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Cannes you dig it ?

Funny place,  Cannes.

It’s not a real town. It was invented as a conference centre in the early 1900s.

So you know that feeling of fakeness you get in Cannes ?

It’s genuine.

And I’ve always felt a bit like a poisson au dehors de l’eau there.

This may be because, when I was on holiday there as a seven-year-old, I lost my teddy bear on the beach. True story. I cried all the way back to our hotel in St Raphael.

And it wasn’t helped by the particular circumstances of my getting home this week.

I got back very late on Thursday night because the flight was delayed, I was sitting next to two people who had clearly lunched long and well,  my booked taxi didn’t turn up, I ran down 5 levels to get on the very last Tube train which didn’t stop at my station because they were mending the lifts, walked a mile home, found that the builders hadn’t finished what they were supposed to be finishing, decided to watch the footy from 100 minutes in on Sky plus, and turned on JUST in time to see Luis Suarez’s first goal.

And it’s not helped by my being an introvert. Cannes is for extroverts. My latest Myers Briggs synopsis is IPQR (Introvert Prissy Quixotic Radical) although it changes on an hourly basis. Just a couple of days ago it was SMOC (Sagittarius Mollycoddled Onanistic Chelsea fan).

Which is odd, because I’m definitely not Sagittarius.

Or it may be because, as Claire Beale touched on in a recent editorial, that a festival which was once all about creativity has been rather hijacked from that goal.

Cannes is a league table of creativity – and that is not what creativity is about. It means that accountants and chief financial officers can analyse creativity.

It’s largely because of that, that the advertising industry is in the dire dreadful hopeless mess that it’s in right now.

Advertising is a lousy business model, which is why it’s run by accountants. They’re the only people who can package it up and sell it to the short-term high-frequency bastards in the City.

But because it’s run by accountants, it’s lost its way and its purpose.

Which makes it an even worse business model than it was before.

I was down there this year giving a talk at a very pleasant conference which was populated by very pleasant European publishers and media buyers. At least I think it was. I only understood a fraction of what they were talking about.

The chateau, about an hour outside Cannes, had wonderful grounds and a glorious swimming pool.

In previous years, I’ve made the mistake of going into Cannes itself. I’ve been damaged very badly, in the wallet area, the liver, and the ego. Although I did make the inspired decision of NOT going the year when HHCL won the Grand Prix, deciding I would rather watch the Test at Lord’s.

Anyway, I was at this conference wearing my Decoded hat. A jaunty, nautical number.

(I can remember a previous business partner announcing in a discussion about Lego that he was wearing his “Lego hat”. It makes me feel sorry for the poor people working on McDonald’s.)

(Let alone Herta Frankfurters.)

A team from Decoded was talking about what happens when data meets creativity – and that is a genuinely  fascinating topic.

In my view data needs to cosy up with creative people – because creative people at least want to connect with their audiences. If it just sits in the analytical part of the industry, the whole thing will get even more cynical than it is right now.

There’s a big difference between the people who want to “capture” audiences and those who want to connect with them.

I’ve always hated how the advertising industry describes its audiences – how can you possibly communicate well with someone you only know as “a C2 housewife” ?

But let’s see.

It’s not so much that the barbarians are at the gates, more that they’ve moved in and pre-booked all  the best rooms.

Incidentally, the Decoded Oracle, which collated data from all over the place to predict the winner of the Film Grand Prix, got it right.

Does this mean that data can work together with creativity ?

I’d like to be optimistic.  But Cannes has a habit of bleaching some of the optimism out of me.

I’ve heard it described as a cynical, exorbitant, exploitative, vapid exercise in dipsomaniacal willy-waving.

I think it was by me.

Of course, it always was – but at least in the old days it had the advantage of being mainly populated by creatives. Who had the wisdom, in turn,  not to take it all so seriously.

A man who made things out of time

I wish I had more David Abbott stories.

Apart from anything else I just wish I’d met him more often. I think I only properly met him once, when he offered me a job, quite early on in my career.

In a funny kind of way, I think I was avoiding him. Not, I hasten to add, because of any negative qualities in him.

He left negative qualities to other people.

