Ulla Aartomaa, MA
Amanuensis at the Lahti Art and Poster Museums

Kyösti Varis had a habit of whistling while working. This prompted one of his early bosses to remark that less whistling could mean more money on payday. But this whistling had a function. With it he created a sound-barrier around himself in an open-landscape studio. His concentration to work in this self-made enviroment was famous amongst his colleaques. Paying back a small loan could go unnoticed till Varis would later come around asking for payment. As soon as an idea came to him he started visualizing it in a rapid flow of sketches. His thinking was that this helped him to avoid unnecessary musings about the right solution. Next came his asking for comments amongst those around him. The same intensity of concentration, spontaneity and asking for other’s opinion have stayed with Kyösti Varis to this very day.

While still in his youth the family moved from Joensuu to Lahti, from a city close to the eastern border to another not far away from Helsinki, the capital. The father worked as a foreman in a newspaper’s printing-shop and that’s where his son also started work as an apprentice. Due to a fragmented family-life Kyösti Varis never finished school, further study had to be augmented later as a sideline to work. It did not take long for him to move to Helsinki in order to increase his skills in typography by attending evening courses, even travelling to Hannover, Germany to enhance the sphere of his vision. Next came advertising, in 1957 he started work as an typographist in the Mainos Taucher agency. He stayed two years with Taucher, then moving to the SEK agency apprenticing as an art-director. At SEK he came to work closely with two rising stars in Finnish advertising, Eero Kinnunen and Kari Mannerla. The former was the agency’s planning director, Mannerla was assistant managing director. Their co-operation did produce some of the benchmarks on Finnish advertising of this period, the agency’s own advertisement Who’s to lift the cat’s tail? by Kinnunen and Varis won the prize for the best newspaper ad in the 1965 Rizzoli competition.

One of the most memorable campaigns of its time was the My husband is a SuperMan-poster created for Shell Oil. In the picture a well-known fashion model in high-heeled shoes is pushing a baby-carriage with visibly vigorous triplets. Combining male powers with life on the fast track was not news, but now a superpower gasoline was being advertised by a supermother of triplets. This type of picture has been classified as showing “an immaculate woman as center for male attention – always more beautiful, more sleek and more happy than those watching”. In a study by Risto Heiskala it has been estimated that in the 1950’s the role of a woman in advertising was threefold: mother, wife and a thing of beauty. In this Shell poster all three are there at the same time. The caption can be interpreted in a variety of ways, in the end the targets of the message are men. The purpose of the mother and the triplets is to lead our thoughts to the high-powered father – and the high-powered gasoline. The picture achieves this by simple means, it’s a combination of separate photographs taken by Matti Pietinen in his studio.

Amongst the accounts that SEK had at time were many important Finnish companies. One of them was UPO, an appliance maker in a growing market. The year 1962 saw a couple of early UPO-posters by Varis: Working is easy with UPO and White Christmas. Both of these were drawn using a strong black line and the “White Christmas”-poster has elements of paper-cuts thus continueing a style already associated with Varis. In the “Easy”-poster a housewife shows how things start working just by plugging-in the appliance to the socket.

In the Christmastime poster a small Santa’s helper has used a white bedsheet to clean her dirty fingers, but an UPO washing-machine comes to the rescue to the soothing tune of the well-kown Yuletide song.
The housewife in the “Easy”-poster is a unerotic person satisfied with her lot of chores, a stereotype much seen in Finnish advertising in the early postwar years. The contrast to the Shell superwoman is a turning point; Upo is old-school, Shell a vanguard of things to come. Sex and things erotic had been used before, an early example from the year 1907 is the “Bil-Bol”-poster by Akseli Gallén-Kallela for a car-dealer company.

But this is a lone example, first in the years starting from 1960 sex-appeal was brought to the limelight, this coinciding with the general development of things. Historians of Finnish advertising Visa Heinonen and Hannu Konttinen say that “the female body was made erotic towards the end of the 1960’s in advertisements for enjoyment goods”. The same applies also to the male figure, especially in tobacco advertising.

In stride with the UPO-posters Varis uses a straightforward approach to advertise the Sateenkaari plastic boots. (It is to be noted here that “sateenkaari” translates as “rainbow”.) A series of three posters show the colorful selection of these boots with possible users drawn into the picture with a strong hand.

