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Three and a half happy bunnies



I normally like to moan about the advertising industry like Cassandra coming down off the finest crack cocaine while wandering around the charred remains of a favourite family pet.


But it behoves me sometimes to point out that the industry is not all doom and gloom.


(Although rumour has it that Doom and Gloom are planning to open an agency specialising in wearable technology just off Brick Lane.)


Recently I met three people who all seemed very happy with their lot.


The first was Mark Lund, who now runs an agency called Now.


In the old days of course, he ran an agency called In The Old Days.


You can find his new agency Here.


Within seconds of meeting Mark, you realise that you are in the presence of the ultimate pair of safe hands. He exudes all the decent qualities, in almost indecent quantities.


Eminently sane people like Mark are exactly what you need to front an agency. While the necessary lunacy is hopefully going on at the back of the agency, where the creatives – if they’re any bloody good – are thinking unthinkable thoughts and torturing the bounds of possibility until you don’t know your arse from Sheffield Wednesday.


The second was James Hilton of AKQA. James was sitting on a panel at the Guardian advertising conference and it was obvious from the first question directed at him that he wasn’t playing the same game as any of the other speakers. Most people accept a speaking gig at a conference in order to pimp their wares, and so they exude the false bonhomie of a snake oil salesman at a cocktail party full of disgruntled boa constrictors.


But James just answered the questions in a no-frills fashion, in a way that was about being straight rather than sell-y. It was all the more compelling for being so completely unapologetic.


And the third was Graham Thomas who I met at the CMI conference – where I myself had accepted a speaking gig to pimp Decoded at the assembled luminaries of British industry.


Graham runs something called The Disruption Factory and he practices what I’ve been preaching for ages – prototyping. This is the same topic I discussed with James at the Guardian conference. Creating stuff and just putting it out on the internet.


To my mind this solves the biggest problem facing creative agencies – the approval process.


It’s not an ideal way to test creative work – there will never be an ideal way to do that – but it’s a million times better than focus groups or relying on the subjectivity of people who are usually far too risk-averse.


James and Graham are both making prototyping work. I don’t know about Mark.


But from a straw poll of three happy bunnies, two of them were using it.


In fact let’s bring in a fourth happy bunny.


Jonny Plackett.


Jonny used to work as a copywriter at Albion and it was his coding skills which first led me to think about all that. He’s now at Wieden+Kennedy, and we had a great time talking about prototyping and other topics.


Most of the people I meet in adland are pretty pissed off, more like bunnies who’ve been told that mixamatosis and chips is all that’s left on the menu.


So it’s worth thinking about this.


When you consider that 90% of new product launches fail and they all use conventional research, it doesn’t look like a great way to operate.


But 75% of all happy bunnies who expressed a preference said they used prototyping.


(And, coincidentally, it also built the biggest companies in the world.)


If you want to know more about prototyping, you could do a lot worse than come on the Decoded course where you’ll learn the basics of coding in just one day.


If you do, maybe I can turn down some of these endless invitations for speaking gigs at conferences.


Which might make me a slightly happier bunny myself.

Good afternoon, Manchester



I went up to Manchester last week to speak at the inaugural Freshtival get-together.


My speech was attended by the metaphorical one man and his dog. It wasn’t quite the smallest audience I’ve ever had – that was in Slovenia about 4 years ago, (when the metaphorical dog failed to show up) – but it was definitely in the all-time Bottom Two.


Maybe it was just because the event was inaugural. Or maybe the people of Manchester had decided that I was a terrible speaker. Either way, it’s always a bit dispiriting when you’ve worked on a presentation and the audience is smaller than some meetings you’ve been in.


It felt less like a talk, and more like a tete-a-tete.


But, hey.


What was new about Freshtival wasn’t the awards – which have been around for yonks – but the lectures and seminars. I remember back in the 1990s saying to the bloke who used to run Cannes, that he should open up Cannes for seminars etc. It transformed Cannes and so the Freshtival initiative is to be applauded.


(Even if the applause at the end of my speech – the applause of a generous one man and his generous dog – didn’t generate any noise complaints to the local council.)


It also reminded me of being at the inaugural week of Adfest in Chiang Mai, Thailand back in about 95.


Adfest is now one of the biggest ad festivals in the world but back then it was just starting out and I thought it would collapse immediately.


Partly because Neil French was chairing it and Neil likes to try new approaches to awards ceremonies.


