Bram Ceuppens: unexpected life lessons in the USA
Ah, the United States of America. The land of the free, the home of the brave, the Walhalla of advertising. The biggest agencies, the biggest clients and the biggest bucks. But along with those great opportunities come equally great expectations. I.e., you’re expected to work your friggin’ ass off. But that’s not what Bram Ceuppens took from his adventure on the other side of the Atlantic. Au contraire.
Right now, Bram is close to home. He works as creative director for Robey Sportswear, a fast-growing football brand in Rotterdam. His journey started at Dubois meets Fugger, then followed FamousGrey and mortierbrigade. When he visited TechCrunch in San Francisco, he returned with a job offer from Heat, a San Francisco based agency that focuses on gaming, tech and entertainment.
“A small agency by American standards, with about 100 employees. But that suits me, I prefer a more manageable, human-scale environment. Also, there was a big overlap in the kind of work Heat did and my personal interests. It was a perfect match.”
Leaving Belgium for the US must have felt like entering a whole new world?
- B. Going in, you know the scale and budgets will be incomparable. But even then, it was confrontational to see how easily the cash gets splashed around. Budgets of a couple of hundred thousand dollars for a single campaign are normal. I know people in Belgium who would kill for those (laughs). Another difference is the emphasis on celebrity culture. Brands will often reverse engineer a campaign around a big-name spokesperson, while back home the creative idea is always the main driver.
Americans are known as very hard workers. Is that true?
- B. They work very hard, but so does the Belgian scene. But actually, you can’t really pinpoint one culture in the US, the east and west coast are two worlds apart. My friends in New York and Chicago grind out really rough work weeks. In California, things are much softer. At Heat, we were encouraged to leave at noon on Fridays when the weather was good. And in San Francisco, the weather is always good. That way, we could head into the mountains for a hike, or go surfing or whatever. That doesn’t mean we didn’t work long hours, early mornings and late evenings. But there is definitely a difference in expectation and overall vibe. And this is the life I want. Although I used to think the same way, now I get a bit uneasy by the idea that work has to be life. You don’t have to plough through fifteen hours a day to do a good job. It wasn’t the lesson I expected to learn in the States, but it’s a damn good one.
Although San Francisco was good to you, you left for Rotterdam after a good 3 years. How come?
- B. A combination of circumstances. Under Trumps presidency, being an immigrant, even a legal Western European one, became increasingly difficult and stressful. Also, my wife followed me to the States, so we agreed that our next big step would be to assist her career. At that time, she got a dream job offer at the Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam. Also, our one-year-old son and the start of the pandemic played a part in the decision.
In Holland you joined Robey Sportswear as creative director. A brand, not an agency. Why?
- B. I wanted to leave the short-term projects and see if I could help build a brand in the long run. Preferably, a sports brand, as that’s an important part of my life. That’s how I ended up at Robey, a football brand that has been around since 1948 but was recently brought back to life by some local Rotterdammers. They were looking for someone who could do nearly all the creative things. That turned out to be me. It’s a lot of fun to be many things at once: photographer, videographer, copywriter, designer, art director… A big part of the appeal is that I’ve arrived in a brand new company structure. It gives me the opportunity to build our very own creative and content studio. At a big brand, that would be impossible. And also: I get to spend time on the tiniest of labels in the back of a football shirt. (pauses) Man, I love mierenneukerij (a funnier word for ‘nitpicking’) like that.
You’re only a stone’s throw away from the Belgian border. Close enough to follow the advertising scene?
- B. Yeah, I keep an eye out for the work of friends and people I’ve worked with. To see them hit homeruns makes me happy. Also, it’s great to see the scene evolve. Most American agencies are pretty much the same, aside from a slight difference in packaging or a clever USP. Back home, the contrary is true. There’s no uniformity, there’s always something interesting going on.