From this same period (1963-65) come the advertisements for Asko Bonnell-mattresses. The comfort these mattresses give to the sleeper’s body is depicted by letting the letter “O” to contour softly the surface of the mattress. A study of typography may have helped the designer to concieve this idea.

In the early 1960s many people travelled for their vacations from Finland to the island of Gotland close tothe coast of Sweden or to parts of Northern Germany. The Gotland -poster was made in 1963. The route used by the Finnlines ferries was called Hansaweg- (The Hanseatic Route) and to interest German tourist to use the same service a poster was made to illustrate the joys of this mode of travel. A carefree lady is sunning herself in a deck-chair shading her face with a hat in the form of a car with the wheels doing duty as sunglasses. Travelling by ferry with your car was news of the day.

Two posters from 1965, one for a Lions` conference , the other for a West Side Story operatic production take the designer’s picture-talk even further. Yet they are still part of a phase, which according to the Polish writer Zdzislaw Schubert is governed by traditional graphic means. Schubert divides the works of Varis into three parts, which we will use as a guideline to our further comments.

The Lions poster came to be at a very fast tempo as not much time was given to produce it, yet Varis was pleased with the resulting work. Not the least because he felt satisfaction having found a solution he liked despite the pressure of time imposed on him. In the poster pictographic silhouttes move forward to viewpoints-of-interest from one to the next. This work, with the looks of a wood-cut with underlined clumsiness is rather atypical for Varis.The West Side Story poster shows black hands reaching upwards from the fenced-in back alleys of New York. In this snapshot-of-life we sense the gang-wars and their movements in the labyrinths of a metropolis.

One is tempted to add to this phase even a late work from 1969, a poster for an exhibition of textiles by the metsovaara- textile company. The main elements of the poster are the syllables in the word “metsovaara” which are stacked one upon the other. This all-black element is enlivened by forming the letter “O” out of a bundle of green yarn. This composition was to become later the company’s official sign. Both the Lions and Metsovaara poster have an air of something called Finnish Design, Marjatta Metsovaara’s creations were at this time at the forefront of this movement.

Mainosgraafikot, MG for short, is a membership-by-invitation organization of Finnish graphic designers.Skilled poster-artist are welcome and competitions amongst the members wereoften organised. In 1966 MG together with the Press Photogrphers Association arranged a competition for a poster to promote an Accident Free Wednesday -movement. Kyösti Varis was the winner in 1967 with a poster, in which the driver of a small red car cruises along so carefully that an egg on the roof of the car stays intact. A black background brings out the picture in the middle. Although this poster does not differ from the previous ones it is already part of a social-conscious movement of the late sixties. It combines elements typical of Varis: a good visual idea and humor. This poster is a Finnish classic on an international level.

The first phase comprises also posters designed for the furniture company Asko which had opened a number of retail-stores in the German Federal Republic as well as in Sweden. One of the elements in the Asko marketing strategy was to combine the art of Finnish woodworking with the image of the Finnish forests. The photographer Matti A. Pitkänen who was later to be appointed to the Finnish Academy and Varis made a trip to Kuusamo in north-eastern Finland to catch the indian-summer colours of the woods into pictures together with Asko furniture. Ultramodern chairs against a background of colourful trees, mountains and lakes was the theme brought out by new methods in photography and silk-screen printing. The posters contained elements of pop-art as well as designers’ textiles.

The Finnish national airline Aero had been re-named Finnair. An intercompany competition was arranged in SEK in 1966 to design a new company logotype for the airline as well as to envisage applications of the same. Kyösti Varis won hands down and for a long time it might have been the best-known Finnish company sign visible out in the world.