And he was certainly all the things that people have said about him – as smart, as charming and as generous of spirit as anybody you could ever hope to meet. There aren’t many people in any industry, in any age, who can combine the warmth of a natural philanthrope with the looks of a Hollywood film star – while being the biggest talent of their era.

But after three years at Oxford, I felt more attracted to what I would call the “scrapper” school of advertising – people who believed in shaking things up for the sake of it and trying tricks and hanging round the back of the bike sheds. I always got the impression that for David Abbott, everything was almost effortlessly successful.

I wasn’t attracted to that kind of elegant, gentlemanly environment at that time, to be honest – but I was always silently very grateful that he was there … A beacon of courteous intelligence in a world that sometimes seemed like it was just a little too full of super-smart businessmen.

In terms of what we can all learn from David’s extraordinary career,  there’s far too much to cover in a blog – but I would draw your attention to Peter Mead’s eloquent tribute,  in which he talked about how, at the end of a strategy meeting at the Prudential, Peter said “it’s OTD time” – over to David.

Firstly, I love the unbreakable trust between the two of them – the knowledge Peter had that his creative partner would always deliver the goods. Creative trust like that is a huge and hugely worthwhile but rare-as-a-hen’s-dentist ambition.

And I also love the fact that David wasn’t at the meeting.

I was giving a workshop at an agency the other day when a senior account handler wanted to know my views on creatives meeting clients. She was genuinely shocked when I said they should meet the clients a few times but no more than that.  I quoted Martin Boase of BMP who once said that the role of the agency was to protect its creative resource.

But that attitude is long gone these days.

Along with notions like basic courtesy and having time for people.

The one time I really met David Abbott, he looked at my book with great acuity – but what I remember most was that he listened to my radio reel.

I’m not sure that I would even have listened to my own radio reel, let alone anybody else’s – but David Abbott did so with ineffable courtesy.

I haven’t forgotten the 60 minutes we spent discussing my creative work, thirty years later.

And above all else, what I treasured about this giant of our industry was that he made time for people.

His work presupposed time for an intelligent conversation – and because it was so beautifully crafted, it pulled it off.

When describing how he wrote his wonderful copy with a pen (rather than, in those days, a type- writer – remember them ?) – he described himself as “definitely low-tech”.

I wonder if that should read “defiantly low-tech”.

I’m a huge believer in the power of technology – but it needs to be handled with humanity.

And in these days of 15-minute Skype meetings, Snapchat, intranet email accounts on top of your ordinary jam-packed email account, high-frequency traders screwing the system for everybody else, Vine, and people splitting up by text, we’re going to miss someone who quite simply … took the time.

The big story of the week

I was going to write about the scrapped Omicom/Publicis merger, but everything got overtaken by Dave Bedwood’s penis.

A story in Campaign claimed that the creative director of LMFM liked to read out Private View to the staff at his agency while slowly turning a vice on his cock.

This is  the sort of story which raises a lot of important questions.

Like, for instance …….   why   ?

Maybe he thought it was called Privates View.

Although how much of Dave’s penis was actually on view either side of the vice probably depended on how far down the column he’d got and how much pressure he was applying.

Apparently there was live streaming at the event   – but that may be another typo.

However, I think the symbolism is pretty clear. Dave is saying that reading Private View is an exercise in unnecessary self-inflicted pain. Or then again, maybe he’s saying the opposite – that Private View takes something valuable and stretches it further for your enjoyment.

Either way … I’ve always been a huge fan of Lean Mean Fighting Machine and I’m now more convinced than ever before of Dave’s genius.

It prompted me to think where else a cock had made a big impact in advertising.

(And you can make up your own jokes about your boss here.)

At HHCL we once hired a senior planner and I was told after we’d given him the green light that “he always gets his cock out at agency parties”. I can remember pondering – was this a good thing or a bad thing ?

It hadn’t cropped up  in the interview.

That probably was a good thing.

But I’m generally a fan of anything which livens up an agency party – as a relief from the normal ear-bashing which you get if you’re the boss of the agency.  Although  if this new bloke wanted to bash me round the ear with his cock, that was probably a step in the wrong direction.

However, for an industry supposedly based on flair and creativity, there is actually surprisingly little exposure of the male organ of generation.  Agency chiefs are always talking about putting their balls on the line, but I’ve never actually seen one get his cock out in a pitch to demonstrate “reach” or,  god forbid, “penetration”.

