Dirk Van Ginkel is the Executive Creative Director at Jam3 and has been responsible for launching the Jam3 Amsterdam office. With a belief that the future is coming at us faster every day, Dirk and his team help brands create experiences on the bleeding edge of innovation. Listen as we discuss merging with MediaMonks, the future of AI, NFTs, community building and more.
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Nate Watkin: Dirk Van Ginkel is a multifaceted blend of creative director and technologist and is the founder of Jam3 Amsterdam. Having grown the experience agency's new outpost to over 30 employees within two years. With a background in AI, a belief in community and a passion for world travel Dirk brings his unique skillset to the table on a daily basis for clients, such as Adidas, H&M and Mural. Welcome to our show Dirk.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Thanks for having me.
Nate Watkin: So you've got a very diverse resume and I wanted to start by asking, what did you want to be when you grew up when you were a kid?
Dirk Van Ginkel: I think it's tricky. So I come from a family in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and Rotterdam a lot of people won't know is a city, which is... It has one of the biggest ports in Europe. So overall everyone where I come from they all went and worked in the port and I was actually one of the people who wanted to be creative. So I studied architecture for a bit and then I ended up in this port of course which I hated. So I worked there for four years and I learned a lot and I was a planner on ships actually or the biggest boats in the world and then I started to do my own work and I really wanted to do more creative work. So I started to design and do personal projects and that's how I started rolling into this world.
Because all I knew is I wanted to do something and that's how I started to reach out to companies and as I actually worked in New York as well. But I kind of rolled into it. I never really knew what I wanted to do, which is I know not the right answer but it did end up that way I would say.
Nate Watkin: Well, I know a lot of people don't know what they want to do at a young age or even at a older age. But one thing I noticed is that you did get a master's in artificial intelligence. What drove you to study that?
Dirk Van Ginkel: So I'm always fascinated with technology. When I was working in shipping I actually taught myself how to develop because websites were interesting back then you had Flash and I learned myself how to work in Flash. I learned how to do a little bit of WebGL and that fascination with technology where it started moved into design and I'm a firm believer that through anything that you see right now is all rooted in some sort of technology driven kind of creativity. So I really back then wanted to learn more about AI as a whole, because I think it will be increasingly more important and creativity can coexist with artificial intelligence. So I'm a firm believer that AI and creativity can coexist and mid journey is a good example of this. Which is basically an AI where you type in a couple of words and it can spit out any the most amazing assets.
I have an example now in front of me where someone typed in none in the year of 3000 and you get this really surreal image that constantly regenerates. I think for brands this might sound as a silly example, but brands in my view will become more like curators in the future. So whatever digital behavior you see online that can directly translate into images and any of the contents. So I believe that whatever you do digitally it can have a creative outing or a creative representation as a whole and my journey is a good example of it.
Nate Watkin: Interesting. When you say the brands will be the curators, do you mean that you know us as just normal people, creators, we'll be creating the content or AI will be creating the content? How does that relationship work?
Dirk Van Ginkel: So to me at least how brands have been working over the last 10 years is they have been spitting out content, they have been seeing what audience is like quite decently. But it's a constant stream of content that's just being spit towards you, what you see right now and there's no real adaption there in my view. So what I think is more interesting as a whole, and this is what's happening with NFTs as well is your audience all of a sudden gets a little bit of a stake in things. But an NFT is a share nowadays and by being more active and having a little bit of ownership in a brand, what if AI can take a little bit of a play here as well. As you're typing stuff, as you're being active on Discord or as you're being active online. Can we actually adjust the content live as you're talking to your peers on a Discord for instance? So I think AI right now it's too early, but imagine that you're recreating digital worlds and in a way things are virtualizing anyhow but you can affect it by your online behavior.
Nate Watkin: That's interesting. It's potentially real time content creation through the use of AI.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Exactly.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Fascinating. How do you think AI changes the industry just in terms of your traditional creative director, your traditional designer? What is the impact on that?
Dirk Van Ginkel: So the one thing AI is good at is actually capturing what people think at the largest scale, a human brain cannot process as much data. I think that's the main big difference and of course a computer doesn't have any empathy and is not a being I would say. But I think what's interesting is that as these digital, you see Decentraland, you see Roadblocks and whatnot as well. I think those are creative expressions but still made by brands. But overall I think the big difference is how you as a brand are perceived at a global level and I think it can be a lot more surreal. Because humans do think a little bit more in compartmentalized boxes. You have a certain color, you're associated to a certain gender group and I think a computer can kind of maybe break out of that a little bit by using large data sets.
