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HOW THE DUTCH (RE)TOOK MANHATTAN

global-headline-makers-superheroes-new-york_1554890211When Amsterdam’s SuperHeroes flew across the pond, they needed all their powers to succeed. Dutch journalist Gijs de Swarte recounts their adventures.

 

“Window dressing, fake it ’til you make it. It’s more or less a necessary evil,” confesses Rob Zuurbier, managing partner at SuperHeroes New York. “We might be confident that we can handle an account, and on our website we’re showcasing great work for global A-List clients, but that doesn’t necessarily impress anyone here in NYC.”

 

When a client brings their whole marketing team to your office, he points out, they want to see that you have a big, trustworthy operation. But at first, SuperHeroes was based in a shared workspace in Brooklyn with a bunch of start ups.

“So we rebranded the whole space SuperHeroes New York, from the front door, to the kitchen, to the meeting rooms. I then ‘promoted’ every other company to temporary SuperHeroes. The guy building websites three desks down became my creative director and the lawyer down the hall my CFO. It worked, we had a great meeting, the client felt confident and we landed the account.”

 

Rob remembers roaring home on his motorcycle that day with the Manhattan skyline to his right, thinking: “Yesss, we are actually doing this here in NYC!”

 

The three members of the SuperHeroes management team all see their New York adventure from slightly different perspectives. For co-founder and ECD Rogier Vijverberg, who started his career at Young & Rubicam, it has a definite romantic appeal. “Sinatra. It’s in my head, I can’t help it: ‘If you can make it here…’”

 

Django Weisz Blanchetta, managing director of the Amsterdam office, sees it as the ultimate test of entrepreneurship. “Establishing a viable agency in the Netherlands already commands a great deal of respect. But New York? Starting from here, in Amsterdam, with a different language and culture? You can’t help but wonder: Is it possible? Can we pull it off? Will it be fun?”

 

Zuurbier, who built his career within the Dentsu Aegis network, already had a sweet gig at 360i in New York. But he says: “I was ready to be more of an entrepreneur, more independent, less politics. I wanted to dive into this adventure with these guys and build something from the ground up. I knew I would be dropping in salary and perks quite heavily, but I honestly thought we’d be up, running and killing it in no time. That was a bit of a miscalculation.”

 

The US industry press reacted to the SuperHeroes NY office with headlines such as: “Can an Independent Amsterdam Agency Tame Gotham’s Many Challenges?” and “Expanding into New York is no stroll down Broadway.”

 

Almost three years in, Zuurbier can confirm that. Funding, he says, was the first challenge. “A decent creative team will cost you north of $300K a year here, and you want multiple teams, obviously, so do the math. Then you’re going to need strategists, account people, producers, media specialists and so on. You want to move on from the ‘one man and a desk’ phase as soon as humanly possible.”

 

Also, he says, the New York agency didn’t want to become a local agent for the Amsterdam office. It had to be self-sustaining. “But if you don’t have a couple of million at your disposal, and you need to earn every dollar before you can spend it, then you have to hustle, hustle and hustle some more. Hit up those new business leads and do everything you can to bring them in.”

 

No longer New Amsterdam

As he points out, the industry in the US moves at 100 miles an hour. Loyalty depends on results. You can present your best work on your best day and you’re lucky if you get a polite no. “This city will eat you alive if you can’t deliver,” Zuurbier says.

 

But delivering depends on talent. And, as Weisz Blanchetta observes: “Talent comes at a price.” It’s also working at competing agencies when you arrive. “So you’re always going to be a bit thin at the beginning. You want to scale up as quickly as possible.”

 

Despite the fact that this city was once called New Amsterdam, there are cultural differences. A major one is between Dutch frankness and American tact. According to Zuurbier: “If an American says ‘very interesting’ he means he doesn’t like it much. If he says, ‘I’m sure it’s my fault’, he means, ‘You messed up.’ So you need to be on your toes.”