But I remember writing an ad for Danepak bacon once, which had a family of nudists barbecuing the product (because it was lower in fat – so it didn’t spit so much ….)  It was actually Frank Budgen’s first commercial as a director and it won a gold lion at Cannes.

Given that we couldn’t show any naughty bits, I had the brainwave on the shoot that we should shave the cast’s pubic areas – thus gaining valuable extra centimetres of flesh we could show without getting into trouble.

(I didn’t get into the Campaign Hall of Fame for nothing, you know.)

The director agreed and I was sitting there enjoying a coffee and a bacon sandwich when someone came up and asked me if I wanted to approve the shaving.

The thought of peering at the actresses’ private parts was no great hardship but the idea of scrutinising some bloke’s meat and two veg and asking that they shave a bit more hair off his balls didn’t appeal overmuch. I said I would take it on trust but maybe Frank should cast his eye over it.

The truly shocking thing in hindsight is that I don’t remember any clients being involved in this approval process. These days they’d be all over it, discussing whether shaved pubes reflected their brand values or not.

Where do shaved pubes appear on the brand ladder ? I don’t remember seeing shaved pubes anywhere on the brand onion. That sort of discussion.

But then again very few clients these days would approve the idea of a bunch of nudists eating the bacon.

It might offend someone. And they’d be more concerned with logical take-out rather than entertainment.

So we’re left with a world where the only “risky” things are probably happening at the agency summer party.

Until that gets put through Millward Brown as well.

So go on, do what the senior planner we hired always did … and get it out.  There’s a rich seam of encouragement for this approach running through the great ad campaigns of history.

As Braniff Airlines said, “if you’ve got it flaunt it”.

As Nike said, “just do it”.

As Cadbury said, “a finger of fudge is just enough to give yourself a treat”.

Actually, forget that last one.

David Moyes and the art of rebuilding an ad agency.

The departure of David Moyes will have sent a shiver down the spines of those creative directors still in possession of that piece of their anatomy.

The fragility of tenure for football managers has always been the spectre at the feast of the creative directors’ ball. Ferguson was the exception… The only exception. The one we all believed we could be.

But Ferguson’s tenure ended and then with undue haste so did his successor’s. The way things are going, Man U will soon turn into Chelsea … and will re-hire Fergie in about five managers’ time.

Such thoughts always remind me of my own departure from TBWA – my brief foray into working for someone else – a few years ago.

It was of course very different – but then again I’d be bound to say that, whatever really happened.

These things are always clouded by legalities and other crap so I’m not going to write about them. Instead, I’m going to write briefly about a completely fictitious guy called Dirty Harry leaving a completely fictitious agency called HSBC.

In terms of that particular leaving, it was actually quite simple – Dirty Harry came to an agreement with the management team at the time that they had different goals and it’s tough enough making interesting work without battling your co-managers all the time.

Harry believed in doing stuff that was different – and the board were of the belief that they were an ad agency and should therefore be producing conventional ads.

That battle still goes on in many agencies today …

Harry liked to think that he’d made a huge difference to the agency in just a couple of years. The work changed dramatically, particularly in relation to producing non-traditional work.

But by the end of those two years Harry was just dog tired. It’s exhausting trying to turn around a big agency.

So I’m now going to try and pass on my thoughts on that incredibly difficult task.

This is me speaking now. Not Dirty Harry, obviously.

Four tips.

First, value your first impressions. When you go into an agency for the first few days, you will see how it works – and more importantly, how it doesn’t work. Most of those impressions will have been burnished by habit to become invisible to the people working there. So pay attention to those initial impressions – and act on them within a month or two. After that time you will be as blind to all the faults as the previous inhabitants.

This includes people who aren’t working at their best. I hate to say it, because I hate any “business imperative” that isn’t respectful of people … But big agencies are places where lazy people can hide – and also people who just want to maintain the status quo.

Those are my least favourite people.

Second, go and visit all the clients. Harry did this at HSBC and it worked a treat. Clients get the work they deserve – yes – but an agency is only as good as its clients.

Before taking any big job, anybody sensible would naturally ask the management team if any of the remaining accounts were rocky. The management team will assure you that they are not. But within a few weeks of getting there – actually make that a few days – you will realise that is balderdash. Any agency trying to rebuild itself is re-pitching constantly. And that is absolutely exhausting.

