Fun, anyone?

Run, run rabbit run
Dig that hole, forget the sun
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one 
– Breathe, Pink Floyd.

“When you come from Italy, you have to realise that football is more like a job, like work from 9-5. You have to get one point, or you have to get three points. I sort of lost the feeling of what football is all about. It’s a game, you’ve got to have fun.” – Dennis Bergkamp.

“Does anyone remember laughter?” – Robert Plant.

In addition, somewhere near the end of this excellent chat between Tim Bell and David Abbott, Mr. Abbott extols the virtues of having fun in advertising.

If you’re not persuaded by Pink, Dennis, Robert or David, can I please make the case for enjoying your job a bit more than you currently do?

The odd thing is, I don’t think anyone disagrees with that as an idea. Why would anyone not want to have fun? The problem comes when you don’t feel you can give yourself permission to enjoy yourself.

It may be a cliché, but every advertising generation seems to think that the one before it was the last to have a good time, and they’ve sadly turned up just as the party has become a depressing mess of empty beer cans and three final stragglers asleep on the stairs. But even today, the truth is that the job is intrinsically much more fun than literally 99% of other jobs.

Let’s have a look at some of the reasons why:

  1. You can wear what you want. Beyond that, you can even dress ‘creatively’ and it will be generally accepted. I once worked with an ECD who wore a cape, a witchfinder’s hat and toeless socks with sandals. He earned well over $500,000 a year. Have you seen what bus drivers have to wear? Or Burger King chefs? The good news is, you don’t have to dress like them, but you can if you want to, and that’s fun.
  2. Part of your job requires you to do all the fun things people like to do when they’re not working. Reading magazines, watching movies, visiting art galleries… These are all essential pastimes for an advertising creative. Some enterprising people even find a way to charge that stuff back to the client, or add it to their tax deductions. Which brings us to…
  3. Expenses. I don’t know how generous your agency or government is, but if you think most jobs can get media entertainment for free, or tax-free, you are sadly mistaken. Over the years my job has allowed me to acquire video games, coffee table books and even the odd coffee table. That was more fun than paying full price for all that jazz. From time to time you even get the chance to load up on shoot-loot, then fill your office with groovy junk. Somewhere in my garage I have a special can of Pepsi that cost $200 to make.
  4. Creative advertising is one of the best and easiest ways to meet interesting people. It might be an expert in a field related to your brief, a stunt person on a film set, or countless directors, producers, editors, engineers, designers, photographers etc. Then there’s the celebrities: over my career I’ve met all sorts of them, from Posh Spice and Terence Stamp to Isaac Hayes and Thierry Henry. Every single time I did that, it was fun, fun, fun.
  5. I guess some of the travel might be dull (I’ve been to Slough and Reading far too many times), but you should have a decent chance of being able to swing a free trip to another country, something most people have to pay a lot of money for, and – ugh– fucking organise. And they might not even get to go business class! Maybe it’s a shoot in Prague, a factory tour in France, or a conference in Miami. Often you will be accompanied by a person who pays for the drinks. Drink those drinks. Wake up with a hangover. Eat a big free breakfast. Get in a car driven by someone else. Spend the day sitting in front of a video monitor while people offer to get you coffee. By far the funnest way to deal with a headache and dehydration.
  6. Production is fun. Choosing photographers, directors, illustrators, VO artists etc. that you would otherwise never interact with is fun. Then asking them to do stuff that you don’t have to pay for is fun. And if you don’t like it you can ask for more stuff. That’s also fun! Sometimes.
  7. Seeing your stuff for real is fun. Driving past your billboard is fun. Seeing your stuff on TV is fun. Hell, even seeing your stuff online can be fun, especially if you’ve invented a game. Games are fun!
  8. Coming up with ads is fun. Yes, I know it’s a bit of a grind when you have to write boring lines or do the umpteenth reversion of something shit, but on the whole, being paid to think up things other people might enjoy is FUN. You might not see it that way because you’ve had to do it so many times, but take a step back and look what you get asked to do for actual money. I repeat: it’s more fun than literally 99% of jobs.

So maybe you’ll have more fun if you look at your day through the lens of how much fun it really is. Or look at how you can squeeze some fun out of situations you previously considered to be funless. Sure, you can grumble about your lot if you want, and we all do that from time to time, but come on… most of the time it’s pretty darn fun.

And you, you can be mean. And I, I’ll drink all the time. ‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact. Yes we’re lovers, and that is the weekend.

Why rich people are assholes.

Being Tik-Tok famous.

The best Instagram feed in the world.

Examples of that feed:

The Postman:


My friend Sonny Adjoran, ex-AMV, now a CD at Engine, has created a fantastic project with his high-functioning autistic son, Woody.

Wood-ism is a collaboration between Woody’s remarkable mind and his dad’s artistic skills, turning some of Woody’s unique and wonderful phrases into a series of cards and linocut prints.