And I should add in passing that Neil takes awards festivals RATHER SERIOUSLY.


(It’s an interesting side issue. This aspect of his character is relatively unappealing, whereas the parts of Neil which are NOT about taking stuff seriously – an absolutely massive chunk of Neil’s character, probably at a rough statistical guess about 92% of total – are immensely attractive. I wonder if there’s a universal truth here ?)


Neil had accumulated on the jury a large bunch of his cronies and then some token outsiders -  me, Warren Brown (the most successful Aussie adman after Droga) and Donald Gunn (of Donald Gunn fame).


Neil announced on the first evening that we wouldn’t have any of “this abstaining nonsense” and people would be allowed to vote for work done by their own agencies.


When I raised the question of the fairness of this, having judged at most awards schemes around the world and finding this approach unique, Neil waved a magisterial hand (bearing a magisterial king-size fag in it) and said “we’re all grown-up here”.


This pronouncement proved a tad optimistic when, at the end of the week’s deliberations, 32 awards were given out and 31 of them went to Ogilvy. Which, not altogether coincidentally, was the agency Neil was running at the time.


I was convinced that the festival would be denounced as a fraud and the jury members hung up in effigy while D&AD pencils were inserted into our ani.


But nobody seemed to mind very much.


The real bonus for me of that week was meeting Donald and Warren and just laughing our heads off by the swimming pool. The equivalent in Manchester (minus the swimming pool)  was chatting to  Bill Bungay of BMB fame.


Bill and I were bemoaning the lack of rebellion  in younger creative people (I’d touched on the Punk ethic in my talk) and I told Bill about an ad I’d tried to sell to Absolute Radio a few years ago. It would have appeared in the X Factor Final and shown all the greats of rock music – The Stones, Jim Morrison, Dylan, Bowie, Hendrix, Lennon, Janis Joplin, etc etc – for 3 minutes – and then asked the simple question “Would any of them have won X Factor ?”


Then an end-line “If you like real music, you know where you can go. Absolute. ”


Bill told me of his idea to set up a YouTube channel called “The Fuck You Factor” – to celebrate musicians too talented, too opinionated, and too individualistic to gain the show’s smug, middle of the road approval.


I love that idea.


In tribute to Bill’s concept, I was going to title this blog “Fuck you Manchester”.


But that might have been misinterpreted.


I wouldn’t want anyone to think my ego had been bruised by giving a talk that could have been housed in the average wheelchair toilet.


No – I’m bigger than that.


And besides, the people of Manchester are lovely. If there aren’t enough of them, it just says to me that we need more of them.



Time, perhaps, to grow up




Last week I went to a talk on Tuesday – and then saw the real thing on Thursday.


The talk was given by  Tim Lindsay and was entitled “purpose beyond profit”.


Before it started, Tim and I discussed what an executive creative director does these days – and we concluded that the answer was, spend all their time figuring out how to win awards.


This might not be such a bad thing for Tim, given his role as CEO of D&AD.


But it was an interesting counterpoint when, three minutes into his talk, Tim quoted the title of a book about Howard Gossage, which was “Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man.”


By that criterion, there aren’t many ECDs who qualify as “grown ups”.


Tim then went on to heap praise on Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, who is doing the most incredible job of making his enormous company change the world for the better. Paul has said that all consumer- facing companies should rip up their business models and start again.



But whenever this topic is raised , the same two questions keep surfacing in various guises.



One, is this commercially feasible ?



And two, (from a consumer perspective), are you doing this just to sell more products ?


My instinct is to let the people asking the first question talk to the second group because if it’s so obviously appealing to customers, then that answers the first question stone dead.


The second question is thornier. On one hand, I’d ask the second group what exactly is the point of a company that doesn’t want to sell its products ?


But the issue of over-consumption is, of course, crucial. It’s one which Unilever are well aware of -  (Keith Weed, their CMO, kicks off all his major presentations talking about it) – and that is why their strategy is based on increasing market share.


But the problem with both those questions is that, like most reasonable-sounding questions, they’re just a reason for not doing anything.


That’s the real problem right there.


Anyway, two days later, I met Dave Hieatt for lunch.


Dave worked in advertising for 10 years, I helped him get his first job – and he’s the sort of guy who just DOES things.


Amazing things.


He set up the legendary clothing company Howies from a  photocopier while working at AMV back in 1995. His vision was bold, distinctive and simple – he wanted a company that made people think as well as buy. Particularly, he wanted them to think about green issues – Howies championed sustainability way before any of the other companies in this sector.



