Design Bridge has created a nation-wide campaign for the Nationaal Archief (National Archives of the Netherlands) that repositions the government-run resource as a public-facing heritage centre, accessible to all. Design Bridge's 'Their past. Our present' campaign marks the opening of a major exhibition, The world of the Dutch East India Company, and capture the public's imagination by revealing the influence this vital part of national heritage has had on shaping Dutch life today.
"The National Archives of the Netherlands is an incredibly rich resource housing everything from crucial royal and government documents to correspondence from the country's most influential scientists, explorers, artists, and culture figures," commented Gary Nettleton, design director at Design Bridge. "But despite being open to the public, it's very little known outside of academic and research circles. Our challenge was to engage and excite the public about the incredible heritage available right on their doorstep. The opening of the landmark exhibition about the Dutch East India Company was the perfect opportunity to do this."
Design Bridge began by delving into the archives themselves to understand more about the influential trade network established by the Dutch East India Company, or VOC as it's known in Dutch, in the 17th century. They quickly realised the great impact the VOC, considered the first multinational corporation in the world and the most valuable corporation in history, has had in shaping modern day Netherlands. They created the campaign idea 'Their past. Our present' to communicate this lasting legacy to today's public.
Both the exhibition and the archives in general celebrate Dutch history without shying away from some of the more difficult facts from the past. Design Bridge felt it was important for their campaign to do the same. Each campaign poster is divided into two distinct halves that allow the past and present to collide through provocative statements and visuals based on historic facts, often with surprising and striking results.
"One of the more provocative posters is 'No business without battle,' which pits the portrait of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, one of the most brutal Governor-Generals of the VOC, against a contemporary suited businessman," said Claire Parker, Executive Creative Director at Design Bridge. "The arresting image suggests that capitalism and business as we know it today is a direct result of the VOC's often-aggressive dominance of spice trade routes with the East."
Other posters in the campaign are more light-hearted but continue to surprise, such as 'No Delft without China,' revealing how today's celebrated Delft pottery tradition was only possible after Chinese ceramic techniques reached Europe via the VOC, and 'Geen Speculaas Zonder Speculeren,' a Dutch play on words about how the traditional spiced biscuit (speculaas) would not have been possible without the spices from the VOC's extensive business and trade operations.
In the coming months the campaign will be used online, on social media and the posters will be displayed in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and in train stations. A short advert inspired by Design Bridge's work will also air on national radio and TV.