Fucking apostrophes

Simon Griffin, copywriter and reader of this blog has just sent me his excellent new book, Fucking Apostrophes.


To cut a long story short, I’ve written a book. It’s more of a self promotional book than something you’ll find in Waterstones, but I’ve printed about 500 copies (via helpful design friends). It’s called Fucking Apostrophes: A guide to show you where you can stick them. So far there’s only a twitter account (@fingapostrophes) but the website should be live once I’ve tweaked a few final bits.
Thanks in advance, and keep up the great work.
Kind regards,
It has been beautifully designed by the creative agency Music, who also set up a website to distribute the fucking thing.
Go get one. It’s a perfect fucking stocking filler, fucking bogread and fucking grammar guide.

Prayer is for ‘everyone’ except people who go to cinemas.

The way I see it, if prayer is for everyone, there are three possible audiences for this:

  1. People who already pray. This might make them feel even more virtuous than they do already, and solidify their faith if it’s a bit shaky.
  2. People who are a bit on the fence about praying. Maybe they forget to pray as much as they could/should and this reminds them that you can do it anywhere, no matter what your age or ethnicity.
  3. People who think religion is a stupid load of old bollocks. Perhaps this incredibly persuasive ad will get them to reassess their attitude towards the practical help that can be gained from talking to an imaginary figure in the sky who created the world in six days before having a fag break. Good luck with that!

Anyway, all the major UK cinema chains have banned it because they don’t allow religious or political advertising, so God is going to have to wait for all those amazing messages of thanks, hope and/or self-centred greed.

Work Person or Career Person?

Last week Paul Burke, the excellent creative and friend of mine, wrote a very interesting article.

It made the undeniable yet provocative suggestion that some creatives are ‘work people’, while others are ‘career people’:

Sweeping generalisation alert
Here’s the first one: creatives are all work people, aren’t they? Coming up with ideas and executing them brilliantly is all that matters to them. They take great pride in the craft of creation. For them, excellence is its own reward – but if their work also receives garlands from various awards juries, their careers are destined to flourish. 

But it doesn’t quite work like that, though, does it? We all know some brilliant creative people who have not been as successful as they should have been. And we certainly know some spectacularly useless ones who have somehow secured very senior positions. Second sweeping generalisation: they will be the career people.

So to sum up, we have people in the creative department who are really just interested in the work, ie: making the best ads they can make, while others are partly interested in that, but only to the extent that it helps them to advance in their career. Paul concedes that he is generalising in his assertions, as he then suggests the ‘career’ people are most likely to be middle class because they’ll be better at the inevitable meetings that come with ascending the corporate ladder:

The doctor and the priest
Creative departments have always attracted people from working-class backgrounds. When I was growing up, Dr Curry and Father O’Leary were the only people I knew who had anything resembling a career. Everyone else had jobs. Usually manual, often menial, so they were obviously work people. Which is why creative people from humbler beginnings tend to be work people too. And while they are being judged purely on their work, that’s fine. But after a few years, other factors start creeping into play. 

In a meeting
As creatives become more senior, they are expected to attend more meetings and raw creative talent becomes less important. This is the moment the career people have been waiting for. If they have managed not to get fired – and they are very adept at this – they can now start to pull ahead. Often more (sweeping generalisation) middle-class, they are quite comfortable in meetings. And the more they can talk the talk, the less they will have to walk the walk.

Wow, I’m really doing a bad job of paraphrasing this article, but lazy copy-and-pasting seems to a better way of getting Paul’s points across. Having said that, I can tell you Paul goes on to suggest that career people apparently care much more about job titles and have better websites, some of which might mendaciously imply that they’ve done some great work that they actually haven’t.

In the end he says there are good and bad points to both, but you’d be a tiny bit thick if you didn’t see him leaning somewhat in the direction of the ‘work person’. He doesn’t seem to have ended up with the multi-hyphenate job title in the upper reaches of WPP, but then he does have a pretty distinctive online presence.

