"It's bad at first. I try to stay calm and block out the pain. After a minute it slowly gets better. And then comes the moment when I know: Now I have to get out, otherwise I won't be able to move properly all day."
This is not how Peter Brönnimann describes his work at Aemtlerstrasse, but his weekly swim in Lake Zurich. Whether it's a bright Saturday morning in June, a rainy autumn day or a snowy winter weekend: Brönnimann ventures into the water. Without a protective suit, even if the lake is only a few degrees. Only on his hands does he wear neoprene gloves in winter, so that his hands are immediately functional again after swimming.
In winter it's already very hard and not really casual, admits Brönnimann. "Many people think you get used to it. I doubt that. It seems extremely cold to me every time. It becomes casual in March or April, when it gets a bit warmer, 9 degrees and above. Funnily enough, that's when you find it relatively comfortable."
Why does Brönnimann nevertheless perform the ritual all year round? Does the creative artist like to test his physical limits? Does he chase from one spectacle to the next? Not at all, says the ECD. He pauses and considers before answering, "It's a special nature experience, totally calm and pricelessly beautiful, quite simple and yet spectacular - and always different: one time the sun is shining, the lake is smooth, the next time it has huge waves, it's raining, it's windy. Other times it's snowing."
Brönnimann has a lot to gain from the everyday, the simple. The morning train ride to Zurich, which others dismiss as an annoying commute, is one of the best parts of the day for him. "It doesn't feel like train travel to me at all. It's more like sitting in an armchair reading the newspaper." The creative likes to have people around him and listen to the conversations. If an exciting scene is taking place next to him, he plugs in his headphones - as camouflage - and leans back. On the train, he has already overheard the most absurd dialogues. He's already witnessed a relationship being ended on the phone, a personnel manager conducting a job interview, or two punks talking about the proper use of dishwashers. Scenes, if you saw them in a movie, you'd think the plot was contrived or contrived. "Riding a train is often live cinema," ECD says.
When it comes to his own life, Brönnimann is more reserved with words of enthusiasm. Here, the creative director and co-founder of Spillmann Felser Leo Burnett (SFLB) seems to apply a different standard. If you ask him what his everyday life is like, he says he has a frighteningly unspectacular life - and that's just fine.
But Brönnimann also talks about Brad Pitt having an unspectacular existence. "Sometimes I almost feel a little sorry for him," he says. "I think he has a boring life - at least when he's filming." Just as Brönnimann thinks the glorification of acting is wrong, he thinks the advertising world, which likes to be associated with glamour, is anything but. Filming, for example, reminds him more of the military. "Getting up early, standing around a lot and waiting."
Immersion in different worlds
What Brönnimann particularly appreciates about his work is the variety. Apart from a few fixed points - getting up at half past six, having breakfast with the family and taking the S-Bahn to Zurich - no two days are the same. Sometimes he's on the road and immerses himself in another world during a shoot. For example, with weather forecaster Martin Horat. On another day, he first discusses a campaign with a CEO of a corporation and then assesses work with his team in the afternoon. At other times, Brönnimann takes time to be creative himself. Then he is working on a concept with Johannes Raggio, with whom he has been sharing the creative helm for a few months, or sitting alone in front of a white sheet of paper.
When Brönnimann tells us how his career as a copywriter went, he stacks the deck: he didn't study enough at grammar school, only just managed to pass his school-leaving exams and ended up studying "nothing proper" (journalism). After that, he did a programme on local radio that no one wanted to listen to, later wrote bad texts for the Bernese newspaper and was finally hired by Martin Suter. "It's still a mystery to me today why Suter took me on then. I had nothing really good to show for it."
Brönnimann, on the other hand, really goes into raptures when it comes to SFLB's advertising output. The creative work brings the agency top positions in the rankings every year. However, it is at least as important to the creative that the advertising resonates with the intended audience. "I think popular advertising is what sets SFLB apart. Work that most people are happy to look at a second time. Or a third time ..." For example, the simple but ingenious turnaround phrases for Swiss Life. Or the ongoing campaign for Switzerland Tourism, in which the protagonists work for the well-being of tourists with Swiss thoroughness, yet with a lot of charm and a pinch of humour. At the moment, in the current winter film, Sebi and Paul are busy putting away all the clocks so that guests can enjoy their holidays in complete relaxation. The cuckoo clock is nailed shut, the hands of the church clock are collected and the rooster is banned from crowing.
Brönnimann sees advertising Switzerland as a very special obligation. "You're the foreign minister of advertising, so to speak, and you polish Switzerland's image with your work." But Brönnimann would also make a good ambassador himself. "I love spending holidays in Switzerland." Snowshoeing or skiing in winter, damming streams in summer. There couldn't be a better holiday, he says. Taking the train to the Alps is, after all, more comfortable than being crammed between two rows of seats on a plane to visit the in-laws in Australia. Even more so with a height of 1.94 metres.
But the creative would rather let his work speak for itself than stand out as an advertising medium himself. He also finds it very pleasant that the customers and not the advertisers are at the centre of advertising. "If an advertising spot - like a newspaper article - began with who was responsible for it, that would be totally comical," says Brönnimann. "So we advertisers are relatively modest."
For once, Brönnimann is nevertheless in the spotlight this year as Advertiser of the Year. What does the title mean to him? "I am proud and feel very flattered. It's a tribute to my work," says the ECD, adding that "first and foremost, however, the title is a great honour for everyone who works for SFLB and is committed. It may be called Advertiser of the Year. But everyone in the industry knows that it takes good people in all places to do good work."
At SFLB, Brönnimann appreciates the mix of down-to-earth and international flair at the Leo Burnett agency. "And we're lucky enough to work for great Swiss brands and for clients who believe in the power of good ideas." After all, having the best ideas is of no use if they are not recognised on the client side. "We can consider ourselves very lucky in this regard."
Brönnimann is not at all afraid that he will run out of ideas. "Many people have the feeling that creative people have fewer ideas as they get older. I don't believe that." But you do become more efficient with time. "My experience is that you know more quickly whether you should pursue an idea if it runs through your brain." In addition, there is a touch of serenity that Brönnimann did not yet know as a junior advertiser. In the past, when he saw an interesting scene at the movies, he would immediately study whether he could use that for an ad. Today, he has moments when he leaves advertising far behind. "I have made the experience that I can create best when I create".
PDF version of the article from the current print edition of Werbewoche.