The IIE-Vega graduate tries his hand for a Cannes Young Lions Award

Vega School alumnus Ryan Wolters (25) is one half of a South African creative duo, along with business partner Will van der Merwe (25), who are currently making waves in Europe. The South African locals recently returned from Cannes Lions where they represented the Netherlands, and narrowly missed out on a Young Lions award. Vega School is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE).

In 2012 Wolters received a degree in Brand Building and Management from The IIE, under what he calls “the best lecturer a young lad could ask for, Thys De Beer”. Following graduation, “a few jobs and one incredible internship,” Walters moved to Amsterdam, where he met van der Merwe earlier this year.

The pair recognised that most of the creatives they had dealt with came up with great ideas but fell flat in the long run. Wolters and van der Merwe believe this is because their peers’ business strategies were not as strong as their creative talents.

Wolters credits his training at Vega School as the factor that sets their ideas apart from everyone else’s. Though both had a fascination with everything creative, both coincidentally had become strategists. Wolters explains that being in the European ‘ad-scene’ put a commercial edge to their interests. They both quickly learned that becoming a creator is more important than being a creative. “You have to be familiar with it all, when you continually get asked the question, ‘What else can you show me besides your portfolio?’” says van der Merwe.

As freelancers, they began entering creative advertising competitions and immediately knew they were on to something. “At the very first competition we entered (JongeHonden) we won Gold.” Not long after, they were short-listed for an ADCN Lamp award. On the back of these two quick victories the dynamic pair was hand-picked to compete for the honour of representing the Netherlands at Cannes for a Young Lions award.

The brief to all competitors for their pitches had been to create a line of bags from billboard material. Their motto has always been to think smart rather than to think big, and they believe that it was this strategic thinking that carried them through.

“The brief asked for a big idea concerning the refugee crisis in Europe. We wanted to do something we hadn’t seen before, that wasn’t negative and something that could scale naturally. We came across the fact that two-thirds of refugees are women and children and tied that together with the insight that ‘a mother’s teachings resonate on a powerful level, with everyone’. We tied this together in a 60 second spot with mothers from all across Europe that came together in the ‘Be A Mother (for a nation) campaign’. All of this had to be done in two days,” says Wolters.

“We were one of the few teams who didn’t have a big agency behind us, so we felt a bit intimidated going into this. And I think people thought we’re a bit weird. South Africans tend to really stand out in a crowd in Europe! You know between screaming ‘howzit?’ and ‘ag, ja, no, lekker, hey!’” However, Wolters says that having lived in South Africa is highly inspirational for creativity, explaining that in Europe, where everything in life works so predictably, as a result “you don’t see as much raw creativity around you on a daily basis,” continues Wolters.

“After 24 very interesting hours, we pitched our ideas to top creatives from agencies across Amsterdam. To our surprise we came out on top and we were selected to represent the Netherlands for a Cannes Young Lions award,” says van der Merwe.

The pair describes the Cannes Lions festival in itself as a spectacle – with great expos from Samsung and Oculus to awe inspiring talks from the likes of David Droga, RGA, David Copperfield and many more. Wolters adds, “the actual Lions competition was awesome! There was so much incredible work that we got to see and interact with. Everything was just really inspiring. Seeing the best of the best that the creative industry has to offer is really humbling, and at the same time instils a drive to be better, faster, stronger! We got our shot to compete for our very own ‘Young Lion’ which we unfortunately didn’t quite crack this year.”

“The word ‘creativity’ has somehow become synonymous with ‘innovation’ to us in the West: creativity means creating something new. In contrast, in Asia it’s rather: what can we learn from the past, and what can we improve on?” continues Wolters. As a result, he says, the two creatives are now playing with the idea of taking campaigns from 20 years ago and bringing them back in a better way.

Van der Merwe adds, “Two heads are better than one; always. Creative teams don’t have to consist of an art director and a copywriter. Advertising executives are crazier than you are, so stop pretending to be responsible around them. Collaborate the hell out of your career, become a creator, not a creative.”

Wolters concludes that his choice to study at Vega was a game-changer for him. “We are super proud of our achievements and without the knowledge I learned from Vega and the way Vega prepared me for this world of advertising, I do not think I would be here.”

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