And that of course is the only issue worth talking about – because if we don’t sort that out, we’re all going to die a slow painful death.
Howies was actually doing a lot of what Patagonia does now – years before Patagonia did it. (This isn’t a dig at Patagonia, by the way – who I would cross the desert to applaud. It’s a hat-tip to Dave.)



He wrote the copy for some brilliantly engaging catalogues and he created a brand that stood for something beautiful. He did it with wit too – their endline was “the 3rd biggest clothing company in Cardigan Bay.”



Howies was very successful but then had some bruising encounters with the business world. But now Dave is back with “the 25 mile pub” – a pub that provides food cooked with ingredients sourced from within a 25-mile radius.



Sheer genius, and several brewers are talking to him about a national roll-out.



He also set up “The Do Lectures”, a gathering in Wales which celebrates bold action in all areas – and he’s now looking for funding for a new business start-up incubator.


He’s the nicest, straightest guy you’ll ever meet in your whole life. He could have made millions out of Howies – but he has always put his principles ahead of financial greed.



So while a group of people working in advertising debated the issue of “purpose beyond profit” in central London – a guy who lives in South Wales, and who used to work in advertising, was showing us all how to do it.



But if that doesn’t persuade you  … then think about this.


The smartest marketeers in the world are putting this thinking into practice – Unilever. The thinking is something I’ve been saying for years – make all your brands a force for good. Use those millions of pounds of marketing budget to do something more valuable than wallpaper the city with messages that insult our intelligence.



Solve real problems for your customers.



Also, what are the two most creative agencies in the world ?  Droga and W&K.



Look at the work they do and you’ll see that ethical issues are usually a strong part of their thinking.



So there are reassuringly selfish reasons to think about altruism.



In fact, you don’t even need to be a nice guy to get this.



The niceness might come later when you get a warm feeling and realise that totting up figures on a spread-sheet is only ever going to be the most boring and pointless part of any business venture.



Changing the world for the better – now that’s a reason to get out of bed.



And a final thought – if you’re NOT trying to change the world for the better, on a daily basis,  maybe – possibly – theoretically – you’re one of the bad guys.


If you want to know how urgent this is,  you could try reading  “Ten Billion” by Stephen Emmott.



(It’ll make a larger dent in your brain than anything else you can read this year.)



Unless you’ve got a good reason not to, of course.

A brief from Mick Jagger




The world is divided into those who, when they see a sign saying “Don’t walk on the grass”, don’t.


And the ones who think “Hmm, I bet that grass is nice and springy underfoot.”


With this in mind, I gave a talk to an agency the other day which I called “the Art of Transgression”.


The title got changed for some reason to something else but I went ahead regardless.


That’s what us transgressors do.


The key quote in all this comes from the art critic John Berger who said (40 years ago) “the first time you go into a restaurant and stick a needle through your tongue, you’re liable to be arrested. The second time you do it, you’re liable to be hired as the cabaret.”


His point is that the shockingly new is usually a lot more interesting to people than the boring stale old stuff – and that people go from being shocked to being fascinated  quicker than you think.


Certainly quicker than conventional research will tell you.


Interestingly, he picked tongue-sticking because he wanted to be as gratuitously shocking as possible – but time has proved him right, because tongue studs are now not the least bit shocking.


Given that the purpose of most advertising is to get into word of mouth, it’s worth asking how much conversation is taken up by talking about weird new stuff vs conversations about stuff which is “maybe quite interesting if you’re in the target market”.


We are all of us, like it or not, collectors of weird shit.


A recent Sunday Times profiled 3 creative artists in the first 7 pages of the Culture Section.


Lake Bell, Sergio de la Pava and Shane Carruth.


All three have deliberately set out to shake people up.


That’s how they work. That’s their fuel.


Compare that with the story in Campaign recently about the Saatchi interns who were tasked with doing something extraordinary and ended up putting letters reading “nothing is impossible” on the roof.


I.e., they went through a fire escape door.


As the journalist who wrote the story said, it’s hardly Honda’s live parachute jump.


And even the fact that that example of bold thinking was used (from 6 years ago) says something about the dire state of advertising today and the almost complete lack of anything resembling testicles in it.


A great friend of mine recently sent me a wonderful letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol, commissioning the Sticky Fingers album cover.


