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Why the German Ad Industry Needs to Have More Fun


Manuel Urbanke, executive creative director at Berlin creative agency antoni, on how he helped launch a music startup now valued at over half a billion dollars, why Berlin’s advertising scene is becoming more international, and why playfulness is crucial to creativity

Why the German Ad Industry Needs to Have More Fun

REKORDER, the Berlin-based film and photography creative production studio, is proud to support LBB. Over the upcoming months, as part of the sponsorship of the German Edition, we will celebrate creativity and introduce some of the most innovative and creative minds in the industry. 

In this interview, LBB’s Alex Reeves speaks with Manuel Urbanke, executive creative director at antoni. He speaks about how his father’s pioneering filmmaking influenced his creative development, why having fun is underrated and how Pharrell named a music startup that Manuel helped to launch which is now valued at over half a billion dollars.

LBB> What were you like as a kid? And, growing up, when did it first dawn on you that you were 'a creative'?

Manuel> I love and hate this term. Obviously I am a creative and define myself that way, but for an organisation, it’s potentially dangerous if creativity is limited to one department only. 

Anyways, I spent my childhood in nice but boring Austrian suburbia. My dad is a hobby filmmaker. He made the first Austrian skateboard movie in the ‘70s. Sometimes I helped him edit - like physically cut Super8 film and rearranged it. But he's also an engineer. As a kid I watched him fix things, and I dismantled all kinds of stuff, looked inside of it and tried to understand how it worked. This is a bit of a stretch, but I think fixing stuff is super creative. You have to be empathic in a way. You have to ‘think like the machine’ in order to understand what’s wrong with it, and then find a solution to make it work again. My mom let me try out whatever I wanted, which led to me being sort of a generalist. Maybe all that was a good substrate for developing a creative mindset. Or maybe I just sucked at maths. Whatever it was, it took me until my 20s to realise advertising and calling yourself a creative is an actual career path.

LBB> You've worked in Moscow and New York, as well as Berlin. What do you love about working in the Berlin creative scene?

Manuel> Berlin obviously has the most international creative scene in all of Germany. You see that reflected in the amount of international agencies currently setting up shop in the city. I think that’s a good sign. It means German clients are catering to a more international clientele, and more international accounts are run out of Berlin. And, it’s proof that there’s a lot of creative talent out here. Mix that with tons of startups, an innovative tech sector, fashion, a vibrant art scene, music, obviously… It’s inspiring. And even though the housing market is nuts, it’s still more affordable in comparison to other international cities.

LBB> And, creatively speaking, how do you find Berlin compares to other 'creative capitals' like New York or London?

Manuel> I think it’s doing great. There are certain aspects where Berlin leads the way. I feel, in general, the city itself still feels less like a metropolis than, let’s say, New York or London, but it’s up there.

LBB> More broadly, what's your impression of where German creativity is at right now? What's exciting you?

Manuel> I have a hard time untangling it from the general ‘international style’ which has become the norm. I feel Germans give themselves less liberty than they could. I mean this from the perspective of an audience focused industry which I’m working in. I feel we could be more bold, more weird, more free with ideas. Have more fun with it. Playfulness is important, and so is risking something to gain something. Since so many things can be measured these days, the room for trial and error is diminishing. Decisions are oftentimes driven by something that has worked in the past, or fear. But, I’m excited to keep trying and remind people that fun is an integral part of communication. And it shows if something was fun to make.

LBB> And what about at antoni in particular? How do you think a tailor-made agency for each client changes the feeling of the company?

Manuel> I think it’s great because it enables you to really drill down at something and take the time to consult on eye level and develop sustainable change. But, it’s also a two-sided coin. Once you are so close to a single brand you constantly have to remind yourself to question assignments and challenge the outcome to not get absorbed. But that’s one of my favourite tasks.

LBB> What do you wish more people knew about ALDI and why?

Manuel> Here’s my favourite story, which tells a lot about this brand. It's the reason why back in the day ALDI had fresh fruit and vegetables at the end of your shopping experience - unlike today where it’s the first thing you see when you enter their stores. The reason why it was all the way at the end was so that you wouldn’t dent or damage your delicate berries and other fresh groceries you bought. Think about that. If you start with fruit and vegetables, they are all the way at the bottom of your shopping cart. I think this was so thoughtful, almost too thoughtful, because it obviously looks tastier if you see fresh produce upon entering. But it was such a sharp observation. It shows this brand is constantly thinking about improving and making things more efficient. Besides that, there are tons of things ALDI is doing which are totally atypical for a discounter. They have an amazing range of organic and vegan products. And the bag of ALDI Nord was designed by Günter Fruhtrunk, which makes it the most widespread piece of art on the planet.

LBB> What work are you proudest of in your career and why?

Manuel> I hope what we are doing with ALDI will be the answer to this question. 

But until then, I’d say I’m proudest of helping launch a music startup that is valued at well north of half a billion dollars and that is servicing hundreds of thousands of independent artists, three of which were nominated for Grammys this year. Fun fact, Pharrell Williams actually came up with the name for it: UnitedMasters. It’s inspired by United Artists, which Charlie Chaplin founded as the independent answer to the Hollywood studio system back in the 1920s. In the beginning I was not sure about the name, but have you ever tried arguing with Pharrell?

LBB> Outside of work, what are you most fascinated by at the moment?

Manuel> My daughter, Rio.

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REKORDER, Wed, 15 Mar 2023 15:11:33 GMT