Last Thursday Boards Magazine organized their first European creative ‘workshop’ in Amsterdam. The theme of the day was ‘The New Age of Storytelling’. Alex Melvin (founder of 180 Amsterdam) and Mark Aink (general manager of S-W-H) co-hosted the day and invited an interesting mix of international and Dutch speakers with different creative backgrounds and inspiring angles on storytelling.

Honest storytelling
Paul Lavoie, founder of Taxi, kicked off the day with a presentation about Taxi’s philosophy on honesty. Finding the truth of a brand, he said, should be the starting point for any form of storytelling. In fact, it’s the Dutch honesty that made him decide to open an office in Amsterdam. Lavoie supported this with a typical example; at Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport) when you’re not on time for boarding, the airport speaker won’t politely urge you to hurry up, but bluntly tells you that you’re delaying the flight and threaten to unload your luggage from the plane. To illustrate that instead of being honest, lying is so much easier, Taxi built a website to promote a fake product: Reversa.

Bob Deutsch (the final speaker of the day), a cognitive anthropologist, also explained the importance of being honest. Advertising, he said, should invoke a feeling of both surprise and familiarity. While the first element attracts attention, the latter is essential to give the consumer the feeling that the brand is like him and can therefore be trusted.

New forms of storytelling
Adrian Hon (Six to Start) was next and showed in a compelling way how for Penguin books his agency built the website We Tell Stories and how it fully used the benefits of the internet to literally find new ways of non-linear storytelling.

Also fascinating was the presentation by Guerilla Games and Zoic Studios. They showed their commercial for the new game Killzone 2, in which the camera angle and the speed of the commercial can be altered by the viewer. It gave an insight in the endless possibilities of ‘4D’ commercials. And the impressive quality of the graphics also showed why it’s going to be harder for the consumer to distinguish animation from real film. And – to speak with Lavoie – will make lying so much easier.

Ian Tate, creative partner at Poke, explained what advertising agencies can learn from Radiohead. Although Tate doesn’t like their music (too depressing), he loves the way Radiohead has used the internet to involve its fans in every possible way. Fans could literally create their own album price, their own music video, their own remix and even their own concert recording. The main lesson: it’s not just about telling a story anymore, the consumer has to be involved and should be able to ‘live the story’.

(Non) commercial storytelling
This was followed by a group of the world’s most talented directors showing their reels. A luxury treat. It was presented by Geertje Hoek of Liberty Films (FHV BBDO).
Erik Kessels, founder of KesselsKramer, presented his agency’s best work. Apart from brilliant work for Hans Brinker Hotel Kessels showed a few of the agency’s non-commercial projects. The agency created a documentary, photo exhibitions, and many art books.

Amsterdam storytelling
At the end of the day we also asked Alex Melvin, Mark Aink, Paul Lavoie and Erik Kessels a few questions about Amsterdam and the future of advertising. Lavoie confided to us that it was not only the honesty of the Dutch that persuaded him to move to Amsterdam, but also the tolerant attitude, the pretty canals and the local government. According to Aink Amsterdam is becoming more and more a magnet for agencies and creatives from London, the States and the rest of Europe, because of its ‘open system’. Meaning that there is lots of collaboration going on between agencies and small, creative, expert entities that can bring in new angles and creative solutions to the problem at hand. According to Lavoie collaborating creatives are the future of advertising. In fact, he called creatives that want to monopolize the creative process ‘old school creatives’.

When Alex Melvin founded 180 in 1998, he already believed in the creative potential of the city. With 30 nationalities on board, Melvin told us 180 is the perfect representation of the international spirit of Amsterdam. In fact, he was told that Amsterdam in total counts 180 different nationalities – a happy coincidence. His agency will never be a Dutch agency, but he is proud of the fact that it’s a true Amsterdam agency.

Although Erik Kessels worked in London for a few years and opened an ‘outlet’ there, he still prefers Amsterdam, because of the pace of the city and the quality of living. And since the pressure is not so high, there is more time to launch projects that don’t necessarily make money, but show what the agency is really about; creative ideas.