 

Then there are the usual bumps in the road: clients who pull out at the last minute, others who can’t decide, still more who baulk at a brilliant idea in favour of a safer concept.

 

For one tech giant, the agency made a film whose goal was to juxtapose the product’s authenticity with the “fakeness” we’re confronted with every day. Vijverberg says: “It was a great campaign and it would have been hugely successful. But in the end the client didn’t dare to run it.”

 

Bad for agency morale, not to mention a missed opportunity to generate spin-off clients from the buzz around the campaign. “That hurts.”

 

All these stories are reluctantly told. After all, dwelling on the negative will set you up for failure. But the rationale behind the New York adventure was and remains positive: it will bring growth to SuperHeroes. “In our business the US is still a major trendsetter: what happens there happens in Europe a year later,” says Weisz Blanchetta.

 

One example of a US learning is the use of a concept called “Long Ideas and Sequential Storytelling”, which is also being implemented among European and Asian clients. The method is comparable to the way TV series are being made. The idea is not to make one big tent-pole commercial that’s shown on a loop, but a number of connected short stories, all with different storylines, expressed across many platforms.

 

“This is a completely logical format to us,” says Vijverberg, “especially when you look at our motto: ‘Saving the world from boring advertising.’ It forces us to think much more deeply about how the various content pieces can add up and enforce the core message.”

 

“Free Thinking” sessions are another concept born in New York. Creatives and strategists are given time to come up with concepts independent of any brief. The best ideas are matched to relevant brands, products or services, and only then are potential clients approached. “It’s also the perfect way to keep positive energy flowing,” says Zuurbier. “Setback? Alright guys, let’s do a session and keep on acquiring.”

 

But the setbacks are becoming scarcer. A big advantage when opening the NY office was that Amsterdam had already worked in the US for big clients like LG, Converse and ASUS. But SuperHeroes also brought a crucial differentiator with it: the agency was known as digitally disruptive and slightly irreverent.

 

Adweek upped the ante by placing SuperHeroes on its list of The Most Engaging Brand Content Makers. And then the founding trio’s core plan began to fall into place: more international clients started waking up and noticing them. Suddenly – boom! –an out of the blue call from Dubai.

 

Zuurbier: “Did we want to pitch agency of record for the Dubai Tourism Board?  An extremely complicated multi-million dollar account aiming for Asia, Africa and the Middle East. 14 markets, 9 languages, 12 industries and three audience subgroups per industry. Pitching for two months straight against mostly big network agencies.”

 

SuperHeroes won.

 

“This confirms the gut feeling we’ve had since starting this crazy journey. We made the right call. So far, it’s totally been worth the fight.”

 

Gijs de Swarte is a Dutch journalist, writer and filmmaker. He worked in New York for a number of years.

 

Originally published on Adforum and Epica Awards

WEBBY NOMINEE: THE MOTORCYCLE SYMPHONY

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SuperHeroes’ The Motorcycle Symphony has been nominated for Best VIDEO: MUSIC in the 23rd Annual Webby Awards

 

SuperHeroes is excited to announce that we’re in the running for The Webby Award this year.

 

As a nominee, The Motorcycle Symphony is also eligible to win a Webby People’s Voice Award, which is selected by the voting public online.

 

So we need your helping hand with getting as many votes as possible!!!

 

How can you help us win?

CAST YOUR VOTE for The Motorcycle Symphony and spread the word about our nomination!

 

All Webby Winners will be announced on Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019 and honoured at the 23rd Annual Webby Awards ceremony in New York, on Monday, May 13th, 2019.

 

About The Motorcycle Symphony

SuperHeroes created the world’s first motorcycle symphony. It pays tribute to men who have been dealt a tough hand in life. Conducted by Dominic Seldis of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam and created for the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, in Amsterdam organised by Rusty Gold.

 

 

Read more info about The Motorcycle Symphony!

