Johan and Måns Tesch

Digital technology has brought change to all aspects of our world, not least the advertising industry. Johan and Måns Tesch, who are chairing the CR Click London conference in November, have been online from the beginning….

Fourteen years in digital is a long time. Back in 1995, when Swedish brothers Johan and Måns Tesch began tenta­tively planning their first company, the idea that digital would be so central to our lives, and to the advertising industry, was unimaginable. But between them, Johan and Måns have person­ally experienced the rollercoaster ride that digital has been on within adland. They have run their own creative hotshop (Tesch & Tesch), been at the helm of the digital arm of a major traditional agency (Lowe Tesch) and, in Måns’ case, have experienced heading up digital strategy for an entire global network (Lowe Worldwide). Both are now settled in London, working for two of the city’s most respected creative agencies: BBH, where Johan is creative director, and Fallon, where Måns is digital strategy director. They may no longer work together, but cr is reuniting them this autumn for Click London, a day-long conference devoted to digital creativity, which the Tesch brothers are chairing.

Despite being so entrenched in digital, Johan and Måns fell into working in it almost by accident. “We happened to be working at the same media company, which had a small internal agency and this was when the internet thing was popping up,” says Johan. “It was the very, very early stages of the internet coming up, it happened quite quickly in Sweden. Our interest was in advertising, we weren’t computer guys. But when this thing popped up, I think we saw an opportunity of working within this landscape, but as an advertising agency.”

Sweden quickly gained a reputation as a country operating at the cutting edge of digital advertising. According to the Teschs, this was due in part to encouragement by the state for people to embrace the internet. “It’s very computer literate,” says Johan. “We also had this policy that you could buy state-subsidised computers from your work, for your home. Basically all the kids had PCs at home, and this was at the beginning of the 90s.” “Also, when the internet came the government pushed really hard for broad­band,” finishes Måns.

From the beginning, the Tesch brothers were focused on creativity, and avoided the boom and bust trajectory of many of the dotcom companies in these early days. The type of work that was being created for clients at this time was limited, though Johan and Måns could see the potential for digital even then. “If you think of categories, we were making banner ads and microsites,” says Måns, “but I don’t think we thought of it that way, it was just ideas. But of course it was a bit more limited in terms of what you could do, regarding film and stuff. I still think we tried to push the limits all the time, and do as many exciting experiences as possible.”

“It was more do-it-yourself, which is a good schooling I think,” continues Johan. “But I think many of the ideas could still work today. Maybe different types of execution but there was a lot of fun stuff – applications, things that could still be modern if they were executed right.”

At this stage, digital was not really being taken that seriously by the wider industry, or by clients, who saw it very much as an add-on to the core part of a campaign. While this meant budgets were small, it allowed room for experimentation. “To an extent, that was quite a good thing,” says Måns, “since we came quite fresh to it as well. No one had any experience because it didn’t exist before, there wasn’t any digital advert­ising, you had to make it up. So it was quite good to have that schooling, where you could play around and experiment and no one really cared all that much. Of course the clients cared, but it was still a toy shop kind of thing, you could just play around and see what would work and what wouldn’t.”

The traditional advertising agencies slowly woke up to the fact that they were going to have to make room for digital in the early 2000s, and in 2002, Tesch & Tesch was bought by the Lowe network, and became Lowe Tesch. In some ways, the company’s story from here typifies the way in which digital has infiltrated the traditional agency structure. At Lowe Tesch, the brothers had the opportunity to create work for international clients – first Saab, and later Stella Artois. The agency began winning awards for their digital work, but also found that opportunities to do work outside digital began to crop up. “The idea of the agency was still the same,” says Måns. “To do fantastic creative work for the world of online. But we started to do things outside of the web as well. Sometimes, it’s just the natural thing to do – when it was a campaign with digital stuff at its heart but other media around it, we ended up doing that as well.”

Perhaps inevitably, this lead to a ques­tion­ing of what the distinctions between Lowe Tesch and Lowe Brindfors, the net­work’s traditional agency in Stockholm, were, and eventually the two companies merged in 2007. “From our perspec­tive this wasn’t the thing you would have wanted,” says Johan. “But if you look at it from the outside it was the obvious thing to do.”