There’s no looking back

Kyösti Varis had risen at SEK to the position of artistic director. At this point he had been offered a job as planning director at the Markkinointi Viherjuuri agency. Unlike Varis the decision to move on took a long time in coming to the very frustration of SEK’s top management. Finally he was asked to stop humming and hawing to which his answer was that he had now been humming (read: whistling) for eight years and it was time to get out. The time at MV was to last a scant two years after which Varis started a small agency of his own in 1969. This company was soon to add to its name the names of Jussi Poteri and Jukka Veistola and thus the legendary VPV agency was born. As far as Kyösti Varis was concerned a shy priner’s apprentice had developed into a many-sided marketing and advertising professional. He did not limit himself to managerial endeavours alone but did also participate in the creative work at hand. During these years he took part in briefings and development work as well as checking the quality of the agency’s final proposals. Added to this was the need to do something he could sign himself, at the end of each year there had to be posters and logotypes he had created himself to be entered into appropriate competitions. Many of these were conceived during evenings at home when challenges arose. Meeting challenges has been part of the man’s nature, according to journalist Juha Tanttu Kyösti Varis has urged himself and others “not to look back but to surge forwards instead”.

According to Schubert’s study the second phase in the developmet of posters by Varis is the combining of two conceptula elements and making the spectator to look beyond the first impression the poster makes. Typical for the Varis posters is the basic idea out of which the rest is born. A thought, a basic form, a sign, a new direction he was taking towards the end of the sixties. Although many of the works previously mentioned still showed signs of the spiritual and technical traditions of the past, many have also been made possible by the use of modern methods in photography and silkscreen printing. But a new phase was still to come during which many works were born out of the designer’s own will and interests. The world had come to a point of change in the political and spiritual thinking with everybody taking responsibility not only for one’s own doings but also for the global problems. Varis did join in.

The frist sign of this new period is a poster from the year 1968. It carries the name “Nicotine Cross”. There had emerged a worldwide discussion about the dangers of smoking. Being alerted to the benefits of healthy living Varis decided to stop the nicotine habit. In his desk-drawer he found a ready-made poster, two cigarettes forming a cross on a dark background. The scale is black and white, only the tip-end of the broken cigarette is still giving a faint red glow. To test the idea he entered a competition arranged by MG and the poster was well-received. Thereafter this striking picture was a winner. A Silver Medal in the Warsaw Poster Biennale in 1968, a Honourable Mention the same year in the exhibition “Best Finnish Posters”. In the 1970 Brno Biennale a Grand Prix and Gold Medal for the Nicotine cross together with the Pike Wrappings- for the newspaper Savon Sanomat and another Cross -poster this one depiciting the dangers of careless driving. And last but not least a diploma at the 1975 Creativity Annual Award Show.

The “Nicotine Cross” initiated the victories of Finnish posters in international competition. The very minimalistic black and white posters with conscientious messages became representatives of the Finnish poster school giving food-for-thought even to the very strong Polish designers.

The VPV agency was a creative beehive with ideas flying to all directions. It was the hot-shop of its time. Jukka Veistola started to equal Varis with the number of awards won, other names emerged: Herbie Kastemaa, Pekka Kuronen and Erkki Ruuhinen. The Warsaw Biennale was started in 1966 and in the years following the works of about twenty Finnish graphic desgners were shown. Most of them were working along social themes using black and white photographs printed in a newspaperlike manner. This use of pictures gave the posters an aura of documentary importance thus deepening their message. The works were not striving to give aesthetic pleasure in contrast to the posters of earlyer years. At this point it is easy to understand that a Pole like Schubert looking from a different historic enviroment compares the works of Varis with the austerity of Finnish architecture and industrial design. The socially conscientious posters were using photographs similar to those used in advertising. Merja Salo in her study of Finnish advertising photography has come to the conclusion that “the picture-talk of social advertising in the 70’s was similar to that seen in advertising”. Salo calls this period “The Decade of The Poster” because of the power and information-value attained at this time.

Also the next poster to win a mention for Varis at Warsaw in 1970 reminded the viewer of the dangers of smoking. The glowing cigarette has a scale on its side marked at ten-year intervals. The anti-tobacco movement claimed that the more you smoked the less years you still had left to live. Jussi Poteri, the copy-writing partner of the agency was ready with the caption Your Lifemeter . The same simplicity of style is apparent also in the “Cross”-series poster reminding people to drive carefuly. A cross drawn over the road’s white centerline speaks for itself. In this ascetic poster as well as in the works of Ruuhinen and Kuronen the feeling of worry and resposibility is all-apparent. The Finnish poster artists had learned a language of social importance.

