Bruno Setola


A great many interests pop up in his career, so Bruno Setola simply calls himself ‘Head of Applied Imagination’. Having previously worked for twelve years in various creative studios, Setola now finds himself developing a curriculum for Cross-Media Advertising at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. He also investigates new directions in communication technology, currently with a focus on the possibilities of gamification.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Bruno Setola. I teach Cross-Media Advertising at the WDKA in Rotterdam and I’m currently researching and applying gamification in my classes and blogging about it on Before that I used to work as a Design Director at Studio Dumbar and shortly ran an advertising agency called Setola&Gille.

What’s your motivation to become a teacher at the Willem de Kooning Academy?
First of all, teaching runs in my family. My mother, my father, my grandfather, they were all teachers, so it made sense for me to at least try and see if it was something for me. It took me a long time to make that step though, because I felt I had to be really good at something first. Two generations breathing down my neck, if you know what I mean. So only when I switched to advertising after 7 years of designing big and complex identities at Studio Dumbar, I felt I was ready to pass on my experience to a new generation.

Second, I love to learn. And I learn things a lot faster when I have to explain a subject to others. For me, teaching is the best way to learn, because when you teach you really try to understand every aspect of something. You want to be ready for tough questions and trust me, good students can be far more critical than clients. I love to learn, to keep surprising myself, so when I really wanted to learn more about cross-media and future technologies, it made sense after three years to also start teaching in Cross-Media Advertising. As this was still quite new stuff at the academy, I couldn’t just borrow ideas for classes from my predecessor. I’m still experimenting with what makes good learning and that’s a lot of fun.

Could one succeed in advertising (as a creative) without relevant education?
Yes, I think you can.

As a designer I have often wondered what it would take to become an advertiser. You know, I thought it would be the ultimate creative freedom to come up with funny ideas and then get a huge budget to realise them. So when I asked around, advertisers told me there’s NO WAY a Design Director could just switch to Advertising. They portrayed it as if it was Hollywood, with a hardcore pecking-order, licking up, kicking down. Hell.

But I never completely let go of the idea to try it anyway. So when I took a small sabbatical and the city of Rotterdam asked me if I wanted to come in for a quick pitch proposal, I could not foresee that they would brief me for a huge advertising campaign. With my good friend Erik Gille (freelance copywriter), we came up with a complete proposal in one week and we completely blew away the biggest advertising agency of Rotterdam. And suddenly I was an advertiser. It’s that simple. If you can play by the rules of advertising, you are an advertiser. Just like that. No need for an education in Advertising. Just be willing to learn fast.

Originally a book store clerk, Tibor Kalman is famous for taking on any job he got offered, even without having any education in it, or even any experience with it. He once explained that of every ten jobs he bluffed himself into, five failed horribly. Yet five came out as refreshing and remarkable ideas that now feature in numerous books on Design and Advertising. I’d certainly say he succeeded!

Sometimes all it takes is just doing it.

What do you enjoy most about the advertising world?
The funny thing is that I do not particularly like ‘The Advertising World’. I can never really shake the feeling that it’s usually a business without a conscience. So I’m not so much talking about the creative part of it. I love that. It’s the marketing side of it that worries me. I recently taught marketing for four weeks, to fill in for a colleague. So I asked the students to watch the superb documentary ‘Century of the Self’ by Adam Curtis. I thought they’d be quite surprised at the manipulative and greedy powers behind advertising. The outcome was that they were now even more exited to be Advertisers.

So I briefed them with an absurd project: get kids of fourteen years old to start smoking, without breaking the law against advertising for smoking. After four weeks the class handed in some very ‘evil’ yet super smart and creative ideas to get these kids to start smoking. Even students that were reluctant at first now completely trust in the power of marketing. I’m not sure if I failed or succeeded.

When I think about ‘The Advertising World’ not as a ‘scene’, but as a ‘profession’, my answer is much more positive. I love that advertising is always trying to assimilate new media and techniques. In this way advertisers hope to be fresh and hip, to stand out, to be ahead of the competition. I don’t care about that too much. What I love about it is that, because of this, the rules of the game constantly keep changing. If you love advertising for this, when you start creating Cross-media strategies and learn about the possibilities of applying video game mechanics for instance, you’ll never ever be bored. There’s no end to how creative you have to be.

What makes an advertisement good? (or bad)
That’s simple: it has to work.

Yet the conditions for it to work can be very complex. It’s relatively easy to send out a smart and beautiful message and hope people will start buying your brand. Yet to make a cross-media experience work, you suddenly need to make it dynamic and semi-open. For that to work, you have to design mechanics that generate the dynamics. This means we operate on the level of underlying rules and on this deepest possible level, things can suddenly become very poetic.The Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman opened the world’s eyes to the beauty of simple formulas that explain the most complex kinds of behaviour in physics. So paradoxically, in the highly complex world of Cross-media Advertising, what will make good advertising could be defined as ‘a simple and elegant design’. Design in the sense of how things work, the core design principles, not what things look like. In that sense I think I still am a designer.

What skills are most important for an advertiser?
I’ll try and give it a shot: First of all, playfulness. A curious mind. Seeing patterns. A basic idea of what drives people. Communicative skills. And last but not least: responsibility.

And last, how should or could one become a great advertiser?
Always question what ‘advertising’ should be about. Try things out. Even though you can never know everything, every time you discover a new and valuable perspective and learn how to apply it, you’re on your way to greatness.