Copywriter, senior partner and long-time employee at Forsman & Bodenfors on creating magic with Volvo Trucks and the agency’s intrinsic entrepreneurial spirit
Anna Qvennerstedt has been an employee at Swedish agency Forsman & Bodenfors for 13 years. And while that might seem like a long time in the chop-and-change culture of the advertising industry, at F&B it’s less a big deal to stay onboard so long. And it’s little wonder – the agency has created some of most admired, awarded and adored work of recent times, namely its ‘Live Test Series’ campaign for Volvo Trucks. The outlandish tests, which have involved a hamster driving a lorry and Jean Claude Van Damme performing the splits between two moving trucks, have done wonders the client – who knew lorries could ever be so rad? – and earned F&B plaudits amongst peers as they were announced as The Gunn Report’s most awarded agency in 2014.
Anna was appointed Chairman of the Board at F&B in 2012. It’s a role she isn’t formally in anymore due to MDC’s acquisition of the agency in 2016, but she still chairs the internal one and works side-by-side with the management group to ensure agency is always at its best.
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Anna to find out more.
LBB> You were appointed to Chairman of the Board in 2012, on top of your roles of Senior Copywriter and Partner - why was that something you were keen to take on and what did you endeavour to acheive when you began?
AQ> Not at all. I am very invested in this company, I want F&B to be the best working place and to do the best work, but I have never aimed for a specific title. By the way I am not formally Chairman of the Board any longer – we have a new board since we went into partnership with MDC. But I still chair our internal board and I spend as much time working with the rest of our managing group as ever.
LBB> How did you end up working in advertising? Was it always your plan or more of a happy accident?
AQ> I did not plan on working in advertising, but I wanted to write and came across Berghs School of Communication pretty early. From there it just went on. It turned out that a lot of other things interest me even more than writing.
LBB> You've been at Forsman & Bodenfors since 2004 - 13 years is a long time in the advertising industry! Why is the company such a good fit for you as a creative?
AQ> It may seem like a long time but by F&B standards it is pretty standard. (We have people who have been here for over 30 years.) I think F&B suits me because I need the collaboration aspect of working, I like to be part of a group. I never take creative decisions alone. To me, consensus isn’t compromising – it may take a little longer and it demands that you put your prestige aside, but in my experience it promotes creative edge. And F&B is all about collaboration.
LBB> We need to talk about Volvo Trucks! I think the original live test that you did was The Ballerina Stunt in 2012. Since then we've seen hamsters, a paraglider and of course Jean Claude Van Damme get involved. How has it been for you to see the series evolve and why do you think it's proved so popular?
AQ> The whole Life Test Series is the result of a stellar strategy, the kind of brilliant no-bullshit thinking that makes me most proud of F&B. ‘Epic Split’ is to me an example of where everything just falls into place, every detail of it is brilliant and I think it just took everyone off guard. I personally also really like ‘Look who’s driving’, with the kid who remote controls a truck.
LBB> What are you working on with the brand at the moment?
AQ> Recently we’ve been part of launching Volvo Trucks’ new models in the US market, and it’s been a very successful launch so far. Among other things, we produced a film called Unboxing, where we proved that this was the biggest unboxing ever, as verified by Guinness World Records. At the moment, we’re busy working on a global brief for Volvo Trucks concerning sustainability, but very much WIP.
LBB> Which other pieces of recent work from the agency are you particularly proud of and why?
AQ> I like the digital smartness of Sweden on Airbnb, the beautiful storytelling of Volvo Moments and the authenticity of Sleek (which is a British beauty brand owned by Boots).
LBB> I feel like Sweden, and possibly the whole Nordic region, has quite a distinct tone of voice with its advertising - a lot of it is very rooted in innovative technology and ideas. Would you agree with that? How do you see the industry within the region right now?
AQ> I agree, I think a lot of good work is coming out of a couple of Swedish agencies. It’s not all that tech based though, even if there have been a few. I don’t see the Swedish digital/tech lead in advertising as clearly as I did a few years ago.
LBB> In a talk you gave at Cannes one year, you said that at Forsman & Bodenfors you look to hire people that are "a bit like Swiss army knives". What do you mean by that?
AQ> Since we don’t have any creative directors, every creative is fully responsible for their own project/client. That means that we like it when creatives are more than creative. They will have to make sure that they get the right starting point, the right brief – so they need to take interest in the strategic part of the work. They will also present the work to the client and build a relationship there. Ideally it’ll be an informal and trustful relationship where client and creatives have an open and ongoing discussion around the work. Our teams push their own creative process forward without waiting for directions. We are looking for people who are a bit like entrepreneurs, because they will be running their own business at F&B.
LBB> And once you've hired those people, how do you work with young creatives to get the best out of them?
AQ> We give them full responsibility.
LBB> What is the best thing about advertising in 2017? And the most frustrating?
AQ> The best thing is the speed of change and the opportunity to make a real difference. The frustrations are many. I feel our industry often projects beautiful values and heart-warming messages onto brands that do too little to live up to them. When all products are the same and all brands want to do good in the world (in all imaginable ways), where is the differentiation? I think we do the best work when we stop being award-winning campaign makers and just dig deep into the real challenges of the brand. Whatever they may be.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why?
AQ> Difficult question. I have always had a huge respect for Dan Wieden and the agency he built. On the other hand, I feel that a lot of inspiration recently has come from musical artists and technology rather than advertising.
LBB> What do you like to get up to outside of work to keep your creative batteries charged?
AQ> I charge my creative batteries through talking about work and sharing references and inspiration inside of work. The time I have outside of work I mainly spend with my daughter and, sadly, at the gym.
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