This period is not austerity alone, there can also be some color and humor as a spice to the messsage, even if the artistic means are the same all through. One of these is the “Pike Wrappings”-poster for a locally important newspaper. The purpose was to illustrate the coverage of this newspaper by wrapping a big pike into this very paper in the style of the local fishmongers. Problem was that no fish of the necessary size was available, so that the pike in the pictue is actually a much shorter specimen cut in half. No harm intended.
The Finnish Culture Weeks were celebrated in Warsaw in 1974 and a poster by Varis was part of the proceedings. The idea had been conceived a year earlyer as a result of a MG members’ competition. A poster-sized postcard from Finland addressed to the Polish people was an appropriate door-to-door envoy of good relations between the two countries.

In 1970 Kyösti Varis and Jussi Poteri were invited to present ideas for posters celebrating the efforts of protecting the world’s enviroment. A series was born with the caption Now we carry the ball. The global worry about the destruction of our nature and resources was made apparent in a clear, but softspoken manner. Warm humor rather than fire-breathing sermon was used. The posters depicted the globe sitting on a chamberpot, fighting noise and swimming in polluted waters. Years after these posters could still be seen on the walls on enviromentally conscious people. A good poster never grows old.

In Schubert’s view the third phase coincides with the 1970’s. It is a period of semantics and humor. An example of this is the Voi-voi -poster of 1976. To a person not speaking Finnish an explanation is in place. The word “voi” means “butter”, but spoken repetidiously “voi-voi” translates as “Oh, my God!”. You understand this and the poster is an open book. The overweight man sculpted in butter says it all. A Savignac-like solution stays in memory longer than dry statistics about healthy eating- habits.
A poster for Volkswagen is a latecomer of the year 1974. Earlyer commercial posters were no strangers to Varis, but now times were changing and in advertising other medias were ekeing out posters from the scene. As a commercial message this poster is soft-spoken and aestethic. The four colourful cars growing out of the VW-logo make the poster resemble a printed fabric suited for the children’s room, for the window of a youngish lad.

A poster for Volkswagen is a latecomer of the year 1974. Earlier commercial posters were no strangers to Varis, but now times were changing and in advertising other medias were ekeing out posters from the scene. As a commercial message this poster is soft-spoken and aestethic. The four colourful cars growing out of the VW-logo make the poster resemble a printed fabric suited for the children’s room, for the window of a youngish lad.

On home turf this Volkswagen-poster was voted as one of the best of the year as well as given a Gold Medal at the first Lahti Poster Biennale. At the same time recognition on the international scene was also growing. The prizes awarded at Warzaw and Brno had drawn attention to this Finn and in 1974 he was invited to join AGI, Alliance Graphique International. Like MG in Finland AGI is a membership-by-invitation-only organization, entry cannot be sought, it has to be earned. The global membership consists of poster-artist and graphic designers on top of their profession, the two Finnish members before Varis were Matti Mykkänen and Unto Jäsberg. At the same time with Varis also Jukka Veistola was invited to join, later in the 1990’s Tapani Artomaa and Kari Piippo. The Finns form a good group within AGI.

Lahti is an internationally known ski-center for competition in the Nordic events. While in Lahti as a kid Kyösti Varis was competing in junior ski-jumping with the rest of the boys. In the 1970’s he could draw from this experience, first designing a poster for the annual Lahti ski-games and then working on the whole spectre of graphics for the 1978 World Ski Championships. In a poster of the year 1972 he invites the sporting public “to jump to Lahti to give boost to the athletes ”. His starting point was the joy of the spectators. Instead of a traditional picture of vigorous athletes Varis turns his attention to the stadium pubclic dressed in loud colours and with loud voices. Especially during the World Championships the spectators number tens of thousends, by placing several posters side-by-side this same effect of a people’s fiesta could be achieved.

In 1978 Varis was mainly working on the logo of the Championships, others in the agency took care of the planning of advertising. The logotype was to follow the same lines all through the 70’s depicting the three winners poised to receive their medals with theis skis pointing skywards at their side. There were to be a couple more Lahti posters, these more colourful than their predecessors.

