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Hot Dam: The top 10 creative agencies in Amsterdam (part 2)

Havas Lemz, working with the Dutch Lung Foundation, used the concept of holding your breath to draw attention to air pollution

Who are the most successful agencies in Amsterdam? In The Drum magazine's latest Creative Cities supplement, we profiled the 10 of the most awarded Dutch shops as ranked by the most recent Big Won report.


In 1999, Romke Oortwijn, Peter Hebbing, Ole Christern and Marc Oosterhout founded what they describe as “a Rotterdam agency in Amsterdam” – their way of explaining a strictly ‘no-nonsense’ approach to advertising that is defined by openness and transparency.

It’s an approach that sees them promise customers 100% of their attention – something only made possible because of the agency’s status as the biggest independent in the Netherlands – and it clearly works. The agency’s predominantly Dutch work has won pretty much every award going over the years, from Cannes Lions to Eurobests to Epicas.

In 2016 it picked up gongs from the Webby Awards, the Lovies, the Effies and many other shows for clients including ABN Amro, Bavaria Brewery and Mercedes-Benz, while its work for Gay Pride’s Amsterdam Canal Parade (which saw an empty boat take part in the parade with an on-board camera streaming a full 360-degree view of proceedings for gay people all over the world not afforded such freedoms) chalked up many column inches, as did its contactless payment jacket (N=5 created a coat called ‘Helping Heart’ that allowed passersby to donate money to the wearer – homeless people – by tapping their contactless cards on a reader positioned on the person’s heart).

Ogilvy Amsterdam

Ogilvy Amsterdam is a full communications service agency just shy of 100 people led by chief executive Edgar Molenaars. Operating under the wing of global network WPP, the agency’s employees approach briefs with a strategy of ‘story making’, ‘storytelling”’ and then ‘story spreading’. Balancing creativity with effectiveness, Ogilvy Amsterdam goes by the mantra that successful brands have higher ideals that appeal to universal human motivation at their core. The team aims to take a brand ‘best self’ and mix it with cultural tension to produce work.

Clients range from FMCG giants such as Coca-Cola and Nestlé to Amnesty International and Center Parks, for which the team has produced award-winning TV spots, effective branding strategies and viral social campaigns.

The agency announced the launch of its own in-house production company this year, tapping its new head of production from rival TBWA.

This approach enabled Ogilvy Amsterdam to launch its recent ad for Pathé Cinemas, enticing viewers to ‘Make it Big’ by leaving the comforts of home and heading to the cinema. The spot highlights the limitations of watching a film on mobile, with a suspenseful bank robbery scene where the bank customers are told to stick their hands up but find they can’t because of the upper reaches of a small screen.

We Are Pi

With a name inspired by the number that never ends, We Are Pi has a modus operandi to ‘never settle’ and to be what founding partner Patrick Garvey describes as “the most enthusiastic supporter of ideas that move the world forward”.

Born on Pi Day (14 March) 2011 with founding clients Lego and Ted Conferences, the independent agency has picked up Heineken, Coca-Cola, Wrangler, Under Armour and a few others along the way, with Garvey, Alex Bennett-Grant, Rick Chant and Barney Hobson leading a team of 30 from 10 different countries on a mission to shift brand position and perception.

So far in its six years it has helped shift Lego from a brand that sells bricks to a brand that sells worlds, shifted Ted from a tech event to a brand that connects humanity and Deloitte from audit firm to data partner. And it has won more than a few awards for its troubles, racking up Cannes Lions, D&AD pencils, Webbys, Eurobests and many more.

More recently it has taken to the skies with Heineken’s tequila-flavored beer Desperados to put on a DJ set 30,000 feet above Las Vegas. Part of its ‘Inner Tequila Studios’ platform that looks to remix the rules of branded music experiences, when DJ Mike Cervello dropped the bass the pilot dropped the dance floor, sending the crowd floating in zero gravity.

Also for Desperados, it teamed with electronic music duo Mount Kimbie to turn a train carriage into an immersive venue that hosted experimental gigs, wiring the train so it became a musical instrument Mount Kimbie could play along with live.

And as proof of its refusal to ever settle, the agency has just launched Pi Studios, an Amsterdam-based entertainment company, poaching former Vice Media global executive producer Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock to lead the charge. Channel 4 in the UK has provided its first broadcast commission in partnership with digital publisher Lad Bible – a documentary featuring Nile Rogers charting the Chicago house music scene.

Etcetera Amsterdam

Founded in 1992, Etcetera became part of the DDB Worldwide Communications Group – which operates across more than 90 countries – in 2004.

With the strapline ‘Remarkably Effective’, the agency uses ideas to get brands and people moving. Its effectiveness has clearly paid off and has won the small agency 29 national and international Effie awards and counting.

It is located on the Pilotenstraat and led by managing director Frank Huiberts, who says the team’s ethos is that good ideas are the ones with social relevance that touch on either “a personal or social issue”.

This can be the basis for a meaningful relationship between the consumer and brand, flourishing across the full span of media, from PR to social.

The agency’s roster of clients includes T-Mobile, Mitsubishi and Yellow Pages, where it has delivered award-winning video and social ad campaigns.

For T-Mobile, Etcetera created the ‘Share #Pink’ campaign in tandem with the gay pride Canal Parade in Amsterdam. The team created a digital and analog pink filter that made photos pink and made sharing through various social channels easy.

Thanks to the website and 40,000 distributed analog filters, ‘Share #Pink’ managed to reach around a million people.

Havas Lemz

“We would like to help you win a Nobel Prize” goes the sales pitch of Lemz, the agency probably best known for its ‘Sweetie’ campaign that saw it recognized at the Cannes Festival of Creativity in 2014 as the second-best independent agency in the world, and actually led to the conviction of sex offenders.

Now owned by Havas after the group took a 100% stake in the agency at the end of last year, it goes on to explain how it “believes in using creativity for a better world”, that it is “dedicated to make a difference each and every day”, and that it wants to “fundamentally change ideas, organizations and procedures”.

These all sound like bold claims, but the agency has long since earned a reputation as a pioneer for pro-social creativity and for thinking and acting differently. And with Havas Boondoggle – itself recognized as one of the city’s top creative shops according to the Big Won report on the world’s most awarded agencies – now folded under the Havas Lemz banner, chief executive officer Willem van der Schoot has 80 people at his disposal rather than 45 as he chases this vision of prioritizing societal impact over profit to achieve bigger business gains.

It’s an approach that has been embraced by clients such as Ikea, KLM, Hallmark and, recently, the Dutch Lung Foundation, with which it helped make people aware of air pollution in the Netherlands by letting them check air quality on their mobile phones. It helped raise €300,000 for ground-breaking lung research by getting Dutch people to challenge each other to hold their breath as long as possible and donate 10 cents for every second.

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