Dušan Drakalski: I’ll never say never to my return to The Balkans. When I gather all the knowledge I need, I might just make a beautiful space in the world for Balkan creatives
I don’t understand that in the communication era why people decided to build walls, to fortify their borders, to create divisions and protect their territory to the point of destruction
Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
By: Ekrem Dupanović
During the interview with Dušan Drakalski two years ago he said: “Between a rock and a hard place, a victory and defeat, that is where your life and your happiness is.” After a successful 20 years in advertising in the Balkans (Skopje, Sofia, Belgrade) Dule went looking for new challenges first to Vienna and then to Prague. A victory or defeat? He knows the best the answer to that question. Judging by the results he achieved in Vienna, and the quality of life he has there, we can hardly talk about the defeat.
Almost two years since he left Belgrade, Dušan Drakalski talks for the first time about the reasons for leaving, life and work in Vienna, new challenges in Prague, and the vision of his Balkan return.
Media Marketing:We were very surprised when you left for Vienna
Dušan Drakalski: I was surprised too. I never thought I’d leave the Balkans. I still firmly believe that the Balkans have a great creative potential. I really fought against my decision to leave but to no avail. Everything conspired against me, I just had to leave. It was beginning of 2016. I left the New Moment after 20 years and went to Vienna.
It makes more sense to talk about the future than the past. Sometimes we get lazy, too comfortable with our past successes (we have already talked about this in one of the interviews). As the saying goes, life begins on the edge of the comfort zone. I don’t think my success is such big one, it depends how you view it. I could have talked about my Balkan success till the end of my days, do the same things, same campaigns and talk about creativity. I didn’t want to do that.
I still try hard not to become lazy, to keep on creating. Creating is not an easy process, but it’s a great feeling when you do things anew. I try not to repeat my work. To rest on my laurels is not an achievement. Creativity is not an investment you can live off for the rest of your life. You have to keep on creating.
It is very important for me to spend my time creating new things, not to stand still. So this change came naturally. Hopefully for the benefit of all, including me.
Media Marketing: I would think that Vienna does not fit your Balkan mentality – it is too ordered for us, even boring in its perfection. How was your life in Vienna?
Dušan Drakalski: Vienna is more than beautiful. I lived well there. There is much beauty to see and things to learn. If you talk about comfort, Vienna is the kingdom of comfort. No other city in the world offers what Vienna has to offer. You can get really lazy there. It is as if people there live under the glass jar. They are incredibly protected.
I think the level of creativity of Viennese advertising is not a far cry from the Balkans. That comfort zone has almost stopped things dead in their tracks. They look for safe campaigns; they have campaigns running for 20 years on TV. People rarely have the balls to change things. Vienna is well known for character advertising. Many a company have a “character” responsible for their advertising. Some of these guys are dead now, that’s how long they’ve been working for the same company. I have nothing against character advertising if it is good, but unfortunately, Austrian is not the best. It is not the case of “the most interesting man in the world” or similar, but they are characters who’ve been on the telly for years. It’s local humour, it is hard to measure its benefit for the brand. Everybody says it’s brilliant, of course. All the research shows that things are great.
These characters have been groomed for years – they are given 100% support. You can’t imagine how much time they take to create a new campaign. What the guy is going to say, the dose of humour, his/her behaviour during the campaign year… They even have animals as campaign characters. They talk of course.
A journalist made a psychological profile of these characters used by brands and she came to the conclusion that if they were real people they would belong to the far right! Interesting, isn’t it?
Media Marketing: You’ve done well in Vienna, you did excellent campaigns, you won two Cannes Lions and many other awards. Then you left the agency Demner, Merlicek & Bergmann?
Dušan Drakalski: Tricky question Ekrem ☺
Yes, I was a Creative Director there. I inherited Merlicek’s office, because he left before I got the job there. Yes we won two Lions, one per year. Personally, I don’t think that’s good enough for an agency of that size.
If I mention everything, it would be hard to find a good enough reason for leaving. Although, looked at it from another angle there are reasons. In any case, I don’t want to talk badly about that agency. They were welcoming in the beginning and they gave me a good send off.
I really like and respect Demner, he is passionate about his work, his working day is 12 hours, some say he’ll stop when ……, I say it will be on a Sunday. It is his show and kudos to him.
I’d like to say something about the international level of consciousness we live in at the moment.