There are also other posters designed to promote sports. Varis himself is no stranger to jogging and other athletic endeavours which in turn have made him known amongst the leaders of sporting organizations. This in turn has also meant new orders. One of the big annual events is a team-relay run "Finland runs" through the whole of Finland from way above the Arctic Circle to Helsinki. As the event starts in Lapland the choice of a reindeer’s antlers as part of the graphic symbol is a natural. The running figure is drawn with a strong black outline making it more a logo than a poster.

A Swedish colleaque Göran Bergkvist states that to his mind the Smoking donkey of 1980 is a good example of the designer’s crystal-clear thinking. In this poster Varis returns to the methods used in the socially-minded works of the sixties. This time, however, a photograph was used and the donkey is a stage-prop, but the background is black, the lighting is dramatic and no explanation is needed – only donkies smoke cigarettes. This poster has given reason to didvided opinions, some say it’s a good one, others feel that it is raw and unsettled. Varis himself feels that it is the way it should be.

Like sports, also music has had an added-value effect for Varis in his leisure hours. Many friends rememberhis playing a clarinet sitting on a rock at his island rereat. Dressed in an after-sauna robe, silhouetted against a setting sun he looks like an oriental magician playing for his snakes. Many a jazz evergreen has filled the evening air during the late hours of the day, maybe even the early hours of the new morning. Whether music is the chicken or the egg can be discussed, in any case many of the best works by Kyösti Varis are music-connected. Their common denominator is formal simplicity, a sparkling idea, often also a dash of humor and the use of the black and white colour palette. The poster for a concert by Heikki Sarmato in 1977 follows these lines. The lay-out is traditonal. On top there in the headline-like caption, below the keybord of a black piano with white hands, one of the feet is tapping rhythm. The free flow of the artwork gives a promise of a laid-back concert atmosphere. The same applies to the poster for the Pori Jazz Festival 1982. The main attraction was a concert by Benny Goodman, a Varis idol. To help an idea to be born a clarinet lay on the designer’s drawing board. In the poster a spray-painted clarinet by Matti Sivonen wiggles its way upwards like a snake under magic. The instrument draws the spellbound listeners into the realm of jazz. Nothing more is needed, just the black clarinet against a white background, a clear copy on top, that’s all. Both posters carry the youthful spirit that Kyösti Varis uses to energize friends and relatives at times of leisure.

The Lahti Organ Festival and Kyösti Varis have often worked together. The designer has felt compelled to avoid any laid-back undertones in this type of work. The music and the Alvar Aalto-designed church require a graphic solution at par with these elements. The poster Lahti Organ Festival is made up by this text rising diagonally from left to right. The lettering with its thin lines gives an impression of a black and white keyboard.

The same concept is used a year later in a poster for the Lahden Poster Biennalen. The biennale was into its tenth time and five foreign designers and five Finns were invited to design a poster for the event, one of the Finns being Kyösti Varis. This time the text ascends steeply up taking along the cork of a Champagne bottle. The movement upwards helps one to reach a festive mood, the diagonality itself is one of the classic forms used by designers.

The German historian Jürgen Döring has divided the postwar poster art into two separate groups: anecdote-humoristic drawings and typographic compositions. The poster “Weniger Lärm” of 1960 by a central figure in the Swiss poster school, Josef Müller-Brockmann, is an example of the effectiveness of the diagonal composition. The use of a similar technique by Varis is hardly intentional. What very often happens is that a tradition is unconsciously adopted to one’s own use.

The latest posters by Kyösti Varis have to do with the closeness of his home to the sea and sailboats in a marina within a stone’s throw. One example are the posters for the Espoo-Suursaari Race. In the poster from 2001 the letters take the form of a sail, the colours are blue and white. The Libris bookprinters have in recent years been supportive of postermaking in order to manifest their own operations. In 2002 the chosen theme was Doping in sports. The design by Varis is again using an all- black background to highlite two yellow measuring tapes, one reaching a scant centimetre longer than the other. The poster combines all the winning elements of the 1970’s with a new horizontal lay-out. In the “Your Lifemeter”-poster the measurements taken were years, now doping gives you centimetres. Is it worth it because it also affects your life’s expectancy. Kyösti Varis has returned back to his earlyer years, to shooting point-blank with a message.

