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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Tim Stübane

The Ogilvy Berlin ECD on learning to code aged 10, getting to grips with Snapchat for Coca-Cola and running his first agency while at university

5 Minutes with… Tim Stübane

Tim Stübane began coding at the age of 10, making silly computer games with his friends. Aged 14, his computer skills took more of a serious turn as Macintosh computers started to become more readily available for agencies and design firms – including that of his father. Tim taught his dad’s designers the way around a computer and got stuck into some of the company’s first computer-based projects. 

He eventually went onto study visual communication at the University of the Arts in Berlin, where he headed up a student-run agency called Daughters & Sons. They worked on real projects for real clients and it was Tim’s job to pull together the most suitable students from each course to work on select briefs. And it’s stood him in good stead for where he is today. After stints at top Germany agencies like Jung von Matt and Scholz & Friends, Tim went on to found the Berlin office of Ogilvy & Mather in 2011. He’s still the ECD there today and behind such work as last year’s incredible ‘Mein Kampf Gegen Rechts’, a counter-book to the republishing in Germany of Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’.

LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with him to find out more. 


LBB> While studying in Berlin you headed up a student-run agency - what can you tell us about that experience? What kind of projects did you work on and what did you learn during that time?

TS> That was a very special time at ‘Daughters & Sons’. It was a real ‘Ltd.’ company, but based at the University of the Arts in Berlin. That sums up the challenge; I had to keep the balance between economic and artistic demands. We got a nice studio, some desks, a couple of the big beige Macintoshes and a coffee machine. About ten students formed the core team, getting projects from the real market, which were completely diverse. We did everything from a classic ad campaign to the interior design of a flagship store. For them we pulled together the right students from all studying courses: graphic and industrial designer, writer, coder, strategists, architects and dramaturgs. And I was trying to manage all this creatively while studying. To be honest, this agency job was much more fruitful than studying. It was fantastic training for the future! And I made some friendships there that still last to this day.

LBB> You studied visual communication at the University of the Arts in Berlin - how did you end up doing that? Was advertising something that you were always keen to get into?

TS> I started coding at the age of 10 just for fun. With some friends I programmed some silly games. But when I was 14 the first Macs entered the agency world - and also my father’s small design bureau. At that point, I taught the adult designers how to deal with a computer. I jumped on my first small projects, guided by my dad. These experiences brought me to my studies. At university I initially focussed just on intellectual projects for the cultural sector. But then I joined this student-run agency. That ignited the lust for great communication ideas in a broader sense. So advertising felt like a great playground for me. I still think so, even the playground is much bigger now.

LBB> What was your childhood like prior to that? Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?

TS> I grew up in a small town with a lot of nature surrounding our house. I spent my time climbing trees, building dams in a stream. It was a cosy and protected childhood. As a teen I became an oarsman in a quadruple sculls. At a peak time we trained every day in the week. But to counter that, I was also a heavy pen-and-paper role-player. With a couple of guys, we finally developed our own roleplaying system and adventures for it. The art of storytelling in the early ‘90s!

LBB> You’re the founder of Ogilvy Berlin, and prior to that you worked at DDB Berlin, Jung von Matt and Scholz & Friends. What inspired you to set up the office? Why was it the right time to become the ‘boss’ and why was Ogilvy a good fit?

TS> After all these mature offices I could have entered another big shop. But I wanted something special, something more entrepreneurial. My former creative partner and I talked with a lot of agencies in this phase. Ogilvy was one of them. We liked the heritage of the brand, the silent but impressive creative performance and the agenda-setting approach of their smart leaders. It was strange that exactly this great agency network had a blank spot in Berlin. So Ogilvy won the race in the end. In the beginning it didn't feel like being a boss. It was quite the opposite. We started the office in 2011 with just five people. Everyone had to take care of everything themselves: lightbulbs, coffee and, yes, communications for new clients.