My take on this is that it’s an interesting view with a certain amount of truth to it, but it’s in those ‘sweeping generalisations’ that it starts to break down. I guess the definitions of ‘middle class’ can get pretty muddled these days, but I wouldn’t say that Trevor Beattie, Paul Silburn or Tony Davidson are the ‘career’ types Paul suggests, yet each has risen to the top job in a London office of an international network from fairly normal beginnings. David Abbott’s dad ran a shop. Is that middle class? Surely Mr. Abbott was utterly obsessed with the ‘work’, and yet progressed in a very ‘careerist’ fashion when he became MD of DDB’s London office in the 60s. Similarly, Peter Souter’s work was brilliant, allowing him to be promoted to be in charge of people he admits were more talented than him, and even when he was ECD of the largest agency in the UK he still wrote plenty of ads. Were the working class Mark Denton and Chris Palmer just doing another job when they opened their own agency, or were they building a career? Does the intention matter, or just the reality?

Paul also suggests that career people spend 25% of their time on their work and 75% of their time on their career. There may be some truth in that; after all, who hasn’t met the team with one articulate PR person who shakes the right hands and ingratiates himself with the management, and one quiet fella who everyone suspects of writing all the ads? The former will be most likely to become a CD, while the latter may well become one of the perpetual ‘workers’ Paul mentions. Having said that, this does bring up the thorny question of what counts as careerist behaviour and what merely helps to suggest a creative has all the attributes necessary for promotion? Any creative promotion has to start with some good work, so wherever anyone heads after that, they would had to have shown some promise in that area in the first place. And to get up to the management positions you really have to have done a fair amount of acclaimed stuff (yes, in these digital days the need for famous, awarded work might have been reduced, after all, if it’s not in the old traditional media of TV, Press and Posters, the chances of it really affecting culture are much lower). I think the people who have risen to the top with very little good work are few and far between, in numbers that don’t really back up Paul’s point sufficiently for it to be credible.

I’d also say that there’s a lot of grey area in any career progression. If I look at my own situation, I did enough good ads to be asked to start an agency. Was that career or work? Were my ‘people skills’ a big part of that suggestion? At that point I was in the CD club, which gave me a good standing for my next move, but my next move was to leave the agency and spend three years freelancing, despite plenty of D&AD entries. So was that work or career? I then became a CD at a London agency for the next three years. Was it my middle class articulacy that got me the job, or my book? Was my interest in that position a symptom of my grasping careerism, or a logical next step? I certainly enjoyed being a CD because of the new challenges it provided; having written ads for fifteen years I was ready for something similar but different. The same applies to my move to LA. I could have stayed in London, continuing to do pretty much the same thing as I’d done for the previous three years, but I wanted the fresh challenge of a new situation in a new country. Careerism or a wish to expand myself? In effect, I was one of a handful of people running the London office, while in LA I’m further from the top, but I get to learn from some very smart people, both in the creative department and outside it. I think by Paul’s definition I’m building up some sort of career, but that makes it seem like there’s a deliberate plan which has always been in the back of my mind. Yes, I’m middle class and articulate with a good (non-mendacious) online presence and a job title that I’m not really bothered about. Without going into details, my job is about half creative and half management, but I only really contribute creatively in a CD capacity where I improve work I’ve been shown (when appropriate).

Paul continues:

And that point often comes when career people find themselves in charge of work people more talented and experienced than they are. This can make them feel awkward and insecure, so they set about preventing the work people from doing the very thing they are good at. The career person cannot see that the work people are no threat to them at all. If they had wanted the job, the title, the responsibilities and the anxieties, they too would have spent their careers desperately trying to acquire them.

This is something I can’t recall ever seeing. Managers who prevent work people from doing work? That would be pretty perverse. Peter Souter once wrote an article about that very situation when he was made ECD of AMV. He said he just let his very talented department get on with what they were great at, which was clearly a good idea as AMV soon became the most awarded agency in the world. And ‘If they had wanted the job, the title, the responsibilities and the anxieties, they too would have spent their careers desperately trying to acquire them’? Is it merely lack of desire that prevents this? Or lack of the skills and attributes Paul suggests are necessary for a climb up the ladder?

