Swede Talkin'

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Matias Palm-Jensen
Matias Palm-Jensen
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After being named the Cannes 2006 Cyber Lions Jury President, Matias Palm-Jensen, the creative president of Sweden-based interactive agency Farfar, rings in the new year by retracing the rise of the internet, discussing the death of TV ads and explaining why big agencies are finally giving digital folks the respect they so richly deserve.

AdCritic: First off, congratulations on your Cannes appointment.

Matias Palm-Jensen: Thank you! Yeah, I've talked to [Cannes executive chairman] Terry Savage a couple of times, and I think it was a brave decision to bring me onboard. [Laughs] I'm a Swede, to begin with, and we're a small agency in a small market. But I'm very happy that he made this decision. I know David Droga [recently named 2006 Film & Press Jury President] is kind of the same way—even though he's from the big agency world, he's got kind of a rock-and-roll attitude. And I think that's important if you want to achieve something.

AC: What trends do you expect to see this year at the festival?

MPJ: Digital will be bigger. Five years ago, I was a Cannes jury member when we juried the BMW Films, and that was the first year we saw big money coming into the industry. And big money means that people care, and that people see what we do. From five years ago to today, it's such a huge difference. Today, we're at the head of everything—every big agency looks at what digital is doing. The big traditional guys want to engage themselves in the things we do. But I think they're still a threat to the industry, because they're trying to move their kind of thinking into this spectrum. Digital is more alive and more interactive, and their school of communication is not interactive. I used to say that we create time, and they pay for time. They pay for the 30-second spot, but we have to create that time, and sometimes we create a website that people stay on for 20 seconds, or two minutes, or 27 minutes, or even hours. That's creating time, not buying time. And that's a big difference. You have to turn around in your head if you want to achieve that, and I think that's a problem for the traditionalists.

AC: Are there some traditional agencies that are starting to get it?

MPJ: It's not about the agencies, it's about the people. Good creative people always tend to challenge themselves in the new things and the difficult spaces. They want to be on the front line. And that's why we have good creative people coming into the industry now—because they see that not only is there money here, but there's plenty of room to achieve fantastic communication that really moves things forward for the client. There's so much in our portfolio that can tell clients a story that they've never seen in traditional advertising.

I've been sitting in all the juries—Cannes, the Clios, London International—for five years now, and I see two trends. One, agencies in the Asia Pacific are doing great stuff. They are on the front lines today, and they know how to challenge the screen we have in our pocket: the telephone. Two, the traditional agencies—not the good traditional agencies like Goodby that do really good interactive work, but the ones that don't care—they tend to just put their print and TV ads on the internet. They take the best producers in the world, and they put a lot of money into it—but they're not interactive ideas. So that's a trend that I've seen, and I will be hard in my decisions at Cannes [Laughs]. Now, I think, we have to push the limits forward.

AC: Interactive advertising has been around for ten years, but only recently has it truly exploded. Why now?

MPJ: Complex question. There's a lot of answers to that. Advertising will always be behind the consumer. We will never be caught up with consumer—we're always two years behind. And today, consumers are really ahead of us in digital. It's a part of their everyday life. Today, 90% of people in Sweden are on broadband. E-mail, the internet—it's not something mystical, it's just there, and it's in your daily dialogue.

And I think the other part of it is that there is a subculture of small agencies that have been driving this whole thing like hell, competing with big agencies for money and letting clients see how much they can gain. For the first time, the digital industry has a big portfolio with statistics and campaigns that we can show. Five years ago, we didn't have that, and that's why I think the industry's taking off now.

AC: Do you think TV and print ads are on the verge of extinction?

MPJ: Yes and no. Print ads no, because there will always be print. I don't think there will be as much money as there is today, but there will always be print, and a good print ad really does the work. But TV ads, that's another thing. The way they are done today, yes, I think we will never see that again—in five years it will be something else entirely. But there will still be TV ads, though they will fall more under the category of digital. We don't have TiVo yet in Europe, but when TiVo comes, maybe we will see more banner-like advertising on TV, because you can't click away the banner.

AC: You were one of the first people to see the potential of the internet over a decade ago. How were you able to anticipate this wave?

MPJ: Do I have to be honest? [Laughs] I came into this industry as a lawyer originally, and I worked a lot with film, music and traditional ad agencies on different projects. I saw digital coming around 1993 or 1994—I was one of three guys who made one of the first web portals. We didn't really know what the portal would be at the time—just as I don't know what digital TV spots will be five years from now. But we saw that there was potential. With my first digital company in 1995, I told everyone that I didn't want to do homepages, that I wanted to do advertising on the internet. And people looked at me and said, "What do you mean?" Five years ago I went to EA Sports in Stockholm and told them I wanted to do advertising in their game. I told them I thought that was the future, and they said, "No way, people don't want to pay for that!" And today, there is advertising everywhere.

AC: Looking into the future, what do you see on the horizon for interactive advertising?

MPJ: Mobile will definitely happen. Mobile is just in the beginning stages. I don't know how, and it's a big challenge. and the ones who are going to tackle it are the people in the digital industry. That small phone screen is a very difficult screen to achieve something on—I still don't think I've ever seen a well-written SMS, so that's a challenge for any copywriter. But we will see a lot happen there.

But as I told you earlier, I think we will see a reaction to the big creative boost of the last two or three years, in which clients of traditional agencies will push to go into the digital arena, forcing the traditionalists to go with them hand in hand. Of course, agencies like Crispin have already come into digital, and we will see a lot of the big American and European agencies really trying to challenge the digital community next year. And I'm confident that Asia Pacific is coming on—a lot of good agencies are coming out of there, and they know how to communicate in an interactive way. So I think we will have a fantastic creative battle, which means we'll see more big brands putting more money into this industry.
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