Failure Is the Main Reason for Our Success
Stockholm-based creative agency Snask has a one-of-a-kind vision (a very pink one) and a unique way of approaching projects and clients. They introduced themselves to us on Twitter, and we immediately wanted to know more. How did Snask become…well, Snask? In this edition of our recurring “Fail” column, Snask cofounder Fredrik Öst shares the agency’s tale of trial and error (and success).
I still remember our agency’s first day. It wasn’t at all a real agency. Magnus Berg and I found ourselves sitting in our room, having just decided on using the name Snask for our agency, our future vehicle of fun. The word means “candy,” “filth,” and “gossip” in old Swedish slang—although of course in the U.K. and U.S. no one would know this.
We were supposed to open our shop in one of those two countries, and we decided to use Snask instead of humbler names: Jesus, F**k, and Love, for example. We printed lots of flyers with sentences such as “Snask Off,” “Sweet mother of Snask,” and “I Snask you.” But very soon after we had set on moving abroad, we realized that all our friends and family lived in Sweden. We had worked out a name and a concept that revolved around no one knowing that name’s meaning—and then we decided to move our agency back home where everyone would know the meaning. And where that meaning would probably repel a lot of people with more conservative views on business.
This was our first action, our first step, and our first mistake. It was a mistake that would earn criticism from conservatives in our industry—and thus lead to our creating our backbone concept: Make Enemies & Gain Fans. Tibor Kalman once said, “When you make something no one hates, no one loves it.” This is something that will stay on our studio wall until we perish.
From left to right: the cover of Snask’s book, Make Enemies & Gain Fans, which is also a backbone concept the agency lives by (a second edition of the book is planned for release in the fall of 2015); a company portrait for which the Snask team painted their faces pink; and promotional flyers that make playful use of the company’s name.
We opened our studio in Stockholm, where there’s no design scene, so graphic design is placed in the advertising industry. The industry is afraid of the client and talks about turnovers rather than creative ambitions. We met a lot of people in this industry during our first year, and we quickly realized that we didn’t want to conform to how they where doing things. We wanted to go our own way and create a workplace built on our own beliefs and values—to take away hierarchies and make working as easy as possible, in an environment where knowledge would be shared as easily as gossip. We decided to put our designers forward and make them superstars. Also, we wanted everyone to share their ideas, thoughts, and designs with one another, since sharing is the best way to move forward. Being afraid of someone stealing your idea only leads to closed minds.
During this time, we created our process of evolving, making mistakes, and failing. We made so many mistakes and fell into so many pits, but every time, we came out with new experience and a changed strategy or method.
Snask created the visual identity for 2014’s Malmö Festival—including the biggest “poster” in the world: an interactive physical space of 13 by 8 meters (approximately 43 by 26 feet).
I especially remember one time when we were straight out of university and invited ourselves to a rebrand pitch for one of Sweden’s largest zoos. We locked ourselves in and worked for a week, and the result was a concept printed and rolled on a huge A1 sheet of paper. That paper was then put inside an animal we had built, called Snaskus—a never-before-seen creature that we would give to the zoo. Snaskus looked really f**ked up and wasn’t beautiful at all, though he was very pink and furry. We put Snaskus inside an animal cage, and we then dressed up as the “Crocodile Hunter,” Steve Irwin (though not very like him, I would say), went down to the zoo, and delivered the pitch. The marketing manager came out, took the cage, and said thanks. We thought, “This either went really well or really bad.”
It turned out to be the latter. But afterward we got a long letter from their CEO, who’d seen the pitch, and who praised us and said that if we kept working this conceptually we would be Sweden’s best agency within five years. The pitch itself was as good as we were able to make it at the time. We were just out of university and didn’t really structure the pitch in the best way, but the ideas were fresh, conceptual, and creative. The way we delivered it was top grade in boldness and bravery (and perhaps stupidity). And it was our lack of fear that the CEO really respected, as well as our creative ambition in the pitch. So in the end our failure was sweet and made us hunger for more.
The YAY Festival is a collaboration between Snask and Grandins Flying Circus—a combination of inspiring and entertaining talks, live music, and a grand after party.
Nowadays, mistakes are part of our everyday life and a key process in our evolution. Without mistakes, we would quickly get stuck in old structures and methods and would very fast find ourselves obsolete. By not being afraid of failing, you stop questioning your ideas and instead just go ahead with them and try them out. That’s a big reason we wrote a book, made our own bike, organized our own track-and-field event, created our own creative conference, and also started our own brewery and fashion label. To find out what can be done, you first have to see whether it can be categorized as “can’t be done.” Failure is an inherent part of trying. The Swedish writer August Strindberg once said, “By trying the impossible, one should reach the highest grade of the possible.” It’s something we firmly believe in.