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Typo London — Erik Kessels

Erik Kessels is the co-founder of KesselsKramer – one of the most outstandingly creative advertising agencies in the world. Famous for their disliking of advertising awards and their ironic website, KK’s work is broad and varied, always very creative, with a strong idea at it’s core.

In his typically dry and Dutch delivery, Erik’s talk was about the ability of strong ideas to cary themselves no matter what the medium or budget. With advancements in technology, where everyone and your grandmother are able to create ‘design’ relatively cheaply, Erik believes that extra “emphasis must be placed on the idea, not the technique”.

The blur between high budget and low budget
On the topic of budget, Erik says that “budget should never be a limitation, sometimes, having a low budget can help.” Erik gives two examples to illustrate his point, this campaign using a budget of €1.3 million —

And this campaign with one of €300, using the same cast –

The blur between strong design and non design
Erik spoke about how design, or the lack of it, can be used to great affect. The first case was their work for the ‘Citizen’ hotel, a fine balance between ‘cheap’ and ‘luxury’, a hotel with “everything you need, no needless luxury”.

At the bottom end of the budget-scale is KK’s work for the Amsterdam based hotel Hans Brinker which upon visiting the hotel to discuss the project, Erik admits, “it was the biggest shit hole… I’d ever seen in my life”, where the owner of the hotel was not interested in improving the hotel, his sole request was “I just don’t want complaints any more”.

KK’s approach was a refreshing and unexpected one, Kessels explains: “Honesty is their only luxury”. And that ‘luxury’ they took to the extreme, in an industry where the competition were competing on features like cleanliness, service, comfort, and amenities, KK positioned Hans Brinker as the complete opposite, differentiating them by making a feature of their complete ‘shitness’.

In one campaign, small flags were placed carefully into the many dog-shits which surround Amsterdam’s train station. The marketing campaign delivered so much press and awareness for the hotel, that it was copied by other budget hotels in the area. Remarkably, they were now competing to be as shit as Hans Brinker.

KK create a new campaign each year, taking a new take on Hans Brinker’s unique offerings. Such as when they discovered the hotel were accidentally eco-friendly.

Amongst other campaigns for the hotel (which have since been published here)

Promoting their unique design features –

The campaigns have been a huge success for the hotel, with increased awareness and a cult-like following, travelers flock to the hotel for the hotel’s ‘unique’ experience. A night there is like a badge of honor. Erik claims that it’s “It’s booked up pretty much all year now.”

The blur between a small medium and a big medium

When the Dutch and international postal service TNT approached KK to produce a stamp, Erik wanted to make it an event. Using lenticular-technology, Erik positioned the stamp as the ‘Smallest Shortest Film’ which lasted 1 second. Collaborating with acclaimed Director Anton Corbijn and Dutch actress Carice van Houten, KK launched the ‘film’ to an unsuspecting audience of film-critics during the 30th anniversary of the Dutch Film Festival.

The reaction? “Yeah they were pretty disappointed… But after they realized what it was, then they smiled”.

The blur between creation and co creation
Normally sticking your chewing gum on a sculpture would be a heinous offense, unless it’s KK’s sculpture created to symbolize the merger of two schools in Netherlands creates one, in which students are encourage to contribute towards and co-create the sculpture.

The blur between online and offline

Through the digitalisation of photography and the rise of social media, the taking of and sharing of photos across the world is ever growing. The result is an overwhelming amount of photos at our disposal. Their content mingles public and private, with the very personal being openly and unselfconsciously displayed.

In Erik’s installation Photography in Abundance, Kessels visualises “drowning in pictures of the experiences of others”, by printing all the images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and literally dumping them in the exhibition space. The end result is an overwhelming presentation of a million prints that people walk in, around and over.

The blur between anonymous and commissioned

Erik spoke about his personal projects, his series of self-published ‘Useful Photography’, a series of book which document imagery created by amateurs on a variety of specific topics, from Food, eBay pictures, cow portraiture, ‘actors’ in pornography, the woman who shoots herself, and the husband who likes to take photographs of his wife in water.

Always respectful, Erik appreciates their work: “made by amateurs who make wonderful mistakes that we as designers can learn from”.

The blur between the highest ranked and the lowest ranked
On the same day as the Football World Cup Final in 2002 was aired, Erik arranged for the two lowest ranked teams in the world, Bhutan and Monsterrat, who had each never won a game, to play each other in “The Other Final”. A beautifully simple idea which became apparent was less about the football, and more about bringing nations and cultures together, and creating an event to celebrate those who would never otherwise get the opportunity.

In the end, both were winners.

Erik Kessels is the epitome of the addage ‘idea is king’. Whether it be high budget, or no budget, large-scale or tiny, printed communication or dog shite, Kessels’ belief in presenting the idea in it’s most pure and honest form allows him to blur the boundaries of design, art, and advertising to create truly memorably, impactful, fascinating, bonkers communications. The world needs more of this.

KK’s collected works can be found in 2 Kilo of KesselsKramer and now in a new kilo of KesselsKramer.

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Have your say

    2nd Nov 2012
    10:18 am
  1. Outstanding work on Hans Brinker. I love the way the agency has designed the communication. I am sure I will be sharing this example in a lot of my workshops now!

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yes… loving this

ed baptist on Studio Feixen

Nice article – its good to hear the experience of other designers who have started up. Myself and partner have just made it through our first year, i can see some parallels so comforting to get a solid view point

jess codrington on Ten Tips To Starting An Agency

Really nice work. Love the Nike campaign.

Peter Scott on Studio Feixen

Absolutely stunning work!

– Natalie

Natalie on Studio Feixen

A few highlights from a colleague here if you need any reminders:

Matt on ModMag16

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Design Cache on F37 Jan