Less is more in Old Amsterdam

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Wilderness on why Old Amsterdam is bucking trends and outshining New Amsterdam when it comes to creativity.

I never thought I would love a place as much as New York City. I spent the better part of my 20s falling in love with the city that never sleeps. Cutting my teeth at some of the city’s largest ad agencies, I worked hard, played hard, made little money, ate even less, and lived in a 5th floor walk-up with a stranger and her cat. But it was heaven. The vibrancy of the city and the quality of the work fuelled my ambition and lived up to all my ‘Mad Men’ dreams.

But this is not about New York.

This is about Amsterdam. A city that, unlike fast-paced New York, takes a slower approach to winning your heart - especially if you come in the winter, when the short days and endless rain make the city look like an under-exposed black and white photograph. With a bit of time, you realize that its biggest apparent shortcoming - there being less of pretty much everything: people, stores, buildings, restaurants - is actually a strength. Less really is more.

Having spent the past couple of years getting to know the ins-and-outs of the city, there are a few things that make Amsterdam truly attractive for brands and agencies like mine.

Wide range of businesses

While not nearly as large as New York, Amsterdam punches above its weight when it comes to the number of world-class businesses that have based their European headquarters here. The Netherlands as a whole just ranked 4th among competitive economies globally, and is home to global brands like UniIever, Nike, Adidas, Heineken, Diageo, and Philips.

In the last few years that number has only grown, as Amsterdam has been attracting more tech firms and investors from all over the world, creating a Dutch-Silicon valley. Established global players like Uber, Netflix and Tesla have all set up their headquarters here. Ranking as the 4th most active startup hub in Europe, the city has also become a breeding ground for startups like Bunq, Felix, Picnic and Polarsteps.

Pervasive creativity

From the epic (i.e. Amsterdam Dance Event) to the minimalist (i.e. the famous De Stijl movement); from the old masters (i.e. Rembrandt) to the new (i.e. Van Gogh), Amsterdam is a city steeped in creativity.

That creativity extends well beyond art and architecture to an ingrained spirit of ingenuity and innovation (fun fact, the Dutch invented wifi and Bluetooth). Not surprisingly, the creative and entrepreneurial nature of the city extends to the advertising industry, with 60% of the creative community here opening their own ZZP businesses so they can freelance. This freedom of employment translates to a freedom that manifests in the advertising work that comes out of Amsterdam. We’re that little bit more edgy and risk-taking, winning awards on global stages for work that breaks the status quo.

Collaborative culture

Finally, Dutch culture is built on collaboration. As a small country, trading with neighbouring territories has been a necessity since the country’s foundation more than 500 years ago. In fact, the first ever stock exchange was founded here.

In the early days of advertising, brands like Heineken would collaborate with local artists who traded their skills for beer. I Heart NYC, but this kind of open collaboration is the antithesis of the highly competitive nature of the Big Apple.

In New York, agencies fight fiercely over every client and only pretend to play nice when sharing a brief, but in Amsterdam, we have already seen that agencies are looking to fill gaps in expertise by partnering with more specialized agencies like Wilderness.

More than anything, this is what makes me excited to work in Amsterdam. This kind of symbiotic approach to advertising means clients get true expertise across all areas of their business, and agencies can match the quality and capabilities of NYC firms, with less overhead and less risk. It’s like I said; in Amsterdam, less really is more.

Meredith Mogensen, managing director at Wilderness Agency.

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