(Of course album cover design is now a lost art – rather like advertising creativity. The latter used to be fun and interesting – but now it’s just a wasteland of lifestyle images selling interchangeable phone tariffs, family cars and face creams.)


Jagger’s approach is interesting.


On the one hand, he tells Warhol to do whatever he wants, gives him an unlimited budget and says don’t worry about any time deadlines.


So you see – if you want an iconic image that will last for generations, that’s all it takes.


Ha ha ha.


On the other hand, Jagger says “in my short, sweet experience, the more complicated the format of the album, e.g. more complex than just pages or fold-out, the more fucked-up the reproduction and agonising the delays”.



Warhol responded by creating an album cover that relied on a functioning zip being worked into every cover to give you access to the record. I.e., he took Jagger’s restriction and deliberately rejected it.


I’m not repeating this story to make Mick Jagger look stupid.


Keef’s biography from a few years back tried its best to do that.


(How can a guy who was one of the sexiest men of the last century have “a small cock” ? I reckon the drugs have destroyed Keef’s sense of perspective. Or maybe they just gave him an exaggeratedly benevolent view of his own member.)


And for me Mick Jagger can do very little wrong. He wrote roughly 25 of my favourite songs of all time.


In his prime, he didn’t just walk on the grass. He smoked it, and wrote songs glorifying slave-traders, cocaine and serial killers.


In fact, to my mind the most objectionable thing he ever did was accept a knighthood.




Keep Calm and Stop




I was reading about a new book the other day called “Victoria’s Madmen”.



This wasn’t about the Bill Bernbachs of the Victorian age –  because there weren’t any  – nor was it really about lunatics. It was actually about the counterculturalists and misfits who changed Victorian society. It’s very interesting to see that a bunch of eccentrics, revolutionaries and grumpy old gits were the ones who won the historical argument in the long run. Whether they were just making their own pots, talking about sex too much, or blowing up policemen.



History tells us, it’s the long tail which prevails. A dysfunctional society was unravelled by the people in the margins. So enjoy your temporary victories, ye middlemen and compromisers. It’s the crazy ones – as Apple realised many years ago – who win.



(Which reinforces my passionate belief that today’s “Madmen” should be mad men, not sad men.)



And brings me to the title of this blog.



An email came through from an old friend of mine, an ex-copywriter called John Parkin who used to work for me. He set up a yoga retreat on a hill in Tuscany with his wife Gaia and they created a new philosophy called the “fuck it” philosophy. This is their take on the “Keep Calm and Carry On” thing.



“- to ‘KEEP CALM’ works in almost any circumstance. But to ‘CARRY ON’? I think not. If the backdrop is ‘difficult times’, when things have gone wrong, when it’s all going pear-shaped, when the shit’s hit the fan, then it’s usually best to STOP AND THINK FOR A MOMENT.



“We are astonishingly good at realising that things aren’t working, but then applying the same ideas and the same solutions to try to get out of the pickle we got into. Look at any area of life and you see this ‘CARRY ON’ mentality in action: We’re overweight, but we still try to do the same old diets to get thin, hoping that it’ll work ‘this time’, The financial system crashes, but we leave the same systems intact, crossing our fingers that it will be okay this time, A relationship doesn’t work, we leave, and find the same patterns emerging in the next relationship …



“But when things are going pear-shaped, it’s wise to stop and think…  to see what’s really happening, to see what got you into the pickle in the first place, and to get into the habit of changing your habits, changing your conditioned response, changing the solutions you apply.



“In other words, in the battleground of your life,  KEEP CALM, STOP AND THINK, TRY SOME NEW WAYS.”



As John and Gaia say – “That’s not as catchy. But we’re not in the advertising business (anymore). We’re in the living well business. ”



Speaking of Johns, I love telling people how I gave Jon Glazer his first break in advertising. The man is the most incredible director I’ve ever met, (barring possibly Tony Kaye). I was reminded just how brilliant he is when someone sent me a tweet recently that asked if this was the greatest ad never to have run.



This was Jon’s infamous Flake ad which at the time caused huge ructions and even, I think, the split between agency and client.



At the time it was going on, I caught a glimpse of this and wasn’t sure about it. I must’ve been stark staring mad. Looking at it now I consider it a work of wonderful provocative genius.



Jon Glazer.



Not just, Respect.



But, Awe.



And moving back to today, here is a link you’ve probably been sent but what the hell. It’s an incredible 3-D Tube Map.



