Brands need to create fandom, says BBH’s Pelle Sjoenell

Pelle Sjoenell, the worldwide chief creative officer for BBH, talks about the prospect of creating advertising that people will pay for to watch rather than avoid


Pelle Sjoenell, BBH’s worldwide creative officer, is all for the intimacy between brands and consumers for better business. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Pelle Sjoenell, BBH’s worldwide creative officer, is all for the intimacy between brands and consumers for better business. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

For Pelle Sjoenell, the worldwide chief creative officer for BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty), life has come full circle. From admiring the iconic Levi’s laundrette advertisement as a 13-year-old in Sweden to taking over the reins from Sir John Hegarty, the man who created that iconic piece of advertising at BBH, Sjoenell has come a long way. Known best for his award winning campaigns for clients such as Axe and Google , Sjoenell, talks about the future of advertising and why he’s excited about the prospect of creating advertising that people will pay for to watch rather than avoid. Edited excerpts from the interview:

What inspired you to get into advertising?

When I was 13 years old, I went to watch a Bond movie in a cinema in Sweden. You’re supposed to be 15, but I sneaked in, and I watched a Levi’s commercial, so life has come full circle here. At the time in Sweden, which is far up north and cold, we had two state-run channels—TV1 and TV2—with no advertising. So we really looked forward to advertising, it was something we didn’t have and we wanted to see and be part of the world. In 1987, TV3 was broadcast from London... to bypass the commercial laws, so that we would get television commercials. And I want to go back to that time, when we looked forward to some great advertising.

You’ve got very large shoes to fill as you take over the responsibility from Sir John Hegarty. How has the experience been?

It is an opportunity to do something different. But at the same time the thing that got me into advertising, my first love, was work from BBH. So, it’s an absolute honour. They are big shoes to fill, no doubt, but they are pointed in the right direction. And no one can replace Sir John Hegarty, but I can certainly make him proud and that is what drives me to take the BBH brand into places it hasn’t been and make more for this era. Instead of being scared and trying to repeat what has been done, (I would rather) be excited about what it (BBH) can be. So, it’s a mix of terrified and excited. But there are so many more opportunities. When I first when to advertising school, we learnt how to cut out typefaces and that was the tool box of the time. Now, the palette is amazingly large and exciting.

How do brands cope in this changing media landscape?

Brands need to create fandom…There is something very important for brands to think about. That there is a big difference between fans and a Facebook like. Intimacy is what social media has allowed us today. Look at Bollywood stars for instance. They have a huge following on social media as fans can talk to them every day, it’s very intimate. If brands can build more intimacy with consumers then business is going to be better. It’s that simple. Fandom really is your insurance for the future. How do you build that? There is no simple trick to it...you have to be honest, authentic. Those behaviours are good for the longevity of the brand.

What prompted you to set up The Creative Studio?

We sell creativity by the hour to brands but we don’t own the creative work we do. It’s important for us to use our creativity for other things. Also in this transition to entertainment, the advertising we do has to be more entertaining. Brands are really looking in that direction and we have to be good at that game... It’s a great opportunity for agencies. You look at the Lego movie for example. It made money for the brand. Which means that if we do as great a job with entertainment as advertisers, we will be an investment rather than a cost. And our relationship will also change a bit. We will be dependent on each other in a different way. That excites me. I would want them to make money on their ads.

Will BBH India have a content studio of its own?

Nowadays we produce things in India that are shot in Prague and ordered by London, shown in Spain. And that’s a real example. There are similarities in Bollywood and Hollywood, but instead of building that capability twice, we will share it.

Can you share a piece of work that intrigues you?

I’m really excited by the new advertisement for Burberry that came out a few days ago. It feels like a film trailer about the life of founder Thomas Burberry. The short film just goes to show that there are stories about brands that are worth telling in an entertainment format. The Lego movie is about the product. The Burberry ad is about its founder, and it excites me on many levels. That long form ads online can give so much emotional excitement, and I hope that they do go on to make a film or a mini-series. I’m excited that brand stories are worth telling, we just have to find them and mine within the brand. I’m excited about where this can go now. That is the next step for consumer to pay to watch the movie or mini series.

More From Livemint