Tag Archives: creativity

Time to kill the turkey ?

It used to be the suits I felt sorry for.

Sandwiched between unhappy clients and unyielding creatives, they were often to be found blubbing in the toilets.

Which wasn’t necessarily a good look for a managing director.

Meet the king who doesn’t like logos



You don’t half meet some interesting people in this business.

Just the other day, I was sitting in the Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell (a terrible place to plot a start-up, even if the wi-fi is working, because you’re in danger of being spotted by lots of other ad-folk from all round – in fact a better bet would probably be Look Mum No Hands in Old Street, which is a really brilliant cafĂ© too). I was having tea with one of the smartest media strategists in London, when my “next” coffee turned up.

I’d been introduced to him via email by an old friend of mine, Anne-Fay Townsend, who now works for Dentsu.

You should meet this guy, she wrote, he’s brilliant.

The only problem was that “this guy” had decided to call himself “King Adz”. So when he walked up to our table, I had no idea how to introduce him to the strategist.

I just couldn’t bring myself to say “This is King Adz”.

I just couldn’t do it.

It was an awkward moment … fortunately followed by a brilliant 60 minutes.

Adz (his real name is Adam, and I refuse to call anyone “King”) is a complete maverick who’s worked all round the world, shooting stuff, making stuff, writing books, working with the coolest brands, etc, etc, etc.

So – here are some of his thoughts, with a few interpolations from me.

“It’s all about … the shit that can’t be bottled”.

(I agree. Creativity, taking risks, is “the stuff that can’t be bottled” – the real magic in our industry. Not the smoke and mirrors jargon of tech-speak.)

“One take on the future of creativity is creating ‘entertainment’ or distractions from real life and hooking the viewer in with something completely original and authentic.  It’s only after you’ve grabbed them by the shirt collar, spun them around a couple of times and dropped them back into their seat, street, or feet, that you reveal that, just perhaps, there may be a brand involved in all of this.”

(Again, love it. It’s all about creating immersive content. And I’m always looking for ways of “hiding” the branding in a commercial message. Not out of sheer arsiness – but out of a commercial realisation that clumsily-done branding kills more marketing messages than anything else. Even Millward Brown with their gear-stick test can tell you this. I once experimented by trying to brand a Britvic film by hiding the letters B R I T V I C through the film.)

Back to Adz.

“The ideal for me is to work with brands who will let me create great content and not necessarily insist on having a logo revealed at the end. This would … take creativity to the next level.’But they have to show their logo!’ I hear you shout! Not necessarily. With the advent of social media, once the creative has dropped and has hit the mark, word can be leaked (via Twitter) that Brand X is actually behind all the goings on. This makes a much more powerful proposition, as the public will still respect the creative even after they find out it’s for a brand, as the creative was kept clean of any tainting by the brand.”

(Again, bang on. We talked about how Sony Playstation screwed up a graffiti campaign in Berlin once by making it too sell-y and pissing off the very people they wanted to impress. Selly-ness is the enemy. I’ve always said to clients – look at the work as a consumer not as a marketing director.)

“This is not just about Youth brands, but from past experience I’ve found that it’s the more youthful end of the market that will allow me more freedom to do good work “.

(HHCL toyed with the idea of positioning itself as a youth agency for exactly this reason. Youth brands are allowed to experiment more – is it any surprise that they’re the most interesting and the most talked-about ?)

And to sum up –  “1) Use Creativity to grab attention. 2) Engage with the viewer and get their empathy, create a connection. 3) Don’t treat them like they’re idiots, as they know instantly when something sucks. 4) Create something original, work hard, and be nice to everyone.”

(I love all those but I’d say it’s just down to two things. 1) Break the rules, otherwise you’re going to be invisible. 2) Do that in a way that makes an emotional connection.)

This week I’ve also been reading the “Digital Advertising” book brought out by Creative Social – it’s brilliant. I’ll get onto that next week.

But for now – thanks, Adz. Sovereign words, mate.

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What does a start-up need ?



I was talking to a planner the other day from one of the big agencies. We were talking about start-ups because I give two bits of advice to everybody I meet in this business.

One is, start a new agency. You’ll have more fun and get more sense of purpose than at any other time in your career.

Two, don’t sell it. If you want to have a proper relationship with clients, you’ve got to be able to part company with them. And the holding companies don’t like that.  

A passion for doing the right work has to be more important than agreeing to do stuff, just to pay the bills.

Having said that, HHCL didn’t fire a lot of clients. In fact, I’m not sure we ever fired any clients at all.

But we knew we could, and that made a big difference.

However, some of the toughest times in my career have been working with clients where we couldn’t fire them and they couldn’t fire us.

These accounts were held at some higher level which precluded either of us saying “this isn’t working, let’s call it a day”.

I know for a fact that this was as frustrating for them as it was for us.

In this context, I remember Jay Chiat once telling me something which I still find astonishing. Apparently, when Chiat Day was the hottest shop in America, he used to formally resign ALL his clients every December 31.