The Teschs’ experience seems pertinent to many other agencies, both digital and traditional, that currently seem poised on the precipice of change. As the traditional agencies are beginning to recognise digital’s central place within the future of advertising, digital agencies in turn are having to consider whether to take on projects outside solely internet-based work. “We criticise the traditional agencies for being stuck in a place that they invented in the 60s, 70s and 80s,” says Måns, “which has a lot of people doing a certain kind of production – it always needs to be tv and print because we have those people. But you can say the same thing about digital agencies – it has to be a micro­site because we have those people. So I think that’s a problem when a digital agency tries to become just an agency, because we have all these flash developers and motion designers and this and that….”

Both the Tesch brothers see the industry continuing to change dramatically over the next five years, and predict the rise of inter­active production companies as well as continued change in the traditional agencies as the larger networks adapt further to the new landscape. Neither feels that the perfect modern agency exists at present. “I don’t think there are any examples out there right now where you can point and say ‘that’s the model, that’s the thing’,” says Måns, “even though you can be impressed by the work that some people are doing. It could be something that’s a smaller entity that would have just a great selection of people that come from different kinds of backgrounds, so you would be able to give a client an idea or the advice or the strategy, but it’s based on a number of people’s different skills. So you can turn out anything that’s relevant.”

With Fallon’s recent strategy of hiring specialists from outside the advertising industry as ‘creative associates’ (these include Richard Skinner, former music video commissioner and creative director at Atlantic Records, Dirk van Dooren from Tomato and Kilimanjaro magazine publisher Olu Michael Odukoya), it seems that a form of Måns’ idea is being experimented with at Fallon already, albeit within a large agency structure. He also mentions that a new agency model would ideally be liberated from the production departments, though recognises the potential pitfalls of this: “It’s quite diffi­cult,” he says. “Because, especially in digital, a lot of the value is added in production.”

However these new models develop, what seems certain is that the industry has finally recognised the centrality of digital to our lives now. “I think everyone has realised this last year that something has changed,” says Johan. “There was a real difference just one year ago. I think the social media thing has really hit, especially in the UK. It’s gone from being something that’s not that high on the agenda to being all over the place.”

Not that this realisation has made the job any easier for ad agencies. “I think a lot of people have a hard time – including myself – just understanding how to use social media successfully because it’s quite different from that tv production mentality,” says Måns. “It’s not ‘we’ll do this thing, we’ll put it out, we’re done’. It’s more ‘we’ll do this little thing over here, and that little thing over there, we’ll tinker about with it a bit and maybe put something else up’.”

“It’s like everyone’s into digital and all the agencies want to be part of it, and then this thing comes along and it’s like ‘it’s really hard and it’s really difficult, we thought it was enough to just get a few guys in and it would be sorted’,” he continues. “But then you realise that, actually, digital is changing the whole way of thinking about how you communicate, not just online, but in every sense. This then questions the agency model as a whole – of course you will always have planners and creatives and all of that stuff, but [it raises questions] about how you work and what those people need to know. It’s probably not enough to just have those couple of guys in and see what happens.”

Contributing to the changes will be the next generation of digital practitioners, who are already arriving at agencies. “I work with some younger guys, and they don’t know anything that happened before 2005 when it comes to the internet,” says Johan. “Which doesn’t really matter, it’s not a disadvantage, it was just an eye-opener for me. Because since we’ve been working it’s mostly been the same kind of people – we started out and a lot of other people started out at the same time.”

“If you look at the people we know from the Scandinavian or Swedish digital agency world, it’s still the same guys who came up at the end of the 90s who are now creative directors, strategy directors,” agrees Måns. “It’s still that first generation in charge, it’s waiting for the second one to come up. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing – I suppose it may be limiting other people but of course there’s nothing stopping anyone from starting new agencies.”

Click London will take place on November 12. For tickets and more info on speakers at the event, please visit


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