A thriving industry in Amsterdam

The Amsterdam Area’s creative industry is ever-evolving. Over the course of the past two decades it has grown exponentially, driven forwards by an expanding pool of top talent and ground-breaking ideas and firms. Since the 1990s there has been an influx of global brands into the region – with Nike, Netflix and Adidas just some of those who have made it their home – and it boasts internationally renowned agencies and some of the world’s leading advertising companies.

To put it into context, the Amsterdam region employs around 200,000 people in creative industries and is the fourth-largest creative employer in Europe by number of staff – behind the much larger cities of London, Paris and Milan. Amsterdam’s creative sector includes exceptional homegrown successes like Achtung and Superhero Cheesecake, as well as some of the world’s leading advertising companies, such as Wieden+Kennedy and 72andSunny.

 

One problem that once held Amsterdam’s creative industry back was the division between the Dutch and international advertising companies. Nowadays there are clear signs that this gap has been bridged: last year’s Cannes Young Lions Cyber Gold victory by the Dutch/British partnership of Michael James Phillips and Scott Kooken felt like a pivotal moment.

World-leading companies and industry leaders

Business leaders cite Amsterdam’s outstanding digital infrastructure, mix of international and homegrown talent, thriving startup and tech scenes and collaborative approach as ingredients that are helping to create something very special in the region, with MediaMonks’ CEO Victor Knaap saying that “Amsterdam is on the road to creating the metropolitan of the future,” and “building something that is unique in the world.”

Sander Volten

Photo: Sander Volten

One of the firms helping to do just that is 180 Kingsday, one of the world’s leading creative companies. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the firm is a key player in Amsterdam’s creative scene: an award-winning business based in the city centre and with offices in Los Angeles and China. 180 Kingsday’s iconic campaigns for brands including PlayStation, DHL and Qatar Airways have been seen all over the world. I amsterdam sat down with CEO Sander Volten to find out about the firm’s success and Amsterdam’s creative industry.

Twenty years is no small feat. Can you tell us the most important development in the creative agency world of recent times, and how 180 Kingsday partakes in that?

"Clearly, the digital transformation of life and the media landscape has had a profound effect on the way in which the agency world has to consider the manifestation of their ideas. What it has meant to us is that while the challenge hasn’t changed – we need big ideas that drive the business – the output of that idea has become much broader.

 

As a result, the agency’s focus is on creating ideas that are famous, human and seamless. We want to create work that lots of people love, work that gets talked about. Famous ideas help to build brands. Second, famous ideas come from work that is deeply human – an idea that has a point of view, that has insight, that moves you and affects you. Third, that work should feel seamless in the way that it perfectly understands consumers’ lives. It needs to both reflect and affect culture and context."

Reflecting back on 20 years in the business, could you share one pearl of wisdom with us that’s still relevant for you today? Is there a specific story you can share of how you learned this insight?

"Every brief, every job and every new request is an opportunity to create. And that’s a gift we must never forget or take for granted. We’re so lucky to work in the industry that we do. Having the desire and energy to not just see what something is, but also what it could be is what has kept our creative juices and energy flowing for two decades. Having the audacity and ambition to run Adidas globally from a room on the Herengracht.

Amsterdam Herengracht by night Edwin van Eis

Photo: The Herengracht in Amsterdam

Turning a small print brief for HP to launch a gaming laptop into the OMEN Challenge global franchise. Turning a retail campaign for BOOST Mobile into a chance to help disenfranchised voters in the US election. Lifting and separating the PlayStation brand from its competition with the ‘For The Players’ platform.

180 Kingsday has offices all over the world, but what is it that makes the scene in Amsterdam so special for creative agencies?

"Amsterdam has always been a place of tolerance and open-mindedness with an international outlook. That DNA of the city – and the way in which the city helps cultivate that – has been key to it becoming a beacon of international creativity."

Where is the industry going? 

"Sure, we’re all more data-led nowadays, but what’s the true value of a creative agency going to be in another 10 to 20 years’ time? We believe that that value will be found in two areas. The first is truth: New shiny things come along all the time – new buzzwords, new trends, new silver bullets that will change and fix everything – and that’s never going to change. A great agency will see the truth behind it all and be able to act in the best interests of its clients, by using ideas that create impact, difference and growth. As part of that, it’s easy for global marketing teams and their partners to live in an utterly unrealistic world where your product or brand has a place that the regular man or woman on the street would not recognise. Staying true to the customer is fundamental to providing value to our clients. 

Read I amsterdam's full testimonial with Sander Volten

Finally, staying true to the agency’s ethos and beliefs. It’s a tough industry, and it’s easy to dilute your offering or chase the next trend. 180 Kingsday was built on the idea of finding trouble, because trouble is where creativity is most needed. Trouble creates friction and heat. As an ad agency (and as an industry) we need to be prepared to put some sand into the machine. The tried quickly becomes the tired."

Building on the previous question, how will 180 Kingsday work towards that?

"We will continue to invest in getting the deepest, most illuminating understanding of people and culture. Getting out into the real world, getting under the skin of culture and the brands we work with and being able to turn data (which we have a lot of) into empathy and understanding (which we need more of). And we will be working very hard on creating in the most agile and culturally relevant ways possible.

 

We need ideas to be rooted in the real world – not in pdfs or PowerPoint presentations – and so a strong creative culture is going to be fundamental to not only getting our message into the real world, but also to communicating our agency’s culture, helping us to attract the best creative talent from all over the world."

Final question: how are you planning to celebrate your 20th anniversary?

"We’ve had a series of events and creative projects, including creating bespoke artwork, murals, t-shirts and films that reflect the diversity and brilliance of the agency’s creative work. We’ve hosted events at Adnight with a panel featuring people who had been with the agency over the course of the last 20 years, reflecting on 180 Kingsday’s greatest moments, challenges and thinking about the future. Finally, of course we are planning a great party for the agency staff in December."

Read more about Amsterdam's creative industry, or see more business news from around the Amsterdam Area.