Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Freelancer focus: Åsk Wäppling

As well as an award-winning art director for brands like Smirnoff, Heineken and UNICEF, Åsk Wäppling is also the creator and webmaster behind one of the world's biggest advertising websites ad-rag.com. From her base in Copenhagen she has turned what started into a daily web log into AdLand – a commercial-laden delirium of heaven and hell for advertising addicts around the world.

When, how and why did you come to start ad-rag?

I started Adland when I lived in San Francisco back in 1996. When I began surfing the web there was nearly nothing related to advertising out there, in 95 portfolios.com (still going strong!), zeldman.com, the University of Texas and J Walter Thompson were the advertising sites online worth their salt. There was also a copywriter, Dave Dumanis, who wrote weekly on his website called ad lib about advertising in early 96, which in hindsight must have been the very first sortof "pre-blog" adblog. Zeldman's ad graveyard, Dave's ad lib and the clear lack of websites that gabbed ads the way I wanted to inspired me to start my own site. The 'concept' of the website was to show ads separated at birth, much like the ad graveyard shows ads killed by clients or circumstance. I learnt some basic HTML and I collected all the good ad related links I could find on a page so that people who found adland could find more adstuff on the web. As time passed, I started posting my own long rants about the state of advertising, what it was like pounding the pavement with a portfolio looking for work and the pain of bad campaigns in a section named adrants, as well as excerpts from advertising books that I had read in the "adbooks" section. Later the commercial archive collection merged with adland in 2000. The whole thing grew quite organically, really.

How big is ad-rag now? (Members, hits and number of ads, etc)

Oh god, it's mind boggling really. More than 23 million people have peeked at the site since we started counting in May 2000, god knows how many saw the incarnations before that, there are more than 56 thousand members and there are almost 30.000 TV commercials collected in the archive right now. But the numbers change every as new people sign up and more curious onlookers stop by.

Did you ever think it would have become as successful as it has?

Sure, I daydream a lot but I don't think I ever pictured anything like this really. Back in '96 sitting in a very spartan room (I had only a mattress for a bed and a radio I bought at a garage sale for entertainment) ranting on about ads that seemed to be stolen straight off the pages of last years awards book, I wondered "is there anybody out there who thinks like I do about advertising?" and creating the crummy little site was my way of trying to find out and find some like minded ad obsessed ad pals. I felt a little lonely and wanted to meet other ad-nutters, share tips tricks gossip and opinions, which is still the basic idea with the site, as it is a huge community of ad-nutters now.

The answer is, yes there are lots of people who share the same ideas about advertising in general, Badland ads in particular, work ethics and so on, as well as smart people who have other points of view and weirdos who send hate mail saying something like "Why rant about ads when there are children starving in Africa?". It did feel like it took a long time before advertising people in general actually went "online", so to speak, in the beginning few creatives could be found roaming say the Usenet groups or similar hangouts like mailing lists. After the marketing people found the Internet things changed quite fast. One thing seems to be very slow in taking hold, I always wanted to talk to the ad-world, as it is the world wide web, right? But few see it that way and limit their reports geographically, as if that makes a difference in this day and age.

You seem to be online 24/7 and eat and drink advertising. What makes you so passionate about it?

I think my mum dropped me on the head when I was a kid. Ha! I have this tape I made in 1979 where I sing songs for my grandparents, up until the point where there is a commercial break on TV. Abrupt silence, all you hear is me breathing for a second, and then I break out into a "ring around the collar?" monologue and recite the entire advert before snapping out of it and return to making my tape. Clearly, ads always had my complete and undivided attention. Like anyone who loves anything, I want it to be the best that it can be. Advertising is too often trite, annoying and bad, when it could be information to the right target, entertainment for the right group and the pop-culture glue that keeps a company and their customers together. I love ideas. I love stories. Great advertising has both. Bad advertising has none.

What's next for you and ad-rag.com?

Well, already done Manhattan. Now let’s take Berlin. ;)

Thanks to Ask for answering our questions. She’s expecting her first child in October and we wish her all the best.

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