So is it better to be a work person?
Of course it is. You retain your talent, your soul and the respect of your peers. People like who you are, they like what you do and they will always want to work with you. But, deep down, you do feel slightly embittered. It’s not fair. You didn’t really get to reap what you sowed. Was that because you wouldn’t accept that you needed more talents than just talent? Or because you didn’t play the game? Or, most likely, because you still haven’t realised that there was one? 

Here the sweep of the generalisation is a little too wide. On the whole, I’d imagine work people and career people are as likeable or otherwise as each other. I’ve certainly met some unpleasant workers and some lovely managers, and vice versa. And your ‘soul and the respect of your peers’? I’d say Mr. Abbott retained his soul and the respect of his peers, even when he was at DDB, otherwise no one would have asked him to join them in starting an agency. And if you’ve been a brilliant creative for many years but not become a CD, there’s usually an element of disrespect from your peers. Why have you not made the jump? What are you missing? Surely it can’t just be desire? Whether that’s the case or not is entirely subjective, but the suggestion that a lifelong ad creative is what we should all aspire to be is frankly a bit of an odd one.

Or a career person?
Absolutely. You’ve done very nicely, shrewdly embedding yourself into that major piece of business. You’ve got the big corner office, the nice fat salary and the Club Class flights to that “Future of Creativity” conference in Miami. But, deep down, you know you’re not very good, so how long much longer can you fool people into thinking that you are? You also know you are just a number (actually, quite a lot of numbers) that your global paymasters could delete at any time. So now you use all your creative energy to devise ever-more political survival strategies. Is this really how you wanted to end up?

I’d assume if you’ve got a big corner office and all that jazz then you probably haven’t fooled people into thinking you’re good, but actually proved it. But perhaps it’s being good at a new set of valuable skills, such as being able to compile a good department, hiring and firing as necessary, creating a good mix that works impressively. You should also be able to manage budgets, balance the needs of the department with the needs of the agency and its clients, sell the good work of others, manage the fragile egos of creative people etc. If you’re shit at all that, no corner office for you. And global paymasters can delete any number at any time. Plenty of workers bite the dust along with career people, including very good examples of both.

So overall, there’s a little truth buried beneath a mountain of generalisation. How you make the transition from creative to creative management, whether that’s the right thing to do, and why this oxymoronic career progression is the clearest career path available to advertising creatives, are fascinating questions. But there are so many shades of grey within Paul’s black and white that his analysis doesn’t so much help as entertain.

I’m sure it also makes ‘workers’ feel better about themselves… 😉

Out in the fields the fighting has begun. Out on the streets they’re falling one by one. Out from the skies a thousand more will die each day. Death is just the weekend.

Picture of Donald Trump made from 500 dicks (thanks, C).

The power of props in movies (thanks, J):

How a working class couple amassed a priceless art collection (thanks, T).

The making of Abbey Road, including outtakes and alt cover shots (thanks, T2).

Advertising awards for all!

Subject of You’re So Vain finally revealed!

This explanation of the Theory of Relativity is so good it won $400,000:

Has Wes Anderson been to North Korea? (Thanks, R.)

Bowie’s new and creepy Blackstar video/short film (thanks, T):

James Stenson

Hi all,

One of the other dads at my son’s school is the excellent photographer James Stenson.

He’s one of those versatile guys who has done war zones, celebs, on-set, advertising etc.

He currently has an ongoing project where he adds tattoos to the bodies of kids.

Here’s my son Jackson with my tattoos (not the chest one; just the arms):

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 09.51.31

Thanks, James!

BBH: A few Questions

BBH: the story so far…

Formed in 1982, Bartle Bogle Hegarty immediately became one of the best, most respected and coolest ad agencies in the UK and the world. It’s work for such diverse clients as Levi’s, Audi and Lynx established it as not only an awards magnet, but also an agency capable of dictating what was cool to an entire generation.