Buy here. Profits from sales go to Ambitious About Autism.

And here’s Woody visiting the poster gallery to see his work on display:

Nice one guys.

More on Instagram at Woodism_ink

Got a good story?

Ever since I started in advertising I’ve found that it lends itself to some great stories. Maybe the valve salesmen, newsagents and accountants are similarly blessed, but I somehow doubt it.

Proximity to celebrities, foreign travel, big budgets, smart and funny people… Combine those elements and you often have tales worthy of repeating on a blog, even fifteen years after they happened.

I’ve heard quite a few, but there are plenty that must have passed me by, so I’m going to give you one of mine, and hopefully that will inspire you to give me one of yours…

In the middle of 2005 my agency, AMV BBDO, was working on the campaign for Make Poverty History. Mary Wear wrote the line, Paul Belford art directed it, and the rest of us came up with some nice little bits and pieces on the side.

Daryl and I created a poster for the Long Walk To Justice that then became the security lanyard for everyone at the Scottish leg of Live 8. It was worn by none other than George Clooney, the Proclaimers and the great Natasha Bedingfield. But that wasn’t the best bit.

A week or two before the concert our boss Peter Souter invited us along to the Portobello offices of the event’s primary driver, Richard Curtis. Ten or fifteen of us, seemingly selected at random, were seated on sofas around a coffee table.

“Right,” said Richard. “What we have to do today is work out the last song that will be sung at Live 8.”

Daryl and I looked at each other, checking that we’d both heard the same thing: we were to be among the people who might choose what Paul McCartney, The Who and Madonna would be singing at Hyde park in front of maybe a billion people. 


Images of all those 1985 pop stars belting out ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ at Wembley flashed before our eyes. In those non-war times, when none of us privileged white dudes were likely to become the next Mandela or Gandhi, this was probably the easiest path we could take to shaping some tangential semblance of ‘history’.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘I’d have chosen X, and that would have been the best and greatest choice, and that would be easy peasy’. Well, far be it from me to disabuse you of your hubris, but there were a few parameters that only appeared when it was time to shoot down a suggestion:

How about Heroes by David Bowie? Great vibe and message, but no one knows the words beyond ‘We could be heroes, just for one day’.

All You Need Is Love? That’s a Lennon song. You can’t ask McCartney to sing a Lennon song.

A re-do of Do They Know It’s Christmas? Come on. It’s happening in July.

I don’t remember anyone actually suggesting the winning number, but the afternoon was definitely one of those moments where I had no regrets about the career I’d chosen.

Thanks, Peter and Richard.

If you want to know the final choice, it was a Macca-friendly tune that anyone could sing along to ad infinitum:

Your move, blog reader…

I’m living’ in that 21st century. Doing something mean to it. Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it. Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it. I guess every superhero need the weekend.

Big explanation of Memento.

Actual surf Nazis (must die).

Commando The Musical (thanks, A):

From Nothing To Something:

Meditation’s what you need

Some of you will understand why I have included this picture.

About five years ago my wife bought me a Transcendental Meditation course for my birthday. I went down to a little house in Beverly Hills and spent about an hour a day for four days learning the practice.

Since then I’ve meditated for twenty minutes every day. I used to do it twice a day, but now I only do it in the mornings, after I brush my teeth, lying in bed with my cat on my chest.

Lots of very creative people, from the Beatles to Oprah Winfrey, practice TM, and David Lynch has even set up a foundation to promote it in schools and the armed forces (lots of info about that and TM in general can be found here).

Describing how it works and how it makes you feel is kind of tricky, but the TM people put it like this: your mind is like an ocean, and your normal consciousness is like the waves on the top: occasionally choppy and immediately subject to the positivity and negativity of external forces. But then there’s your deep consciousness, like the still infinity of the deep ocean. Things don’t really move around so much in that great vastness, so spending time down there is very calming and refreshing for your mental state. The practice is effortless and the sensation is remarkably pleasant.

If you’re prone to getting angry, stressed or anxious you might want to give TM a go. You might also find that tapping into that subconscious tranquility could help to reveal new layers of your creativity.

It worked for the Beatles and Mr. Lynch (and Paula Abdul). Why not see what it can do for you?

Hoo. Good afternoon, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, Mark speaking. Please tell me, how may I direct the weekend?

Highbrow butt stuff.

Weekday meals around the world.

The last great butler (thanks, G).

Scorsese and Tarantino get deep into some movie chat (thanks, A).

An octopus dreaming (thanks, J):

Creativity, gumption and… diplomacy.

So we all know that creatives need to be creative. And last week I made the case for adding gumption to your skill set. But there’s one more ability you’ll require if you want to do well in an ad agency:


Just to be clear, diplomacy isn’t necessarily Machiavellian machinations, or smarmy charm. My dictionary tell me that it’s merely ‘skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility’.

