"Since my childhood, I started hating advertising," said Duval Guillaume Brussels ECD Geoffrey Hantson "My cartoons were being interrupted, and it's the same today on Youtube, before I can click the 'skip ad' button. I truly believe that over 90% of what is produced is nothing else than visual and audio pollution that goes by unnoticed." That might explain why the work he steers, along with fellow ECD Karien Bottez, feels nothing like the typical ad. The pair has overseen some of the industry's most talked about viral "events"--including the much-celebrated TNT "Push for Drama" effort, which recently earned a top honor at Ad Age's Viral Video Awards, as well as other classics liks Carlberg's "Bikers in Cinema," and Flair's "Fashion Tag," two of Creativity's Best Campaign picks of 2011.
The pair's route into advertising couldn't have been more different. Ms. Bottez nurtured her love for art and writing very early on in her tiny hometown village in Belgium. "Every year, there's a nice art and poetry festival there, and I think that's where my love was born for artwork and beautiful copywriting," she said. When I was 15 years old, it was clear for me that I wanted to do something creative later, so I went to art school and became an art director." Mr. Hantson, on the other hand, begrudgingly landed in his career. He originally wanted to be a poet, "but I also wanted to earn money," he said. "I soon discovered, by lack of poetry talent, that I can only earn money with my pen by becoming a copywriter. The funny twist was that I very soon found out I had talent in something I actually hate. If there's a God, I know for sure that he has a very sarcastic humor."
But that higher power isn't the only one playing the tricks. More recently, Ms. Bottez and Mr. Hantson launched devious moves for Coke Zero, like a James Bond "Skyfall" tie-in for that sent everyday commuters on a secret mission to win movie tickets and an experiment that tested the light soda drinkers taste buds--under hypnosis-- to show how much it tasted like the original.
The pair also helped conceive another Carlsberg ruse that tested how far your friends would go to save you from a shady group of thugs.
This age of multiple screens and multi-tasking viewers only makes the job of advertising that much harder--and that much more fun, they believe. "Letting your message reach a man watching TV is quite simple," said Ms. Bottez. "Reaching that same man while he's watching TV, has his laptop on his knees and his smartphone in hand is clearly much more complex."
"Years ago, the party was at the brands' place," said Mr. Hantson. "Today, the party is at the people's place. But the big problem is, brands aren't on the guest list. So they only have one option--try to sneak in. Today, it's no longer about storytelling but also about giving people a story to tell."
But finding ways into a consumer's heart takes more than a one-trick approach. "We keep our work fresh by not limiting ourselves to one domain," said Ms. Bottiez. That's why we never say we make 'stunts.' We prefer to say we make 'stuff." When we look for an idea, all our options are open. In our agency we often say, 'We have to be as agile as software,' which means working according to the principle of 'do-learn-adapt.' I think every agency who has that mentality can create this kind of work."