Nate Watkin: Interesting. So it almost kind of expands the human creative director, it expands their potential for creativity. I mean, just trying to wrap my head around how that would work.
Dirk Van Ginkel: I think it, yeah it's an extension of what you're feeding it in way. Humans are always better at creativity but it's an extension of the things that you want to feed. So if a brand's audience wants to go left the computer will be able to understand it a little bit more. But me as a creative director I can feed it certain content to make it more creative or feed out new outcomes from a content perspective.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, super interesting. Going a little deeper on AI since this is something you've obviously studied. What do you think the future is? How far are we from sentient AI?
Dirk Van Ginkel: I think we're quite far off, to be honest. I know there's an employee at Google it was that said there was sentient AI, but that person got fired. So either that person reviewed some secrets, but I'm hoping we're never going to get there to be honest. Because I think it should be an extension of the human mind and it should be a tool that you can use. But I think we're far away from it is my view.
Nate Watkin: Interesting. So jumping back to your career path, I noticed at the early stages of your career you bounced around a lot between a lot of different companies. Were you freelancing at that point or just couldn't find a company that was the right fit?
Dirk Van Ginkel: I freelanced in quite a few companies, but I've kind of struggled because I worked as a UX designer, as a creative technologist and I wanted to find a company which was more on the edge of technology. There's a lot of companies that can do a big build I think, but their are not a lot of companies who can push tech, like I mean a UNIT9 where I've worked or a Jam3. What I really liked especially because all of a sudden I could do a lot of pitching. I was constantly flexing my creative muscles to convince businesses to buy into our work and I think Jam3 and UNIT9 for that matter to be honest, kind of provided that support and variety of work.
Nate Watkin: So tell everyone exactly what Jam3 does because I think it's much different than a traditional agency.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Yeah, that's right. So Jam3 is an experience and design company and what we do is we create forward thinking experiences for any modern brand. So what that means is we always do work with a little bit of tech involved. So there's always some sort of tech element but we don't do tech for tech's sake and what that means is anything within your digital ecosystem we can kind of touch. But how we're different is there are a lot of agencies around that can do concepting that can do strategy, but they never really know how to execute and this is where we're a little bit different. Because about five years ago we were a production agency that made websites for other agencies, but we shifted that kind of thinking and added our strategy capabilities as well. Where we became the thinkers and the makers. So whenever a brand comes to us with a big problem to solve, this is when we get really excited.
This is where we can come up with creative ideas that actually help their business, where we help work on their strategy but we also help actually producing it. So you get the full suite from start to end there.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Amazing, and you do amazing work at Jam3, obviously incredible list of clients. What do you think is the secret sauce behind Jam3? Is it the culture? What's unique about Jam3 that's enabled you all to be so successful?
Dirk Van Ginkel: I think Jam3 is a people company and we're only as good as our talent and we're always straddling the line between finding clients that fit that hunger and that drive that our talent has. But also it's that hybrid mix. A line we always say is to our clients as well, is never trust a person who doesn't know how to build it. We're one of those agencies where, when we propose an idea we're not going to say we can do it. Let's go to another agency to figure out whether it's actually feasible. We will figure it out and try and push the boundaries because we have all those people in house and we know how to make a crazy Web3 experience where we make over a million avatars or create complex land and have a full digital theme park. Those are things you need to kind of show courage for and have the right talent to do it.
Nate Watkin: So you've now been tasked with building the Amsterdam office and have grown it to over a 30 person head count in two years. How has that experience been so far?
Dirk Van Ginkel: A lot of fun I have to say and I've been lucky enough to have good support from Toronto. Because we opened it up just before everything went and locked down, which is a little bit scary but you learn a lot. It's like going from a creative director to all of a sudden running a business I would say. It's something completely new and I think I would lie if that's not the case. Again, this is why the people are so important I think, is I've been lucky enough to hire a couple of really good talented people that I'm very proud of. That really are crucial to building out that culture and building out little bit of their own identity that pushes clients to move further. Honestly, it's been probably the wildest ride in my professional career and I've moved around to five countries in four years before. But it's been so much fun and it's so rewarding to do.
