This article first appeared in issue 240 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.
.net: Let’s start with an introduction. Who are you? Where, why and how did it all start?
RV: SuperHeroes is a four-year-old creative digital agency based in Amsterdam and New York. We’re a very international bunch, with team members and clients from all over the world. In total, there are 24 of us now and we’re always looking to grow.
.net: And the name, SuperHeroes? Where did that come from?
RV: Well, we’re in advertising, but like most people, we don’t exactly love most ads. The vast majority of the tripe produced globally every year is downright offensive, to be honest. I guess if we were to put a contrived rationale to our name, SuperHeroes comes from our desire to protect people from bad ads.
But there’s more to it than that. To name a creative agency ‘SuperHeroes’ in an industry famous for its obsession with hyperbole, we thought it would be fittingly ironic. Plus, such an internationally recognised word and inherently bold statement is almost impossible to forget and often raises a wry smile from clients and normal folk alike.
It’s always funny to see how much impact that little SuperHeroes sticker on our front window has on passers-by. They’re continually stopping to have their picture taken outside the agency, pretending they’ve stumbled upon an actual SuperHeroes hideout down our leafy unassuming street in De Pijp, Amsterdam (which they have, of course). It’s fun.
.net: Your agency site. We’re struggling to describe it: a psychedelic schlock montage of 1970s ZAP! POW! action hero antics?
GB: Well, put simply, it’s our tribute to the craziest flights of creative fancy. But your descriptor is pretty good, too.
We made it because all agency websites were looking the same at the time. And we wanted to show the kind of stuff that we loved. Another big reason is that the founders were unable to show off their former portfolio of work because of non-competition clauses.
A great thing happened because of this website. Even though we weren’t actually showing any of our work, it attracted the exact kind of like-minded clients and team members we needed – people who resonated on our frequencies. So even though it’s kind of counterintuitive to make an agency website without any work on it, it’s a great example of the importance of making things that feel right, even if they might not seem so to the logical eye. And there is work on it now!
.net: What’s your take on person branding?
GB: There’s no ‘I’ in SuperHeroes. All our projects are a true team effort with everybody chipping in his/ her bit.
.net: Can you tell us about some of the clients you’ve worked with?
RV: SuperHeroes started out with the ambition of becoming a top notch global creative agency. We’ve still got quite a way to go, but we’re lucky to already work for a number of great brands. Recently, we’ve been working for Diesel and LG on a global level and KLM, Comedy Central, Yakult and David Byrne’s Luaka Bop record label in New York City on a project basis.
.net: Which piece of your work makes you proudest?
GB: On an excruciatingly low budget, our video ‘So Real It’s Scary’ for LG racked up almost 20 million views in two months with a low media spend. It was a stupidly simple idea with the video featuring product demonstration to the max.
We showed how lifelike the colours on LG’s new IPS monitors were by fitting them to an elevator floor to test if office workers would believe the floor was falling out from beneath them. It was insane to see it hit national morning news shows from China to USA and sales of the product we were promoting increased by 20 per cent in LG’s key markets globally, which was nice.
There’s been lots of work over the years that we’ve absolutely loved doing. However, in general, the red thread throughout all our work is in its irreverence. We like cheeky ideas that play with project design and do something different. At SuperHeroes, we like to strive for newsworthiness and ‘forwardonability’.
.net: How do you find new work?
RV: Mostly through previous work. The age old adage, ‘You’re only as good as your last project’ holds as true as ever for us.
.net: I talk with a lot of designers and agencies and they regularly agonise about ‘client fit’. How do you manage relationships with clients?
GB: Clarity and total transparency is key. Along with a lot of effort internally to keep everyone fully up to speed, we often all have direct contact with the clients to ensure the highest possible efficiency through good communication.
.net: Have you ever walked away from a first meeting with a client and thought: “No thanks. This isn’t going to work.”?
GB: Yes, we have and it’s one of the toughest decisions a small agency can make. It’s unfortunate but sometimes for the better. ‘Don’t pull a dead horse,’ is what we say in Dutch.
.net: How closely do you become involved with your clients, their brand and strategy?
RV: Once we know we both want to be together, we get to know each other intimately and we give it everything we’ve got. It’s a civil partnership. We always try to build something longer lasting than just a fling. We dive deep into their products, their internal brand stories and into what’s happening in the world. This results in a continually widening field of scope. As a digital agency we now also do outdoor, TVC and print, too.
.net: You still use Flash? Do think it still has a place in the Web Standards world?
GB: Yes, Flash still has its place. Mainly because HTML5 is still so limited in its capabilities and cross-browser WebGL availability. However, it’s obvious that the ‘times they are a-changin’.
.net: What new web technologies have you most exited at the moment?
RV: The development of technologies such as Node.js, WebGL and CSS animations are undoubtedly fantastic. Plus, due to video playing being such a massive part in our work and client wishes increasingly being swung towards the use of HTML over Flash, the introduction of HTML video elements has been a godsend. However, it has to be said that the thing that we currently love most is the advancement of the actual browsers themselves. With each build they are all (slowly) becoming more powerful and thankfully more consistent with each other. Meaning far less time spent cross-browser testing and more spent experimenting.
.net: What’s you secret formula for success?
RV: Wit; a healthy sense of empathy; a constant state of awe and enthusiasm; not looking at the same things that everyone else is looking at; and an unadulterated love for creativity.
.net: How should a young hopeful designer or developer go about working with you?
GB: Shoot us an email. We’re always on the look out for interesting, unconventional young thinkers who inspire us with the originality of their words, ideas, code or design.
.net: If a hero sees a kitten stuck up a tree, what’s the first move?
GB: Release the rescue Geckos.
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