Coming up with a great idea is one thing, but you need to know how and when to introduce it effectively, such that it gains positive acceptance, allowing it to move more smoothly through the ongoing layers of evaluation and execution.

If you bring it up in your office, accompanied by a subtle dig about your AD’s recent painful divorce, it may not get to the CD. Layer on the self-deprecation (‘You’ll probably think this is shit, but I did have this thought that could be dreadful, but… OK, I’ll just say it…’) and you might find that people see the worst in your idea before it has a chance to spread its wings . Chuck it into the room just after everyone’s agreed how great the other idea is and you might as well have wiped your bunghole with it.

(As a tip, I always found Friday mornings were best. There’s something about Friday mornings, and the way they tended to presage an informal half day, that put everyone in a better, more receptive mood.)

As in all areas of life, ad agency diplomacy could take many forms:

Laugh heartily to make someone look silly for even suggesting that thing you want to avoid (John Hegarty was known for doing this one).

Find an excellent piece of reference, or a brilliant old ad, to support your point (but say something that offsets the concern that you’re all about to steal something, like ‘Not exactly this, but something like the way the rabbit meets the frog’).

Add the words ‘to your point’ to make it seem like the whole thing was inspired by someone else in the room, bringing them onto your side.

Wait till the meeting’s over, then have a quiet chat with the real decision maker away from the ears of anyone who might piss on your idea.

Leave it till tomorrow because today’s vibe is just wrong.

Agree enthusiastically with the thing you don’t want, go to the loo, then come back pretending that you’ve suddenly come up with a great way of improving (destroying) that thing.

Get the other attendees of the meeting on your side before the meeting, so they’ll back you up in the meeting. Even the smartest CD or client can be swayed by unanimous supportive opinion.

Flatter your CD by telling them how much this ad reminds you of something great they once did.

You could try the ‘no diplomacy’ route, and in an ideal world these tactics wouldn’t be necessary, but let’s face facts: we all do this kind of thing all the time, often without even being aware of it, so why not do it at work?

Yes, Some people might actually appreciate you who presenting your work with grumpy aggression, because that might show how you’re so dedicated to the idea that you will not stand on ceremony. Good luck with that. I’ve seen it work, but not often. The vast majority of people prefer to avoid confrontation, and even if they appear politely receptive, that’s usually just a cover for some negative reactions that are coming down the pipe.

Treat the selling of your ad like any other brief: communicate its qualities in a way that will leave a positive impression.

Or go batshit crazy and cross your fingers.

Kara Lewis is our agent, word up. Zakia and 4th and Broadway is our record company. Indeed. Okay, so who we rollin’ with then? We rollin’ with the weekend.

Wifi almost didn’t happen.

Competitive oyster shucking.

The man who saved the world.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood roundtable.

How cheese is made:

The value of gumption

Last week the peerless Mr. Dave Dye posted this on the socials:

Agree, 100%.

But there’s one more thing that I like to see in a student book: evidence of gumption.

My online dictionary defines it as ‘shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness’. What I’d say is that coming up with good ads will only get you so far. What also helps is to look at the circumstances to hand and make the most of them in a way that makes you stand out even further, and offers evidence of creativity beyond mere creativity.

Here are a few examples:

A team Daryl and I hired at Lunar were in the process of applying for a patent for their invention: a plate with a lip covered in a cloth material which meant it could be picked up straight from the oven without burning your fingers. They thought it would be especially good for Meals On Wheels, where elderly people might be more forgetful about heat, and plates are hot. Now, having that idea is good, but actually going through the process of making it is great. They learned a lot about manufacturing and bringing something to market, skills and knowledge that 99% of creatives will never have, but on top of that, they showed they had the ambition and drive to go the extra mile, a quality that’s essential when you want an extra hour on the grade, or a quick spec radio ad from your TV VO.

Talking of which, the team that came up with this award-winner had gumption:

As they filmed a longer, duller Nike golf ad, they noticed Tiger killing time by juggling a ball on his club. So they went over to him and asked if they could shoot him doing it. I have no idea what the other ad was.

When Tony McTear came up with this…

…the only way he could get a big enough budget for it was by selling it to each of the different national Playstation CMOs. They then put in each of their smaller piles of cash to until he had a big pile of cash, and a classic ad. Yes, it was a great creative idea, but it wouldn’t have happened without lots of lovely gumption.

Some of my jobs have just fallen into my lap, but others have required me to extend my own placement, or find out if another team were continuing theirs and stepping into the gap they left, or spend three years patiently moving metaphorical chess pieces around until the right vacancy opened up. Did I also have to be creative? Of course, but ‘shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness’ was often more valuable.

So if you’re a young team, and for some strange reason you want to impress me, produce a YouTube clip with a million views, or make an app, or create a podcast where you interview Idris Elba and Vivienne Westwood about cheese. Dave’s advice is essential, but if you all follow it you’re going to need something else to set you apart.

And if it’s any good, it’s going to take gumption.