Three. Don’t try to change every account. Some of them just don’t want it and they’ll fight you tooth and nail. Dirty Harry tried to change all the work on all the accounts at HSBC and that just burned him up. But keep an open mind on which ones are really going to be the game-changing ones. They aren’t usually the ones you think they’ll be.

Hence Step Two above.

Four. When you find the accounts you think will reward your attention most – be ruthless. Zero tolerance for anything less than outstanding work.

Great work doesn’t come out of a laissez-faire attitude (which may help to explain why there are relatively few great French agencies).

I was talking to a client at Wieden & Kennedy once and I asked him what it was like working with that agency. “Very frustrating,” he replied. “I keep telling them I don’t like an idea and it just reappears a week later. When I ask them why, they just say ‘it’s still the best idea’. Drives me mad.”

He said this with a smile – and that’s the key thing. Be obstinate – but be charming and be smart and let the client know that you are doing this to make their work more effective.

If you do all that, maybe – just maybe – you won’t end up looking like David Moyes. I think it was Russell Brand who described Roy Hodgkinson as having a face like a haunted fairytale cottage.

Moyes has a face that looks like a haunted bus stop, watching the night bus go sailing past.

But more than anything, if you’re going to turn a tanker round, you need good PR and you need luck.

So ask yourself one question.

Do you have a genius for PR, punk ?

Afta Bafta

I was on stage at Bafta last week with Dave Droga. He’d put together a line-up of me, John Hegarty and Dave Trott to talk about bravery.

Although what a bunch of over-paid people who sit in glass offices making decisions about whether a singing tomato is better than a piano-playing mongoose know about true bravery is debatable.

But  … as well know,  it’s a topic which advertising definitely needs to explore.

For myself, I was trying to cover too many bases – talking about pushing creativity, about technology, and about ethics in advertising. All too much.

Droga, by comparison, was brilliant.

Which probably won’t surprise anybody reading this  – although I have to say he’s even better in real life than all the hype. And when the hype tells you that he’s the best CD in the world and a lovely guy, that takes some doing.

I’ve known him for many years – and he hasn’t let success spoil him. That is true for some of my closest friends, for the simple reason that success hasn’t gone anywhere near them. Dave, however,  has been many-millions-of-dollars successful and he still comes across as a beach bum who’s borrowed his elder brother’s car to come and see you.

That’s about the highest praise I could give anyone – although I’d understand if Dave didn’t see it that way.

I’d put him on a par with Dan Wieden. So that’s a par which is like a trapeze artist’s bar, suspended 100 feet above the rest of us mere mortals. I met Dan once, in Portland, and  within a few seconds I realised that if I were a client I’d give him my business there and then. He’s almost impossibly likeable, totally authentic, unbelievably smart and he commands an easy, unforced respect.

For me,  Dave and Dan both engender trust. They do this by being passionate about what they believe – the very best creativity, the most original thinking – but they do it in a way which isn’t about showing off, or scoring points, or starting fights.

They take ego out of it – and they win.

In my talk on bravery, I went into the story of Paul Polman and the Sustainable Living Plan at Unilever. Because, for my money, that’s the bravest thing that’s ever happened in marketing and the most interesting thing happening in the whole business world right now.

I haven’t met him yet, so I’ve no idea what he’s really like – but we’ve just hired his son Christian at Decoded, so maybe I will one day.

It’s always nice to meet your heroes – despite the saying.

And when the Stranglers sang “No more heroes anymore” … they hadn’t met any of these guys.

Logically, I’m on the side of emotion

I know Rory has been banging on about this for ages.

But I found myself thinking about Daniel Kahneman’s stuff the other day. Because I think there’s further work to be done on how people respond to commercial messaging.

In his  book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Kahneman argues that we all make a huge number of decisions without pondering them in the way that a focus group attendee would like to think they do. It’s fast and instinctive “System 1″ thinking.

It’s interesting if you try putting that thought together with the findings of  Les Binet and Peter Field, whose study of over 1500 IPA Effectiveness Awards showed that a mere handful succeeded through appealing to logic. The vast majority worked on an emotional level.
We are, it appears, far more influenced in our decision-making by emotion than we are by logic.