What I don’t like about it is that I have finally understood what direction Europe is taking. I’m bit sorry about it, but that is the state of affairs. There are still cultural clashes; you are from the Balkans we are from Austria, Great Britain, France etc. I don’t like these divisions in Europe. I didn’t grow up in the era of the far right logic, I don’t like that way of thinking at all.
And there’s that way of thinking in the advertising world which is supposed to be intellectual….
LOCALLY AND GLOBALLY
I think that people in advertising have forgotten the saying act local, think global. It all changed with the current politics of divisions. We started it in the Balkans.
I hate it when they say: “You don’t understand it, it’s a local thing and functions brilliantly here.”
I will explain.
I have absolutely nothing against the local spirit, I am all for it. I study it in detail, but I believe it has to be understandable to everybody, don’t make an excuse that one can’t understand something because it’s the local spirit. It is not a local spirit, its only a stuffy room that hasn’t been aired for a long time. And when you open the window they complain of drafts.
There still exists a stereotype of what a person from the Balkans can do in Vienna. A builder for instance. There are exceptions of course, but they only serve to prove the point.
I hope that things will change in ten twenty years.
Media Marketing: Your train stopped at the fourth station. After Skopje, Belgrade, Vienna you arrived in Prague. You are Chief Creative Officer for Europe in Ray Production. How’s the new job?
Dušan Drakalski: You missed out Sofia, I spent 3 years there.
Yes, at the moment I live in Prague, but I work in the European market. I spend more time on the plane than anywhere. New job, new challenges. It is going great at the moment. It’s still early days. We’ll see.
Media Marketing: You are working on video productions, you always loved doing that. Would you like to do a feature film one day? You wrote the screenplay with Saša Pešev, but are you not taking the final step? Why?
Dušan Drakalski: I do lots of things. YR has excellent clients Europe wide. My favourite client at the moment is UEFA.
I don’t work on video only, I help creative directors on their campaign concepts, I do video more as content than just ads. I miss working on strategy, I am good at it, but the time will come.
As far as feature film goes, it will happen one day. I am friends with Saša and Filip, and we’ve had the idea for a long time. Film is a different type of business altogether, as you know. I do love it, but it is wishful thinking at the moment.
I think that film and advertising are getting closer and closer. If I am right I’ll try and use the situation to my benefit.
Media Marketing: Skopje, Sofia, Belgrade, Vienna , Prague… All of these chapters brought different experiences. Good or bad, which one was the most useful one?
Dušan Drakalski: There are good and bad examples everywhere. There are beautiful things you can count as good experiences, the same goes for bad ones. I’ll explain.
If you go to Skopje, you’ll hear stories that things are bad and any city is better than Skopje. Same in Sofia. You’ll hear a lot that Belgrade is better. In Belgrade, the same story. Everybody says that Belgrade is no good, it’s a backwater, there’s no culture, it was all better before etc. Belgrade will say that Vienna is better. Same goes for Vienna. London’s best, Munich is where it’s at, Vienna is a village. I wonder what they say in New York. Maybe they prefer Mars.
There are bad vibes and good vibes everywhere in the world, I am constantly fascinated by the fact that positive vibes are different but bad vibes stick to the same narrative.
If you are negative you can’t be creative. You just pick up on a already existing narrative, you don’t have to start from the very beginning. Like nationalism, you can pretend to be creative in finding reasons why nationalism is good.
Nationalism, Xenophobia, we are the best locally. It’s the same everywhere. For me that’s negative. However markets differ there’s always local vanity by little people.
This refugee thing is astounding. So many European nations were refugees at one time or another in their history and they’ve all forgotten about it.
I think that nationalism is a dark spectre hovering over Central and Eastern Europe. Each state in its own way. Maybe it’s over the entire world. I don’t understand why in the communication era people decided to build walls, fortify their borders, create divisions and protect their territory to the point of destruction.
I must add that there are thinkers everywhere who shy away from that kind of reasoning. But they are not active. That is a big problem. The smart people are withdrawing to their own world, they are not active, they are not changing the world, they let things run their own course. I’m the same. I didn’t do much to change things, I didn’t want to join the smart ones, I just wanted to criticise.
How do these local ideas affect advertising?
It is interesting that the work we won the Lion in Cannes for, only got the bronze at Creative Club Austria. The creative directors in Austria prefer to win local awards because it is better for their business if they can show that they are best locally. Act global on the territory of the former empire. No way.