Nate Watkin: Jam3 was recently acquired by Martin Sorrell's S4 and a partnership was born with MediaMonks. We're big fans of MediaMonks. We had Oliver Koelemij, the Current Chief Innovation Officer on our podcast last season. Curious, just how does that symbiosis work between those two companies?
Dirk Van Ginkel: I mean, what's nice about MediaMonks they have the same DNA, they've come from a background of production. I think WPP is a whole different story, it's an old model in my view where they propose stuff, they need other partners and actually a lot of the creative thinking happens very biased on our side of the business or our side really where things are being defined and really things are being pushed forward. So, so far it's been amazing because we are now an 8000 people powerhouse that all of a sudden has all these different skills that allows us to grow and learn every day. We have an internal film house now all of a sudden, we have a sustainability team, you name it and it's there essentially. We're learning every day, we're learning something new about the business, which is very excited to be honest and it's allowing us to grow as the Amsterdam team as well.
I think that the one thing about a merger which is the most important is understanding that your own culture is very important and figuring out ways to make these cultures blend over time. But not rush it because departments exist for a reason, even if it's within a larger company and departments all have their own culture a little bit as well.
Nate Watkin: When you mention that you have your own internal film department, is that in reference to MediaMonks or is Jam3 also developing their own internal film department as well?
Dirk Van Ginkel: This will be in reference to MediaMonks because we're part of MediaMonks.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. It just seems like such a cool blend of the experience, the technology, the design elements with their production and their expertise. I know that they also dabble in technology as well. I can only imagine the sort of things that are going to be dreamed up out of this partnership or already have, so it seems like a super exciting future.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Yeah. Yeah. I think the team is very excited as well. It's so many new tools and so much to learn every day, it's great. It's been a great thing so far.
Nate Watkin: So I know you're a strong believer in culture and community. Tell me why this is so important and how this informs your creative perspective.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Well, we've been working with Adidas in Amsterdam now for about two years as well and a lot of other brands. But using Adidas as an example, what they've achieved as a brand and like a lot of the larger sportswear brands is they have such a strong community around them that they can do a lot more things without real media spent. Back in five, six years ago, I used to do shoe drops in LA for Adidas and without spending any media and just doing an event people would line up for hours. I think if you can assure that your brand has a strong community that's driven to invest their time into it you can have so much fun. This is what Adidas has been doing for so many years and they've been reinventing themselves over and over again. But they've always found ways to be interesting and do something new for the community and give back and create value. So in my view whenever there is a brand that we talk to that has that community driven kind of sway.
I personally always get very excited, because that's when you can do the newest kind of tech things. Because that's where a lot of investment goes instead of big media spend.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. It's great that you're working with a brand like that does have such brand cache and this huge community and following really. But let's say you're working with an up and coming brand, how are you going to help them build community?
Dirk Van Ginkel: I think this is where our strategy skills come in. I mean, in Amsterdam we have a really strong team and also globally as well. But what we do is we generally do a longer strategy sprint where we do some ethnographic research. We do some bigger thinking in terms of what their pain points are or what they like as well. Then from there we tend to do a larger sprint. Sometimes we do innovation sprints and an innovation sprint ideating on those pain points and figure out how we can bring back value and give them a good ground to keep building on. So it can be a brand platform, it can be a digital platform but overall it's a series of events that need to happen towards a north star.
Nate Watkin: Yeah.
Dirk Van Ginkel: The north star is why that strategy sprint in the upfront is so important because you always need to work to something.
Nate Watkin: What do you find working best for building communities? I mean, is it activations? Is it events? Is it giveaways? Is it things like that or is it the brand actually creating their own community that they own? Right? Whether it's Discord, whether it is something like that. I'm just curious where you're seeing the trends in terms of community building because it's such a hot topic these days.
