We are a new kind of agency with a media neutral approach. I know, that’s what everybody says or at least should say, but what makes us different is a true marriage of broadcast and digital post the merger of Dare Digital and MCBD. In non-marketing lingo, that means we are a creative agency that is as comfortable making a mobile app or a website as it is with a cinema commercial…and everything in-between.
L.A: Perhaps you can tell us a bit about your time as a student of graphic design. You studied in various countries before winding up at the Royal Collage of Art? How did all that traveling come about? What did you learn in all the different places?
Flo: When I was 16 I spent 3 months in Northern Ireland as part of a school organized exchange and I think I caught the “abroad-bug” then. I absolutely loved the rugged beauty of Warrenpoint and the stunning Irish countryside and amazing people.
Back in Germany a few years later, during my Graphics BA, I won the Erasmus Scholarship for graphic design and spent a year in Urbino, Italy. I finished my Graphics diploma in 1995 in Augsburg, Germany and then went on and applied for an MA at the RCA in London. Basically I tried to string my studies out as long as I could, so I didn’t have to find a job. The traveling gave me a great insight into how different cultures approach design. In Italy it was all about the look, the colours the expression and in the UK it’s more about the ideas. I have ever since tried to combine the two.
L.A: Who were some of the graphic designers you admired when you were a student?
Flo: Josef Müller Brockmann and Wim Crouwel were a huge influence on me early on, but mostly during my college time I copied David Carson’s and Neville Brody’s work no end. Ray Gun and The Face were my bible in the early 90s. I remember fondly a session with my typography professor about “Ray Ban” as he called it. I also devoured Émigré’s design and typography. I subscribed to the magazine, although I don’t think I ever read a single article. The issue about the Designers Republic totally blew my Bavarian mind.
L.A: Were you interested in advertising at all? Any ads you remember from that time?
Flo: To be honest, I wasn’t really that interested in advertising. I did watch the Cannes Rolle (Lürzer’s Archive) a few times in the cinema believe it or not, but that was pretty much it. My main interest was and still is graphics and art. Looking back it’s no coincidence though that I wound up doing advertising ‘cos all my student work was more ideas based and not so much graphics at all. I just don’t have the patience for proper graphic design. My final piece in Augsburg was a mail-order catalogue for happiness called Placebo. It was crammed full of weird and wonderful products. Some of them have since actually been made. Like a film crew you could hire to follow you around and document every mundane aspect of your life. Big Brother basically. Or you could hire a family if you were lonely. Or get someone else to write a great autobiography about you. A bit like Twitter or Facebook.
L.A: And when did you first get interested in Digital? What were your first steps in that arena?
Flo: The first time I got into digital was when I started working at Scholz&Volkmer in Wiesbaden. I needed to earn some money for my time in London just before my MA course started. So I got a friend to give me a crash course in Photoshop 2 (the one when layers were first introduced) and off I went. I was part of a team that made two CD ROMs, one for Vauxhall and one for the launch of the Mercedes SLK. Both very big projects at the time pre-internet. For the Vauxhall CD I drew large 270 degree panoramas of Paris, Rome and other places that you could navigate around. Kind of like Quicktime VR before it existed. No coincidence that my final piece at the RCA also was a portfolio CD ROM for the fashion department – alongside an installation piece consisting of bag of mayonnaise on a table (I had just discovered Matthew Barney).
L.A: You joined Dare, Campaign magazine’s Digital Agency of the Decade, back in 2000. What was the digital world like back then?
Flo: A total mess to be honest, but digital work then was fun, free and innocent. We produced a lot of extension work for broadcast ideas on minuscule budgets, but we were free to experiment and everything was totally unchartered area. Our Axe Feather piece was a total make-it-up-as-we-go-along production. For Wanadoo we made banners with flames in them that we filmed in a bin on our roof. Flash had just come out and we experimented a lot with the capability of it. I’d say the ideas were more daring but the production maybe not as polished as it should’ve been. I miss those days sometimes. Digital has become so central to everything that it sometimes becomes a bit safe.
L.A: What was Dare like back then? And what is it like today? How has the company evolved?
Flo: Back in 2000 we were just a bunch of people in a room trying to make good work. No one knew how things worked and how to make stuff and that was half the fun. It was a quite straight forward process: Everyone mucked in and to a certain extent we have kept this philosophy. The best work happens when the right people collaborate.
What is different now is the sliding scale of the work we are producing. A project can be anything from a very small sexy thing to a huge 6 month campaign. It’s now more important than ever not to loose sight of the work and keep it simple. The most exciting shift in briefs that we work on now is that they don’t dictate what medium to execute an idea in, but what’s the best way to solve a particular problem.
L.A: Are there people in the digital field whose work you particularly admire?
Flo: Phew, so many. The digital community is very tight and we know each other very well. I love the work the boys at LMFM produce. Always fresh and funny stuff. Poke always deliver work that inspires. The Barbarian’s work I also admire greatly, and if I say admire, I mean I am super fucking jealous. Then there is a whole host of digital artists out there that produce incredible stuff like Grey World, Daniel Brown, Raphael Rozendaal, Aaron Koblin, Oliver Laric. I could go on…
L.A: You’ve been Creative Director at Dare for the past 8 years. What is some of the work created there during that time that you’re proudest of?