So far so good.

I have to admit, as someone who has worked for the last four years at an agency that never pitches, and for the last 16 months in LA, I don’t keep very close tabs on the British agency ‘scene’. That said, occasionally a lazy moment might lead my fingers to corners of the internet related to the ‘industry’. One of those moments found me checking out the website of the aforementioned BBH. I had a good old scroll, dear reader, and I must tell you, I am now rather confused. Confused enough to ask the following questions:

1. Why is your ‘about’ section so self-contradictory?

The power of difference to make a difference.

That’s what we believe in. That’s what we do.

We create ideas that make a real difference to our clients’ businesses. Setting them apart from their competitors. Shaping culture, rather than just following it.

Our enduring commitment to difference is best embodied by The Black Sheep. It represents our businesses, our culture and the people who work here.

BBH is a set of highly specialist and connected creative businesses offering services such as UX, digital, ecommerce and CRM, agile production and sports marketing. Different skills working together to unlock the power of difference for our clients.

By that I mean that if you espouse the characteristics of the ‘black sheep’, or the one that goes against the grain, why write such generic waffle about yourself? Then again, I’m not sure any other company is combining those varied attributes, so maybe that’s what they mean by embodying the Black Sheep.

2. If BBH  is an advertising agency, why isn’t ‘advertising’ one of the words after ‘such as’ in the last paragraph of the ‘about’ section? Oddly enough it’s just UX, digital, ecommerce and CRM, agile production (what exactly is that?) and sports marketing. Is that really what BBH has become? An agency that lists six things that form its offering to the paying client, none of which is advertising, and one of which is ‘sports marketing’?

3. Why is sports marketing such a big deal to BBH? Here’s BBH’s explanation:

We believe in the power of sport.

It is innately emotional and inherently social.

Combine the power of sport with the power of creativity and the results can be staggering.

We work with sports brands, sporting events, sports talent, rights holders and organisations wanting to build their brand through sport.

We are a collection of people, from very different backgrounds, united by a love of sport and brand building.

They even have Uber-CD Ewan Patterson in charge of it all. But you could replace the word ‘sport’ with ‘music’ in the above, so what I don’t get is why sport and not something else? Many ad agencies have very strong sport connections (eg: W&K, 180), but do they offer separate sports marketing? Not that I’m aware of. Ewan and Lawrence Dallaglio (yes, that one) are listed as ‘Founding Partners’, so it’s not just a division of the company, it’s something a little more substantial than that. Perhaps it’s a very clever idea to get into a growing niche. Perhaps I’m just behind the times.

4. I know doing the Christmas ad for a big retailer is hard, but what’s all this about?

It seems really misjudged, both as a piece of communication and as a representation of this cornerstone British brand. Aren’t Tesco in trouble, relatively speaking? Will this help?

5. While we’re on the subject of actual advertising, how is this connected to a tube of sweets? And do they really expect anyone to believe the whole thing hasn’t been faked?

6. There seems to be an increasing focus on digital (I’ve even heard tell that they are attempting to move their clients away from TV). If that’s the case, why is their explanation of their digital offering so vague?

Digital Products and services:

Digital innovation helping brands deliver their promise through better or new experiences.

On the same subject, why is their TV section full of ‘Content’ and ‘Integrated’ work, even though both those disciplines have their own sections? Could BBH, the place that routinely used to walk BTAA Agency of the Year, really not muster eight TV spots for their website?

8. They have an interesting image of a sheep, divided into sections like a butcher’s diagram. Tellingly, the largest section, right in the middle, is of course for Sports Marketing. Elsewhere, they offer something called ‘Creative Studio’: Based in Milton Keynes. Focused on delivering creative that sells at every touch-point along the consumer journey. Does the stuff they do in Kingly Street not focus on delivering creative that sells at every touch-point along the consumer journey? What happens in Milton Keynes that can’t happen in London?

