Get your client to write a shitty ad

When someone wants to brief me on a piece of copy I find the shortest route to success is to ask them for the shit version of what they want to say. I can then take that shapeless, dull, muddled piece of writing, pick the sweetcorn out of it, and make it good.

Asking for that contribution also works because it comes across as collaborative and inclusive, two things that clients seem to really appreciate. In effect, all you’re doing is asking for a more complete brief, but in the process of coming up with and writing down that crappy first draft, a client is then forced to think a bit harder about about what they do and don’t want you to say.

I think they also feel a bit exposed. They’re about to show a professional writer a piece of writing, so they tend to put a bit of effort in, giving you something at least mediocre rather than complete toilet. That means you’re already much further along the process that you would otherwise be.

A further benefit is the commitment of thought to paper (or its electronic equivalent). You then have a document to refer to if the client asks why you have included or omitted anything. If they put it in, they can’t be annoyed if you followed suit.

Of course, you don’t have to just do a good version of what they wrote. You can expand your response by asking why they have/haven’t included certain things, which again gets them to explicitly explain and justify each decision. A little chat can bring out a lot of stuff that would otherwise have remained unspoken.

You also find out where their expectations sit. That doesn’t mean you have to meet them, but it’s helpful to know what kind of thing they have in mind

From the creative’s point of view this version of the ad or copy can be also be useful as a springboard for further thinking. I recall an old boss of mine explaining how he and his partner would approach a brief: the first thing they’d do is write down the most basic functional answer (eg: a scribbled sketch of a car with a line that says ‘the new Volvo 800 is fast’). That would then be the ad any other idea would have to beat. Sure, it was dull and low on craft, but it communicated the brief clearly, so any further attempts would have to do the same, only better.

So why not give the ‘Could you write me a shit version of the ad?’ (CYWMASVOTA) technique a go sometime? You have nothing to lose but… Actually, you just have nothing to lose.

ITIAPTC Episode 65 – Kenny Gravillis

I used to collect movie posters. I still have a few favourites, but in the end I ran out of wall space and it seemed a shame to keep so much great stuff rolled up in a cupboard, especially if someone, somewhere might really want that foiled Kill Bill One-Sheet I tracked down, or the UK Quad of Goodfellas.

Anyway, now that I live in LA, I can’t drive anywhere without seeing hundreds of them (fewer recently for obvious reasons), so I still keep an eye out for the good ones.

The very best tend to be done by my friend Kenny Gravillis at Gravillis Inc.:

See? He’s damn good.

So we ended up meeting because his daughter babysat for me a few years ago. We then realised that we had a lot in common – a love of music, movies and frustrating football teams (he supports West Ham) – and now we’re just two ex-Brit mates in LA.

But I always love his work, so I’m always keen to discuss it, hence this podcast.

The other reason to chat is his career story, which goes from the Isle of Dogs to late-80s New York, to designing record sleeves for some of Def Jam’s biggest artists…

…to expanding that role into other labels…

…to pivoting from music to movies, and the surprising hurdles of making that change.

There’s a lot to learn here, all told in Kenny’s East London, NY, LA accent. And if you want to know more, here’s a Creative Review profile (£/$), and a short documentary on how he collaborated with Black Panther designer Emory Douglas on the artwork for Da 5 Bloods:

iTunes link, Soundcloud link, direct link:

If you change your mind, I’m the first in line. Honey I’m still free, take a chance on the weekend.

The Walkman turns 40.

Stop doomscrolling.

Take a look through someone else’s window.

Books with literal titles (including ‘Learning to Play with a Lion’s Testicles’).

Have fun with your keyboard.

Check how drunk you are.

I’m sinking mad deep, no shorts and no sleep. I’m bugged like a tapped phone, hard like the weekend.

Skill is what you make of luck.

Why veterinarians have the highest suicide rate.

Andy Warhol on surviving isolation.

Motherfucking website.

Are you tone deaf?

A dictionary of analogies to explain complicated stuff.

Possibly interesting random information and stats.

The tricked-out vespas of Indonesia (thanks, J):

ITIAPTWC Episode 64 – Blackcurrant Tango Client, David Atter.

This is the third and final ‘people who were heavily involved in the Blackcurrant Tango ad’ series: my chat with the client, David Atter. (Episode 1 with director Colin Gregg can be found here. Episode 2 with copywriter Chas Bayfield can be found here.)

Just in case you’re popping by at some random point in the future, here’s the beloved ad:

And a couple of the other Tango ads we discuss:

David discusses many fascinating elements of the job of ‘client’ but also gives us some great insights to the BCT/Tango process.

He currently has his own business model development and marketing strategy consultancy, providing advice, workshops & direction to help organisations use marketing as a force for good – for people, the planet, and profit

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

I’m the arsenal, I got artillery, lyrics are ammo, rounds of rhythm, then I’ma give ’em piano. Bring a bullet-proof vest, nothin’ to ricochet, ready, aim at the brain, now what the trigger say. Tempos trifle, felt like the weekend.

The gratification migration.

How a big ship is built.

Music x Advertising blog.