So why do we keep writing logical propositions ?

In this context, I  always used to say that the pitch process was like buying a flat – we think both hugely important processes are logical, but they aren’t.  In flat-buying, you start off with a logical checklist – e.g. three bed-rooms, large kitchen, south facing garden, 5 minutes from the tube, etc.

Then you find a flat, fall in love with it, and forget all about the logical list. It doesn’t matter if the flat only has 2 1/2 bedrooms, a scrawny north facing garden, a pokey kitchen, and it’s 12 minutes to the tube – if you like it, you forgive it all that.

So last week I found myself discussing the idea of an emotional currency within ads.

We’re all used to logical propositions – but by now we realise that they don’t actually work very well.

Maybe we should start asking questions about communications like – what’s the emotional connection? What’s the emotional promise? What are the emotional values of this brand and how are we making sure we communicate them emotionally ?

This  might lead to a greater  appreciation of the creative skills in the process – instead of spending months refining the logical aspects of a brief, we’d spend more time allowing the creatives to explore the emotive aspects of the messaging.

But that would mean giving more time and support to the creative process, something that most agencies seem loth to do.

And we also need to remember that the ancient Greeks had a word called ‘akrasia’ which means knowing that something is the “right” thing to do, but then doing something completely different.

So I guess we’ll carry on being emotionally attached to logical propositions while knowing that an emotional approach would actually be more logical.

The problem with creative people

Out of all the myriad aspects of my portfolio life – consulting at the top level, guiding agencies to winning huge chunks of new business, being with Decoded on its fascinating journey, putting out the bins, picking fluff from my belly button – one of my favourites is running creative workshops.

While giving a workshop recently, I had some interesting conversations with the creative folk. As usual, a lot of them felt very marginalised.

I just don’t get it. What’s the point of advertising, if it has no confidence in the people who make the products ?

Are creatives just bolshy over-grown kids who don’t understand the commercial realities of the business they’re in ?

Don’t answer that.

Ok, sometimes they are. But I honestly think that view is dangerously prevalent among nearly all agency leaders these days.

Maybe we marginalise creatives in the hope that – if we protect them from the crap – they might somehow change the industry ?

Maybe Richard Branson will fly Trevor Beattie to outer space on a Gloucestershire Old Spot.

It’s interesting that creatives get hardly any training or support. One of the reasons I co-founded Decoded was to help creatives understand the digital world better, but nearly all agencies send their account people first.

Like favourite children.

And I’d love to know the percentage of people involved in IPA meetings or projects who are creative.

Virtually every project you work on in an agency has at least two or three creative teams working on it. In HHCL, we allocated one creative team per project. I didn’t trust any system which allowed account people to nip around from one team to another, like a French president on a moped.

Hire good creatives, and trust them.

But of course the great advantage to agencies of creative people is how easy it is to exploit them.

If they’re working on interesting projects, creative people will work for almost nothing. They actually love doing it so much, that the work alone is rewarding enough.

(How many account people could you say that about ?)

And, in the endless repetitive charade of creative presentations – where the account director will come back from a meeting in which the client has bought the safest idea, but asked that it be made more exciting – they will encourage the creative people to do more work, playing on their natural perfectionism and indeed their love of just solving problems.

Great creative people can always keep going, can always find new answers – but that isn’t the point. The point is to MAKE something.

I remember Andy Berlin, one of the geniuses of the US ad scene (at one stage he’d had his name on three different agencies, all of which had won Agency of the Year) telling me a story once.

A client of his kept saying of every idea which was presented to him “It’s good, but is there a better one ?”

He finally said this to Andy in the pre-production meeting. The production company were, understandably, a bit non-plussed. Andy paused and then asked the client a question.

“Was your wife the best-looking woman you could have married ?”

There just comes a time when you have to make a decision. And the people who succeed in life don’t agonise like twats over every stage of the process.

The big irony in all this is this.

Keeping going back with creative ideas endlessly isn’t just a massive waste of resources. It’s also the most demoralising way you could treat your staff.

So they’ll leave.

And anyone who runs a company these days knows that finding and keeping the best talent is THE biggest problem.

So it’s time to make a commitment to your creatives:

Believe in your creative people, and believe in your creative ideas.

