What a coincidence!

Hot on the heels of my post about ad theft (which is of course entirely unrelated to what I’m about to write), this campaign reaches my eyes:

A worthy cause. Nice one.

But it kind of reminds me of something…

Oh yes! This virtually identical campaign Daryl and I did for the now-defunct Stop Vivisection Now:

Yes, it’s 12 years old. No, it didn’t feature in any award books (we didn’t enter it. Long story that I’m not 100% allowed to discuss), but it’s right there on my portfolio site, and I know from my traffic stats that it gets plenty of visits, possibly from advertising creatives in New York.

They’re very similar, aren’t they? The pixelation, the unusual line construction; in fact the whole darn concept.

All I can say is, it’s a shame this other entirely-original-but-coincidentally-just-like-mine campaign is so much worse. The pictures don’t give you an idea of anything. To be powerful they should allow you to imagine some part of the real situation.

That then leads into the lines and typography: you have to say ‘this is a photo of...’ because the type is so massive you’d have no idea what it was referring to without those extra words.

The type is also fighting with the picture, so you don’t get a chance to look at it, wonder why it’s pixellated, then get the answer, subverting your assumptions that it’s something innocent.

And there are so many little bits of copy to read, it’s just a bit of a mess.

Finally, the call to action is pointless: ‘Take a stand to end violence against women and girls’? How am I supposed to do that, particularly in these 30-40 countries I don’t live in? You’ve given me a problem without a way of solving it. Thanks for that.

And thanks for proving the phenomenon of massive, massive, fucking massive coincidence.

At home drawing pictures of mountain tops with him on top. Lemon yellow sun, arms raised in the weekend.

Against relevance in art.

Defunct things.

I used to love hearing the THX Note before a movie. Relive it here.

The Cube Rule of food identification (eg: are hot dogs sandwiches?).

Someone annotated all their philosophy books for you.

The best rap samples of the 90s (thanks, A):

Inception pitch meeting:

Ever told a joke that’s died on its arse?

Credit where’s credit’s not due

Earlier today I was listening to Dave Dye’s podcast with Rick Sittig. It’s a great chat (find out how he actually saved the lives of a tribal chief’s wife and child while filming a Nissan ad).

An hour or so in, Rick mentions a former boss taking credit for ads that he (Rick) had done, and says that it was theft.

Funnily enough I was having a chat about the same thing with an advertising friend last week. I told him my story of having work stolen by a more senior creative, then he alluded to his (we didn’t have time to go through the whole thing, but we will), then I said I’d also had work stolen by the person who stole his work.

I’m not going to go into my stories, or name the perpetrators, but when I told my friend who they were, he was very surprised at one of them, someone he’d known as a nice guy from earlier in his career. I didn’t have time to tell him that the very same person (team) had stolen another idea off another team (much more senior than me, but technically junior to the thieves). The offended copywriter apparently had to be held back from going into the thieves’ office and kicking the shit out of them. To add insult to injury, it was an excellent idea that the thieves didn’t execute well at all, wasting it. (Oddly enough, I spoke to the ‘victim’ team’s AD recently and he told me that in his first agency they used to have to stick their layouts to the underside of their desk to hide them from the thieving CD who would go around late at night and steal people’s best ideas for himself.)

So I wondered how common it was. I also wondered, given that the same names cropped up in different incidents, how many people had made entire careers, or thousands of pounds in raises, off the back of theft.

I imagine that you are now in one of three categories:

  1. Never happened to me, but I’d love to know the names…
  2. I’ve heard about a few of these incidents myself, but it’s just part and parcel of the job. Besides, you should just be able to come up with another idea and show ’em who’s the really creative one.
  3. That is indeed theft. Money and promotions have gone from their rightful owners into the pockets of others. Who knows what the victims missed out on? Really, people who do that are massive cunts, especially if they’ve already been successful and the victims are juniors.
  1. Well, I’m obviously not going to reveal the names.
  2. Sorry. I disagree that people should just get on with it. I know there are plenty more ideas in the sea, but it’s not easy coming up with stone-cold brilliant answers to briefs. The idea that you can do the hard bit, then have someone more powerful just snatch it away is pretty galling. There’s nothing defensible about it. Even if a CD was worried about how well a junior might execute a great idea, he or she could simply help with the execution part and if it became too unbalanced, share the credit. Then everyone gets to have the ad on their reel and the shiny trinket on their shelf. As David Abbott once said, there’s plenty of room for credit, and if two agencies can share the awards for Mouldy Whopper, then two sticky-fingered arseholes could at least allow their victims to partake in the rewards of their own idea.
  3. So that leaves us with those of you in category 3. Given my experience, I’m going to assume there are a few of you out there who have gone through this (it actually happened to me a third time. Maybe I just look like an easy mug…). I also wonder if, in these times of many CDs and collaborations between different agencies, this is happening even more. Or perhaps, with more witnesses to the creative process (like a kind of analogue version of Blockchain), it’s happening less.

Either way, the people who do it are indeed being cunty, and the people in charge who enable the cunty ones are also quite cunty (although I acknowledge there may be pressures we are unaware of to let it slide).