It was up to them if they wanted to re-hire the agency.

But back to the planner. What she said was really interesting – if she did a start-up, she wouldn’t take any creatives with her.

Now, she may have just meant from that particular agency – but it raises an interesting question as to whether you need creatives at all.

It used to be that a creative “star” of some sort was considered a sine qua non of any start-up.

For instance, Simon Clemmow and Johnny Hornby made a huge PR story out of looking for the most talented creative guy in London to partner them in their start-up.

Before settling for Sidney Qua Non.

(Sorry, a joke based on an obscure Latin phrase may be over some of my readers’ heads. Feel free to make up your own jokes at this point.)

But these days creatives are often seen as “not getting it”, holding up the process, being old school etc.

And I think that, sadly, there is some truth in this.

On virtually every jury I’ve ever been on, I’ve been shocked by how conservative most established creatives are.

Young creatives are different – they’re out to prove themselves, and they’re generally open to new thinking.

But throughout my career I’ve seen the massive difference 3 or 4 years in the business can have on creatives.

They either find they don’t fit in, and understandably become very disillusioned – or they manage to get some work out that attracts good notices, and then they think they’d better keep repeating the same formula.

Or, the horrible middle ground, they find that by doing average garbage they get their bills paid and so they just plough on, but without any belief that outstanding work is possible.

I’m off for a week’s holiday now, but in two weeks’ time, I’m going to Creative Social, the group of digital creative leaders set up by Daniele Fiandaca, and also going to mentor at the School of Communication Arts.

Those are the two extremes (consistent success as radical thinkers or early naivety) when people tend to be most open-minded.

But it’s interesting to consider whether you actually need “creatives” to start an agency.

Especially if you want to focus on the area which will give you the biggest USP right now –  which is a passionate belief in rule-breaking, original creativity.

Read more on What does a start-up need ?…

Bleedin’ genius

In 1756 Edward Burke described  the “sublime” as coming from something “capable of exciting pain or danger”.

And just the other day, France’s ex-justice minister Rachida Dati told Canal Plus: “I see some [foreign investment funds] looking for returns of 20 or 25% at a time when fellatio is close to zero.”

I think those two quotes sum up the state of the nation right now.

(Incidentally, some commentators think the French politician meant to say “inflation”, but I’m not convinced.)

Or let’s approach this from another angle.

How many geniuses have you met in advertising ?

And what are they doing now ?

I remember reading a piece in Campaign once, about the late Geoff Seymour, a guy who at one stage seemed to epitomise everything that was cool and glamorous about advertising. He’d written the line “The World’s Favourite Airline” for British Airways; he wrote the original Hovis ads and “Reassuringly expensive” for Stella, and tons of other brilliant stuff. He was also the first copywriter to earn a salary of ÂŁ100,000 pa – a feat which meant that his name passed into common usage as adfolk told you they were on “three-quarters of a Seymour”.

He was good-looking and super-confident, but in a  “Where are they now ?” article from a few years ago, he was portrayed as a sad loser, with a permanent residency on a bar-stool at the Chelsea Arts Club.

Now I’m not saying he was a genius, but he was clearly a very gifted creative. However, like a lot of creatives, he didn’t manage the route to his pension very well.

Now this isn’t a plea for some kind of home for retired advertising creatives – that exists already, and it’s called the local pub.

Or, Wales.

But it is a question – which is, how seriously does advertising take its core resource of creative talent ?

I was talking to a creative the other day who is working at Fallon. We both raved about what that agency had created in its short London history.

For me, there aren’t many transcendent moments in marketing, but arguably Fallon came up with three – the Skoda cake, Sony balls and the Cadbury gorilla.

And I can tell you, because HHCL had a similar track record in the previous decade,  that peaks like this don’t come about as flukes. They don’t come out of thin air, or because you make a lucky hiring. They come out of an agency that builds its creative vision consistently and persistently.

They come out of a vision that is adhered to through thick and thin, through often painful years of growth and fighting.

If the people at the top of advertising, the big holding company swinging dicks, really cared about this industry, they’d be asking – what factors led Fallon and HHCL and CDP to create decade-defining work ?

But all they’re thinking is – let’s hope those buggers fail, it makes a flatter field for the rest of us.

And right now I don’t see many agencies that put creativity first, that will defend and stand up for their creative work … that – ultimately – even believe it’s important.

I see a massive over-supply of agencies of all descriptions, who will tip up and show a client a bunch of ideas and, when those are blown out, will say “fine, see you next Tuesday, we’ll bring some new ones.”

That kind of approach doesn’t add value to anybody or anything – and isn’t sustainable.

Anyway – I’m off to chat to a bunch of students at Bucks College to see if they’ve got any answers.

The first question I’m going to ask them is – why are you joining this industry  ?

Speaking for myself, I love the intersection of business and creativity.

But I want to hear what they say.


Read more on Bleedin’ genius…

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