If you can’t do that, what’s the point of working in advertising ?

Advertising will eat itself

It’s not often that I greet the front page of Campaign with a whoop of joy.

Normally the news is pretty miserable, as accounts move around as urgently as a small ugly guy at an orgy.

What raised my whoop was a picture of one of HHCL’s most interesting campaigns (the “slag of all snacks ” for Pot Noodle) and the line “Is this the bravest ad ever made ?”  Aha, I thought. Recognition – applause – all good Lemmon Quaaludes for my status addiction.

But as is often the way in life, my lip-slavering was to be followed pretty sharpish by a slap round the chops. Because although the main article by James Denton Clark was asking some great questions, my mood was deflated as fast as a fat man on a faulty space hopper when I carried on reading.

My old mucker Jon Burley, who wrote some amazing campaigns at HHCL, said some brilliant and lovely things, although I wouldn’t have used the phrase “gleefully celebrating the inherent vileness of the dehydrated filth it was trying to sell” myself. We celebrated all we could celebrate in the product, which was its addictive taste hit – we’d finally persuaded the clients not to whitewash the message with some adland weaselling around  claims for high fibre etc.

That campaign was actually one of the first to celebrate with humour and courage a self-deprecating AND HONEST way of talking about a product.  Several years before the brilliant Skoda campaign from Fallon, for instance.

But what worried me  more  were the words from Andy Sandoz.

Let me say immediately that Andy is one of the good guys … an immensely talented and visionary man … but I got straight onto him because his comment really worried me.

Andy wrote that the campaign had led to “tanking sales” It turned out that he was merely repeating some gossip that was going round when the account moved on (a couple of years AFTER this campaign ran).

But phrases like “tanking sales” are always the spectre at the feast of great work. They’re the way the ad industry gives itself an excuse for not caring or fighting enough for great work.

“That brave stuff doesn’t work – let’s just do the average shit again.”

It’s a long time ago and I can’t remember all the details – but this industry loves to bitch. It would rather snipe and hope that by undermining a particular relationship, that it will pick up some scraps from any fallout … like a bunch of hyenas in Boss suits.  (Which is as good a definition of a new business department as you’re likely to find this year.)

I’ve spent most of my career defending HHCL from accusations of irresponsible wackiness – because we had processes in place that helped produce work that was stand-out AND effective in the market-place.

So let’s look at the gossip at the time, which insinuated that the work hadn’t worked because mums buy the product more than kids.

But  it’s much more complicated than that.

“Slag” ran for two years before we then ran an even bolder campaign about people “having the Pot Noodle horn” – a campaign which was even more out there, even braver and funnier,  than the “slag” work.

I.e., we kept on doing work aimed more at kids’ sense of humour.

Why ?

Because firstly – mums have a sense of humour. Secondly – mums recognise when you talk to kids that that tone is going to be appropriate to kids. (To take a brilliant example – Lynx.). Thirdly – kids eat the stuff and funnily enough they don’t want campaigns that talk the same language as their mums.

Look what’s happening to Facebook now – it’s losing currency with kids because Mums are on it.

So you have to tread a thin but fascinating line.

If you buy the usual crass research findings that mums are stupid and humourless – well, good luck advertising to them.

To be fair, Andy did say “ultimately tanking sales” – which reduces the criticism to being merely pretty meaningless rather than actively damaging. That’s like saying that the surreal poster campaign for B&H “ultimately” led to  declining sales of those cigarettes – completely ignoring time and a long list of other contributing factors.

At the time it ran, that campaign provided a huge boost for Pot Noodle in a very difficult market-place – and won an internal award from Unilever as their best advertising globally that year. Even more importantly, it pushed the boundaries of advertising, it explored new ways of communicating using honesty and humour. It did what creativity is supposed to do, it got talked about by being different in a way which resonated with the target market.

It genuinely pioneered a more honest and accountable approach, too.

So there will always be people who say “Sony Balls didn’t work” or “Cadbury’s Gorilla didn’t work” – and there are discussions to be had around all outstanding pieces of creative work, sure   – but unless that person’s take-out ultimately is that such innovative work is better than the average crap the industry produces … don’t listen to them.

They’re what Jerry Della Femina called “killers”, people who make a career out of saying No.