So let me know, either on the LinkedIn post that this will be attached to, or in the comments. Has it happened to you? Was it senior/junior dominance? Did you even know it was happening? What did you try to do about it? How salty did it make you?

EDIT: my wife has reminded me that, despite using the c-word above, I’m entirely at peace with those thefts. Life has moved on. People have complicated motivations for things. For example, insecurity often breeds unhelpful behaviour. Put more simply, I get think the people involved behaved in a cunty way on those occasions, but we’ve all done that at some point over our lives. Fundamentally, I also think they’re otherwise decent blokes (always blokes), and life’s waaaaaay too short.

Second Edit: never get between a man and his paper: https://www.instagram.com/p/CH-rR9znT3g/

Uh oh banana time. Uh oh banana time. Uh oh banana time the weekend.

Smoking is back.

Running Up That Hill, 35 years on.

Create your own Star Wars intro.

Turn your doodles into CGI monsters.

Discover new music that you like.

Albatross Soup:

Has Gucci just become thirsty af, or (less credibly) am I not cool?

The other day a thought occurred to me that might have been much more useful when I was 16: being ‘cool’ is a catch-22. (Cool is in inverted commas to denote the degree to which it’s subjective. I’ll drop the extra grammar from here on in, but let’s pretend we all mean kind of the same thing when we use that word.)

It goes like this: trying to be cool is inherently uncool, so you can’t try to be cool and succeed. That means your only avenue to coolness is in not trying to be cool. But if you’re trying to be cool by not trying to be cool, you’re also being uncool. Like an image protruding from a 3-D movie, deliberate cool will always be just out of reach.

Which brings me to Gucci. I was watching their new ad this morning:

Please love us! Please! Please! Please!

I like it. It’s charming and self-deprecating, and, on the face of it, sort-of not trying to be cool by being deliberately cheesy. But my more fundamental reaction is that it’s kind of uncool that Gucci has to make a TV ad at all.

When I was at college, Gucci was in the throes of its Tom Ford renaissance and managed, with no apparent effort, to be the answer to Andre 3000’s question, ‘What’s cooler than being cool?’

You are not worthy.

I know 1994 was a very different time with very different values, and we’re now in some egalitarian everyone-is-great-no-matter-what-you-wear-or-look-like vibe, but that was mid-nineties cool. The ads didn’t so much advertise as challenge you to be worthy of the depicted scene. The clothes might get you some of the way there, but you’ll never quite manage it the rest of the journey.

I think its coolness managed to transcend advertising, because advertising in inherently uncool. No matter what it looks like it’s saying, it’s actually saying, ‘Coooie! You over there! Come and have a look at me! Like me! Please like me! Go on!’. By spending millions and taking a long time to create them, companies who advertise are clearly making a massive effort to seem appealing, and that, as the kids say, is thirsty af.

For most brands, who are not trying to be cool, but are happily shouting ‘Come and look at me!’ at anyone who might be passing, this is not a problem, but for any brand trying to be cool, it’s a tricky one.

And the category with the largest number of brands trying to be cool is of course fashion. Which is why so many clothing brands try to look as if they’re not really trying to sell you anything, either by just showing the clothes, or by going so far in the ‘bothered?’ direction that they don’t even do that:

In Gucci’s case, the Tom Ford ads take the same amount of effort as the new one, but then they just let you know the clothes exist and nothing more. The extra dancing, music and funny old man in the background of the latest one are trying much harder to be liked.

So what does that say about Gucci as a brand? Only last year they commissioned Martin Parr to shoot their campaign, and even though it was less glam than 1995, the images are still infused with a massive amount of ‘we couldn’t care less if you like us or not’:

Y’know… fuck it.

So has Gucci deliberately changed its brand tone? Is it ahead of its time? Have they managed to unlock a new level of cool uncool uncoolcool cool uncool coolification that’s beyond my perception?

No idea, but as I’m writing this in an old Fleetwood Mac T-shirt, I might not be the right person to ask.


The Reverse Omakase

The Omakase is a sushi menu where you don’t select anything yourself, instead leaving it up to the chef to bring what he or she thinks is best. It’s an ideal relationship of trust between purveyor and customer: the chef is trusted to provide excellent food, and the customer is trusted to be openminded enough to try some selections that might be out of their comfort zone. In the end the customer gets to broaden their horizons in an environment where the chef will be doing their best to impress.

The Omakase would be the ideal situation in an advertising agency, where the client would trust the agency to produce excellent work, and the agency, partly from their own creative standards, but partly because they want to be hired again, would provide their very best work.

This happened a lot in my early years at AMV BBDO. As the biggest and best agency in the country, clients had a lot of confidence in its output, and generally trusted its opinion of what would work best for them. That faith was almost always repaid with memorable, effective advertising.

I’m sure the majority of your experiences have been a kind of compromised Omakase, where the customer turns their nose up at some of the selections, sends others back and the whole endeavour isn’t quite the trust-fest that might have been intended.

Then you have the Reverse Omakase: a soul-sapping breakdown of trust and confidence that winds its way through the most tedious and depressing path to invariably dreadful work. It has only happened to me a couple of times, both in the last three years, but I worry that a combination of circumstances are increasingly conspiring to make it a more common occurrence.

