Fast Chat: Åsk Wäppling

The legendary ad blogger on Instagram creatives, brands riding the Reddit wave, and how agencies can save themselves

Åsk Wäppling was blogging about advertising long before most people were blogging about anything. She started what is now Adland.tv back in April 1996. In the 16 and a half years since, she's covered every notable ad agency and marketing trend, big and small, and every major TV, print, outdoor and digital campaign worth seeing. And she's done it all as a side project—with wit, humor, style and more than a little improvisation—while holding down agency jobs around the world.

Born in Sweden and raised in North Carolina, Wäppling—aka Dabitch—is an art director by trade who is now specializing in digital. Having recently moved to the U.S. from Europe, she sat down with Adweek to talk about the state of her site, the (sorry) state of young creatives today, and the future of advertising agencies—if there is one.

Give us the Cliffs Notes version of how Adland has evolved since you started it.

When it started, I was just a young ad pup. I had my internships and my first job, but I didn't have a decent gig yet. I was in San Francisco, and I was boring the hell out of every person I knew by talking about ads constantly. I was using my camera, back when it was film, photographing billboards all the time. And people thought I was just insane.

So, I started building that site because I didn't want to bug my friends about it anymore. And I thought, "There must be other people out there who are equally obsessed." Because if you looked at the web, there were all kinds of weirdos meeting each other. So, why wouldn't there be advertising-obsessed weirdos meeting each other?

Turns out there are.

There are a lot of them. I started getting a lot of emails from people who were reading the site. Too many emails. It just became a chore every day to talk individually to all these people. So, I decided to make it a big site where everybody can come with their news and everybody can post comments and everybody can share what they're thinking right now.

You were ahead of the trades and everybody else.

Yeah. I didn't even think about it then. Because I was also a geek. I was at Slashdot. And you know, at Slashdot, that's what you do. That's also why the AnonymousCoward on Adland is the AnonymousCoward. It's a nod back to Slashdot, because if you have an account there, you can post under your user name or anonymously. And you can filter out AnonymousCowards. Usually that's troll bait—stuff you might not want to be reading all the time.

How did you keep up with the site as it got bigger?

Well, it was pretty expensive back then, too, to get a decent server. I bought the first one but outgrew it instantly. So, I started building servers, because that was cheaper. I would actually build the machines. These days, you can keep everything in Amazon Cloud or whatever. You can start and deploy a server in 10 minutes. Back then it was difficult.

Last year you had a crisis, where you had to ask for donation to pay the server fee.

Yeah, the bills can get outrageous. A little under $3,000 for one month? Yeah, that's outrageous. And people will assume that if you put Google Ads on it, that it will make money and everything will be fine. But first of all, Google Ads don't pay that much, particularly with a clientele that never clicks ads, which are advertising people. And second of all, I haven't really spent much time trying to put ads on it. I was very much against it. I sent out a press release—what, six years ago?—saying, "We're the advertising site not supported by advertising." That's when members had to pay to watch the commercials, because that's really the bandwidth-hogging stuff. That was between 2003 and 2007 or 2008. And since then it's advertising supported, but it's not really. It's all out of my pocket.