Now, Andy isn’t a killer. In fact he’s one of my favourite people in the whole god-forsaken industry.  But if this industry is ever going to get its cojones back – a weekly theme in Campaign – it has to start by celebrating what is great and interesting ….

In the world advertising needs to inhabit – of prototyping, experimenting, pushing – you would see a lot more innovative work like “slag of all snacks”.

But if “brave” is equated with stupid rather than with intelligent, which is what that piece seemed to suggest – maybe that’s because people have forgotten the point of being brave. Which is to produce work that breaks through the massive indifference most people feel for advertising.

You don’t do brave work to win awards or lark about. You do it if you want work that works.

But maybe adfolk are scared of everything these days – including their own shadow, coming towards them.

The shadow of Google.

This used to be an industry that was creative and had fun and took risks.  But it seems pretty miserable  now.

And no wonder 90% of it is shit. (The opinion of, among other people, John Hegarty, Dave Droga, and your humble blogger.)

Someone was quoted in Campaign the other day saying that 90% shit levels are OK, because that’s true of everything in life.

a. I don’t agree.

b. Remind me not to go round to their place for dinner.

A ragbag of students and strikers

I was talking to a bunch of students at the SCA last week about the need for them to fight for great work, when one of them punched me in the face.

He caught me with an uppercut to the chin, having first winded me with a short-arm jab to the stomach.

Well, not quite. Perhaps there’s an elements of exaggeration here – we were actually just discussing the topic, and everybody was incredibly well-behaved.

But that’s advertising for you these days. Nobody gets drunk at lunchtime, nobody shags on the boardroom table, nobody punches anybody.

There’s no dignity or sense of purpose left in the industry.

Did I tell you about the time I punched a client?

True story. (Although, somewhat disappointingly, it was self-defence.)

Another time perhaps.

The topic under discussion with the students was broadened to include the challenge these days of being ethically responsible, while also being creatively irresponsible.

Marketing needs to be ethical, (Finally ! Thank Christ !) but it also needs to be fun – and fun means irreverence and irresponsibility ….

I was supposed to talk for 30 minutes but the discussion went on for about 2 hours.

Very fruitful discussion, and the students were bloody great.

And then I saw some work they’d done. A campaign for Moonpig was just brilliant. The notion was to bomb the bad bastards in the world with love. So, start off by sending Valentine’s cards to Vladimir Putin with images of gay pride on them.

What I love is that the mood of the work is all positive – that’s the surprising and brilliant thing about it.

It’s like Gandhi meets Modern Toss, and Gandhi winning.

The campaign does two things I love. It starts by asking the question, how can this brand make the world a better place? And then brings that to life with a piece of brave creativity, the sort where you know people are going to argue with you.

The second idea I saw was for a political party, which could actually mend democracy. There is nothing inherently wrong with democracy, it’s just the prats who are running it.

The thinking, the work, the way the students discussed it – all of that was brilliant and felt like the best that our industry can be.

All it missed, really, was a good punch-up and a two bottles of red wine each for lunch.

I should’ve stayed for more crits, but it was the second (heavily raining) day of the Tube strike, and I had to urgently get somewhere in two and a half hours.

Like most people tramping the streets in the rain that day, I was cursing Bob Crow under my breath.

Then I thought – what is this dispute really all about ? Am I blaming the right person ? Is it really just about London Underground wanting to introduce more self-service ticketing ?

Has Bob Crow not been into a Tesco or a WH Smith in the last 6 months ?

I mean, I hate those bloody machines, but it’s very difficult to argue with that sort of progress.

So I did some digging around (avoiding most of the British press because frankly it’s about as likely to give Bob Crow a fair hearing as Vladimir Putin is to give a fair hearing to anyone who disagrees with HIS world view).

And I finally found a very good piece in the Guardian by Decca Aitkenhead, where it emerged that the reason London was paralysed was actually even less complex than I thought. RMT just want to know what London Underground  plan to do with the staff who they fully accept will lose their ticket-office jobs.

As Decca says, “this sounds like a startlingly modest matter to resolve”.

Of course it’s not just Bob Crow who’s being obstinate here – to quote Decca again,  “the boss of London Underground Limited (is) unaccountably absent from the whole row”.

