How to write some of the best ads of the last decade

Writing scripts, eh? There must be quite an art to it. I’d imagine that all the great ads have a beautifully worked script behind them that reads like the love child of William Goldman and James Joyce, calling down the twin angels of screenwriting and literature to bring wonderment and genius to the masses.

Well, maybe.

Here’s the first version of Balls:

…Which then became this:

Check how short the ad bit is compared to the overwritten 'client' bit at the end. Overwriting the client bit is a tried and tested technique for making them think you give as much of a shit about the packshot as you do about the Kubrick pastiche that precedes it.

And was ‘Paint’ just like that from the start? Nope, it was about firemen and doggies. Was the existence of people thought to be a no-no?

And lastly, Cake. Now this one has been written with tender loving care and the feeling that a GOOD AD is what you are reading:

And that’s how it’s done.

I think the lesson here is that, as you might expect, much of the ad happens in the execution.

And thanks to anon for sending me these scripts.

Comments 31

  1. meow wrote:

    It’s funny looking at these now, because so many ads today ape them. But when they were written (well, when balls was written) it was an entirely new style.
    Who would have thought one humble script would unleash so many technicoloured folksy soundtracked bits of crap in the years to follow?

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 7:40 am
  2. neil c wrote:

    This would make an interesting series, wouldn’t it? Would also be interesting to see the scamps for famous print ads. We’ve got the original scamp for Saint Wayne somewhere. It doesn’t look like much. (Yes, commenters, no surprise there as the finished ad was shit too.) We used to have the original script for Cog lying around somewhere. Interestingly, that had the name of another Honda model throughout. Each time it appeared that model name had been crossed out in biro and replaced with the hand-written word ‘Accord’. I think Simon Thompson, the Honda client at the time, now has the script kept safe in his scrap-book.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 8:04 am
  3. Tommy wrote:

    Wouldn’t be easier to just show the Letterman clip?

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 8:34 am
  4. ben wrote:

    Neil, I’d love to show more of the genesis of famous ads. I think it’s somewhat heartening to see that they are often no ‘better’ written than those produced by the rest of us on a daily basis.

    Actually, I think D&AD did this for a few campaigns, along with explanations from the team responsible.

    So if Juan, Chris or John are reading this, they are very welcome to explain that this version is the result of many late nights. Or, alternatively, five minutes in the pub.

    And if anyone wants to send others in, I’ll gladly put them up (classics only, please).

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 9:03 am
  5. Anono wrote:

    Can someone tell me what’s so good about that Skoda cake ad? I mean seriously it’s a car made out of cake. That’s it.

    I actually ate a cake made to look like a caterpillar the other day and I didn’t get that excited about it. Seriously, what’s the big deal? Is it that it’s a big cake?

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 10:21 am
  6. John wrote:

    Heartening to see it isn’t just my scripts that get bogged down in mandatories, sign-offs, multiple positioning lines, needless product details, small print and miscellaneous client hysteria.

    Also love the “Hope you like it”. Not sarcastic. Just genuine enthusiasm.

    I hope clients read this. Should be as useful/interesting to them as it is to us.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 10:32 am
  7. Ftim Elbow Face wrote:

    I never got St Wayne. I mean seriously. It’s a wanker with an England red cross on it. I don’t get it.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 10:36 am
  8. nobby wrote:

    I’d like to see some of the one line scripts that get sent to directors. I heard that Levis Odyssey was ‘two people try to get out of a box’ although that might be bollocks.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 10:39 am
  9. Naughtyanon wrote:

    I found the original script for Cog

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 11:05 am
  10. Mister Gash wrote:

    Whoa there. Is that a begging note I see at the top of “Paint”?

    Rule Number One.

    Never, ever send directors scripts with notes saying things like ‘we’d love to work with you on it’ and ‘hope you like it’.

    Translation: ‘We know this is a lame idea. Hope you can make it into something a bit better. Please help us’.

    If the script is good enough there’ll be a queue of A-listers round the block.

    Can’t read the “Cake” script Ben. My eyes are old (my knees are knackered).

