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Advertising’s a joke, isn’t it?

In the same week as some newspaper TV sections were trailering a TV programme about a man who can’t stop hiccupping, a new comedy about the advertising world, The Persuasionists, kicked off.

Which might suggest that the people behind it understand media schedules. If your competition is a man who can’t stop hiccupping, that’s got be a relatively weak week on TV.

But although that is a) good for drawing audiences, it’s actually b) less good if it means the gimlet eye of AA Gill is drawn towards you.

I’m not sure I’d want Gill reviewing this.Especially because Gill always refers to TV industry people he doesn’t like as “Tristrams” and the credit for director on this show reads Tristram Shapeero.

That may, in itself, be an anti-AA Gill joke.

But talking of comedy names leads me to the name of the agency. When you hear that the fictional outfit is called HHH&H, that either amuses you or it doesn’t.

Me, it amuses very much.

But it does raise the question of whether the agency is based on HHCL.God, I hope it is. Anywhere that was as dysfunctional, f*cked-up and hopeless as HHH&H would be a good place to work.

Although I like to think that there may be some very minor nuances of difference between me and the babbling, violent, and catastrophically inept ego-maniac of a boss.

I may be wrong.

Earlier on in the week, an article in the Indy complained that the programme wasn’t enough like Mad Men. That’s a bit like saying that Come Dine With Me isn’t enough like Match of the Day.

This is a sit com, not a drama series. So the big question is – is it funny ?

I really wanted to like it. I wanted to laugh like a drain that’s been smoking spliff and then been told not to laugh.

But it didn’t quite grab me in the way I wanted it to.Of course it’s notoriously difficult to judge the first episode of a comedy. Because you’ve got to build the world. And comedies work best when they’re just automatically accepted – not being judged, as a first episode usually is.

You’ve got to lose yourself in comedy, not analyse it.

This episode had some inspired comic acting, but, in my view, not enough situation. It just didn’t seem real enough.

Some years ago Les Blair made a film about advertising called Honest Decent and True, which was so well-observed and so close to the reality of advertising that it was almost unbearable to watch.

It was absolutely brilliant. And that’s how I’d want to do a comedy about advertising right now. Keep it close to reality – because the reality of advertising is crazy enough to be funny without being underscored with hyperbole.

I’ll probably end up eating my words when this turns out to be the most popular comedy since Father Ted – but the show just seemed too stylised, too comic book.

Whenever I want an ad to be funnier than the script I am looking at, I advise the creative team to dial up the pain. With all the desperation, panic, and paranoia in ad agencies, I’d have thought that the more real you make it, the funnier it’s going to be.

And I may be the wrong person to write about this, anyway. I don’t watch many programmes on TV these days – preferring instead to use my 55″ Hitachi plasma to act as a section of moving wallpaper with either polar bears from National Geographic HD or lingerie models from Fashion TV moving sinuously over it.

I’m not sure I’d set the Sky + for this, because there are no ad breaks to fast forward through, and I’m usually in at 10pm on wednesday night – but I’d definitely watch it again.

It’s got real potential – some funny characters and the writer, Jon Thake, knows how to come up with great lines.

In terms of the characters, the central figure is a copywriter played by Iain Lee. Previously Lee has been rent-a-presenter on various channels so far down the Sky EPG that only the full-time unemployed would ever get to them. But this is his first character part, and I thought he was really good in it.

Adam Buxton plays an account man who’s terrified of everybody.

But the main comedy plaudits go to a scary cockney client who shouts “Gertcha” when he orgasms, and a crazy Head of Global played by Simon Farnaby who strides around with an oversized pencil, the maddest hair since Kramer from Seinfeld and a very funny accent that could be Eastern European, Dutch or Finnish.

It’s worth watching the show just for him.

In terms of the writing – I hired Jon twice. First time through, he wrote some of the funniest ads ever to come out of HHCL, including Pot Noodle’s Slag of All Snacks. I always knew that he was a naturally gifted comedy writer.

