Everybody has a connection with Johan Cruijff. Football fans, journalists, Amsterdam and … advertising agencies.
‘Yeah, I didn’t catch his name, but just take the call,’ snapped the receptionist at the Lowe Kuiper&Schouten Amsterdam advertising agency in 1992. The creatives had come up with an ad for ABN AMRO featuring a photo of Johann Cruijff and had given me the task of gaining his permission. ‘Hi, this is Johan. I thought I’d give you a quick call about your letter and that picture.’ So while all the big Dutch news, talk and late night show hosts, Amsterdam Mayor Van der Laan, Ajax, Dutch football expert Henk Spaan and Camp Nou are tumbling over each other to share the best quotes, anectodes, pictures and video clips, even this unsporty and lowly account boy had a connection, with Johan.
Celebrities are a godsend for advertising agencies. You can earn a buck on the back of their celebrity and reputation. And when it came to Johan, you stood to earn a mountain of mullah. Because while Rembrandt, Anne Frank, Van Gogh and Heineken might be world-famous, they pale in comparison to Johan. ‘Where you come from?’ ‘Netherlands??’ ‘Holland?!, Ooooh you mean Crojff? Yo friend, you want coffee, cigarette??’ Around the world doors opened, with Johan.
Johan in turn liked to make a buck or two off the big advertisers. He announced a new timetable for Dutch Rail. He was the face of the Bruguer paint brand in Spain. In an ABN AMRO commercial he had to admit that The Bank turned out to know more about finances than he did. Even though he preferred to go solo, he also did one-two’s with Van Basten for Eurocard Mastercard. And with footballer TV presenter Jan Mulder for ING Bank. In the late 1970s Johan starred in an ad with the heading ‘Smoke wisely’ and a pack of low tar and nicotine Roxy Dual. He later switched to Chupa Chups lollipops. And condemned cigarettes in an anti-smoking campaign with the brilliant line that football had given him everything and smoking had almost taken it away from him. Decades of great advertising, with Johan.
The loss of Johan touches us all. Advertising agencies have lost an inimitable copywriter and influential Dutch celebrity. But we’ve also lost the creator of the universally revered ‘Agile and Scrum’ working method. Bigwig management gurus and expensive McKinseys lay claim to this method that calls for speed, agility, teamwork and provocation. But we’ve been familiar with it since 15 November 1964 – the first time Ajax1 played, with Johan.