A young man aspiring to reach new heights had asked Eero Kinnunen at SEK how to become as famous as Kyösti Varis. The list of his benchmark achievements is a long one. The experience in marketing and advertising accumulated throughout the years is almost unmeasurable. It takes a lot of savvy to beat all that.


Yusaku Kamekura (1925-1997)
President of Japan Graphic Designers Association

Graphic design, I think, is a kind of universal language. It can also act as a barometer to the cultural climate of a country. Although I know no Finnish, Kyösti Varis´posters communicate his intentions to me clearly and appealingly. They have the power to persuade the viewer through this language which transcends barriers. Naturally, an important element of this persuasive power is the means of expression Varis´use of humor admirably accomplishes the task of communication. Lots of graphic designers see humor as a means of expression; for example, Savignac, Francois, Folon and Shigeo Fukuda. Where Varis differs from these designers, whoever, is in the wholesomeness and warmt of this humor.

Unfortunately, I am not familiar with Finnish graphic design. In Japan, howerer, we are aware of the high standard of Finnish design, as exemlifield by glass tableware bearing names like Wirkkala, Sarpaneva and Kaj Frank. Such products are widely used by Japanese families. Finnish graphic design, on the other hand, is not well-known over here so I am afraid I am not qualified to comment on the work of Finnish grahic designers.

Geographically Finland and Japan could hardly be further apart. The one country is at the northern end of Asia. In the eyes of graphic designers living in the east, Kyösti Varis´ poster designs seem extremely exotic. There is a simplicity to his humor witch reminds me somewhat of the work of the Swiss designer, Herbert Leupin, though of course the nuances of their expression differ. Varis humor´lacks the harsness and the bite of certain other contemporary designers. The wholesomeness and warmth that his work conveys comes, I think, from his gentle, rural sense of humor. And perhaps gives us a clue to Finlands´s high cultural standards.


Tapani Aartomaa
Professor, Graphic Designer (1934-2009)

The late Juha Tanttu used to speak of the footprints of a crow. This was a play with words as “varis” is a “crow” in Finnish. But Juha, a skillful observer of things cultural saw what was happening. The footprints that this “crow” has left behind in the form of logotypes and other signs have for decades been a visible part of the progress made in the field of visual communication.

As a starting point for this work has been an understading of the very core of what it is all about and then giving this core a visual form. Sometimes spiced with subtle humor like the runner with reindeer antlers in the poster for the Lapland to Helsinki team relay. Globally the original Finnair logo with all its applications illustrates his thinking in a way that his colleaques admire to this very day.

Examples abound. In 1953 Björn Landström together with some talented young graphic designers founded Mainosgraafikot MG, the membership-by-invitation-only organization of Finnish Graphic Designers. In 1992 MG published a book “100 Finnish Company Signs”. In this book 20 of the examples selected were by Kyösti Varis. This illustrates the importance of his work as judged by his colleaques. Maybe the number could have been even greater, but even as such it tells us about the footprints by this bird. Footprints that we meet in our everyday life as messages easy to understand. Simultaneousy they are greetings by a very talented craftsman, Kyösti Varis is The Finnish Graphic Designer of The Year 2002.

In 1996 Graphis Press Corporation published a book called “World Trademarks 100 Years”, three of these were designs by Kyösti Varis. One for Finnair, one for Yhtyneet Kuvalehdet Publishers and one for the Lapland to Helsinki team-relay run.


Hannu Konttinen
Varis Poteri Veistola- copywriter 1973-1978

The Finns love giving people nicknames. This may be because some of the Finnish words are unpronaunceable even for the natives.

They also have a proverb claiming that the more one has these nicknames, the more she or he is held in high esteem. Kyösti Varis has quite a number: Kössi, Tsöbe, Kyöppä, Kyöpeli (Leprechaun), Vaakku (a noisy crow) etc. For me he’s always been Kössi, although at certain moments also Köppels (Göbbels). But then I did not always claim to be an exemplary disciple.
Kössi is known for his posters and signs, but he’s also been one of the pioneers in managing an advertising agency. Our love-hate relationship started the moment we met for the first time. He called me and said he was looking for a promising copywriter. I felt honoured and made a promise to come by. The agency was well respected, the walls covered with diplomas for past achievements.

