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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Andreas Laeufer

The Head of Berlin-based design agency Leo Burnett Laeufer on founding Tank magazine, the birth of boutique publishing and sweeping up awards for the Oh!Saft bottle design

5 Minutes with… Andreas Laeufer

Andreas Laeufer was the brains and creative firepower behind Tank, a UK-based independent magazine which, in 1998, pioneered the trend of boutique publishing. It opted for fewer advertisements in favour of beautiful design and a higher cover price, a trend that now makes up row upon row of newsagents in neighbourhoods such as London’s Soho. Andreas’ aim, along with his then partner Masoud Golsorkhi with whom he launched the magazine, was to focus on contemporary culture, art and fashion, but give it real purpose by juxtaposing it with articles on subjects such as social politics. 

Nowadays, having sold his part in the Tank group – which spawned the advertising agency Tank Form under his guise – Andreas is living back in his native Germany as head of Leo Burnett Laeufer, the Berlin-based boutique design agency which is part of the wider Leo Burnett network. The office’s staff count varies between a modest 15-20, dependent on freelancers – but that means little for its creative clout. It beat off some of the biggest design agencies in the world in 2015 to win one of Hugo Boss’s biggest accounts, while its ingenious work for juice brand Oh!Saft made it one of the most awarded agencies in the world in 2016. 

LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Andreas to find out more…

LBB> Where did you grow up and what were you like as kid?

AL> I grew up in Stuttgart, in southern Germany. It’s the city of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, pretty boring and bourgeois. But Stuttgart is the reason I am who I am now. I lived very close to two things. One is an art gallery which hosted – and still is hosting – an exhibition of Joseph Beuys, a famous German artist. Next to that is a big Bauhaus area. Even as a schoolboy when I went to that gallery and the Bauhaus area, I was really smitten by it. It really attracted me. It’s strange because Beuys was all about felt and fat and dissecting space with odd materials. On the other hand you had this clear cut, white, minimal space of Bauhaus. The contrast really interested me. 

So it was very early – I think at the age of around 12 – when I knew that I wanted to do something with art. That’s really thanks to Stuttgart, and when I ever I go back I still visit these places.

I was one of those kids that never stopped drawing. When we hit around seven years old, when we can verbally communicate, most of us tend to stop drawing. On the contrary, when I hit 12 I began to draw even more, to build things out of various materials, and learn different techniques. 

LBB> So what inspired you to explore design / advertising as opposed to more traditional art? 

AL> When I was at boarding school, near Lake Constance, I met my art teacher at his house and saw that he really struggled to make a living as an artist. So I asked him which other avenues there were to be an artist and make money at the same time –he said graphic design or communication design. That’s why I decided to study communication design. I never stopped from that moment on.

LBB> You launched Tank magazine in 1998 – how did that come about? 

AL> Well after I studied I went to work at advertising agencies in Zurich and Basel. But after a few years I stopped, went freelance and got offered the opportunity to be the creative director for Wolfgang Joop, the German fashion designer. I worked for about three years for all of his licences and that was really my entrée into fashion. Then I worked for Hugo Boss and some other German brands but decided that Germany was too boring and moved with my wife to London. 

I met my then partner Masoud Golsorkhi and we both had the same vision that at that time there wasn’t one independent fashion magazine in England. There were the standard Vogue and Cosmopolitan, etc., but we wanted to launch something that did more than just present the glamorous facade of the fashion industry. We made our money from the fashion industry, but we really wanted to juxtapose the industry against what was really important – which is politics and social issues. So we decided to launch Tank. 

When we were launching, we were looking for sponsorship but people would say how they believed in the idea but they just didn’t think we could do it. It was very annoying. So that’s why the first issue was launched in a very small, 19x19, square book format. It was a convenient printing format that didn’t cost a lot of money. Then a French designer came along and sponsored us with £15,000 – and that’s how we properly started. 

LBB> Tank grew into quite a huge entity – it is still going today and is really the inspiration behind endless magazines that have followed its format of fewer advertisements, a focus on design and a slightly higher cover price. How did you turn it into what it is? 

AL> We obviously wanted to make some money to cover the costs of producing Tank, but it was never meant to be a financial entity. Masoud was a photographer, I was an art director, and we both said we’d produce Tank to raise interest in what we do. 

LBB> Kind of like a portfolio? 

AL> Exactly. That’s what it was. But one year in we had Jean-Paul Gaultier approaching us and asking if we also did package design. And we said, “yeah, of course!” We’d never done it before, but we were invited in to work on his new perfume brand. That’s how we got into the business of perfume packaging design, and we went onto work for Armani and Stella McCartney.

Then Masoud and I actually launched an advertising agency called Tank Form – which still exists today. We were the first magazine to use its competences and generated network to start an advertising agency in parallel. 

LBB> So who were you working with at that time? 

AL> Obviously we had Gaultier at the start, but after that we had companies like Levi’s coming to us to solve a problem. Our work with Levi’s led to our idea of producing a magazine for a company. We produced Mined magazine – five issues I think we did and it was a multi-award winning magazine. It was a book format, like the first edition of Tank, and involved zero branding, except for the fact that if you spell ‘mined’ backwards, it spells ‘denim’, and things like the thread of the book being taken from Levi’s jeans. 

LBB> When did you launch Mined?

AL> I think it was 2002. 

LBB> It’s interesting because if you think about the amount of conversation there is in the ad industry right now about branded content, how to make it entertaining and interesting, the ways to plant a brand’s presence within it. You were doing it then with Mined. 

