Red Dot Award: Communication Design

Interview with thjnk (part 2)

About social media, responsibility and teamwork: interview with thjnk, Red Dot: Agency of the Year 2017 (part 2)

In 2017, thjnk was awarded the title of honour “Red Dot: Agency of the Year”. Launched in 2012, the Hamburg-based full-service agency has developed into one of the leading groups in Germany within only a few years. The number of employees has nearly doubled since the founding, with around 400 employees (and several dogs) creating outstanding and award-winning communication designs out of ten locations. Red Dot talked with two of the founders, Karen Heumann and Armin Jochum, about social media, responsibility, teamwork, the status quo in communication design and what is to come.

Working together

Thjnk’s impressive clientele includes brands such as Audi, HARIBO, IKEA, McDonald’s and REWE. Together with its client thyssenkrupp, thjnk has also started the joint venture agency BOBBY&CARL. Moreover, together with Leo Burnett, LEO’S THJNK TANK was founded, and together with the marketing technology company Facelift, new solutions for social media marketing are being sought with upljft. The thjnk daughter loved, for its part, focuses on brand, content and design.

Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories or Snapchat – especially on the Internet, videos are currently the perhaps most important means of communication for young people. Does this flood of moving images influence your communication strategies?

Heumann: In our ongoing effort to find the most effective way of reaching our target group, we’ve found that social media have significantly expanded the range of possibilities. So yes, the flood of moving images does influence us, and we’re part of it at the same time.

Jochum: In these channels, brands have to respond with the right values. They have to be right on the money in terms of what credibility a certain brand has in a particular field. In fact, we consult our clients at great length in that regard.

One of your works that has been awarded the Red Dot: Best of the Best is ALI COLA, which you promote with the slogan “Toleranz schmeckt” (Cheers to tolerance). How do social issues and problems affect your work?

Jochum: For every idea there’s a right time, one when it can best unfold its potential. ALI COLA is a good example. After a thorough analysis, we advised the creators to not only reinvent the advertising but also the product. By offering the same cola in six different skin colours, we conveyed a message without using any words. We first had to convince our very committed client, among other reasons because of the challenge of implementing the idea in terms of the manufacturing technology. But then it was clear: if we are going to do so, we do it thoroughly and consistently. After all, in times of Pegida and the refugee crisis, the message was and still is of utmost importance.

With so many creative heads under one roof, there’s probably a lot of friction. Does thjnk have a special approach for working in a team?

Jochum: We have a fairly non-hierarchical way of cooperating and working here. From intern to the board. I demand bold, disrespectful ideas. And of course, the conditions have to be right. Otherwise, nothing good can come out of it.

Heumann: What I find positive time and again at thjnk is the absolute equality and way of dealing with one another at the same level. We’re eager to get into a discussion and a certain tension is desired. At the start of a project, we retreat together, as an interdisciplinary team, into what we call our “creative bivouac” for an entire day to develop the guiding idea for the campaign.

Jochum: In the “creative bivouac”, we also work at high speed. We then present an idea to an internal audience. The goal is to learn from one another in a direct exchange, without any hierarchical nonsense. It’s all about the quality of the input, and about whether an idea will inspire and exhilarate you, or not.

If you look at the year 2017 compared to 2012 – where is communication design?

Jochum: In our industry, five years are a damn long time. The speed and the changes with all their possibilities of the last years have been disproportionate compared with those of the preceding 20 years. With big data and today’s very valid data transparency, we see a lot more clearly, and with more distance. This allows us to offer even better strategic recommendations and to adjust priorities, if need be. Communication design has made a quantum leap during this period. It finally managed to revamp its identity and to exert a new, highly noticeable influence on just about every aspect of our lives. People expect orientation and attitude. Good design is an essential expression of that.

Heumann: It has also become more differentiated again. For example, it’s no longer frowned upon to say how effective TV and print are. A recent study showed that print has a much greater impact than digital approaches on a particular target group. thjnk doesn’t sell something just because it’s hip. And thanks to our virtuosity, our clients can expect to get a customised offering.

And what will thjnk influence in the next few years? Is there a certain place where you want to be in five years?

Jochum: Ideally, thjnk is not supposed to depend on us. The brand is bigger than the individual. We want to give our colleagues the chance to grow with the success of the brand. Seeing that we develop our expertise and talent on an ongoing basis, they can expect to go a long way with us. However, we have to start thinking about how this can happen, seeing that the brand’s decisive lever is, after all, “people business”. I wish for thjnk to remain a pulsating brand. In fact, this is the aspiration surpassing everything.

Heumann: Yes, thjnk took on a life of its own. For this reason, we’re primarily concerned with giving the next generation a chance as we continue to develop and sharpen our performance portfolio. The “best” is the one who manages to make her- or himself superfluous without the overall performance suffering for a second. And even if it would sadden me if I ever was to not do this job any longer, my goal is for others to do it even better, and for thjnk to continue.

Last question: Why do you apply for the Red Dot Award every year?

Jochum: There are competitions and there are competitions. From the start, we targeted those with a far-reaching impact and that would get us ahead in terms of challenging us in the type of work we do. We therefore opted for those that have a substantial meaning that goes beyond the advertising business press. Red Dot has done a great deal for the visibility and recognition of design and also has an excellent reputation. In addition, it scores points with regard to the orientation and focus of the competition and the work of the jury, all of which takes place at a highly professional, international level.

Award ceremony of the Red Dot Award: Communication Design 2018

In 2018, thjnk was awarded 17 Red Dots and 5 Red Dot: Best of the Best. The creatives will be officially honoured for their latest achievements during the Red Dot Gala in Berlin, Germany on 26 October 2018. This is also the day of the award ceremony for the Red Dot: Agency of the Year 2018. The new title holder will receive the “Stylus” challenge cup as a symbol for this extraordinary success from its predecessor thjnk.