Go to the website and have a play on all the pages  – there are some wonderfully addictive visualisations.



And finally, here’s a visualisation called something like parallax scrollling.



Awesome and then some.



But before I go, I ought to credit the people who found these wonderful examples of creativity and playfulness and perversity (which are all the same thing, really) and sent them to me – Alex Gulland, Lisa Batty, Amadeus Stevenson, Sophie Hobson.



I blog by with a little help from my friends.

Corporate twats



I don’t know how many of you saw the 27-metre High Diving competition staged recently in Barcelona. 27 metres is about 10 storeys up, and is so high it feels like a bad dream or the climax to every film which Hollywood now makes.


My admiration for the participants was only minutely diluted by the fact that the event should have been called the 27-metre High Jumping competition, since they all entered the water feet first.


When the first guy  (a stocky, unhappy-looking Mexican)  did that, I thought he’d made a mistake. Perhaps miscounting the number of somersaults and tucks. But when you jump from 10 stories on a professional basis, you get details like that right.


It reminded me of the scene in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ where the two outlaws leapt off the rocks into the river below. We used to love this clip at HHCL, and in fact considered using it as part of our interview process. The line that always tickled us was when Butch says he can’t swim and the Sundance Kid replies “The fall is going to kill you anyway”.


That’s what risk-taking is all about.


It’s the fall which you need to worry about. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve got a certificate for swimming a width, breast-stroke.


Several centuries ago, when I started this blog, I wrote a piece asking if the ad industry needed more bastards. I was fed up with the pusillanimity, the milk-soppiness, of the industry. It seemed to me that nobody was taking risks.


But actually risk-taking – entrepreneurship – is not the domain of bastards. Most entrepreneurs are quite gentle souls. It’s the people who want to get to the top by counting the pennies and cutting the costs who are the real back-stabbing bastards.


The corporate twats.


Jesus said that the poor will always be with us – but, much more sadly, so will the corporate twats.


After all, you can have a decent conversation with someone who’s poor.


So what I would like to see in the industry is more risk-taking – and more generosity of spirit.


To the latter point, there is a heartbreaking story in the collection “Binocular Vision” by Edith Pearlman – who has been claimed as the greatest short-story writer in American history – which will tell you all you need to know about grace and kindness. It’s called Allog.


It’s set in a country where, as one of the characters says – “People here … mislaid civility a century ago.”


Into this country comes an immigrant who brings a naturally kind spirit, courtesy, and the inner certainty that helping others brings more rewards than trying to beat them up.


Everybody who comes into contact with him, falls in love with him.


So that’s my proposal this week. Let’s get rid of the bastards. And explore the idea of having a bit of a laugh, while pushing the frontiers of great creativity at the same time.


The ad industry used to have that feeling about it. And I don’t believe it damaged many brands when it took this approach. I bet the industry kills a whole lot more brands now with its acres of inefficient research and its agonisingly slow approval processes, which go at the pace of a dressage competition for sloths with hip problems.


Butch and Sundance survived their jump precisely because they didn’t over-analyse it or ask too many damn stupid questions.


They just jumped.


Entrepreneurs do that. Creative people do that.


(West Coast entrepreneurs and developers all over the world call it Prototyping. The former built the biggest companies in the world by doing it.)


Corporate twats stand by the side of the pool in their sad little Speedos, trying to work it all out with a pencil.


Or, as Mike Tyson put it – “Fear is like fire. You can warm your hands on it, cook your food with it, or it can burn down your house.”

An anti-social-media expert



“Be warned, my son,  … Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”


Ecclesiastes 12;12

I’d like to amend that to “Be warned, my son … Of reading books about social media there is no end, and trying to keep up with them all can absolutely knacker you”.


A friend of mine used to take all the books people asked him to read and give them to other people saying “this is interesting, tell me what you think” – and then they would precis the damn things for him.


But I’ve been enjoying the provocations in a new book by an old mate of mine – Richard Stacy.


It’s called “Social Media and The Three Per Cent Rule: how to succeed by not talking to 97 per cent of your audience” and that’s typical Richard, I reckon – picking fights from the word Go.


Given a choice between a gastro-pub that welcomes children and a flat-roofed pub that welcomes Rottweiler owners, I always feel that Richard would (mentally) prefer the latter. He loves to push the agenda.


And so do I.


I could pick a fight with a Quaker who was fast asleep on a weekend spa break.