Allow me to describe how it appears (from my experience, at least): the process starts innocently enough, with a brief of some sort. As usual, I begin by getting ridiculously optimistic about the possibilities, and bring my A-game. This is met with a degree of appreciation and approval, but also criticism and ‘notes’. And that’s no problem; we’ve all been there, and the back-and-forth process is often essential to getting to the most effective solution, especially with a new client or a new sector. Ideally you reach that solution fairly quickly and progress to execution.

But in the Reverse Omakase, the solution might or might not exist at the end of a very long, tortuous, trust-free trudge that is painful for both sides.

In the sushi world, this would be akin to challenging a chef to guess what you like, but when they inevitably get it wrong you would respond with eye-rolling micro-management. Suggest the fish, then dictate the fish, then give instructions on how it should be prepared, then miss the fact (or don’t care) that the chef is losing the will to live, then don’t allow them to express their creativity in any way, continue to be pissed off that they can’t read your mind, and end up with something that’s mediocre at best because you’re not actually all that good at preparing sushi.

In the advertising world it consists of poor or ambiguous feedback, annoyance at the inaccurate response to the vague criticism, several rounds of micro management, the creative becoming disillusioned and, seeing that the A-game is not working, offering the B- or C-game. The client then becomes more disappointed and more heavy-handed, sending the process into a vicious spiral where the creative begins to pray that the client will simply dictate the whole thing and reach the conclusion at greater speed. But no such luck. The comments become ever-more granular, and your increasing exasperation means you want to explain that you have plenty of experience at performing these tasks with great success, but that would not sway their opinions one iota. You’re now in a feedback loop that will soon remove your entire will to live.

And none of this makes the client any happier. They know that the creative is being paid, so ought to be contributing. However, not everyone knows how to be a good client, by which I mean one who can offer clear and constructive feedback. Some commissioners of advertising just have a poor ad in their heads and are waiting for the creative to fumble their way towards it. Standards go out of the window, and the creative, who knows what a really good line is, does not know if their new line is mediocre enough to satisfy the random arbiter of taste, so poorer lines are offered, and the client wonders what they are paying for, and on, and on, and on…

I don’t know how many of you have been through this, but I find that in the world of fragmented media, multiple clients, low-quality training, the ever-hastening death of craft skills, and ever-increasing demands of less interesting jobs with lower salaries, this situation is becoming more common.

Some clients don’t know how to recognise quality, but they are in the position of deciding whether your work is up to snuff, and they usually have a boss of their own, who will want to know why the work is what it is. This breeds insecurity, the aforementioned micro-management, and the breakdown of and trust in the creative/client relationship.

Obviously that is not a recipe for success, but in 2020, the Reverse Omakase is alive and well and gaining in prevalence. If you should find yourself in the kitchen when someone orders it, get ready, because chances are, your hopes of making some impeccable Kazunoko and Shime-Saba are about to be crushed into a month of cobbling together a grim old shit sandwich.

Fat boy dressed up like he’s Santa and took pictures with your kids. We the best, we will cut a frowny face in the weekend.

A history of gender-bending in pop music.

Interview with Elliott Erwitt.

Take a beautiful hand-drawn tram ride.

Simulate fluid.

The Britney Spears guide to semiconductor physics.

Musical fun.


ITIAPTWC Episode 67 – Tim Lindsay

So I was watching this video the other day:

…and I found myself in violent agreement with everything Tim Lindsay was saying.

There are lots of questions advertising has to ask itself right now. The industry is in a state of disrepair: financially straitened, endlessly splintered and trying to find its place at a time of climate crisis, pandemic and global political upheaval.

So I got in touch with Tim and suggested we drill down into those topics, especially from his position as Chairman of D&AD (apologies for referring to him as CEO during the chat) – the pre-eminent body of advertising creativity. Are these creative topics? Financial? Business? You could even ask whether or not they are within advertising’s remit at all.

So we chatted about all of that, and I didn’t even ask about whether there should be a printed annual, or how Chinese jurors judge English advertising copy (and vice versa). Frankly, there are bigger things to discuss…

Here’s the iTunes link, the Soundcloud link and the direct play button:

Aiyo, what a night, New York City, heard it goin’ down Friday night, midnight, Atlantic City Slot machines, ding-ding-ding-ding-ding, when they ring off the weekend.

Hollywood actresses and the age difference of their love interests.

And actors who age while their love interests don’t.

Relax while watching particles connect.

Celebs reveal their fave cheeses.

A love letter to the internet of old.

400 episodes of Bob Ross Painting, starting with this one:

Tragedy. When the feeling’s gone and you can’t go on it’s tragedy. When the morning cries and you don’t know why, it’s the weekend.

Collecting strangers’ diaries.

Is your local McDonald’s ice cream machine broken?

‘Amazon’ for shopping local.

The historical rise of creativity.

3-D model of 300-year-old salt mine.

Withnail and I, 30 years on:

Mushroom bloom tinelapse:

How do giraffes fight? Like this: