PETER FIGGE, the head of Europe’s largest advertising agency, Jung von Matt, experienced a powerful feeling of togetherness in the midst of the corona crisis. He urges business leaders to take advantage of the special time
We are not just facing the corona crisis today. We are also bat- tling a climate crisis and an economic crisis, a distribution crisis. What type of responsibility must the advertising indus- try assume?
The advertising industry – but not just the advertising industry – should apply its entire creative energy to forcefully communicate the key issues of today and tomorrow.
Which messages did you have to communicate for your clients at the beginning of the corona crisis?
Edeka wanted to highlight the security of food and product sup- plies. Vodafone was interested in stability – that is, the stable net- work structure that is essential for telecommuting. We had some very corona-driven jobs as well, including one for the Austrian government. It was really a great example of what creativity can accomplish.
Tell us a little more …
The pandemic also includes some new, important, but very dry, rational aspects, things like the basic reproduction number or 1.5- metre distancing. For Austria, we had to come up with something that could symbolise these 1.5 metres of distance. We thought about things that were this long and came up with a baby elephant. One baby elephant must always fit between two people. The image we used in the campaign has now become part of Austrians’ daily language. People say: “A baby elephant, please!” instead of “please don’t stand so close to me!”
As a member of the advertising industry, do you think it is your job to raise people’s awareness levels about the major problems we face today?
I am an entrepreneur. This means that my employees and their jobs are my foremost responsibility. Of course, I am also responsi- ble for our clients and think about one question in particular: How can their products and services be presented in the best-possible way in future? And, yes, we do have a job to perform in terms of raising people’s awareness levels. This crisis is different from the other crises we have faced. This crisis is much, much more far- reaching, and it will leave behind an indelible mark. The forced digitalisation that we are all experiencing right now is one good example. Crises challenge creative people. We can put our creative talents to work in such areas – even if we are not really system- relevant and are not saving any lives.
You wrote your dissertation on a sustainability issue. What is the best way to promote a better world?
To face up to the complexity and the contradictions associated with it, to understand and to come up with the most simple, hon- est and credible messages possible. And not least: You have to do things and stay on the ball. None of us wants to pass on a poorer world to our children, and none of us wants a destroyed environ- ment. I personally want to do my part and ensure that companies move in the right direction.
A life-saving direction?
This issue of the future has even brought together socially conser- vative people with individuals who were considered to be environ- mental freaks for years. Everybody now understands that the Earth is a finite resource.
This is an intellectual conclusion that has been inadequately acted upon.
Unfortunately, people take action only when they personally begin to feel the need. This is why shock images used in advertising have only a limited impact.
The 10th photo of polar bears floating on an iceberg in melt- water accomplishes nothing?
When I personally go through two, three parched, sun-baked sum- mers, I am much more open to the issue of climate change than I would be if I read a story in the media about drought in Africa. Some shock images may weigh on some individuals’ minds for a brief time. But they will hardly prompt most people to do anything. But this is just where the opportunities of this crisis are to be found! It has a direct impact on our daily lives. I cannot simply hug a person. I cannot travel to wherever I want. But I will possibly ex- perience something positive because I am suddenly forced to sit out in nature and rediscover my forest. We now have the opportu- nity to have the wide-scale individual experiences we need to change ourselves. We are leaving the abstractions and theory behind.
How are sustainability issues discussed at your firm? How do you handle the ideas of young employees from Generation Z?
We have created a Board of Young Advisers to complement the council of elders, the Supervisory Board. This Board of Young Ad- visers consists of six people younger than 30. Their sole job is to raise questions about things. How should individuals change their behaviour? For which companies should you work to move things in the right direction? I find young people to be very open and direct.
A radical approach to sustainability?
Certainly. But I am talking about simplicity as well. Some things are made too simple. For this reason, I like to play the devil’s advo- cate in order to point out the negative impact of a certain attitude.
Are these debates also about morals?
Yes. Two principles always apply: We will perform no jobs for the arms industry. And no one has to work on an issue that he or she is uncomfortable with.
Have moral limits shifted over the years?
The discussion about this issue has really intensified along with the examination of it. Everybody is really sold on the idea of doing the right thing. But they have a really hard time standing up for the right thing and accepting the consequences of their actions.
What do your clients think? Many cut their advertising bud- gets in times of crisis.
I think it is a bad idea for strong brands to stop communicating, particularly during crises. Consumers expect strong brands to be there for them, provide orientation, serve as guideposts and stand clearly for something. And I may have some critical questions for strong brands during a crisis. When brands drop off the radar, they fail to perform the key job of brand formation. Budget cuts mean disappearance.
Have you had any corona experiences with a client that really stuck with you?
We took part in a global pitch for a job from Huawei. They have to develop their own app solution because the use of the Google sys- tem is no longer permitted. The new app gallery must be promoted in the corresponding way. We had to make a presentation during the peak of China’s corona crisis to 16 Chinese who were scattered across five different locations with a virtual team from our offices in Beijing and Hamburg. The German and Chinese employees had never been closer than they were at this particular moment. It was a moving experience. Because we jointly weathered this phase, we suddenly perceived ourselves as being real colleagues, even though we had already worked together for four years. This demonstrates how a crisis can create a powerful feeling of togetherness.
Did you get the job?
Text: Martin Häusler
Photos: Benne Ochs
I think it is a bad idea for strong brands to
stop communicating particularly during crises
Born in 1965 in Siegen, Germany, Figge
decided in 1984 to begin a bank-clerk training programme. He then studied eco- nomics with a focus on marketing in Fri- bourg, Switzerland. He wrote a disserta- tion titled “The Possibilities and Limita- tions of Consumer Information as an Envi- ronmental-Political Instrument”. In his role as partner and board member, he has been leading the global and award-win- ning creative and advertising agency Jung von Matt since 2010.
Peter Figge stands in front of the “Saga-Wall” on the premises of the Jung von Matt advertising agency. The graffiti shows 36 theses of storytelling