Kössi started by describing the agency’s mode of working: “We are a no-holds-barred group of people. Prepared like boy-scouts to toss ideas the moment a client calls”. I did not like his attitude, like he did not appreciate my professionalism. My loftiness did not seem to affect him. It was a duel of minds and of so-called values. But Kössi did not give up. At the very end there was on thing we could agree upon: no-holds-barred advertising. Thus my five-year growing season in Kössi’s nursery got its start.
An expert on creativity, professor Jorma Heikkilä claims to have found out, that a truly creative person can be identified by his ability to endure different ideas and chaos surrounding him. In this respect Kössi is a natural. He had chosen two partners from amongst the younger set, both of them on top of their creativity: Jussi Poteri and Jukka Veistola. To assist them Kössi had hired a group of young, hungry lions.

The agency was crammed with future promises like Reima Tahvanainen, Mika Kasurinen, Harry Finér, Heiki Nieminen, Herbie Kastemaa, Liisi Savolainen and Reino Uusitalo. We were a bunch of obnoxious and self-esteeming revolutionaries, but Kössi could take us little devils well in his stride. He only came out as our boss when our ideas were not good enough. Even then he only spurred us for more. Otherwise our life was a free-for-all. The two passwords were avantgarde and psychedelism. The list of our idols was a long one: the hippies, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Pentti Saarikoski, Hannu Salama, Robert Crumb, Mary Quant and Mao. Testimony to this was made highly visible.

Kössi’s office and the conference-rooms were always tip-top, all other spaces carried a resemblance to an anarchists? daycare-center. But so it had to be, in Sweden at the time agencies advertised that “a good shop had to have the looks of a kindergarden”. Another slogan borrowed from the Swedes went as follows: “Creativity laughs”. And we sure made true of this credo even while working because this maybe even was expected of us. The walls of the rooms were covered with all kinds of creative rigmarole: daredevil drawings, hellbend ideas and linquistic gymnastics.

When clients in gray flannel suits came to visit Kössi asked the wildest ones to be removed. The want to topple the old order was also visible in the way we dressed. The signs of times were torn jeans, drooping mustaches and overlong hair. At clients’ meetings we were like a walking catasthrophe. Even here Kössi produced a solution, he hired a fashion-designer to dress us proper. A VPV-dress in black fabric was created. There was a bit of unisex, Marimekko, jeans, beatlemania and Mao.

Kössi belongs to the Hall of Fame of Finnish agency bosses. The one great thing was his readiness to hireyoung talents, who at first always tried to beat him in the game of creativity. Another thing was his supporting us even when we really and truly goofed ourselves in the eyes of the clients. Jukka Veistola and I once fell flat on our faces because the executives of the client were filling the conference room and we had been unable to produce anything worth showing to them. It was the new clients’ first meeting with us and Kössi tried to come to our rescue.

Ponderously he said: “Producing good ideas is not like running a machine. So far we have not been able to come up with a workable solution to your problem. Mediocre ideas we do not want to show to you because we would not want you to buy them”. The top client was making himself ready to leave the room with his troops, Kössi was full of apology and promised that come Monday everyone in the room would have our proposal on his desk.

It was a glorious weekend. We worked from early morning till late at night. On Monday morning folders were ready to be delivered as promised. It was one heck-of-a-package with everything from a new brandname to examples of dealers’ advertising. The client was ready for a co-operation with us but for one condition – no more empty hands on presentation day. The product was a success. A film was awarded a diploma at Cannes. The client stayed with the agency for a number of years, to the benefit of both parties. I had learned something important in the process; wonders can be produced in two days – if the will is there.
The VPV agency was the work of Kössi, the boss. A pioneer in many ways, it was the first agency to be run by the creative staff, it was a hot shop as the term goes. There were no account executives, no middle management.

Those working on advertising planning were also reponsible for the client contacts. Creativity was the all-encompassing idea, a craving to produce good advertising went before the money to be earned. The concept was unique for its times. The results were so good that five years after VPV had disappeared from the scene, it still came up as the tops in creativity when agencies’ images were researched. To the chagrin of the others. As a sign of the times VPV was like fresh wind blowing through the agency alley. Maybe something similar will happen again in Finnish advertising. At least in London and New York hot shops are on the return.