Some snippets …


“Facebook is a good way of not reaching 97 per cent of your audience.”

“At the time of writing, many brands are actually creating campaigns designed to drive people to, and then ‘like’ the brand on, a Facebook page. This is a senseless use of both advertising and Facebook. And that is why I decided to write this book. To help businesses understand why using advertising to drive people to Facebook is crazy. To help them realise that social media will only ever allow them to reach three per cent of their audience.”

“My favourite chart in helping organisations understand social media is the Gartner Hype Cycle. … The chart itself is very boring, so much so that I am not even going to bother to show it, but it comes alive because of the words Gartner used to describe it. First you have the Technology Trigger, then you have the Peak of Inflated Expectation, followed by the Trough of Disillusionment, and then the Slope of Enlightenment which leads to the Plateau of Productivity.”


(Speaking personally I feel that I’ve spent far too much of my life in the Trough of Disillusionment.)

(He goes on. During the “Peak of Inflated Expectation” clients and agencies spend a lot of time) … ‘spinning the wheels’ i.e. the objective and thus measurement, is all based around trying to make the social media engagement wheels spin as fast as possible. The strategy often goes as far as being defined by the individual channels, so an organisation will develop a strategy for Facebook, a strategy for Twitter, a blogging strategy etc. An organisation starts the descent into the Trough of Disillusionment when someone, frequently from finance or possibly the CEO, asks for a different type of measurement”.


(I.e. A measurement that makes some sort of objective sense. However, in the absence of a tool to link business success with all this wheel-spinning ,,,)

“The social media people will then seek to reassure everyone that while we all wait for this tool to be discovered we can trust that creating engagement is a good thing, and therefore it must be taken as a leap of faith that simply increasing engagement, spinning the Facebook wheel faster if you like, must be something that it is worthwhile doing.”


(Richard believes that a company can eventually attain ..) “the Plateau of Productivity when it understands that social media is a business process which needs to be deployed across the organisation.”


(As David Packard of Hewlett Packard once said, in one of my all-time personal favourite quotes – “marketing is far too important to be left to the marketing department”.)


I could go on, but a) blogs are supposed to be short (something I am very bad at), b) I wouldn’t do justice to the complex arguments and c) I’d like you all to purchase Richard’s book.


He’s a provocateur and also a smashing bloke.


A final couple of quotes, because I can’t resist them.


“There are only ten people critical to your business and social media can help you find them.”

“Facebook , for example, is not really a form of media, it is more like an infrastructure, such as a phone network. It may have one billion people subscribed to it, but this doesn’t mean that it is a channel you can use to reach all these people. Just as having a phone may give you the ability to reach everyone else who also has a phone, it doesn’t give you the ability to reach all of them at the same time.”


Finally  – I went to the Bowie Exhibition at the V&A last Friday. You won’t be able to get tickets but you should find a member to take you along.


(I can’t believe I’m telling you all to grab hold of a member, but there you go. I am.)


It’s fucking wonderful.


He was a complete radical. As he said “creativity is … something new”.


Come on, all those people in adland who grew up loving Bowie – do something radical.

(Told you I liked a fight.)

Thoughts from Edinburgh



I went to my eldest daughter’s Graduation ceremony over the weekend so I found myself looking back over my so-called career.


Normally at these events, some luminary on stage passes on some career advice to the assembled pink faces – but since my daughter chose to study Veterinary Science, the luminary in question was speaking about cancer research and ethical demands – he made no mention of such crucial topics as Millward Brown gearstick results or why banner ads have a click-through rate of 0.00001%


So I thought I’d use this blog to pass on my 6 tips for a successful career in advertising.


(Since nobody up in Edinburgh last weekend seemed remotely interested.)


Tip 1. Leave the industry.


This may seem like a joke (and I hope it tickled some funny bones, although the various people charged with raising the morale of the industry, who write articles saying things like “Come on, we’re ok, we’re not doing too bad, things could be worse, British advertising is blah blah blah” will probably hate it, and I apologise to them profusely), but actually I am  serious.


When I left the industry temporarily in 2008, I realised that I didn’t have to look at ads anymore. I then realised that most normal people don’t look at ads at all. It was a salutary reminder and a caution to an industry that is literally helplessly self-regarding.


If you think it’s too early to leave, at least keep in touch with the perspective of real people. The sort of people you meet at dinner parties who ask you what you do and when you say “advertising”, then ask “what have you done ?” Because for the life of them, they can’t remember a single interesting piece of marketing.


