A man on a mission, one of the early pioneers in the do-good space coining the term Goodvertising to describe the changing advertising landscape that’s become a movement in itself. As an experienced advertising professional counting more than 15 years, Thomas Kolster is a vocal voice for advertising and brands as a force for good and his book “Goodvertising” is the most comprehensive book to date exploring communication for good. While being in Copenhagen I’ve met with him and discuss about the creativity, inspiration, sustainability and the man behind the work.
AdHugger: In a world looking for integration and big, international groups of agencies buying smaller, independent ones and consolidating their power, is it the same in Denmark’s advertising industry?
Thomas Kolster: People look at integration and what media to use, what social media to use. But the model is still wrong. I think that if you, as a company don’t look at your offerings and services and you don’t want to integrate them, you are still operating in a push model world where you are just pushing stuff out. I believe that the dialogue is very important the respect and the acknowledgment that you really need to deliver value to the people and the planet you are living in, the first realizations you need to do as a brand. You need to reinvent that model instead of just looking to see what media to use.
And secondly, for the agencies, of course that all of the big groups are on a buying spree, buying small, independent agencies. What is happening right now in Denmark and all the other Nordic countries is actually a big move-away from the big international groups. We have few multinational advertising groups that are still operating, a lot of the successful agencies in Denmark, the most revenue generating agencies, are actually Danish-held companies. That can be, hopefully, a little bit of a comfort. I think that the clients can see pass the size of the agency, they know that the ideas are the most important ones.
We had a stage where big, global companies, and that not only in advertising, that are realizing that sometimes the mouse and the elephant can get together and use their best features for the common good (the strength of the elephants and the intelligence of the mouse).
AdHugger: What does creativity mean to you?
Thomas Kolster: Probably because I grew up with Lego, creativity has always been for me about putting blocks together and getting something new and exciting out of it. So I don’t think that creativity is about coming up with something completely new. Everything has been invested already, therefore is about putting the right blocks together. So for me, creativity is about the ability of putting those building blocks together and making something new and exciting out of it. The ability to connect those dots.
Moving forward, the creative destruction model is another way of doing things For me sustainability is essential today and really about creative destruction, is moving us from us being dump. How dump where we to waste resources and not realizing their value? We are getting smarter and smarter and companies who are still stuck into this “infinite world” need to change their business model, because in 5-10 years they will no longer be here.
The next big idea can come from Romania, or from Africa or Asia. Actually, from anywhere. A challenges we are facing today is how we can move from such a consumerist society as my generation and my parents’ have been part of. The biggest challenge is how you create a better, smarter model, without limiting people’s expectations and dreams. That is the question.
AdHugger: Since starting on your own did you ever think about giving up? And if so, what did you do to renounce at that idea?
Thomas Kolster: I think you are faced with that crisis all the time. It’s hard work and it would a lie not to recognize that. I’ve been running my business, in different forms, for 10 years now, and I think that 90 percent is just hard work, stamina and not giving up. The support you get from other people is important, it makes you see that you are going in the right direction.
The thing that I’ve learnt the most from are the things that didn’t go as expected. Very ambitiously I’ve launched the Where Good Grows platform that I thought it would revolutionize the way we live. Like the way you can re-use a mug, a plastic cup, I thought that you can re-use ideas. Therefore, I spent 2 years of my life building it, I launched this platform, spent a lot of money on it, but the business model was wrong so the finance model was also wrong. I realized that it was flawed from the beginning and I found a way of doing it differently.
Also, after running my business for some time I thought that I was ready to go back into a network – the DDB at that time, but I think that I was not considering all the set up and the implications of that decision. But I’ve learnt from that as well.
It’s trial and error, like everything else. I think that especially these days you need to try a lot of stuff, especially in sustainability and marketing, in order to find out what is your path and what you are better suited for. That is the mentality I believe you must have today and sometimes the corporate structure is not build for that.
I value being small and agile rather than big and clumsy.
It’s actually empowering to realize that you shouldn’t give up. A very good example is airbnb. When it was launched for the first time nobody noticed, the second time there were a few articles, it was only the third time that it actually succeeded in kind of bringing up a platform. I think that a lot of the times when one looks at success doesn’t look at the path to success, a lot of people forget that. There are rare times when it happens for a guy to come up with a brilliant idea and explode immediately, like Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook. Most of it is just difficult work.
AdHugger: Can you give an advices or several for someone who would want to go on his / her own right now and create his / her company?
Thomas Kolster: I think that a lot of people think they need to have a certain drive or a certain path, I’ve never really had that. Is something I’ve discovered along the way. The most important thing is, and this is what I do every day, is to do things that they like and if they don’t know yet what they really like to keep trying until they do find out. Probably the best advice is to find something that you really like because that’s going to lead you to a more meaningful career. And also I am sure that if you like it someone else will like it as well. Search for your interest, because if you are going to work a lot is not fun to do it with something you don’t really like.
Also, I think that is important to surround yourself with light-minded people, find other people that inspire you and take you further. That’s something that I lacked, especially in the last couple of years. A great business is not built on your own, but in collaboration.
It also matters very much if you are first or if you are original, because you are sailing up against the stream. But is not absolutely important to be so. The success can come from other sources as well. For entrepreneurs to always look for that original idea it might be a little bit detrimental, as I don’t think that is how it always works. There are so many intelligent people out there. Sometimes the success can come from just taking existing ideas and taking the best out of them and combing them with something else, other ideas and goals of your own.
AdHugger: What are your passions/ hobbies and the things that inspire you?
Thomas Kolster: At the moment my passion is my work. I am lucky to travel around the world, see other cultures, something that for me is immensely important and the founding of creativity. Being exposed to cultures and different thinking is what matters the most to me and what drives my inspiration forward. From an young age I’ve joined an exchange program and when I was 14 I went to Barbados and stayed with the locals and for me that experience has been like a building block for my life and career. I also have parents that loved travelling to Europe, but back then it was by car. For me travelling and discovering other cultures is really important and, at the same time, it states as a warning, that we as a world are not valuing the cultural difference enough. We are trying to mainstream everything, due to the fact that we are afraid of everything that is different and that is killing our ability to innovate. We are getting more and more alike and advertising unfortunately has a big role to play in that.
Another passion of mine is surfing, so the ocean for me is really important. It’s one of the places where I can relax.
I like running. Those are the activities that unwind me.
Also, for me one of the reasons I wanted to write the book was to question what my industry is doing and what role I played in it before and how we can create something that is better for the generations to come rather than thinking that the model that we have right now is at it should be. The way is right now is not ideal so I think that going forward we should re-invent it.
AdHugger: Looking to the future, what do you wish for your country in the next 2-3 years?
Thomas Kolster: The size of the business has never been important to me, nor the idea to grow. For me, the most important thing is to inspire, therefore the mission is more important for me than then anything else. One thing is the inspirational part and the consultancy one, but also important are the new projects: to do a lot of work in the cross section of sustainability in Denmark and to find out new ways to drive change through digital platforms. That is something that I am very passionate about, creating new business, entrepreneurship.
Also, taking the movement more global is an opportunity for me to spread this mindset. Every time there is a country that reaches out and maybe sometimes the fee is not that good but I can’t stop saying yes, because for me is very important to go to as many countries as possible to explore and share the inspiration. And I want to keep on doing that in the next 2-3 years.