“City Archives more fun than a museum”

[There's an article in the 13th September edition of Adformatie, nr. 37, about our campaign for the City Archives. Hereunder the according text. The header, however, is not ours and we don't agree. We go to the museum regularly (take a wild guess to which one) and find it as much fun.]

Next week the City Archives of Amsterdam will open the De Bazel building’s doors. To make this move known, Skipintro thought of a campaign that was mainly to stir up curiosity.

“It wasn’t an easy job”, says Ruby Lemm, director of Skipintro, sighing. Skipintro managed the public campaign around the City Archives’ move. The archives’ name and image, the character of the building, that used to be a bank, and above all the move itself; each a communicative problem in need of its own communicative solution. This would explain, however, why during the past two years Skipintro remained involved with preparing the move and organising the current campaign; quite a long time for an agency whose name (’Skipintro’) contains firm action.

The reason for the campaign is the archives’ move to De Bazel, the monumental building on Vijzelstraat. It was built at the beginning of the last century as headquarters of the, at the time, Dutch Trading Company (NHM) and is the direct predecessor of ABN Amro. With forty kilometres of archive material containing large picture collections such as photos, paintings, architectural drawings, posters, floor plans and film/video the Amsterdam City Archives are the largest in the world.

Wearer of spectacles
The City Archives, however, do not only want to be known as dusty storage space but would like to take on a public function by making their material (digitally) accessible. “We would like to do more with and for the public”, says pr-official André Hirs. As an example he states the website, where users are offered the possibility to digitalise pieces, that they can later download for a small compensation. Another aspect of the archives’ more public oriented policy is to actually make the visual archive material visible by means of using the new space for temporary exhibitions.

The opening, conducted by Queen Beatrix last Wednesday, is flanked by a public campaign to reposition the archives. For this purpose Skipintro was addressed at an early stage already. It began with research on the archives’ image. Ruby Lemm encountered quite a few problems during the process. The first problem was the name. “Amsterdammers strongly associated the old name (Council Archives) with boring, dusty government institution, holding no more than council oriented information. The historical collection, however, is actually far broader. That’s why a new name was chosen, City Archives Amsterdam.”

It also seemed that a lot of people have no idea as to what they can find there, “let alone that they would know how much fun it can be to browse around the archives”. The image of a stereotype archives visitor as derived from the interviews is: “male, Caucasian, wearer of spectacles”. Lemm’s conclusion: the archives have an image problem. “People see it as an institution for scholars. It should, however, be a place for everyone with an interest in their own history and the history of Amsterdam. The student with the spectacles should definitely keep on coming but we would like to add an extra dimension: male/female, old/young, black/white”.

The outcome is a campaign to bring the city’s history closer by telling stories about the city that aren’t necessarily known to everybody but that don’t necessarily have to be true either. Film director Eddy Terstall made six TV-commercials of thirty seconds, to be seen on AT5 and TV Noord-Holland, where mayor Job Cohen, Hakim Traïda and Jan Boomgaard (director of the City Archives) tell one true and one false story each. Anybody who would like to know for sure can check the City Archives or visit the website (www.stadsarchief.amsterdam.nl).

Scene of the crime
Other than that there’s a billboard campaign in collaboration with JCDecaux. The remarkable thing here is that a story is told per specific location. In total the city sports two hundred posters with a text relating to something that happened at that particular place. And every time the question arises: did this really happen? For instance: on Rembrandtplein you’ll find a poster with the text: “A cabaret artist was murdered here”. This story is true (1927, Jean-Louis Pisuisse). Some of the posters are multifunctional in use, such as: “Cows used to graze here” or ” This corner wasn’t always a corner”.

There is no particular goal in how many extra visitors the City Archives would like to attract. The primary aim according to Hirs is to adjust the archives’ image. “We’re counting on expanding our public but most of all we would like the idea to start manifesting in people’s heads that archives can be fun. We would like to adjust the image that archives are boring”. Do the City Archives then not enter the Historical Museum’s grounds? “We are more fun than a museum. People can follow their interest here. Imagine someone would like to know everything about childcare in the 19th century. But also questions related to sports and photography are answered. There’s nothing that can’t be found here.

Agency: Skipintro
Research: University of Amsterdam and Certs Amsterdam
Strategy: Jef Broersen
Creation: Skipintro
Production films: Spaghetti Film
Director: Eddie Terstall
Production posters: Mont Blanc
Client representative: Ludger Smit, André Hirs