Tip 2. Whatever your boss says is wrong.


Bosses are usually wrong and these days the people at the top got there by prioritising the financial side of things over creativity, being political and not making mistakes.


None of these things is a good idea.


As David Mitchell said about the Footlights in Cambridge – what makes it so great is that you can’t study drama at Cambridge, so there are no teachers, it’s all done by the people doing it.


If you see what I mean.


If at any point I was your boss, then disregard point 2.


3. Don’t go to meetings.


If someone had said to John Webster back in 1980 – “John there’s a creative review in your diary for 9.30, then we need you in the research debrief at 10.30. The MD wants you to go to lunch with our New York CEO who’s over this week, and then you’re needed in the client meeting all afternoon. Then there’s a second creative review at 5.30″ – he wouldn’t have written the Smash Martians. He would have written a piece of shit.


4. Most of your career will be spent working on, sweating over, arguing about, going backwards and forwards about … stuff that will disappear like the early morning dew on the grass.


Most ad campaigns are like those films that open on one weekend and close by the next. Films can sometimes come back from that – ad campaigns never do.


Don’t waste your time polishing turds – even if they’re your turds. If the approval process is doing what it usually does and making sure that shit comes out the far end, just let it go.


But when you get a real humdinger of a genius idea, fight for it. Your career can be built on one great idea.


So fight like mad – until it turns to shit.


5. Only work at agencies that genuinely care about great creative work. (NB this is NOT the same as saying they want to win lots of creative awards. In fact, it’s usually the opposite,) They will all tell you they love great ideas, but it’s very easy to see if they’re lying. Look at the work on their website. Agencies that say they want to do better work are like people who say they’ll definitely cut down on their drinking.


6. There’s no money in advertising unless you open your own agency – so make sure you do that.


Although please don’t open your own agency just to make money. There are far took many agencies like that already and they’re toxic.


Open your own place after 5 or 6 years, (as John Hegarty has said, most creative people have had their best ideas by the time they’re 30, so you’ve got no time to lose) … with a view to doing the kind of stand-out work you love doing.


Then – and this is really important – when your agency is 6 years old and everybody loves it, and people are saying that this is the best agency in the world, and you decide to take the 120 people in the agency to Amsterdam for the weekend to thank them, don’t gather everybody in the hotel Reception at lunchtime on the first day and say “we’re going for a big dinner tonight, so please don’t go and get wasted in the coffee shops this afternoon.”


The glazed expressions on your audience’s faces (and the occasional stifled laugh) will tell you that it’s already too late.

Is it time advertising learnt to be nice ?



I don’t know about you but every time I pick up the Observer or Sunday Times, I always think that maybe I should have picked up the other one.


It’s that old FOMO – fear of missing out.


It’s particularly acute for anybody who works in advertising. Because every time you work on a brief, you believe  that that brand is the best one there is – the best building society, the best family-sized saloon with anti-dandruff shampoo…


Then you come to believe that there must be a whole host of other brands out there that are even better than the ones you’re working on… A beer that’s even tastier, an anti-dandruff shampoo which will make you irresistible to the people of your sexual preference while trimming your toe nails and tracking your mortgage.


People who work in advertising have that haunted look – yes, what I’ve got is fine – but surely there’s something even better round the corner.


Anyway, I picked up the Observer.


And out of it fell a leaflet with some of Dave Trott’s inspiring stories in it.


Dave was my first real boss in advertising, he taught me a whole approach to this industry, and he is one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet.


I loved the stories in the leaflet, but my only problem was the title –  ‘Predatory thinking’.


It’s very provocative – almost shockingly so, which is probably why Dave picked it. But it feels a little out of the Zeitgeist to me.


I can remember in the 1980s when Charlie Saatchi came up with the saying ‘ It’s not enough to win, someone has to lose’ .


(And by the way, has anyone heard anything about Charlie Saatchi recently – he seems to have dropped off the radar a bit ?)


In contrast, I’ve always preferred the saying ‘ Nobody wins unless everybody wins’.


It’s a question of attitude. And, as we enter the reputation economy – which will be all about transparency and accountability – it seems to me that brands shouldn’t aspire to be predatory.


Business per se will always have its predatory elements, of course – but I think brands are going to be about figuring out how they make the world a better place. And doing that in real, concrete ways.


