Advertising. We don’t need it

A conversation with the Lithuanian creative director Ignas Kozlovas

Text Jānis Lipšāns   Edited by Will Mawhood   Photos Maksis Kotovičs

And at the end of the day, we’ll see that print, that TV-clip, that campaign. So what is there to admire? The process. Take your time. I took mine.

Ignas Kozlovas: I grew up without my father and for the most part I was brough up by my mother who provided a fine-art direction, so those were my surroundings. She is an art historian but it wasn’t like there were strong visual art traditions in the family. Although my father was a sculptor but I didn’t have a strong relationship with him over the years. Actually, it was around 2007 when my mother once doing research about one of her projects accidently found my father’s email address and asked if I was interested in reconnecting with him. And so I did, we had a chat via email and I ended up going to Sochi to meet the man. It was a bit awkward since, as far as my Russian went, I could speak but I couldn’t read.

Janis Lipsans: But then again – you understood why you were there…

IK: Yes, absolutely. But what’s also interesting is my girlfriend – she knows how to read, but she doesn’t understand. So, she reads, I listen.. [starts laughing]

JL: It takes two, baby [continues to laugh]. That’s so bizarre though!

IK: So I went to Sochi to meet my father and I knew from what my mother had told me about his character that he had a difficult personality. After all, he has had three wives… then again, he easily could’ve been like my eldest brother at the age of my mother. And so we spent a week or so together, just talking about life and what had happened many years ago when he and my mother parted ways. It was like listening to his side of the story. It felt like he had really pushed himself to be this way, and that he was lonely and a bit selfish. Anyhow, he booked for me to attend a Russian language course and learn the Cyrillic alphabet. I was working for TBWA at that time and thought I had a decent portfolio, and he was in need of some help in his field to promote the work, so he asked me to come along with him to one of the main agencies in Sochi for an interview. I showed them my portfolio and all they could say was: – we don’t have anything to offer here, go to Moscow. Long story short, I hadn’t been planning to stick around anyway and I went back to Lithuania, and me and my father would maintain contact, talking about perhaps doing a project together or something.

JL: I might come back to this part of your story. Now, as far as you returning to Lithuania, you kept working in an advertising agency, and the question I want to pose is – why do we need advertising? What is advertising for you and why do you need it?

IK: I have my own take on it. When I was ten years old, my mother asked me: what do you want to do for a living? That was at a quite an early age to be asked this question and I didn’t know what to answer. I didn’t know. Then she got to the point telling me about a friend of hers who was a designer, and who, after Lithuania regained its independence, caught a lot of hype thanks to the design niche making him a decent income. So, basically my mother suggested that I become a designer. The only problem there was that I didn’t know what it meant to be a designer. Fast- forward, I was to start attending art school the very next year and in order to succeed I had to learn how to draw and paint. I had started to become a designer, not knowing what it was. I’d learn about graphics, sculpture, paintings and design, and I chose to pursue design above all.

JL: Let me take a step back here.. so, it was your mother asking if you knew the particular person whom had become a designer which was a prestigious profession, say, just like Artemy Troitsky talking about DJs of his active time in music journalism. But was it the fact that you could earn yourself a living with it that made you follow that path or was it out of a pure interest in where it might take you artistically?

IK: I mean, I didn’t know what design was so I figured I ought to start shaping myself somehow. There was a certain sense of stability in that field, so my mother guided me and directed me towards that, which I am thankful to her for, but it didn’t come from being focused on art rather than becoming a designer. And for many years I was simply following that path, yet it wasn’t my path. And coming back to your question about what advertising is for me – in many ways it was a path of discovering the answer for myself from the age of ten and becoming a designer as I matured and kept pushing myself to do better to become the best version of me in that field.

JL: How would you define advertising?

IK: It’s a science. A combination of psychology, tactics, math, intuition and creativity. It changes as fast as humans, sometime even faster. It was like 5-6 years of learning in practice as a graphic designer and some projects as an art-director as I was sharing my work with creative directors, who were constantly pushing me to test the boundaries. And that left a big influence on me and I found out that there’s no end to it. There’s no single rule how to make it.

JL: The only rule there is: there are no rules.

IK: Yeah, yeah! And that’s the point, you never stop!

JL: So, you’ve obviously seen enough and produced a lot as well, but I still want to come back to my original question, since I feel like I didn’t receive the answer I was looking for from you – why do we need advertising?

IK: Companies need advertising.

JL: We the people don’t need it?

IK: No! I see advertising as a process to build, construct and represent a message to be delivered in the necessary way. At this point in time it’s not about making the best advertising piece, but how to make things better – for our country, for example. And how to approach it as a project to make it better because we have had a lot of problems here after regaining independence. I think that’s my mission. It is to use advertising as an instrument to change people’s minds. To make the world a better place. [laughs]

JL: Well, that’s Michael Jackson at his best! [laughs] Heal the world! But on a serious note, if I may, what are the problems you identify with Lithuania, and the Baltics in general, and what can advertising do about it?

IK: That’s a good question. What I feel happened is: when the Soviet Union collapsed and changes started to take place at a fast pace, we jumped over some natural processes of deveopment which other countries had taken their time to go through. We missed out on something in between. Therefore, a lot of corruption erupted and that’s something I think that Lithuania and Latvia have in common. For the younger generation it doesn’t make sense, for all that money taken is just a waste and we talk about what could’ve been done with all those resources instead.

JL: Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen an advertising campaign that could tackle this problem.

IK: I saw one just two days ago, the so-called Anonymous were calling for to replace the man in charge of the anti corruption body here in Latvia. It was an online video that went viral.