Dirk Van Ginkel: I think to be honest, it starts all with your brand. There are a lot of brands who do green washing or there are a lot of brands that have a certain positioning and say but if they don't deliver on it nothing even matters. I think once that brand positioning is strong and well established. It's a matter of delivering on them and finding the right channels to be vocal. If you're a fashion brand it's probably more interesting to be on Discord and deliver on your promises every time. Because it's all about delivering on promises and figuring out how you can readjust those promises in the future.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, that's great advice. I mean, it sounds like connecting with people over things they really care about, the values as you mentioned versus just selling them a product.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Yeah, exactly. Because the product is important but it needs to align to a certain north star I always think and that's why now if you look at gen A or gen Z compared to millennials. They are so emotionally driven by are you green? Are you respecting your neighbors or your friends? Or anything to do around gender. It's so driven around values and that will only grow and I think millennials are already making a stronger sense. But I think as the generations grow up and become of more relevance you can see that this trend... As soon as you don't deliver on it, they'll torn you down and Discord when you look at and you have the Web3 work as well. As soon as you don't deliver on it you don't exist right away. So I think as long as you have a strong proposition and if you manage to reinvent yourself over time by making promises on how you want to improve I think you can get really far this day and age.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. I mean the big one that comes to mind when you start talking about that for me, was Nike with the Colin Kaepernick campaign. I mean, it was such a lightning rod and it was so polarizing at the time especially and it created such a polarized response. But it was obviously a strategic decision by them and you could think that the people that endeared themselves to that cause. I mean the value, the pull and the community around Nike for those people was just incredibly strengthened I'm sure. Just one example that comes to mind.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Yeah. I think there's no brand that has done it as good as Nike to be honest. There are too many smaller promises, but at that moment at that time taking that risk I thought it was amazing. It was one of the best pieces in the last couple of years in my view.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, it was bold. Definitely bold. So one of your motto's is that the future is coming at us fast. Tell me more about this and why you think that we need to act now to keep up.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Yeah. The future is coming faster at us every day. I think a lot of brands in Europe, a lot of brands they haven't really... What you see right now with car brands for instance. Tesla came around and kind of re rethought how cars should drive, it's a whole different approach. You see a lot of brands globally struggling with these new brands who are a lot more agile. I think digital can play a role in this by taking older brands like the hotel chains or whatnot and make them a lot more innovative and a lot more accessible. So in my view there's so many categories where we can play and make them more innovative. Why not launch a car brand that doesn't have any dealerships? Why not launch a car brand where ownership is not even a thing? I think Lynk & Co. has done this as well. Are you familiar with Link & Co. at all?
Nate Watkin: I'm not, I don't believe so.
Dirk Van Ginkel: So business models can change is my view. So Lynk & Co. is a new car brand which is actually made by Volvo and what day I had done is they had an insight which basically said a car is in standstill about 90% of the time. Why not use that and create an app where you can get a car, you spend €500 a month but you can actually put that car online with your app almost like Uber and if I want to take that car I can take that car from you and the longer I have it reduces your monthly costs. It's been really popular in the Netherlands and all over Europe, but I think digital is crucial to this and it's very much focused in service design. But I think campaigns can be a little bit play in service design as well to create value and change the way we think about our regular car use for instance. I think there's so many instances where you find the right insight. You can apply that to your brands as well.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. I think Tesla, that's one of their goals as well is that shared ownership model. So super interesting stuff. Getting back to the future, we obviously had this huge market crash recently and just curious are you still long on NFTs?
Dirk Van Ginkel: We do quite a bit of Web3 work and I do think sure it is a crash, but I think everything has been crashing to be honest. So if there's less money like Fiat money as they would say or liquidity around it will happen everywhere in my view. Personally, I think there is a future there, but the most important thing is make it accessible to everyone and ensure that it's secure. Right now for other ethically... Or I think it's not accessible to most people right now. It's mostly for people who are well off and who have disposable money and who can lose money and who are well educated. So if you're not well educated it's an easy way to lose everything. As soon as those things are resolved I think there will be a brighter future for it.
Nate Watkin: So more democratizing access to NFTs you think is the key?
Dirk Van Ginkel: Correct.
Nate Watkin: Got it. Should every brand be creating an NFT or is that just kind of diluting what makes them so cool to begin with?
Dirk Van Ginkel: I think every brand needs to understand why they want to use them. I think there's no brand in the world that's going to be successful if they launch one NFT without a thought on where they want to take it next. Every NFT can have utility and with utility, I mean you buy an NFT and it gives you access to other things or is it so you can be part of a club and I think H&M is completely different to Adidas. Adidas is all about creating actual value, if you resell it you get money back. Whereas H&M, it has a completely different audience where not everyone wants to spend 700 or $800 for an NFT. So what would be the offering for H&M? Overall, I think everyone should play a role in Web3 because it is a new form of digital transformation and it will have a future. What it will look like is the question. I think for now the adoption and like I said the adoption needs to adjust, but every brand should dip their toes in it somehow.