Look, I get that the work isn’t perhaps of the standard of the 80s/90s/2000s, but this entire site seems to convey an image of a corporation seeking out uninspiring ways in which to make money. The old BBH, the one that inspired insane jealousy amongst the world’s creatives, the one that resigned Asda because they wouldn’t let them make good work, even the one that got the country talking with those Yeo Valley ads, well, it seems to have disappeared.

That’s a huge shame for advertising as a whole, for if this is what BBH has now become, what hope is there for the UK’s other agencies?

The Sainsbury’s Christmas Ad

I found it quite charming and well made. It’s a little sugary, but with enough wanton destruction to temper the fromage-y ending.

I rather like Mog. We read her books round my way. There was one where Mog pissed on an armchair then ran away. She does seem to be something of a liability.

But who cares what I think? Here are some comments from YouTube people to shape our opinions:

mog needs to get its shit together
It’s the second week of November. Calm the fuck down.
Can cats even eat egg?
ffs mog not again u cheeky prick
Ffs Mog, every Christmas you do this m8 you cheeky cunt
In reality the family probably would of ended up eating Mog.
Fucking hell Mog, you stupid prick. You almost fucked christmas up. What a bellend
Mpg is a fucking ugly name fuck sainsburys
It’s a good thing no-one is named ‘Mpg’ in the video then.
This is so silly, only inbred people who live on a tiny island could have come up with it.
This is fucking stupid it’s fucking November you fucking cunts
You are here commenting on the video. So, who’s the cunt?
Fuck off Mog, no one loved you in the first place you fluffy cunt
For fucks sake Mog, you can’t even eat egg you little cunt
9/11 would burn down house after reincarnation as cat again

You don’t know what the sound is, darlin’. It’s the sound of my tears fallin’. Or is it the rain? You don’t know the weekend.

Football mascots observing a minute’s silence.

The amazing life of Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek.

iTunes terms and conditions reimagined as a graphic novel.

Excellent JJ Abrams interview (thanks, J).

Brilliant street art (thanks, K).

Handwritten lyrics by Bowie, Bush, Ramone etc (thanks, T).

Why did women start shaving their armpits? (Thanks, H):

Interview with Walter Murch, one of the all-time great editors (thanks, J).

Album covers, slightly reimagined (thanks, D).

Creative apartheid – an advertising board game (thanks, T).

David Foster Wallace interview (thanks, T).

The new John Lewis ad

I’d almost forgotten how much people like to give their opinions on the ad du jour.

Well, there’s currently no ad du jourier than this one:

I think it’s fascinating how the JOHN LEWIS AD has become a national event, with significance far beyond the ad itself. It’s also singlehandedly turned the UK Christmas season into an extended version of America’s Superbowl, where the biggest brands compete for the nation’s cash through the medium of quite long, emotional ads.

(And there’s that word emotional. I mentioned yesterday that those of us who speak English tend to use ’emotional’ to convey a feeling that we don’t really have a word for. It’s kind of a happy/sad, often nostalgic sensation that we can’t put our finger on. And despite having a massive vocabulary (we have 800,000+ words, four times more than German), we still haven’t managed to come up with an agreed upon collection of letters that conveys the thing we limply call ’emotional’. And yet we have a very precise word for a situation in which many men ejaculate on a woman’s face at the same time. How odd of us…)

Sorry, back to the ad:

I think John Lewis has become a little bit of an Arsene Wenger: they set the bar so high in the early days that anything that doesn’t measure up to the first successes is tinged with a little negativity. Is it up there with the little boy who is just gagging to give his parents a present? Or the bear and the hare? Will it spawn the obligatory number one single with a remarkably twee version of some other ditty (this time it’s erstwhile Oasis B-side and Royle Family theme tune Half The World Away)?