But before I let rip at Mr Crow (or any of the other key players who’ve failed to resolve this issue and caused huge amounts of unnecessary misery, particularly among low-paid workers who really need to get to work) – I had a thought.

Steady on, Steve – this isn’t the Moonpig way!

The Moonpig way would say that aggression isn’t the answer.

So, here’s to Bob Crow. Happy Valentine’s Day, mate !

Here’s to really helping the low-paid workers !

The phew we got through January blues.

Advertising being a tricky business to keep on top of, I’m usually on the lookout for some tips to guide me through the months ahead. That’s why I always keep hold of Campaign’s Annual Review issue, which costs a whopping £8.95 and comes out in December, containing innumerable lists of industry excellence.

In fact, I usually forget to read it in the fog of turkey sandwiches and rancorous family arguments which is Christmas, so when I did read it this year I was surprised to find that the Annual is actually more useful for cocktail party gossip like telling people who is the 17th best account manager in London.

Or the 14th best writer of radio commercials.

Since my own category of “industry legend and freelance creative consultant who has co-founded a very successful digital enlightenment company” isn’t included, I consider the whole thing to be a giant vanity exercise.

But the lists will also tell you fascinating things like why James Murphy looks like Jim Kelly (or vice versa) and which 10 media buyers painted their testicles purple for charity.

I was astonished to find that this last list was headed by Sir Martin Sorrell, Philippa Brown, and myself. I say astonished – I mean astounded. Or perhaps “mistaken” is a better word. Because I realised that I was looking at the wrong list, and that what I was actually staring at was the  list of advertising people in the Guardian’s Media Top 100 for last year.

Philippa was, however, prominently featured in the Campaign Annual – being numbers 1 through to 10 inclusive in the list of most attractive, intelligent and generally fun-to-be-with women in advertising.

No wonder my rectum was deceived.

I mean of course my retina. Bloody iPhone predictive text. My retinas were deceived. My rectum, to be perfectly clear on this, was the organ through which I was speaking when I ascribed the testicle-painting episode to Sir Martin Sorrell.

A man, like me, whose best testicle-painting years are probably behind him.

Despite these drawbacks to the Annual issue, Campaign’s first issue of 2014 was an absolute belter, however, and fulfilled all my needs.

For those of you who missed it, tough titty. You’re not getting my copy.

The issue contained a host of essays by various luminaries of the ad scene, discussing topics such as technology, creativity and everything in between.

(And what normally comes between technology and creativity is just plain old fashioned ignorance.)

Some of them were absolutely brilliant, and reaffirmed my sometimes shaky belief that advertising is full of incredibly talented people.

Perhaps the best one featured Gregory Roekens of AMV writing about Technology. A wonderfully clear and inspiring piece, about the most important topic there is – bring on the Phygital world, I say !

This was followed by Ben Fennell of BBH, whose essay about the future for ad agencies was worth the entry price alone.

(In this case, a very reasonable £3.70.)

The bit I loved best was when Ben talked about how BBH were involved in building the e-commerce engines for a number of their clients – which shows them sales in real time and gives the agency access to crucial data. In some senses this takes us back to the early days of that amazing agency BMP – they did all the consumer research for their clients so they had knowledge (=power) which they could bring to the party.

As Ben says, this initiative at BBH “changes everything … (We) don’t need to ask clients for data. (We) are getting it fast and raw.”

Getting it fast and raw is always, in my book, a good thing.

It’s fascinating that a so-called “traditional” agency is providing such agenda-leading thinking. And I wonder if it’s a coincidence that BBH have always been big into the Decoded experience, sending their management team on the “Code in a Day” course over a year ago.

In the same bunch of essays was another brilliant one from James Connelly at Fetch, talking about mobile.

Funnily enough, Fetch are sending 40 people to Decoded over the next couple of months. The more observant among you will perhaps have spotted a trend here.

Whatevs. I can breathe a sigh of relief. Advertising is still full of smart, creative individuals who are curious about the future.

But I admit that my faith tends to weaken in December when the gilded and perceptive superhumans of the ad industry can occasionally turn into dribbling alcoholics who reminisce about the past and embarrass themselves at the office party.

(Thank God some people are still having a good time …)

But I exclude from this shameful list the holy trinity of Sir Martin Sorrell, Philippa Brown and myself.

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