Second time through, at TBWA, he arrived on the very same day I left, an incident of such poignance and sadness to me that I fully expect to see it recreated as a side-splitting scene in episode 4 or 5 of the series.

Read more on Advertising’s a joke, isn’t it?…



I’m going to treat this initial blog as a soft launch. BecauseI’vebeen told thatall the publicity – the massive war-engine of publicity which Campaign has at its disposal – is to be deployed next week.

So this week, we’re not expecting anyone to log on at all.

So, please look at this as a kind of preliminary taster.

A kind of “pre-come” column, if you will.

A preliminary and preparatory outpouring – but not the actual, honest-to-goodness, genuine thing.

So, anyway – I was at the Creative Circle Awards bash last week. Although I was only there because my old mate and former boss Dave Trott was being given a lifetime’s achievement award, and I wanted to honour the bloke.

It’s always good to see Dave and he was on great form as ever.

Just not quite as feisty as I’d have liked. Because Dave taught me allI ever knew about being feisty.

The person who WAS feisty was Alan Carr, the paid-for entertainment.

It’s interesting seeing famous people try to host these awards dos – because they usually think the whole thing is about as important as an Under-12s 5-a-side rounders tournament, where your kid isn’t playing.

And they rip the piss out of it, and then wonder why the people they’re taking the piss out of, don’t find it hugely funny.

I’ve seen really good comedians looking shell-shocked and dazed as they joke away at the industry’s expense and get a less than rapturous response.

Which is hilarious, if you’re in the right mood.

Although I was once on the wrong end of it myself. A female comedian who’d been paid to host a Radio Awards night introduced me as the Chairman of the Judges. As I walked on stage, she said “Doesn’t he walk funny – it looks like he’s shat his pants”.

I kid you not.

To be honest, it wasn’t the happiest hour of my life doling out the awards after that. Me and the female comedian smiling into the camera as the plucky winners picked up their gongs – I think my grin might have looked a bit forced.

You know when you start thinking – oh god, maybe I HAVE shat my pants ?

There’s no subtle way to check really.

But it reminds me ofa story aboutDave Droga. Nothing to do with his pants, obviously, because Dave’s hygiene is second to none. But he oncetold me he was chairing some awards do in Perth – and he was insulted for an hour anda half by a glove puppet.

So, these things happen.

But, having spent a bit of time away from the ad industry, I must say that I enjoyed Alan’s cynical take on the whole thing enormously.

So – when a nicely provocative ad for HSBC won a well-deserved award, Alan said something about how they’d “only lost £2billion that day – it must be working”.

He moaned about how bloody depressing charity ads were, reducing the audience to hoots of laughter as a Barnardo’s ad played out its emotional angst on the screen.

And most astonishingly of all, when he came to hand out the Platinum Award, and the spreads for the Harvey Nichols Bristol store came up on screen, he looked aghast and said “That’s not it, is it ?”

You don’t get that happening at the Oscars, do you ?

“And the winner of Best Picture is – No, that’s a mistake isn’t it ?”

But this extremely casual attitude, I would argue, pretty much sums up the general public’s view of advertising.

I’m gonna talk more about this – if this blog carries on. Because when you spend some time out of the industry, you realise that only really, really outstanding marketing cuts through.

That old Lord Leverhulme quote about 50% of his ad budget being wasted, and him not knowing which half it was – that’s bollocks really.

95% of marketing budgets are wasted.

And if Lord Leverhulme was around today, I’d tell him that to his face.

I’d say “Lord Leverhulme, me old mucker, you’re out by 45%. Go back and work it out again.”

We’ll talk more about this – and about whether there’s still a role for conventional advertising – in later blogs.

For now, I’ll leave you with a story I heard about aCreative Directorleaving the Grosvenor one night, with an armful of awards. The taxi driver who picked him up asked him what had been happening that evening, and the CD said “It’s an awards do for the advertising industry”.

“Blimey”, replied the cabbie, “whatever will they think of next ?”

Anyway, that’s enough for the pre-come column.

Hardly seminal, maybe.

But I do hope it’s going to be sticky.

Read more on Preliminaries…

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