So even though it’s much better than 99% of ads that have been on TV this year, it’s not one of my favourite JL ads. The story is nice enough, but that old man is a bit creepy. I think it might have helped if they’d cast someone who could more immediately elicit sympathy. Instead, I’m kind of relieved that this fella is trapped on the moon, and not, for example, down here offering Werther’s Originals to passing schoolkids. I get that he’s representing all the lonely old people and Christmas, and find this giant arrow pointed in the direction of their plight a GOOD THING, but next time get one who’s a bit more likeable. And maybe don’t give him a telescope so he can spy on little girls.

Anyway, some journalists with nothing better to write about are reading far too much into it, while others have christened the old man ‘Moon Hitler’, so the buzz machine is in full swing: job done. Again. This kind of consistent quality is very hard to pull off, so it’s to the massive credit of A&E DDB that they’ve managed to make such an enormous splash for the umpteenth year in a row.

(By the way, there’s a kind of mini script under the YouTube link that contains a ghastly ad-ism: ‘Lily watches on as our man goes about his chores, all alone up there.’ I hate the use of ‘our man’ in scripts. It’s lazy and poor writing that you only find in ad scripts, but to be honest I don’t think I’ve seen it in maybe fifteen years.)

Let’s leave the last word to Goldie Lookin’ Chain:

In 2007 everyone said ‘if you don’t have digital in your book, you’re a dinosaur’. Then what happened?

I’m just having a read of this FT article on how ‘Mad Men Lost The Plot’.

The gist of it is that we all rushed towards ‘digital’ advertising because it allowed companies to target their consumers with far greater accuracy than a TV ad. Why spend a huge amount of money communicating to ten million people when many of them won’t have the faintest interest in your category, let alone your brand? Well, apparently there’s no brand growth in targeting your already-loyal customers (the ones who sign up to your Facebook page); you need to target the light users and nudge them into making their use a little less light. What media are best for that? TV, press, posters and radio.
The other problem with much of ‘digital’ (funny how terrible human beings are when it comes to really important adjectives. Have you ever wondered why people describe so many things as ’emotional’ without even specifying which emotion? ‘Digital’ is the same: so much covered with a single word that it’s now virtually meaningless) is that it’s boring. Think of those little banners that follow you all over the internet after you almost buy a shirt from a website but change your mind before completing the purchase. Or the messages on the right hand side of your Facebook feed. Boring and annoying: two adjectives you really shouldn’t have anywhere near your brand if you want people to like it.
“Les Binet, from John Lewis’s agency Adam & Eve DDB, is one of the industry’s most respected experts on advertising effectiveness. In 2013, on behalf of the IPA, Binet, along with Peter Field, conducted an analysis of the most successful UK campaigns of the past 30 years. They found that “the most effective advertisements of all are those with little or no rational content”, and that TV is the emotional medium par excellence. An online banner ad, however smartly targeted, is unlikely to make anyone grin, gasp or weep.”

So why did we rush with such abandon towards this new frontier? A few reasons:

  1. The ad industry loves new things (see: ageism). Beyond that, it also hates to get left behind (see: the desperate openings of agencies on Second Life). Digital was both ‘new’ and ‘cool’; how could advertising not smooch its buttocks into oblivion?
  2. Human beings like things they can measure, which is why quantity so often wins over quality. Show me 50 ideas and I’ll know without any doubt that you did the work for which I pay you money. Give me a single, brilliant idea and there’s still a nagging feeling that you just came up with it while sitting on the lav in between games of Halo. Digital advertising can be measured with (theoretically) great accuracy, so the people paying for it feel far more comfortable with it. Alas, what they failed to measure was the huge amount of fraud in those measurements.
  3. We all do it. We’re all in the digital space all day: sending emails, visiting websites, liking pictures on Facebook. How could the idea of putting out messages in this medium be anything other than THE RIGHT THING TO DO? Perhaps we forgot that we spend all our time in the digital space doing the things we like to do and hating anything that interrupts that. Y’know, like ads.

Anyway, billions of pounds/dollars later, here we are. The annoying ads still follow you around, click through rates are still minuscule and TV ads are still alive, well and expensive.

Perhaps we forget that dinosaurs were around for hundreds of millions of years before they died out.