Friday, March 17, 2006

Interview with Dabitch

I have been going to ad-rag.com ever since I was recommended to peruse it at my jr. art director internship. I recently interviewed Åsk Wäppling (user name: Dabitch), the founder and editor of the venerable site, about its origins and her global life experiences.

Born to Swedish parents, and as soon as she could she used to sing along to the adverts only while watching TV in North Carolina. Globe trotting the world with her viking folks, she developed the skill of communicating no matter what the language was, as they had lived on three different continents by the time she turned ten. Studying in Stockholm, then New York and later London to learn as much as she could about advertising and the art that makes it, she then toured Amsterdam, San Francisco, London and Copenhagen in her career. Always a geek, she likes advertising as it is hacking people.

Why did you start www.ad-rag.com?

When I lived in San Fransisco I had no friends that worked in the business
and used to bore my regular joe friends to tears talking about ads. I
built the first incarnation of adland to vent, and to compare twin ads.
Through this site and the mailinglist I found a lot of friends that were
equally ad-nerdy, and soon I couldn't keep up with all the mail. So, in 2k
I re-built the whole thing to become a community where all ad-geeks could
post to the front page ad blog, gossip in the forums, watch the latest
commercials and keep up with the news via RSS. I wanted to share knowledge
at a site like that and since I couldn't find one, I built one. The idea is and always was that it should be the global water cooler for us adgrunts.

Ad-rag posts a lot of international advertising. A lot of if it is very racy compared to American advertising. I've also heard that the American culture is "too conservative and too Christian" to make controversial ads. Why do you think international advertising is more controversial/interesting than American advertising?

yeah, I always wanted to post international work, as the world wide web is just that and what happens on Mad Ave actually affects people in networked agencies in Sweden, so "adland" really is it's own land. It has no borders. Do you really think it's that much racier though? I don't know to be honest, you can show nipples in French ads, and Swedes wouldn't even care at the sight of a naked mans bottom, while in the states the bottom will be "blotted out" and a nipple can stop the super bowl. In the UK, I recall a soap-advert showing a nipple which everyone talked about, meanwhile page three girls show two every day. So, yes maybe ads in Europe in general can joke about sex - though probably not in the UK unless its a double entandre - while US ads stick to farting horses and chimps for their steady supply of jokes. I think it is just that the humour is different, and the grass is always greener elsewhere. No matter what country I worked in, I've always had some CD telling me that "You can't do that sort of thing here!". The US does have that puritan past deeply rooted into its culture though, this has a lot to do with it.

How do you find all the ads on the site?

They find me. Industry submissions you know. In the beginning I had to beg
friends and colleagues to send their work in, which I still do on occasion
if something really good appears out there and nobody submitted it yet -
but these days there is a steady flow. Don't forget kids, we like your old
commercials too! Send in your reels!

You're Swedish, graduated from Parsons (in NYC), graduated from London School of Communication Arts, and currently live in Copenhagen, Denmark. How have these varied cultures influenced you?

I learnt to hack, sorry understand, cultures quite fast.

This comes in handy when you have to sell cars to grease monkeys, booze to
connoisseurs, fashions to fashion whores. Cultures don't necessarily have
to be from a country. ;)

Which country's culture did you like best?

Can I choose all of the above? I adored New York which taught me how to
cuss, and when I moved to London it took me a good six months to
understand what on earth everyone was on about. "Got a fag?" what?
"See you half ten." What time is that? But when it finally clicked I laughed so
hard at British sitcoms I now carry a permanent smiley dimple. Now I'm
just terribly happy that I can laugh equally hard at both US and UK ads -
you never see Americans or Brits doing that. Same language, but not. I
don't have a favourite - all cultures have good and bad.

You've both freelanced and worked at agencies. What are the pros and cons of each? Which do you think jr. creatives should do?

Jr's should take the plunge - if they get offered freelance, grab it. Pro's of agency work is a steady paycheck and you get to know your workmates well. Cons of agency work is agency politics most of the time, it's hard to find a good match, and will take a few tries. Don't worry, everyone goes through it. The pro's of freelance is flexibility, the con's an equally flexible paycheck. Another con is that in smaller markets you'll never get the "good work" unless you haven't gotten the "good work" at agencies already. And by "good work", I mean international clients, big budgets and perhaps telly. I do believe that all creatives should freelance at least once though. You learn a lot.

What should a good portfolio school or program teach?

How to charge people for your skills. Seriously, schools teach you so much about the craft but forget to tell you how much it is worth and how you send out a bill or create a contract before the project starts. Since so many students will freelance in the future - at least once ;) - this needs to be taught! Also, what your rights to your work are - and how to not sign them away. So many people are terribly confused when it comes to rights, it really should be taught.

How do you become a better AD?

Keep looking. Keep your eyes open and drink it all in. It will help your ideas, and it will help you communicating your ideas through your art direction. No label is too small, no design too obscure, and since the punters are getting their input from the real world rather than the ad world, so should you.

Speaking of small labels, am I the only one who collects rows and rows of those fruit-stickers in my scrap book? I have two pages with "toMAHtos"! Oh yeah, that's the real advice, keep a scrap book. They do come in handy. Stick all things that visually grabbed you in them. Especially the truly ugly stuff.

What advice do you have for Creatives to break into advertising and for staying in advertising?

To break in you need a heavy brick and to stay put you need a lot of
weight.

You've seen a lot of advertising throughout the years. What do you think the future of advertising is?

Whenever this question is asked one is usually expected to name a new
media that will happen. The future of advertising is that people will
finally realize that the message is and always was what is important.
Personally, I hope for less clutter, but I know that brands will tailor
their message to different targets, in different media, with different
ideas and style - unfortunatly creating more clutter. And they'll think
it's the best thing since sliced bread too, even when they miss all their
targets as they jump all over the map with the message.


What are your favorite ads? And would you mind sending a couple over so I could post them?

Ooh, tough call. Lots of good ads out there. :)

Sadly, I can't send you any ads that are hosted in the archive as I'd be
breaking our own T.O.S. The agencies/post houses/directors that send us
stuff have been tough to convince over the years (it's getting easier
now), SAG strikes and stiff clients stickly about their copyrights made
them that way, so we get permission only to host it in the archive and not
permission to spread all over the web. The exeption to the rule is of
course the recent viral ads, where they want exactly that but none of
those ads have even come close to my top ten list. ;)

Attaching a 1994 Guinness ad which - scouts honor - made my eyes mist up a
little when I saw it the first time. Perhaps because I love that Louis
Armstrong song, perhaps because I recall the death of James Bond's only
wife (From On Her Majesty's Secret Service) and James saying " we have all
the time in the world". Perhaps because I am a dedicated Guinness stout
fan, and I do look into the glass as it bubbles itself from white to
black, waiting patiently for it to get the thick head and finally being
allowed to drink it (good things do come to those who wait), while seeing
universes inside the dark liquid. You could argue that it preaches to the
converted - but it does it so damn well. Spot Rutger Hauer in there too.

Download Guiness ad. http://rapidshare.de/files/16841620/guinnessalltimeinworld.wmv.html

Another ad I really like is from the same time period. Sadly I don't have
a copy of the poster - it was from some agency Singapore and carried a
cocky white headline on black stating:

"Leaded Petrol causes brain damage.
Which may explain why some people still use it."

I was always a fan of sharp copy. ;)


Some other features about Dabitch can be found here and here. They're both very interesting reads.

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