 

About The Webby Awards

Hailed as the “Internet’s highest honour” by The New York Times, The Webby Awards is the leading international awards organisation honouring excellence on the Internet, including Websites, Video, Advertising, Media & PR, Apps, Mobile, and Voice, Social, Podcasts, and Games. Established in 1996, this year’s Webby Awards received nearly 13,000 entries from all 50 states and 70 countries worldwide this year. The Webby Awards is presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS). Sponsors and Partners of The Webby Awards include: YouTube, WP Engine, EY, YouGov, Vitamin T, WNYC Studios, Fast Company, ESA, Product Hunt, and Social Media Week.

 

Find the Webby Awards online here: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat via username TheWebbyAwards.

 

“As SuperHeroes, we love helping brands fly”

52520551_2050364511707502_1725086155742904320_nFounded in Amsterdam and now with offices in New York and Singapore, SuperHeroes is a global creative ad agency with a diverse staff of different nationalities.

 

The agency sees itself as digitally native, but are developing both digital and integrated campaigns. They are on a mission to save the world from boring advertising.

 

The agency provides a wide array of services including media relations, an innovation lab, smart retail, social, analytics, and communication strategies.

 

They have worked for global clients such as Converse, LG, Diesel, Heineken, and Asus and have produced a great range of viral videos, with more than 100 million views.

 

Among its diverse staff, Babo Schokker is a creative at the agency. In an interview with Top Interactive Agencies, Schokker described the design process at SuperHeroes, what the key to creating a successful campaign is, what great projects he has been working on, and how to handle challenges.

 

Could you give us an introduction to SuperHeroes and its vision and mission?

We, as SuperHeroes, love helping brands fly. Working with us means getting the best of both worlds: creativity and strategy, which is deeply rooted in our mission of saving the world from boring advertising.

 

SuperHeroes was founded in 2009 and now has secret hideouts in Amsterdam, New York, and Singapore, with a team of more than 45 people and over a dozen nationalities.

 

What is SuperHeroes’ design process?

It is our belief that smart sharp creative outperforms expensive media buys any day of the week. Forget about superficial impressions, we create direct hits which resonate with your audience on a human level.

 

What ingredients are key to create successful campaigns?

Creating experiences that grab people in any media. Get them to wonder, love or hate it. Grabbing attention for the project and the message.

 

What is your personal definition of creativity?

The beauty of creating unexpected moments. By giving people a different perspective on the world and creating memories.

 

Can you tell us about the project you are most proud of?

You’re as good as your last project! At the moment, that’s ‘A symphonic tribute to men’s health for the Distinguished Gentleman’s ride. Check it out here.

 

We had the idea of paying tribute by putting together an orchestra of motorcycles. The immediate question was: “How on earth can we pull this off?” That’s where conductor Dominic Seldis stepped in. This man has an unstoppable passion for music, which we needed for such an experiment. The passionate motorcyclists, who volunteered with their bikes were transformed into enthusiastic classical musicians. Proving there is music in every loud pipe.

 

The biggest personal challenge was that it was all created pro bono by friends and volunteers. It was all done for the passion of making the idea come to life. Motorbikes and karma points for a good cause.

 

As a result, 991 riders joined last year in Amsterdam and raised $ 71.332,19 – together. Worldwide, there were 114,699 riders who raised $6.103.893 – total.

 

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The client is upset with a particular element of design that you have done. How would you handle the situation?

Call. Ask questions. Go back in the process. Find a way together. Say sorry to your wife, friends, girlfriends and say hello to your work.

 

Name a challenge your team is currently facing.

Growing the agency. SuperHeroes is transitioning from teen to adult so there will be challenges that come with that. Keeping your identity and finding the right people and projects that fit the SuperHeroes’ mentality.

 

How do you know if a person has what it takes to be part of the team?

If he/she can spend a night with us at the bar.

 

Name one favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your role.

My favorite thing is the SuperHeroes team. And personally, I don’t like projects that don’t come ‘alive’ or when they do, but not in the way you imagined.

 

superheroes-team

 

What was your journey like to get to where you are today?

An ongoing search of who you are and what kind of work you love to make.