JL: Well, that doesn’t fix the problem! I must’ve missed out on that video, but it did get your attention though!

IK: Totally! And I was talking to other jury members about that. And maybe that was not such a genius idea, but it actually worked. It’s about how you measure advertising in terms of the outcome. Did it succeed? That’s the point about advertising – not to come up with the greatest idea in the world, but to make it work. Maybe it’s just me, but I am so focused on the brief, the goal set and the result. It’s not the point about great ideas that work which have been proven a million times over, that’s out of the discussion, but how do you come up with them is really important. There was a problem at first – the guy in charge wasn’t fit for the position and up for the task. The video was made, it went viral, the guy was taken out and you had ten people come up to put forward their candidacies for the role to be filled. I think it was totally perfect. Now, I don’t know what happened next and how things evolved after that, but change took place and that’s good.

JL: But how do you follow up and measure the result in full? You had ten people signing up for the job after the video had been published and the guy gets replaced, but that’s just half-way. It doesn’t change the whole theme song. This is where I lean towards the approach of a creative mind who doesn’t solve the problem himself, but only points out the problem to draw society’s attention to it and to make them think about it and perhaps endorse change.

IK: I mean, you can’t change the world with one campaign. You have to build it up. And for example that’s what brand-builders are busy with – connecting with their audiences. Your beliefs and what you stand for is of a greater importance than a beautiful logo.

JL: I was stuck in a traffic jam on my way to meet you today when I suddenly remembered meeting Mark Waites (from the agency ‘Mother’) in London. He was in Riga a few years ago and gave a lecture. He touched upon the Advertising Standards Authority/Committees of Advertising Practice that basically monitors advertising output to ensure it meets a certain standard. So, one would always keep them in mind for if there is something we might run into trouble with when putting out an advertising campaign, a poster, a TV-clip, radio piece . It is not necessarily someone judging the quality of the ad as such, but should we derive from this mainframe, and to some extent the LADC (Latvian Art Directors’ Club) serves as an institution that embraces the best practices in the field of advertising in Latvia – do you think we need a body that would address the very quality of ideas the advertising industry delivers for there is plenty of bad work out there.

IK: I don’t think we need that. The bad advertising will eventually decline ’cause competition increases the quality. That is what’s driving the quality, and it’s directly connected to the clients as they will turn to those who make the best of it.

JL: But there is still loads of shit advertising out there. I mean, you can recognise it, can’t you? So, someone still did the job and got paid for it. Don’t you wonder how they actually get away with it?

IK: That’s education. I believe that every client deserves the ad work that they are looking for themselves. That’s all. So, if you want to go further and push yourself harder you have to go after great work. That’s global. And sometimes bad advertising is bad for a reason. There’s a business strategy of not having a strategy. So, while others are trying to figure it out, you might as well be addressing your hidden agenda.

JL: How often do you actually find time to invest in educating your clients, and how important is this to you?

IK: It is really, really important. What we do is we integrate our clients into the process. From the point when they are filling out the form of the brief – that’s where we start educating them. Even when ther’re at the stage of answering those questions we’ve posed, they might already think of some solutions to problems they’ve been having with their businesses. I recall times when all they would come after was an increase in sales avoiding briefs. But it’s a lot complex than just giving them that boost, it comes with investing yourself in research about what changes we have to go through to achieve that together and what we need to do in order to make that switch happen in the minds of consumers so that they eventually increase the sales figures. So, through a process of mutual engagement, we get the clients to think in the right direction and follow through to the very point where the idea that was born in that specific context is finally presented to the world.

JL: Have you ever thought of working on the client side?

IK: Erm..no, not really. Nobody wants to hire a crazy person. Though I myself feel like I am over-organised. But it’s always like consulting anyways. Advertising is like consulting. I believe you need more than just that one outdoor, that TV-clip or whatever. There’s a communication plan you follow, so you do feel how it goes and the brand is alive. It’s changing and we influence the brand, so it’s not like we are ever finished working on it.

JL: What’s your favourite campaign ever? There must be more than one, but give me a sense of what you appreciate.

IK: Uhhh, that’s a hard one…Jesus..umm…let me think..

JL: Take a minute! You wanna go for a smoke?

IK: Yeah, let’s go for it!

*** I had left my audio recording device on the table where we sat inside as we scooped out for an answer on a good twenty minute cigarette break. The irony is that I only realised this when we got back inside. Oh well, go figure.

Ignas goes down Memory lane from this point on: we talk about forms of advertising, and how it’s changing. And I gave the example of Volvo Paint: it’s kind of not an ad campaign – it’s an actual product that was released to communicate the brand’s message.
And then we turn to the topic of socially responsible brands. And some numbers indicating that people want to buy products of brands which are socially responsible.

So in general what I wanted to say is – from ads to acts. New media campaigns are taking over traditional advertising media campaigns.

***

JL: Oh snap! This was recording the whole time. We’re back, we’re back! [both laughing]

IK: Yeah, don’t worry! [still laughing]

JL: So, coming back to my question, what are some of the best advertising campaigns you’ve seen?

IK: To me it’s really about numbers and effectiveness, it’s not just about the business of “having fun, smoking weed and that’s the way I live’’. We serve the clients and we have to solve their problems. There’s a company called WARC – they work with statistics; and take, for example, the winning campaigns from the Cannes festival and look at how those campaigns actually performed. Last year, the most efficient one was Ariel’s campaign built on a narrative about a woman who’s taking care of the household. This campaign performed much better than the others.

JL: Have you ever done something for India? *[And I guess I was supposed to ask on behalf of all the women, including those in India, but I failed. I bet the following answer would’ve been quite the opposite.

IK: Naw.. [chuckling]

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