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The Worst Hotel in The World

The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel  advertising campaigns are the stuff of Amsterdam legend.  Culturally significant not just for their humour and genius, but because they reveal something of the city’s mindset and the attitudes of the people that call this city home.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 06-05-2009

With the plethora of books featuring the best-designed hotels, KesselsKramer, in all its usual iconoclastic glory, has written a new offering for the discerning collector:  “The Worst Hotel in The World: The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel Amsterdam.”

The book is a celebration of the ten-years of advertising campaigns KesselsKramer has put together for the popular backpacker hangout.  

“The hotel was out first client,” explains Eric Kessels, creative director and co-founder of the KesselsKramer agency.  “To be honest, it was pretty embarrassing when we first saw it.  We were expecting something completely different."

After spending some time with management and the employees though, Kessels discovered that honesty was the hotel's best luxury and so started a relationship that has produced some of the most shocking and hilarious advertising campaigns in the Netherlands. 

Employing the terminology of Michelin star accommodation, Kessel’s approach evolved over the seasons to poke fun at the typical awe and wonder we all have for the shine and glamour of typical five star-hotel advertising. Spas, room service, luxury products, award winning restaurants and fitness centers - The Hans Brinker has it all, except that it doesn’t.

Room service is the crisps left behind by yesterday’s guests.  Hair dryers and beauty products are cardboard cut-outs left at the end of the bed, and the hotel’s new eco-policies arose by complete accident – stairs not lifts, open windows not air conditioners, and no clean towels.

The bridal suite is photographed with two bare bunks, dog-poo decorating Amsterdam streets is flagged with Brinker ads, and a carefully selected “dust hall of fame” boasts the very best grit and grime that graces the bits behind the bits you can see.

“The Amsterdam tourist board was not very happy with the campaigns,” chuckles Kessels. “But the hotel was mostly – but maybe not always - happy with what we were doing.  After a few years we started to wonder though how far we could stretch this approach.  Could it get any worse?”

A literal (and very Dutch) interpretation of that question helped the team to create its next chapter of campaigns.  “We can’t get any worse, but we will do our best” became the hotel’s new slogan, or at least so said its advertising.

Bruised eyes and bloody lips characterized guests at check out, foul and inedible food was photographed to boost the image of the cafeteria.

Another campaign ensured that the Brinker was fit to rival the very best of the world’s design and boutique hotels. Posters showcased a special selection of custom-made objects d’art – a fork with a missing prong, a three-legged chair, and a mug with a broken handle.

Since KesselsKramer took over the campaigns, hotel bookings have doubled, but nothing inside the actual hotel has changed at all.

“That’s what makes it all so special,” says hotel manager Rob Pernis.  “Business is going very well.  Maybe at the start I had to use my own magic calculator to justify using an ad agency, but in the end it really did pay off.

“But that all comes down to Eric Kessels," Pernis continues.  "Usually when you visit an advertising agency, they charge you 5000 euros for a conversation.  He charged me nothing and came back half an hour later with three campaign ideas … I have always tried to meet the best people in life and I think Eric is one of those.  It really shows that you have to go out and make an effort.  You need to go and find these sorts of people because they aren’t on the Internet.”

Eric Kessels is the subject of an upcoming documentary directed by Simone de Vries, which will air on national TV.  He is also one of the few living creatives to make it into Amsterdam Creative Capital, the book by Marcel Wanders Publishing that traces the history of creative talent in Amsterdam.

With his characteristic modesty, Kessels only response to such compliments is an anecdote: “Recently I asked one of the cleaners at the Hans Brinker what he thought about the advertising and he told me it was OK, but could be funnier.”

“The Worst Hotel in The World: The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel Amsterdam” is published by Booth-Clibborn Editions.

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