I hope we’ll see a whole lot more brilliant ideas like the Coca-Cola ‘small world machines’ – the interactive vending machines that tried to bring together two nations at odds with each other, India and Pakistan. This idea combined innovative technology with a genuine desire to make the world a better place. And I love stuff like that.


(Incidentally, I first came across the idea in an article by Mark Tutssel in Campaign predicting possible Cannes winners.)


I  wonder – and I’m almost serious about this – whether, in a few years’ time, we won’t see a kind of consumer-led Operation Yewtree on brands. In which brands who have behaved in a predatory way to their customers, will be demonised, and penalised.


Woe betide the brands who try to pull a fast one, who try to slip in a weasel, or who attempt to goose their customers instead of just nudging them.


I also think that people will draw a distinction between brands that make them feel good – and brands that make them feel anxious.


That toothpaste accused me of having bad breath … That antiperspirant made me feel anxious about sweating and therefore liable to sweat even more …


Compared with – that antiperspirant made me laugh and made me feel better. That anti-dandruff shampoo solved the problem of unemployment in Kirby.


Or whatever.


(And actually it’s not about disconnected CSR. It’s about making the world a better place, realistically and relevantly,  for your customers.)


The brands we are really loyal to, are brands we believe  are on our side.


Corporations, by their very nature, tend towards the psychopathic. To my mind, they’ve got more than enough predatory thinking going on.  Every time they bring out a price plan designed to confuse people into paying more, I distrust them a little more.


To finish, I want to say that  I have absolutely no intention of picking a fight with Dave Trott here.


Because I love Dave. And anyway,  he always wins arguments.


But then again, I do like being contrarian.


Which is hardly surprising, given that I was taught by the brilliant Dave Trott.

Interview with the Chief Pornographer



Fascinating to see the interview with Michael Grade in Campaign recently – a brilliant man, once dubbed “Britain’s pornographer-in-chief” by the always dreadful Daily Mail.  What he achieved, particularly at Channel 4, was incredible.  He’s a maverick and an impresario – and people like that are specks of gold dust found in the gaps between hens’ teeth.



(And in passing I’d like to announce my next career as a hens’ dentist. I’m hoping the workload will be relatively manageable.)



But, if you’ll forgive the plethora of poultry similes, I thought he ducked two of the bigger issues.



Technology, and the health of the creative industries in this country.



About the latter, he gave a sort of benevolent mumble, saying we were all doing very well. Whereas, if you take advertising as an example, 15 years ago we were leading the field , and now we’re lagging far behind.



Frankly, only a politician would claim the UK creative industries were in good shape right now. (The sort of politician who introduces massive tuition fees and kills off half the arts courses in the country.)



And in terms of the former, he complained about copyright issues destroying new creativity – without mentioning the fact that the internet has made it possible for more people to create more stuff, in more media, and publish it to a bigger audience, than ever before.



Of course there’s a ton of shit, which is why you need people with lots of experience to curate the stuff (as Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out) – but you can’t deny the sheer amount of raw creativity, and experimentation, going on.



So, although it makes life a bit more complicated, the two issues are actually linked.



The people leading the creative industries need to “get” the technology.



As Ben Hammersley has said – the internet is a bigger revolution than the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, and future generations will judge us by how we reacted to it.



A writer called Amy Leach described the dichotomy beautifully. Writing about how so many literary types complain about digitisation, whereas so many scientists love it, she said -



“Sometimes it is better to be a goat. When the grass withers away in Morocco, sheep will stumble dully along, thinking horizontal thoughts. No grass … No grass. But goats look up, start climbing trees.”



Leaders often think “horizontal thoughts” – because their time scale is the 5 years until their retirement. Michael Grade was always an exception to this – taking risks, loving the new.



But getting to grips with the new technologies isn’t as simple as buying yourself an iPad.






I’m a lazy sod myself, and I wish it was that easy.



The new technologies need to be fully embraced by the leaders of the creative industries – and that means learning code.



As David Bowie once said, creativity is “something new”. And you can’t get newer than the new technologies.



But I thought Michael’s comment about judging creativity was stupendous. He said that if he tried to change someone’s idea – for instance by suggesting changing the lead character from a lawyer to a doctor – and the other person agreed, he knew that the vision wasn’t strong enough.



So, here’s a radical thought.



How about trying that approach in advertising?



The next time you review work with your creatives …



Ha ha ha ha.

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