This image is from the Achtung! campaign "Layover with a Local" for Dutch airline KLM.

Creative Agency Achtung! Demands Attention

By Terri Stone

The creative agency Achtung! mcgarrybowen (Achtung! for short) began when Flash was the coolest technology on the Web and dedicated microsites were de rigueur. Today, the agency integrates stories with services, often closely tying ad campaigns to mobile apps. It’s a potent combination.

Despite its name, Achtung! is firmly rooted in the Netherlands. As agency partner Daniel Sytsma explains, “We started using ‘Achtung’ because it has good stopping power. It gets your attention, which is what we’re looking for with the work we do.”

The agency sometimes uses humor to grab mind-share. Sytsma was the creative director for one example, a project called “Share a Porsche.” Porsche came to Achtung! with a basic concept: group leasing for people who can’t afford the pricey cars on their own. The agency first tackled the practical side of the concept, designing an app that handles the sharing logistics. Then it came time to introduce the service publicly.

“We didn’t have a lot of media budget,” says Sytsma. “We had to come up with an idea that would generate interest on its own. The creative team thought, what is the biggest commitment possible? Marriage. So we should look for groups of friends able to share that commitment, which was a big challenge.”

You can say that again. But Achtung! pulled off the outrageous idea. Their research uncovered a place in India where group marriage is still practiced, and in an online campaign, Porsche offered a free car for one yearto a group willing to go through with the ceremony. Matrimony-minded friends volunteered, wedding bells chimed, and the project was complete.

This video seeded the search for the group of friends willing to marry each other for a Porsche.

Other jobs hinge on ideas that, while less extreme, are satisfying on other levels. Layover with a Local, which the agency did for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, is a case in point. “KLM came to us with the conclusion that 70 percent of their customers are transfer passengers flying via Amsterdam Airport Schiphol,” says Sytsma. “They asked if we could do something fun with the transfer waiting time.”

Amsterdam’s city center is just 15 minutes away by train from the airport. The agency realized that this unusual proximity created an opportunity and conceived of an app that matches you with a local person who is curious to meet others from around the world. Sytsma says, “The Layover with a Local app matches you with a friendly local and has step-by-step instructions to take you from the gate all the way to your meeting point. It also has a coupon for a free drink on KLM, and of course it lets you know when it’s time to return to the airport.”

After you watch this explainer video, you’ll want to schedule all of your flights through Amsterdam.

Recently, Achtung! took on a project for Adobe. Called the Hovering Art Director, the promotion pits an over-the-top art director against a designer just trying to do his job. Although the AD’s conceptual and schedule demands are ridiculous, the designer delivers thanks to Adobe Stock.

Watch the Hovering Art Director video.

Michael James Phillips, usually a designer with Achtung!, also took on the role of creative for the project. “We created the scenario of a designer and an art director needing an advert,” Phillips says. “That scenario needed a client as well, so we conceived of this imaginary brand of ginger beer called WolfBear. We had to think about what it looked like, and we made packaging for it. We went through the whole scenario that you see in the film. Things happened naturally along the way that became part of the final piece.”

Check out a one-hour masterclass on compositing and retouching to learn how to re-create the WolfBear artwork from the Hovering Art Director video.


Life for Achtung! isn’t all ginger beer and skittles. “A lot of what we help our clients with is to improve their day-to-day user experience,” Sytsma says. “Products and services are important because a lot of brands compete with start-ups that are better basically because their user experience is better.”

Prototypes are key to this UX work. “Very early, we make high-fidelity prototypes with animation, transitions, and micro-interactions,” Sytsma says. “A lot of the feeling that the digital product gives you comes from those little details. Animation should not be an afterthought. We test a lot. When we make things tangible as soon as possible, we aren’t just able to better inform developers, but we can validate our assumptions while there’s still time to react.”

The Achtung! team is well aware that the simple days of designing just for web browsers on fixed-size screens are gone. Sytsma notes, "There are so many more possible touch points now; for example, interfaces may be speech-driven or may become more immersive with AR and VR. It requires a whole different kind of thinking as a designer.”

Adapting to these new opportunities presents a challenge as formidable as persuading four friends to marry each other. Sytsma says they stay on top by “starting from the human perspective with everything we do. As a good designer, you’re very empathetic with how you envision people using whatever you’re designing. You put yourself in the shoes of someone else going through your user journey. When you have that broader skill, you can work with any interface. The rest is just execution.”

March 20, 2017