– Since 1899 –

The birth of
an industry

1899: Katalog udkommer i Morgen Tirsdag - Sylvester Hvid

1899

In 1899, business was slow for the young bicycle dealer Jens Sylvester-Hvid in his Copenhagen bike shop. Cycling was something radical new and bicycles not yet accepted as a means of transportation. Jens Sylvester-Hvid was inspired by the evolution in the United States where the new phenomenon “advertising” was already blooming and he quickly taught himself the techniques to push the sales of bicycles.

As it turned out, Jens Sylvester-Hvid was a natural advertising man, and the real breakthrough came when he printed 50,000 copies of his hand drawn bicycle catalog and distributed it door-to-door all over Copenhagen. Well supported by public relations initiatives, he and his bicycles became talk of the town.

Customers flocked from all over town - and not only for the bikes. Businessmen turned to Jens Sylvester-Hvid for help to market their products and services and thus, the germ for Denmark's first communications agency was sowed. Reklamebureauet A/S ("The Ad Agency") was founded on October 14, 1899. Shortly afterwards, the agency was renamed Sylvester Hvid & Co.

From day one, the agency offered creative full-service solutions. A strategy that has proved successful ever since. To this day, Sylvester Hvid & Co. is still based on a full-service marketing approach.

The early years

Jens Sylvester Hvid
Signature of Jens Sylvester-Hvid

Jens Sylvester-Hvid founded “Reklamebureauet” after becoming nationally known as a bicycle merchant.

1900

In 1900, Jens Sylvester-Hvid defined for the first time the notion advertising in Danish: "In short, to advertise is to remind people about one's existence with a business purpose in mind."

The agency set up its first offices on Amagertorv in central Copenhagen. Here, DSB (Danish State Railways) became the first major client. A collaboration so successful, that DSB stayed on as a client for more than 100 years.

1901

In 1901, Kjøbenhavns Telefon Aktie-Selskab (The KTAS Telephone Company) joined as a client – a relationship that lasted until 1988. Now, Sylvester Hvid & Co. had gained a dominant market position which was further expanded in the following years with new prominent clients such as Tuborg, De Forenede Spritfabrikker and ØK – The East Asiatic Company.

1919

After his tremendous success in Denmark, Jens Sylvester-Hvid began looking for new opportunities abroad, and in 1919 Sylvester Hvid & Co. opened a branch in New York as the first Danish advertising agency ever. The office was closed again a couple of years later, but the visionary thinking never left the agency.

Jens Sylvester-Hvid with family and friends outside their home in Lønstrup, July 1918. Danish cartoonist and illustrator Storm-P stands in the middle.
Jens Sylvester-Hvid with family and friends outside their home in Lønstrup, July 1918. Danish cartoonist and illustrator Storm-P stands in the middle.

The show must go on

1921

Cinemas popped up like mushrooms all over Denmark and in 1921, Sylvester Hvid & Co. was one of the first advertising agencies to produce commercials for the new cinema media. Back then, time was not a critical factor, and it was quite common to see commercials 3 or 4 minutes long.

Sylvester Hvid & Co. set up a company distributing cinema commercials. Through this, Sylvester Hvid & Co. became a well-known brand whose logo was displayed in the cinemas before the show. Sylvester Hvid & Co. went on distributing cinema commercials until 1995.

1928

In 1928, the founder of the agency Jens Sylvester-Hvid passed away and the company was taken over by his son Sven. Already at this time, the highbrow cultural part of the Danish press was eager attacking the advertising industry for being a degenerated way of communicating. That did not scare talented artists from taking jobs as illustrators and graphic designers at the agency, though. Most famous of them all was the legendary Danish cartoonist Robert Storm Pedersen (Storm-P).

Storm-P designed the famous posters for Green Tuborg beers with the slogan "Hvornår smager en Tuborg bedst? Hvergang!" (When does a Tuborg taste best? Always!). These posters are now considered legendary strokes of genius in Danish advertising history, and you can still find the posters hanging in pubs.

Illustrated advertisements dominate in this period of time, but Sylvester Hvid & Co. once again revolutionized the industry when the agency introduced the first human fashion models to be used in Danish advertising. The agency also left another lasting mark on the industry by being one of the founding members of the Danish advertising association.

Calm under
pressure

The offices of Sylvester Hvid & Co. on the corner of Frederiksberggade and Mikkel Bryggers Gade in 1934. During World War II, the offices were used by the Danish resistance movement.

The offices of Sylvester Hvid & Co. on the corner of Frederiksberggade and Mikkel Bryggers Gade in 1934.

1948

Sylvester Hvid & Co. survived the dark years of World War II by producing cinema commercials that were partly excepted from the occupying power's advertising restrictions and by embroidering on clothes and filling seeds in small planting bags. This way, the agency never had vacant capacity to work for the German occupying forces.

During the war, the offices of Sylvester Hvid & Co. – now on the corner of Strøget and Mikkel Bryggers Gade in central Copenhagen - was used as a hiding place by the Danish resistance movement. When the earth was burning under Sven Sylvester-Hvid over his support of the resistance movement, he escaped to Sweden with his family. After the war he returned to Denmark, ready to conquer the world and in 1948, Sylvester Hvid & Co. was one of the founding partners of the Scandinavian Triangel advertising agency in the United States. At its peak, Triangel employed 450 people.

Following trends from the United States, Sylvester Hvid & Co. started employing journalists and Denmark's first Public Relations agency was born. In the post war era Sylvester Hvid & Co. also introduced market analysis in Danish advertising. At this point, Sylvester Hvid & Co. was Denmark's unrivalled leading agency, serving companies such as Shell, Gillette, Austin, Quantas, Seven Up, Det Danske Luftfartselskab and Fuji.

1928: Tuborg advert for Sylvester Hvid
Storm-P sketched the legendary Tuborg advert for Sylvester Hvid

Made in Denmark

1950

During the “golden age of advertising” - 1950’s, 1960's and 1970's - Sylvester Hvid & Co. was one of Denmark's dominating and most successful advertising agencies and received several take-over offers from international agency networks. Unlike several independent Danish advertising agencies who could not resist the proposals and were acquired in these years, all of these offers were rejected.

1978

In 1978, the third generation of the Sylvester-Hvid family took over. Ole Sylvester-Hvid became the new owner and CEO of the agency after his father Sven and the new CEO emphasized that the agency would continue to be Danish and independent. This hasn’t changed.

Ole Sylvester-Hvid and journalist Ole Geor supporting television advertisement in 1962
Ole Sylvester-Hvid and journalist Ole Geor supporting television advertisement in 1962

A new beginning

1994

In the early 1990’s international agency networks had established themselves in Denmark and gradually taken over local budgets from international brands, they were already servicing in other parts of the world.

Danish brands, who used to be the core of the Sylvester Hvid & Co. client portfolio, were under heavy pressure from foreign competitors and many local brands disappeared from the market these years.

After years with declining turnover and less successful attempts to adapt to the new market conditions, the Sylvester-Hvid family decided in 1994 to sell the agency to Fernando Olsen, who had managed his own agency for a couple of years.

Fernando Olsen followed in the footsteps of the family but went his own way. The name of the agency was maintained, but the strategy changed which immediately led to an increase in agency turnover. In just a few years a turnaround was successfully completed and the course for a new era was set. Fernando Olsen is still the owner of the agency and change is still our guiding principle.

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