AL> It’s quite funny. Content marketing seems to be like a playground for frustrated strategists, who were never allowed to play in that sandpit because they didn’t understand the toys. But now they’re throwing around these buzzwords. They really confuse creatives with that – I was really confused myself. But it really is nothing more than creating and driving editorial content that’s relevant. That’s all it is. 

I started with the idea of boutique publishing – of solving a business problem with content – in 2002. In that case it was print. And it did solve their problem, it was hugely successful. And back then, just like now, with Instagram for example, it was so important that is wasn’t explicitly branded. Because branded content doesn’t work. It needs to be authentic to be believable and digestible. 

LBB> So your first foray into package design was focused in the fashion world with perfume design. Now with Leo Burnett Laeufer, you work on an array of brands – one of those is Marlboro. What are the challenges that come with working for a cigarette brand? 

AL> I think Leo Burnett has been doing advertising for Marlboro for the past 50 years or more. But there was a bit of a lack of design competence, so they gave that responsibility to big design houses like Landor. We started this agency with only three people having only had a packaging background in the perfume industry. But I said fuck it. I will apply what I have learned there and apply it to cigarette packets. 

We looked really deeply into the profiles of the consumers. The behaviours they have and the needs to fulfil are not that far away from perfume packaging. You have a visual that needs to look cool. You put it on the table in front of your friends, it needs to stay there and you need to be proud of it. It’s a signal of your status and what you love. Think of a duty free shop – it’s the same thing. 

When we entered the first presentation, we had to pitch for every single job. And in the first three years we won every pitch – with a new insight and focus on needs. We went in there with a different likeness, but also cleverness. We educated them that packaging isn’t only about the colour and the material, it is also about storytelling – that you can tell stories though packaging. This is trickier with cigarettes, but it’s something we try to do with everything we do. It’s just like our Oh!Saft work. 

LBB> Yes, I wanted to ask you about that. I absolutely love it and it has deservedly picked up a big amount of awards in the last year or so. Tell us about that project. 

AL> We were asked to solve a media problem by mymuesli GmBH, which has this business called Oh!Saft – it is essentially a subscription of oranges to make orange juice. They supply you with an electric press and every week you get a tray of oranges. So simple. But they have the issue that a lot of their consumers are too busy in the morning to press oranges themselves, so they thought it would be a cool idea to supply them with fresh orange juice in cafés, etc. So they told us that they needed packaging but also possibly advertising – but they didn’t have a media budget. That meant that we had to find a packaging design idea that perfectly portrayed the idea of totally fresh orange juice. That’s the reason behind the idea of the orange press actually being the packaging. We also combined the turning motion of opening a lid with the motion of pressing an orange. I think this was the most successful packaging design worldwide last year. It all comes back to storytelling on the packet. 

Oh!Saft bottle design

LBB> Which other brands are you particularly proud to work with at the moment?

AL> Well we are a super small agency here – 15 people or so. Of course we have the Leo Burnett mothership in Frankfurt which is around 250 people, and Leo’s Thjnk Tank in Munich that only works on McDonald’s. But we are a small office. We had a major win about one year ago with Hugo Boss for their Bodywear range. We pitched against the big, major players, but we won it because we focused on what we felt was really important to the consumer. We managed to guide the consumer towards a really simplified, but relevant, experience – which is outside what you know of the fashion industry. It’s just not enough to use a fashion image with a logo on it. We launched our first work them at the end of 2016 and I’m really proud because it proves that a bunch of sensible designers without any marketing background can convince a big, multinational client. That is pretty cool. 

LBB> How does Leo Burnett Laeufer work with the wider Leo Burnett network? 

AL> As I mentioned, we are a small office here. But we also have an international network that really, really works. It’s really incredible. That’s how they convinced me to come on-board and I’ll admit that I was reluctant to believe it at the time. But I regularly call my colleagues in Russia, for example, for insights into that market, and so on and so forth. It’s an immediate help.

LBB> Who are your creative heroes?

AL> I used to have a sort of alter that was really nothing more than a photo wall with lots of stuff on it. I had a lot of images of Bauhaus artists and probably the hero of them all was Oskar Schlemmer. That’s a bit abstract, I know, but as I mentioned, that is where I come from, I’ve got that in my DNA. Oskar Schlemmer is the Bauhaus artist that managed to combine architecture, graphic design, dance and music into what he did. He designed costumes for the Triadisches Ballett, the most famous Bauhaus ballet ever. Those costumes were actually showcased by Beuys in Stuttgart – which is another connection – because Beuys understood that this was an anchor in bringing together multiple disciplines. I think that is still very relevant. 

LBB> I’ve read that you are also inspired by Vicky Pollard and Kate Moss – quite different beings! Can you explain that?

AL> I think my life has always involved contrasts, and the tensions between contrasts are what excite people. As I just mentioned – Bauhaus and Beuys! I love to try to maintain a sense of contrast. There is this one image of Vicky Pollard on stage with Kate Moss that just reminds me to not take things too seriously. People take the fashion industry too seriously. People take the advertising industry too seriously. And that one image is a constant reminder to not take anything too seriously. 

Kass Moss alongside Matt Lucas as Vicky Pollard in 2006

LBB> When you’re not working, what are you getting up to? 

AL> This is quite boring, but running an agency means I don’t have much free time! But I have a second agency and that is my family. They pitch stuff to me all the time that I have to solve – therefore my focus is really that. The funny thing, given my past, is that I don’t read magazines anymore. I stopped reading magazines and I don’t read newspapers very much anymore. When I sold Tank to Mahsoud and came back to Berlin, I was so fed up of copycats. I was bored and I felt that I didn’t need that anymore. I decided to stop reading magazines and see how far I get. I must admit, I think I’ve got pretty far. 

Genre: People , Strategy/Insight