Because there will be ways to use it and at least you have the knowledge in house then once mass adoption is there.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. It's kind of like Web 1.0, everybody was like does every company need a website someday? Maybe now we'll be looking back in this 10, 20 years ago and laughing when we thought does every brand need an NFT or does every brand need to be on the blockchain.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Exactly, yeah. But there's also soul bound NFTs, imagine you get an NFT and you cannot resell it. I don't know there's something interesting there when you're active for a brand as well. I mean you can give a passport, which is so bound as well. Because there's only one Nate Watkins or wonder Dirk Van Ginkel. But imagine doing something like that as well from a brand perspective, where you've been around with the brand, you've invested in the brand and you get something back but it's only for you. I think there's so much fun and this is not even rolled out yet. But there's something new happening every other week and brands can kind of learn and utilize that and give that to people as well. Give back as a whole.
Nate Watkin: So going back to your personal life, traveling seems to be a passion of yours. Let's say another pandemic rolls around, you've got to camp out and work remote somewhere for six months where are you going?
Dirk Van Ginkel: I'd probably stay in Europe. What I really enjoy here is if I go an hour south I'm in Belgium and it's different and if I go two hours I'm in Paris and if I fly five hours I'm in Portugal. Portugal is probably the place I would end up at, there's good internet, good food and a big creative community as well. Lisbon has been growing so much with amazing talent that I would probably figure want to try and stay there for a little bit.
Nate Watkin: Nice. I haven't been, but I will definitely put it high on the list after that recommendation.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Yeah, it's amazing. Good food, beaches.
Nate Watkin: Definitely.
Dirk Van Ginkel: You have it all there.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. I speak a bit of Portuguese as well so I think I could get by pretty good there. Some other questions. What's the most influential book you've ever read or film that you've ever seen?
Dirk Van Ginkel: Well, you were talking about travel but Into The Wild was always my favorite movie. I find it so interesting, I think at the end it's not smart what he did of course. But are you familiar with the film?
Nate Watkin: Yeah, absolutely. I've seen it.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Yeah, really enjoyed it. I mean it's quite old by now, but this was I think before I moved abroad and I always thought it was so fascinating that one person could just leave and explore the world and back then I always wanted to move abroad. I wanted to move to New York, which I did and then I never really wanted to go back to the Netherlands and that was one of those movies where I could kind of understand what the kid was doing but I could not understand why he did it alone.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Great movie and definitely sounds like it inspired some of your life in terms of the traveling. So beyond travel and AI and Web3, what's something that you're really passionate about?
Dirk Van Ginkel: Well, on a work perspective to be honest what I'm the most passionate about right now is forming a team and finding a balance, how to keep a client happy and building a team and I know this is a little cliche. But as a creative director I thought I knew what that was, but now running this office has opened my eyes as to how you can create a dynamic within a team that fits with clients and builds it up. Honestly it's a big passion work, because I really love my work. But outside of that I'm a big soccer fan and I hang out with my friends. I just got married, been together with my wife now for 14 years. So we do a lot of fun things together and travel around Europe.
Nate Watkin: Sounds amazing. Looking back, what advice would you give to a 20 year old you?
Dirk Van Ginkel: Explore places that you would not expect to start at. I think when I went to New York I actually applied at about 300 places I think and I didn't know what I was doing I'll be very honest. But there was one place that kind of got me hooked. I had a lot of chats with different people, but don't be too narrow. It's all about finding your passion or like showing your passion to people and you can get quite far and I've been lucky enough to always find good mentors at every company. There was always one person that got me further and I think that's the thing, is you need to find a person who sees it in you and really wants to push you and capitalize on that. I've been lucky enough to have those people around, where I actually got further and as you said earlier I've moved around quite a lot.
But at UNIT9 I found a really good coach where I learned so much. So I was looking for a good coach and that's what you should latch on to, find that one person that's really going to get you further.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, great advice. Well, thank you so much for joining. Love chatting technology in the future so I really enjoyed this and appreciate your time Dirk.
Dirk Van Ginkel: Thanks so much.