Not only do animals appear in surprising roles in commercials that writer Kramer, 30, co-directs and creates with Kessels, 29-one spot features panting dogs with Band-Aids on their noses to demonstrate the new "cool door" feature on Ariston ovens-but Kramer's varied background is indicative of the odd lengths he and his partner are willing to go to communicate with people.
"It's quite nice to do work that challenges people and makes them think," he says. "That's what we like-when advertising comes more from communication, instead of selling something."
Certainly their work reflects that manifold approach. This year they designed a CD-ROM for Dutch rock band Raging Men, they signed to co-direct through Spots Films, New York, and after working at GGT/London for a year, they're about to relocate to Amsterdam as Kessels Kramer, a company they market simply as "two people who do projects."
"It's not an agency," Kessels insists. "We're not a freelance team. It will not be a reworking of the traditional hot shop." So far, they've lined up a campaign for European jeans company G-Star, along with a steady diet of projects for small clients and agencies like Wieden & Kennedy/Amsterdam, for which they've recently finished a Nike soccer campaign that features Dutch stars morphed into cyber superheroes in print ads, posters and trading cards. (Me Company, a London design firm, known for Bjork's album art, supplied the futuristic look.)
"There's a brightness to their work," observes Bob Moore, co-CD at Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam. "It's very positive and it's very funny."
After Moore and co-CD Michael Prieve threw out several of the pair's ideas for the soccer campaign, Prieve notes, "they kept coming back with more and more work. A lot of people would have thrown up their hands and walked away. I think that's really indicative of their passion."
Like the reviled Calvin Klein commercials that they admire, the pair's work often risks offending for the sake of arresting. For instance, in two ads for a local Amsterdam hair salon called Shampoo Planet a hand grips a stylish couture on a severed head that's dripping blood. "Hair by Shampoo Planet" reads the headline. The exclusive salon needed some "shock therapy," they explain, adding that the free publicity didn't hurt either.
The strange Ariston appliance campaign, which they created and shot at GGT, beat a more subtle path to attention, relying on visual puns to illuminate simple product benefits: In one spot, a rooster is clucking along, then it freezes and flips over on its back, dead. Tag: "Frost-free shock-freezing on Ariston freezer," as the cool futuristic jingle chorus chimes, "Ariston, and on and on." In another spot, we see a duck quacking as it swoops over a volcano, which cooks it with a hot air blast, a lead-in to the Ariston oven's new steam feature.
Then there's the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, a no-frills youth hostel, for which they've created hilarious print and TV spots that definitely skate on the edge. In one commercial we see a sequence of people in a grimy men's room, scribbling their names with squeaky markers on the tile walls all around the urinals. Cut to hokey accordion music and the tag, "Our guest book." In another spot, a plastered guest staggers down the hall in the wee hours, crashing into every other door. Tag: "Our wakeup call."
Kramer and Kessels met within the tight creative circles of Amsterdam and decided to team up two and half years ago. Kessels, a design school grad, had worked at Lowe and Ogilvy & Mather, while Kramer had been at BBDO and then was apprenticed to CD/commercials director Paul Meijer at PMSvW/Young & Rubicam. (Meijer now directs at Spots Films and the team occasionally collaborates with him.)
Drawn by the wealth of opportunity in London, they put in stints at Chiat/Day and GGT, and they also took on outside projects, like a series of thought-provoking IDs for Nickelodeon. And they continued to direct most of their own work. "Sometimes when you work with a director the whole thing gets so big that the idea gets lost," Kessels explains. "When there are small projects and when the idea is quite straightforward, it's easier to do it yourself." And while they're not actively seeking to direct other agencies' concepts, they say they'd certainly be open to shoot the right project if it came along.
In any event, their plans for advertising are by no means restricted to directing and creating traditional spots. They moved back to Amsterdam because they envision working globally, creating ads that they describe as transcending the one-way "tell" medium of a direct monologue. "Advertising as we know it will soon be over," says Kramer.
Perhaps their latest promotion for the Hans Brinker is an indication of the alternative communication to be found in the fiber optic future. When Kramer and Kessels sent the work to Paul Meijer, he says he didn't know what to make of it at first. A CD with "Hoover Sonnets" on the cover, it turned out to be a compilation of vacuum cleaner sounds to accompany a pitch for the hotel's new room rates. Not only was it informative and minimalist, Meijer notes, "I got this in the mail and I thought, Oh, fuck, they did it again. They always