I was never against the lovely local culture, I do mind when the so called local culture becomes stupidity, when it limits your ability to respond to the international challenges, when it becomes Trump’s wall.
As far as beautiful things are concerned:
- Vienna is the endless well of culture and craft. You can base thousand campaigns on their culture, precision and specific humour. I am impressed by their science centres, Basic research and other innovative institutions
- Belgrade is full of spirit, strong Balkan city full of poetry. Belgrade offers many possibilities any big city can offer. It’s charismatic. Belgrade’s got potential.
- Skopje has lots of ideas, lots of kitsch and criticism of that kitsch. Skopje has a lot of untapped experience. The creative potential of Skopje is high. Everything is possible in Skopje.
- Sofia is the most welcoming. They have advanced film industry, they get visitors like Robert De Niro, Scarlet Johanson, Antonio Banderas, Silvester Stalone and Chuck Norris all the time when they make their movies there.
- Prague. It’s a new universe I’ve started to discover, but it is familiar.
Beautiful things are different because they feel new every time. They are like the wind – you can’t imprison them in a stuffy room.
Media Marketing: You once said that the future of advertising would be created by the influencers. Do you really believe that or was that some kind of revolt against trends that have nothing to do with creativity? Or have they?
Dušan Drakalski: Yes, I did say that. The world is changing. The needs of advertising are changing, the power of TV is changing. You wake up one day and see the world is not what you imagined it to be. Then you have several options. To adapt to the world or change it, or to live in the world you don’t like. The last is not such a good option.
The influencers are part of that world. I’m not saying I like it, but it is what people do nowadays. People spend time on social networks and they give importance to influencers. Everyday is spent with people you don’t even know. You follow them on Instagram or Facebook, you follow their every move. They put selfies up, you click like. Thousands of you liking the same photo and then it dawns on you, it’s a selfie in a gym with a Nike logo on a T shirt. And that’s how a one to one advertising campaign starts.
If you ask me, the idea of influencers has been here since Zepter’s door to door salesmen. It’s the medium that has changed. Instead of a salesman talking to one person, they talk to thousands. They’ve got their channel people come to visit.
The influencers were everywhere but they haven’t always been called influencers. They made people love Van Gough and all others posthumously famous.
I don’t think that influencers are a new idea. Advertising constantly seeks new methods to convey a message and makes use of available technology. But, that’s just the way things are. Nowadays, producers even ask on Twitter whether a certain character should continue in their TV series. That changes films and production in a big way.
As Twitter is able to change governments or create protest it can also destroy a product or improve it. As Facebook can destroy a character it can also destroy a brand or give life to a brand. People gave away a huge amount of power to social networks and are showing where their interests are.
Let’s not even mention Kozinsky’s methods, where each like you leave on any of the social networks, when psychologically analysed, shows all your desires. The more likes you give the more accurate analysis. Kozinsky says that with only 150 likes, the system knows more about you than your friends do.
We all forget that we are like fish in a goldfish bowl when using the internet. Somebody’s always watching.
It’s this process that brought influencers into our lives. They are like a mini TV. You have somebody with millions of followers watching their every move. They are their own TV channel, and the likes are units of measurement and that’s how a new space for advertising is opened.
Social media rule the world not only advertising. It would be good to change that sometime. Everything changes. I am not a sentimental, but…
When I was the kid social media was the street. You’d stay home waiting for the phone to ring, you’d wait for the time for your favourite TV show to come around. There was no such thing as a whole season download. But it’s all changed, as will this change, hopefully for the better.
Now is the time of influencers. For influencers to improve the market needs to be saturated with them, the best will float to the surface. Some of them are so influential they can create a worldwide storm in minutes. Depends what your message is and to what degree it will affect your brand, what your strategy is…there are many questions.
At the end of the day people buy stories and the best story tellers sell more. If that happens to be an influencer then why not.
Media Marketing: How long do you intend to stay in Prague. Are you going further afield or back to the Balkans, your natural habitat?
Dušan Drakalski: For the time being I’m staying in Prague. I’ll never say never to my return to the Balkans. When I gather all the knowledge I need, I might just make a beautiful space in the world for Balkan creatives. The Balkan is strong and it can only get better. So much so that my mate Davor Bruketa will stand up again and proudly say that he is from the Balkans. I sincerely believe that.