 

Are there online publications, professionals, industry leaders you follow?

No. Mostly artists and musicians, they’re the future. I follow Daniel Arnold and Team Lab.

 

Where do you go to get inspired?

Take me anywhere. But mostly by meeting new people.

 

What profession other than your own would you like to explore?

Start a cocktail ice-cream shop. With all your favorite flavors!

 

What piece of advice would you give a recent grad looking to work in the design/creative industry?

Find out what kind of work you love to make and try to stand out. Work hard and find people who share the same passion. Don’t join the trend of “Nobel Prize” concepts in your portfolio. Why so serious?

 

Babo’s Working Preferences:

Mac vs. PC: Mac.

Preferred Social Media Channel: Instagram.

Coffee vs. tea: Espresso Martini.

Favorite Work Snack: Ramen Noodles.

Name 3 artists on your office playlist: Another Level, Donny Benet, Collie Buddz.

Your go-to Mobile app: Tinder. Call me maybe?

Favorite Sneaker Brand: Nike.

If you could work anywhere in the world, where would it be? Somewhere tropical.

 

Thanks Babo!

 

Originally published on TIA

NEW SUPERHEROES

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We would like to introduce you to the new Amsterdam SuperHeroes!

Get to know the newest team members in this short but sweet Q&A!

 

Sharon

SuperPower: 

“My superpower is being passionately curious.”

Best memes:  

@dankartdirectormemes. I’m also a fan of @ChefJacquesLaMerde. This chef makes the most incredible plates with ingredients like nacho cheese and other processed junk food. It’s a parody of the art of plating. @HipDict shows funny, sometimes painfully true definitions of English words. I love it. @coco_pinkprincess is the account of an 8-year old girl from Tokyo with an epic sense of style. Disturbing or just part of the world we live in? I’m still in doubt. Oh, and of course you need to follow @SGoldstoff… she’s this super awesome girl with the best InstaStories everrrr. Very humble as well.”

 

David

Fun fact:
“I ended up in a hammam in Istanbul once with all my straight-guy-friends, thinking it was just, you know, relaxing. Turns out it was a gay-sauna getting ready for a huge orgy.”

Which visual artists do you get inspired by? 

Bill Viola

Christo

Boukje Schweigman

What GIF do you relate to most and why?

I relate to this GIF and I’m talking to my therapist about it, because the reason eludes me. It might just be the purple brush though.

 

Chloë

Favorite musicians?

Got a sec? I LOVE 2Pac, Mac Miller, Thundercat, Kendrick Lamar, GoldLink, H.E.R., Sango, Xavier Omär, and of course, Anderson .Paak.

I mean… come on!

He’s the best.

What is your life dream?

“A house full of dogs. Just everywhere you go: dogs.”

Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?

“Everyone at the office calls me No Pants Chloë or NPC, because I love to wear t-shirts and sweaters as dresses with tights. Honestly, pants are so overrated.”

 

Alissia

Favorite quote to live by:

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

When you’re not in the SuperHeroes office, you are …:
“Either working out in the gym or grappling (I really love that!). Also, watching shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Friends.”

‘No Ego, No Bullshit’ Mentality

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Niels Straatsma, Creative Director at SuperHeroes Amsterdam, reflects on the creative and business differences between the American and European west coast.

 

Dutch creative director Niels Straatsma recently returned to The Netherlands from R/GA Hustle in Los Angeles and joined international agency SuperHeroes Amsterdam, who also have offices in New York (formerly known as New Amsterdam, of course) and Singapore.

 

What’s the biggest difference between working on the west coast of the United States and being a creative on the ‘west coast’ of Europe? Nils Adriaans caught up with him to find out how he’s found the shift.

 

Q> Before joining SuperHeroes, you worked in Los Angeles. What was it like to work there compared to Amsterdam?

