Cecil the cyber Lion.

So, whatever you think about Cecil’s tragic and untimely demise, one thing is for sure, so-called ‘hunters’ might now think twice about loading up the old crossbow and rifle and heading off to needlessly slaughter our finest and most magnificent species for their own amusement.

Lord knows something needed to be done to stop the constant outraged social media posts featuring men and women sitting on endangered species with a gun and a stupid grin.

So, ironically, it might even be a positive thing.

In fact it’s the kind of thing some Zimbabwean ad agency could submit as a case history at next years Cannes. (Animal health section).

Imagine the case study.

The problem? Rich American businessmen were totally ignoring the plight of endangered species and continuing to shoot much loved wild animals for their own amusement and trophy cabinet in the mistaken belief it was still 1908.

Our strategy? make hunting African wildlife seem not worth the risk.

So we took hidden cameras and a team of ‘actors’ disguised as gamekeepers and agreed to lure a lion from it’s protected park to a place where our ‘mark’ would shoot him, manfully, with a crossbow.

But it wasn’t just any old lion, this was Cecil, the most famous lion in Zimbabwe!

But we didn’t tell our hunter that…one lion looks much like another and what did he care?

Only one day later and we posted the death of Cecil on social media sites.

Twitter and Facebook exploded with outrage!

Next we released the name of the American dentist who we duped in to killing this beautiful creature.

Walter Palmer.

Twitter went through the roof, and our dentist went in to hiding when we organised a demonstration outside his dental practice. Worldwide coverage followed on all the major TV channels.

There’s nothing like a death threat to encourage behaviour change.

Next we started a petition to have our ‘hunter’ deported to Zimbabwe to face trial. 140,000 online signatures and the President has to make a response.

Now ‘hunters’ are thinking twice before considering mercilessly killing endangered species for their own fun.

The case history film finishes to a standing ovation, and the CD & MD from the agency in Harare head for the stage to pick up their trophy.

Those Cannes juries love nothing more than an idea that changes behaviour.

Especially those over-paid, mindless, cowardly dentists.



The less you know, the better.

The easiest way to break rules is to not know the rules in the first place.

How many times have you looked at a brief and thought you’ve known exactly what was needed, from the moment you read it? I don’t mean the precise idea, but the approach.

You use those short cuts, those familiar methods. You know the client, you know the legals, you know the guidelines.

And that’s the problem.

Part of the joy that I have found by entering Pharmaland is that, frankly, I have no idea what I am doing.

Not a clue.

Okay, maybe ‘didn’t know’ is more accurate. But I am desperately trying to stay ignorant, luckily Pharmaland is the gift that keeps on giving.

That first year on these shores, and to an extent to this day, reminded me of when I had started out as a 24 year old, full of ideas and convinced I was the second coming.

But knowing sod all.

At the time I felt under-equipped, you look at the older members of the department and envy their cool assurance and experience. But now I realise that same ignorance is the junior creatives secret weapon.

Over the following twenty five years I started to know too much.

You see, people talk about burn-out as if creatives are athletes who have reached the end of their physical capabilities. Poor old Reg, he’s all thunk out.


Look at artists like David Hockney or Picasso or even Turner and they kept (or keep) producing genius works of art well past retirement age.

Because ‘burning out’ isn’t about not coming up with stuff, anyone can come up with ideas. Burn out is when those ideas are the same old ideas just regurgitated.

So when you’re new to something you don’t know the rules, which makes it fun. You get to play.

I remember the first ever ‘creative’ job I had was at a now long forgotten agency called Holmes Knight Ritchie. My first visit to the D&AD awards, (with an actual ticket) had me sitting next to the owner and Creative Director David Holmes. He was (and imagine still is) a kindly gentleman, looking rather like a Quentin Blake character, not at all cut from the same cloth as most CDs. (He later became an illustrator himself.)


He said “winning awards isn’t about doing a really great ad…it’s about doing something original.”

Now, you may be thinking..’well duh’ but it hadn’t really struck me before then. I was happy just doing really great ads! (Twizzles imaginary moustache and sits back contentedly)

We could talk about what it is to be original…maybe another time.

But what I can say is that people often get confused about that word.

As John Hegarty writes, he prefers the word fresh.

Because concepts can feature all the things you have seen before. A headline, a picture of a cat or a logo and still be original because it’s all about context and point of view and a different twist. Making new connections and combinations to create something fresh is like music, we all use the same notes…we just need to rearrange them in new ways.

So if you’re that guy or girl who is the go-to person on oncology, get yourself on to a Diabetes brand. If you are writing car ads day in day out, get hold of that Tampon brief.

Shake things up, put yourself in to new territory. Hell, even try designing a product. Everybody’s doing it.

Because it’s not youth that’s fresh, it’s knowing nothing that’s fresh which allows you to break the rules you never knew existed.





A typical day in pharmaland (part 2)

The trouble with satire is that it can be a rather blunt tool.

So I think it is worth writing a short postscript to what has been a rather successful edition, if judged by visitors alone, of my last blog. (thanks for visiting)

It just shows that controversial works. Some people thought it rather harsh, which wasn’t actually my intention. (Well, maybe a little…just for the mischief of it)

And it wouldn’t be the first time an idea of mine has been taken the wrong way.

So I feel it’s worth stating that I categorically love lions health. I think it is inspirational and prestigious and a shot in the arm for our sometimes forgotten corner of advertising.

I am not backtracking.

My point, such as it was, is still valid.

And that point, for those who thought the acidity was somewhat obfuscating, was that the work that won was (by and large) remarkably removed from what we all do day to day.

I know you all know this but you know, some people may not have.

Every conversation I had with agency people in Cannes seemed to revolve around this one point. Great work, but people saw no reflection of the work that they do, day in and day out for Pharma clients.

Now, does that mean we should all feel dejected and give up entering actual product work and only go for the pro-bono cool stuff?

Quite the opposite.

And do I feel the juries at Cannes should reward mediocre work just because that’s what most clients want and that’s what we mostly do all week?

Not at all.

I guess what I was trying to say was that the real challenge is in the mundane. How do we make those detail aids sing? How do we create HCP portals that transcend the ordinary? How can that next banner ad be the next Gold?

Is that even possible?

By all means if that brief to empower women lands on your desk, go for it. By all means if that extraordinarily worthwhile task of helping the health of Mexican communities lands on your desk, grasp it with both hands. There’s your chance to win big, don’t cock it up.

But let’s not forget the real test of whether pharma agencies deserve to sit at the same table as our swanky consumer cousins is whether we can elevate the everyday, the mundane, the boring.

Make that extraordinary and you will inspire an entire industry to improve.


(Maybe I should have just written this version instead)