Before setting up advertising agency Thjnk, formerly Kemper-Trautmann, in 2012, Karen Heumann, 49, was head of strategic planning at Jung von Matt, one of Germany’s most successful agencies. Ms. Heumann sat down with Catrin Bialek and Thomas Tuma of Handelsblatt to talk about how times have changed in the the German advertising industry.
Ms. Heumann, Stephan Rebbe, co-founder of the Kolle Rebbe advertising agency in Hamburg, said that one reason he left the industry was because it wasn’t sexy any more. Do you agree?
Karen Heumann: No, I think our business is still exceedingly sexy. But Stephan Rebbe and I experienced a time when the first rule of creative advertising was to break the rules. It was supposed to provoke and horrify the stuffy, narrow-minded Germans a little. This drew a lot of people to the industry, some of whom enjoyed just being provocateurs.
Advertising as a type of political protest?
Exactly. And for decades there was a sense of purpose. They were blowing fresh air through German mustiness. Now it no longer works that way, because society is much too fragmented. Now other players are doing the provoking in other places.
Whom are you referring to?
When somebody like Uber founder Travis Kalanick begins to wipe out a market, in his case the international taxi business, it’s this kind of provocation, usually digital, that gets people riled up today. Provocation in advertising is sometimes a means, but usually not the goal.
A penchant for self-deprecation appears to be fashionable in your industry right now?