Three things I’ve learned in advertising.

When I was starting out, my fledgling partner and I, a curly-haired chap by the name of Rob, were full of youthful gusto and a hefty helping of self confidence.

(You know, two white guys).

We worked many nights in my cold Shepherd’s Bush flat trying to crack this concepting lark and as we improved I remember us thinking that all the crappy ads out there only proved that there was room for us in the industry.

You’re getting an idea of how naive I was.

Anyway, what we mistakenly thought was a creative meritocracy, was only partly that. Once we had successfully navigated nine months of internships and a hundred and ten book crits, we were in a real live agency with an actual job it began to dawn on us why the status quo was the status quo.

It was the start of an education and not all about the ‘craft’.

One time I saw a layout lying around (from a senior team) that was a new campaign for a box of chocolates. 

The line was ‘You give ’em cos you love ’em’ It was accompanied by a sweet pic of a man giving a lady some of the chocs in a romantic setting.

Anyway, I had the bright idea of mentioning to the CD at the time that the line implied to me that people give chocolates so that they can be offered one back. That seemed a more human and interesting take on it, rather than a bland romantic gesture.

Incredibly, the CD agreed. Wow I thought, that’s impressed him. He even went to the senior team and told them to change the campaign. I was rather smug.

Needless to say the team were furious at me.

There was me trying to help!

The client bought the new campaign and the TV ads even ran. Of course I had no credit.

Anyway, a year later the CD was fired and the senior team with the chocolate campaign took over and before I knew it they had fired me.

Lesson 1: Nobody likes a smart-ass.

Cut to the early nineties and I’m working in an agency in Great Portland Street just off Oxford street. The CD was not much of a creative mind and had made his name off the back of someone else’s idea (allegedly) that had got him a Grand Prix at Cannes. In the days when there was only one Grand Prix and winning one was a ticket to fame and fortune.

Not being very creative isn’t a crime as such, he was a nice man and good company, an awful narcissist and hypochondriac mind you, but he was a born salesman. Just not a great creative, although he was convinced he was the equal of John Webster. ( If you don’t know who John Webster is look him up)

One day his PA came in to a meeting while we were reviewing work and announced that she had to go home because her dad had had a heart attack.

“Yes of course..of course” he said displaying the right level of compassion, while patting his chest.

Then came a line I shall never forget:

“Actually I am not feeling too good myself today”.

Lesson 2: Never underestimate people’s ability to think of themselves first.

Cut to the early 2000’s, my partner Dom Gettins and I were working on a new campaign for Haagen Dazs.

It was kind of an idea around a new age spoof, a group of Americans who had discovered that pleasure is the path to joy.

The client was worried that it would look like a cult. We assured them it wouldn’t.

But it so did.

Anyway, we had to shoot a quick and rough. We thought we did a pretty good job of making Surbiton look like California and it felt very different.

It researched really well and the client’s procurement guy kept saying we should just run the Q&R.

As true creatives we wouldn’t hear of such a thing and pressed them to have a ‘real’ Director shoot it. We won the argument and shot it in Spain doubling for California – it looked great and even got shortlisted at Cannes.

But now I look back at it I think we made it too glossy. It looked like an ad, a weird ad, but an ad.

Our Q&R had a very different vibe to it.

We should have listened to that guy and run the Q&R. The quick and rough was fresher and maybe could have been a bronze!

Lesson 3. Embrace the different.

That’s it. That’s the blog.

2 thoughts on “Three things I’ve learned in advertising.

Add yours

  1. Hi Olly, another cracker. And so so true. I particularly liked lesson two, and it took me back to an agency I worked in, also in Great Portland Street, as it happens. We had a motorbike courier, a nice young lad, who would deliver those all important ‘trannies’ (it meant something rather different in those days), tearing about London on a huge Suzuki. One day, we were gathered in the boardroom when the PA came running in, looking terribly distressed. It turns out the courier was delivering a very important transparency, when he collided with a car. The courier went straight over the handlebars, but unfortunately, left his testicles on the speedometer. And what was the first thing the Chief Exec. said? “What happened to the transparency?” Lesson 4, perhaps, at the end of the day, however nice or good you think you are, no one really gives a shit about you.

    All the best,

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