Flo: As mentioned above I still think Axe Feather and Lynx Blow were defining pieces for us, and possibly the only truly viral pieces we have ever made. Our Desk Crusher project for Vodafone was epic too. A boring B2B brief ended up as a 2 tonne metal steel crusher destroying desks. The one project I am most proud of though is the work we did with British Magnum photographer Martin Parr for Sony Ericsson back in 2006. That was a real first to use a camera phone and hand it to a world class photographer. We ended up publishing a book with Parr’s and people’s photos in it. I am well proud of that campaign.
L.A: What in your opinion will be the major changes in web-based communication we can expect next?
Flo: I think technology will and should become more and more invisible and the content and the stories we tell come to the fore. All the mechanics used at the moment like Twitter or FB to fuel campaigns are being used because we can and not because it makes sense. I believe that we are in a transitional period where we are trying out stuff to see what works best and sometimes forget about the emotional part of an idea that connects with consumers – real people in the real world that have never heard of the Cyber Lions. Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe, but these people do exist.
L.A: How do you see the role of social media in brand communication of today?
Flo: Social media is crucial for every campaign and has always been. If your idea isn’t social, i.e people don’t talk about it or share it, your idea is dead. Social media doesn’t mean to simply stick something on FB though or connect it to Twitter and you’re done. A social idea has to have talkability built into it. The best campaigns have a certain something that elevates them into pop culture. People love what you have done and want to share it. That certain something is always different though. Sometimes it’s a funny line (Whassuup!) or a kick ass track (Flat Eric) or a celeb. You never really know what flies. There is a bit of alchemy at work that connects with the zeitgeist. It’s hard, but it can be done.
L.A: Do traditional ad agencies have a problem adapting to all this? What you you see as some of the challenges facing a traditional agency trying to adapt to this new world
Flo: I am not sure traditional agencies exist any more in 2011. There might be some agencies that are working mostly in the area of broadcast, but I wouldn’t really call them traditional. Everyone is coming at this form a different angle and having a go at making cool work for this digital world we are living in. There are so many ways to run an agency and all of them have a place. Digital can learn a ton from broadcast. To boil a complicated message down to 30 seconds is a skill that we digital lot could sometimes do with when we build complicated campaigns with multiple layers.
L.A: Do you think there will be the role for print advertising in the future?
Flo: Print/display advertising will always have a role in the mix. Just as TV advertising has. The only thing that has changed is the definition of that role. TV on it’s own is probably less powerful than it was 5 years ago. Still – ask your friends down the pub what ads they have seen and chances are you will get a TV ad.
L.A: You’ve sat on many international juries. In what way does it differ to judge work created for the web as opposed to print and film? Seems to me it must be vastly more time-consuming.
Flo: Oh yes it is. It’s a real problem within our industry, because more often than not we are judging the work based on a filmic description rather than the actual work. We all hate those awards entry films, but they are kind of necessary (agencies PLEASE keep them under 60s). Sometimes the work is site specific or time specific or not live anymore or only works in a certain context. It’s not easy. Most of the time you get only an impression of the campaign. Not sure what the answer is but unless you install a kiosk and hand out 50 iPads and Android phones and send digital installations to Cannes it will always be like that. The best juries are those that have people in them that have experienced the real deal. And to be frank if you haven’t seen most of the work you shouldn’t be on a jury in the first place.
L.A: Where do you get your inspiration, your ideas from? How do you feed your creativity?
Flo: 99% of all ideas are somewhat autobiographical, so you have to make sure you are actually out of the office experiencing life. Otherwise you become stale and repetitive. I like to do real things, like chopping wood or painting with my kids. The internet is a bad place for inspiration. I am a firm believer that the best creatives are a bit like sponges. Suck up everything. Don’t edit your life. Watch everything, read everything talk to everybody and you will find the stories that fuel your ideas.
L.A: What is your attitude towards advertising awards?
Flo: A love/hate relationship. If we win, I love them, if we lose I pretend not to care.
Personally I love to judge them and hear other people’s opinions on my and other people’s work, it’s a humbling and inspiring experience that helps me focus and wanting to create better work. Awards can be fickle and quite random too. You never know what juries will love. But that’s ok. It’s a snapshot of how the jury felt at the time. Awards are very good to attract talent and are measurement of the quality of our work and a barometer on the industry.
L.A: You have kindly selected for us the digital work you consider the most interesting at this moment. Can you tell us about your criteria for inclusion?
Flo: It was really difficult. All the work out there is so different and good for different reasons. If you ask me in 6 months I will probably pick a totally different bunch of sites. What I am looking for is a little twist, something that grabs me and gets me hooked. But that’s the thing with digital some stuff is useful some is funny some is weird. Some is technologically awesome etc. I love all that diversity.
L.A: I was thrilled to read that you’re President of the Animated Gif Appreciation Society as I’m a great fan and avid reader of American blogger Rich Juzwiak (fourfourt.typead.com), whose “gif walls” are like a new art medium to me. Please tell us all about the amazing world of gifs.
Flo: I take my presidency very seriously. It’s a tough job, especially if you need to multitask as president and the only member of the society, but you know, someone’s got to do it. Not every gif makes it onto the site and I get sent loads! The animated gif is for the internet what vinyl is for music. Love them. Appreciate them. They are simply beautiful.
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