LBB> A lot of your recent work has been rooted in social media and teen culture - I’m thinking of the Snapskate work for Coke and the escalating gifs. Are these areas that your passionate about?

TS> I like social media, yes. It's a nice playground for creatively enriching your communications. And if used properly it can unfold its power as a holistic business tool. Most teens use social media more naturally than older generations and they are always keen on exploring new territories. That makes this target group so interesting. I'm working for a lot of brands that have a teen focus, especially Coca-Cola and Fanta. So it's also part of my job to create engaging things for them. The more you understand teens and their culture, the better the solutions you can come up with for them.

LBB> Snapchat is an interesting one - so much of the world’s youth spends so much time on the app these days, but it seems as though brands are struggling to figure out how best to use it. What are your thoughts on that? What could agencies be doing to better guide their clients through that journey?

TS> I share your assessment. For me the reason is: Snapchat was first of all built around the needs of teens. Honestly, it took me a while to not find this platform super annoying in terms of user experience. But for teens it's working out perfectly. This platform wasn't built for parents. And it wasn't built for brands. It is teen territory. That's what they like about it. 

So, it's quite difficult for brands to tap into the popularity of the app, because you are an invader. You have to find a way to fly in under the radar or in exchange of acceptance you have to offer something special: fun, excitement, news, shareable content, etc. An okay-ish way is to use the authenticity of influencers and their channels in order to gain credibility. For Coke we found another more creative way and developed SnapSkate – an entire game using existing features of the app without spending a single cent on media.

LBB> Which other pieces of recent work are you particularly proud of and why?

TS> As a core of a bigger PR campaign we made a film for The Coca-Cola Company about the fact that their bottles and cans are 100% recyclable. We didn't only want to make a claim, we wanted to prove this fact. Therefore we created a film completely crafted out of PET bottles and cans. A love story, in which a Coke and a Fanta bottle meet over and over again – thanks to recycling. It was a challenging project in terms of timing, crafting and, beyond this, dealing with a serious societal topic. But we worked together with a client who stood 100% behind the idea, who fought for it, and a couple of fantastic artists to bring the whole thing to life. 

There was no ‘normals’ way of doing such a curious thing. Creating a film set, characters and props out of bottles and cans was an experiment, something none of us had ever done before. But that makes a project exciting and bears the chance of a great result, doesn't it? Here's the making of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT81G9px3w8

LBB> What do you find most inspiring? Do you find yourself turning in a particular direction for inspiration?

TS> Inspiration can come from everything surrounding me. But in particular there’s news, art, science and my kids’ refreshing perspective on things. 

When I need a specific idea for a given task, first I take a deep dive into the topic, fuelling myself with all the information available. Secondly, I try to bring distance between the topic and myself, thinking of something completely different (if there is the time for it). These different levels of engagement help me to create completely different ideas. What sounds like being lost in reverie is mostly hard work.

LBB> How do you see the state of the German advertising industry at the moment? How has it changed since you first started out in your career?

TS> Every year in Germany we have a few really great projects that break through internationally. And these pieces win tons of awards. That's fantastic. But it's outshining reality: we should have more of these highly creative projects, these projects should be for bigger brands and they should be digitally more ambitious. When I started my career it was a lot about press and TV. You know the situation, we now have a completely different market and the global ad industry shifted with it: consumer centricity, mobile first, data driven, multi-layered media, internet of things, social media. All these terms didn't exist when I started. Today we have a completely different understanding of how modern marketing should be. And here Germany's ad industry is not ahead of the curve. It's not shifting quick enough. Other markets are faster, while we try to understand what's going on and try to perfect what was hip years ago. We have to move, we have to disrupt ourselves.

LBB> What do you like to get up to in your spare time? Any interesting hobbies or passions to tell us about?

TS> Agency life, family life – I love both ones. But they take as much time as they can get. So there's never enough me-time left. If so, I like to have a good espresso and a nice article about interior design of the mid-century.