Niels> Los Angeles is a crazy, beautiful place. Almost everyone is a “transplant” who’s there to make it big one way or another. You can really feel the American dream. Everywhere around you, there are people succeeding, but also a lot of people struggling. But everyone seems to enjoy the hustle. This competitiveness shows in the ad industry too. It’s much more competitive than Amsterdam. Probably a cultural thing, or maybe because there’s a lot more hierarchy. And it is well respected. That took some getting used to for sure.

It was also interesting to be in a city that’s so close to pop culture. A lot of trends start on the west coast, in term of music, food, and fitness for example. And devices like Alexa already have a serious audience. Or for example Bird, the e-scooters, that are coming to Amsterdam soon, have been around for quite a while in LA. That culture opens opportunities for our industry.

And of course, budgets. They’re big, huge. That definitely opens opportunities. I remember making a shortlist of DOP’s and everyone in the room started naming these super famous Hollywood guys without even blinking. It felt so unreal at the moment. At the same time, everything costs a lot more as well. It’s an enormous market, so there are lots of layers, people and testing involved. Which makes everything take a lot longer, and gives ideas a lot of time to potentially die. So all that budget doesn’t necessarily make it easier to make great work.

 

Q> Going away for a longer period of time often gives you a clear view of where you were. What did you learn about Amsterdam, being one of Europe’s leading creative industries, while enjoying the Californian sun?

Niels> Amsterdam is great too!

I think a lot of creatives here tend to look at the work we see from the US and think “if only we had those budgets”. But we only see the very best work. And there’s so much we don’t see. Including all the work that doesn’t get made. Besides, working with smaller budgets isn’t so bad. It forces you to be resourceful, creative. And there’s a beauty in that too. Instead of big epic films full of celebrities, we have to find other, more original ways to stand out.

It’s in our nature to be a little more pragmatic. We want to be competing with the best in the world, we just have to do it in a relatively tiny town (with a lot of international companies) where everything is within a 15-minute bike ride.

 

Q> Given your international scope, what is the biggest shift in the advertising industry right now, in your humble opinion?

Niels> When I started in advertising 10 years ago, it was all about these new digital spaces where we could target audiences in exciting, smart and disruptive ways. What once was a smart alternative to a 30-second ad has now become a formula. It’s not the disrupting thing to do, it’s the standard. There are business models for influencer campaigns, viral factories, social whatever.

Just look at all the Alexa jokes that came during the Super Bowl this year. I think in the quest for innovation, we’ve all moved into the same direction. Which is kind of ironic. I don’t mean to be cynical, technology offers great opportunities to reinvent ourselves and stand out, but we shouldn’t use tech for the sake of just standing out; it should always make sense for the consumer, it should make his or her life seamlessly better or easier.

 

Q> I’m sure you could have joined other international agencies as well – why did you choose SuperHeroes?

Niels> After I returned to Amsterdam I started freelancing for a while. I figured that would be the best way to find the next agency I wanted to stay. It gives the opportunity to get to know the company and the team. I wasn’t necessarily chasing international agencies, I was rather looking for the right dynamics and vision I would feel comfortable with.

SuperHeroes felt right from the get-go. Although we operate internationally, the team is very lean and mean. I love the “No ego, no bullshit” mentality, with very little hierarchy. It keeps everything moving fast. And at SuperHeroes, you can do that for a very broad range of brands, big and small.

As I joined they were in the middle of rethinking their positioning as an agency. “What is the agency for a world post-advertising?” It sounds exciting and it’s even more exciting to think along and turn it into something concrete.

 

Q> Finally, if you could give brands one piece of advice in this day and age, what would that be?

Niels> I guess purpose is the big thing now. And that’s great. People don’t care about purpose because they were told to. It’s a product of today’s culture. I would highly recommend anyone who’s thinking about starting a company to think about their purpose first!

Already established brands that haven’t thought about their purpose before however, please don’t. You can’t force purpose into a brand.

 

Niels previously worked for Achtung! mcgarrybowen, where he made this wonderful work, before heading off to California:

 

And this is one of SuperHeroes, on a mission to save the world from boring advertising, recent gems.

 

 

Originally published on LBB Online.

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