The other Great War

In this week of remembrance and solemn thanks for the heroes of the Great War, who died on the fields of Flanders exactly a hundred years ago, I thought I might touch on a vastly inappropriate parallel: the unimportant war that we fight as creatives every day.

(If this blog dies in research, sod it…it’s running anyway.)

So, here are some of the letters from the front, from the brave boys and girls who signed up in the hope that their careers wouldn’t be all over by Christmas.


With thanks and gratitude to http://

“Our ad died when, after years of trying to get it bought, the account man moved agency and sold it to someone else and now I have to watch it on telly, done badly.”

“We presented a special build 48 sheet for a new Adidas football boot, but our Creative Director didn’t approve it. Then the New Zealand office from our network produced exactly the same concept (for the same fucking boot). It won a pencil at D&AD”

“We spent 5 weeks crafting the most beautiful animatic known to man, and then ran out of budget to make the actual ad”

“We wrote an ad that had these feel-good sun beams that followed people around. The client was worried the sunbeams would look like aliens trying beam the people up, or lasers shooting them from the sky. We assured them otherwise. Then after 6 months in post we finally researched our ad. The research group thought the beams were ‘aliens trying to beam the people up, or maybe lasers shooting them from the sky’. The ad never ran”

“A million pound stunt and digital campaign ended up as a rich media banner”

“We wrote probably the best ad of our career then the next week got made redundant. Our ad stayed behind and got made by another team.”


Having ‘great’ ideas stolen, lost or defeated in research is all part of the battle.

I’ve always liked the idea of a bottom draw but on so many occasions that great idea you have is great because it fits the specific brief so perfectly.

In Pharma it’s slightly different.

A lot of the themes are overlapping. A better quality of life, less pain, time to enjoy life, relief from worry..etc. So I think it’s easier to revive or extend the lives of some ideas (irony intentional) if you find yourself looking at the same type of brief again and again.

My biggest personal disappointment involved a campaign I did for BMI, a small business airline that wanted to be seen as a more personal version of BA.

They were launching a new business lounge at Heathrow and wanted to make a TV ad to tell the world.

Now, anyone who has spent time on business travel knows that it is usually not as glamorous as you might think ( better than working down a mine I grant you) and you hardly ever get to see any of the cities that you travel to. It’s normally a meeting room in a business park in the equivalent of Slough, be it Paris or Las Vegas.

But occasionally there is a perk. Occasionally there are nice hotels and restaurants and good company.

But the key is, and I give this advice freely, to never talk up the experience to your other half.

Even if you’ve just had dinner with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and been asked back to their place for a jacuzzi, what actually has happened is you’ve met two bores who only talk about themselves and now have to endure more time with and their noisy gang of badly behaved children.

Anyway that was the insight we used for this one ad. The script had all the business travelers slagging off the new gorgeous lounge to their other halves on their mobiles while clearly enjoying themselves, with the thought…’remember, you’re not supposed to be enjoying this’

What I particularly liked was spending thirty seconds actually rubbishing the product and getting away with it.

As we were putting the finishing touches to the post production three things happened.

The marketing director left, the price of oil went through the roof (which if you’re an airline is somewhat impactful) and a new client arrived who wanted her old agency on the case.

She came in, said she wasn’t interested in even seeing anything we had done and that the account would be moved forthwith to M&C Saatchi.

We had to call back photographers from around the world who were shooting print ads, everything was halted.

Thank you and good night.

Shit happens.

And when it happens to you, dear reader, I recommend remaining sanguine about it. It’s only advertising, yes it may effect your portfolio or reel in the short term but the test of a creative is being able to show up for work the next day with a childlike naivety and believe that the next brief that lands on your desk is the one.

One other observation, if someone tells you “they really love it but don’t think it is right at the moment but they want to keep it for next year, or later in the year, or a different brand or the second phase” take it from me, that campaign is going nowhere.

The one famous occasion that an idea has risen from the grave was of course the Carling campaign from the 80’s and 90’s.

‘I bet he drinks Carling black label’ started out as ” I bet he drinks milk’ in a pitch to the milk marketing board.

I wonder if milk had gone with it whether it would still be a campaign running today?

I’ll leave you with my favourite tale from the creative trenches.

“Our creative director went with a placement girl/guy team’s route instead of ours, when I asked him what the work was that had beaten us he said ‘to be honest, the work was on a par, but the placement girl is just hotter than you”

Ah, advertising. Gotta love it.




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