How one of Netflix’s biggest mistakes helped build its weird culture.

The making of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy:

ITIAPTW Episode 63 – Blackcurrant Tango copywriter, Chas Bayfield.

This is the second in my series of three posts/podcasts about Blackcurrant Tango, apparently one of the most beloved ads of the last thirty years:

You could read the Colin Gregg post, or read this repeat of what I said there: I put this up on LinkedIn and it caused a massive, affectionate response. So I thought I might do 20 mins each with Chas, Colin and the client, David Atter. But the calls went on too long for that to be a viable option, so here are three individual episodes, one with each of them.

As a former mid-90s creative, I was delighted to be able to ask Chas about what it was like being a young creative at HHCL. The stories of what happened before, during and after the phenomenon of BCT are as fascinating as you might hope.

Here are the first ads he ever made (they got in The Book):

Then these (they won a Silver Pencil):

Here’s his site. Enjoy our chat…

Here’s the iTunes link, the Soundcloud link, and the play button.

ITIAPTWC Episode 62 – Blackcurrant Tango Director, Colin Gregg

I’ve been putting up great ads from the 90s on LinkedIn.

It started as a snarky attempt at pointing out how ads used to be better, and that even ads from 20+ years ago would be better than the ‘best’ of today.

One of these ads was the wonderful Blackcurrant Tango epic of 1996:

It seems to hold a unique affection for advertising people of a certain generation. I remember speaking to people at the time who said it was the ad that made them want to get into the industry. But even now, people seem to love it as much as they admire it.

So the LinkedIn post got a huge and positive reaction, which made me think it might be good to get the story behind it. My initial idea was to have a 15-20 minute chat with the creatives, the client and the director, giving me an hour of material for a single BCT podcast.

Fortunately, when I started speaking to the director, Colin Gregg, that plan went out of the window. that chat alone was a good 45 minutes, so I realised I’d need three separate episodes.

This is the first; a conversation from the director’s POV about everything from the technical difficulties to the relationship with the agency and creatives.

Colin’s a lovely bloke, so I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. And if you want to hire him for anything, here’s a link to his current production company home.

And the ‘Making Of’ film that he mentioned:

And – incredibly – the script:

Here’s the iTunes link, the Soundcloud link and the play button.

The Genius of Black Lives Matter

I live in Laurel Canyon, a (very) mainly white neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Recently the front gardens have made a few additions:

So that’s the spread of BLM endorsement in a white neighbourhood. Many other parts of LA have been decorated with similar messages, as have many other parts of the world.

When Eric Garner died in 2014, BLM was generating around 40,000 tweets a day; in the last month that has risen to 8 million. Of course that growth has come as a result of an incredibly strong grassroots movement, inspired and fueled by many further instances of racial injustice.

But the other reason for the increase has been a masterstroke of branding. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is the name of the organisation, but it’s also the name of the rallying cry. So anyone can take it on without permission, giving it the energy it needs to spread far and wide without the need to go through committees or branding teams.

And that means it can live in the examples above, but also in brilliant work such as this piece of film:

Director: Meena Ayittey, Editor: David Warren, Sound Design: Liam Conwell

The director, Meena Ayittey explains,

There are no words that can describe that feeling in the pit of my stomach when I watched George Floyd being murdered on camera. I was driven by disbelief and anger when I conceived the idea for this project.

The footage that we see of regular shootings of unarmed black men in the USA was more powerful than anything that I could film myself so I wanted to make that the main focus of the film. We have seen these police shootings so many times that it can be almost easy to become immune to the grotesque brutality embedded in these images.

I wanted to catalogue the murders of these innocent people in a way that doesn’t shirk away from the real violence that people in our society are experiencing. The fury and of the speech by senator Flowers held the exact level of intensity I wanted. Her words expressing her anguish for her son’s life had a profound impact on me.

For any Black or Brown person watching these images it’s like watching a family member, a father, an uncle, a son, being killed again and again. I feel that both the media and police in the USA in particular, often dehumanise these victims. I wanted to reverse this. I wanted people to remember that George Floyd, Philando Castle, Rodney King, Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr and all the victims of police brutality had mothers. And to feel that insurmountable and devastating loss that anyone would feel after the murder of a family member.

“I totally agree that people can take the BLM movement on more easily. I also think that the enforcement of the lockdown has forced people to take stock of George Floyd’s murder and to assess their own feelings regarding the killings of Black people because there are none of the usual distractions such as commuting to work, getting kids to school etc. These killings have been going on for decades but this one feels different. The celebrities and brands that are pledging their alliance to BLM might be slightly hypocritical in some instances but I think that’s also giving the cause a lot of momentum.

Excellent points.

If any of you are wondering how you might make a difference to that movement, the brief is always out there.

Take it on like Meena and my neighbours, and spread the word.

They pulled in just behind the bridge. He lays her down, he frowns. “Gee, my life’s a funny thing Am I still the weekend?”

Are you concerned that you’re about to spontaneously lose your penis?

How apples go bad.

So you think you know the banjo?

Great artists at art school.

Classic movies as old books (thanks, J).