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 11:16 am
  11. ben wrote:

    I believe the script for this said ‘people rub themselves in Levi’s jeans':

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 11:16 am
  12. anon wrote:

    Ed Morris once told me that when he presented the Playstation ‘Double Life’ script to the creative director he printed it out A1.

    Not sure he really needed to but it showed his belief in the script.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 11:20 am
  13. ben wrote:

    Sorry, Mr. G. Not sure how to make it bigger.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 11:52 am
  14. Anonymous wrote:

    surprised A1 was big enough for Ed’s ego

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 12:32 pm
  15. Mrs Kay wrote:

    Sorry to argue with Mr G. but the begging letters work a charm at the top of the right script. It is a Mother staple and reminds us all what beautifully brought up young ladies and gents they are.

    Although prize for best packaging of a script goes to VW Night Drive. A thing of such beauty, I still have it

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 12:48 pm
  16. Mr Turner wrote:

    How extraordinary that Ed Morris had such an enormous amount of faith in his own script.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 12:49 pm
  17. God wrote:

    The critical thing here is obviously ‘the right script’.

    On balls it would work, but

    ‘Dear Frank,

    I love your work. Please could you shoot this fucking awful Yeo Valley ad with rapping farmers?


    might fall on deaf ears.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 1:30 pm
  18. neil c wrote:

    Saint Wayne scamp here:

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 2:26 pm
  19. Blah wrote:

    Ben – Any thoughts on the Ikea follow up ad to cats?

    The one when two nobheads dance like pricks round the kitchen.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 3:03 pm
  20. John&Chris wrote:

    John “cake face” Allison and Chris “cream filled” Bovill here,

    The script you see is the BACC friendly “take the client on a journey” version, I think the original was about 3 pages long and finished with a giant cherry landing on top of the car. Which would have been SHITE.

    This is the script we sent to all the directors. It turned out to be quite close to what we actually filmed even though we know fuck all about baking. We had one mandatory requirement; “Can you make it in camera?” Only Chris Palmer said he would try and do it.
    Thats when we all threw away the script and it became the job or expert bakers, icers and cooks.

    “Lets make a car out of cake” is a simple idea yet no script on earth is going to ensure that its properly executed. There’s only so far a thesaurus will get you. Will Self could probably write the best scripts ever, but without a good director a brave client and a decent budget it will just be some words on a page.


    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 3:25 pm
  21. The Client Loved It wrote:

    Some from the dark ages.

    How John Webster writes a Sony CD Player ad with John Cleese.

    Mel, Griff and Tim Delaney do Philips radio ads.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 3:48 pm
  22. ben wrote:

    Thanks, C&J, and TCLI.

    Anon: I think the new Ikea ad is basically shit. No idea, full of annoying cunts and the worst endline in living memory.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 4:03 pm
  23. tonimoroni wrote:

    In a book produced to accompany the 20 best radio ads of whenever, Griff claimed he wrote ‘Firips’ by himself.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 4:32 pm
  24. Anonymous wrote:

    I remember Walt Campbell telling me about selling in the Guiness Surfer advert and the account guy coming back with client feedback. The account guy asked Walt, and I quote, “Do you need the horses?”.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 4:43 pm
  25. Anonymous wrote:

    Personally I believe Balls would have been improved tenfold if it were written in chalkboard, or perhaps comic sans MS.

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 4:56 pm
  26. Mister Gash wrote:

    @ Mrs Kay

    The trouble is that the ‘please have a look at this’ is a line that all too often accompanies the lamest of the lame. Seeing that sort of comment on the front of the script prepares the reader for the worst – simply because of what has gone before….

    Polite almost certainly, but apologetic all the same.

    (Fight! Fight!)

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 5:54 pm
  27. vinny warren wrote:

    i did a blog about that video i ripped off years ago

    Posted 12 Oct 2010 at 11:06 pm
  28. steve wrote:

    I have it on good authority that this is the original script for cog – scroll to 1.30

    Posted 13 Oct 2010 at 12:07 pm
  29. Phil wrote:

    Probably missed the boat on this post. But, if anyone’s still there, did any of these excellent scripts have to suffer research groups? And, if so, how did they escape (relatively) unscathed?

    Posted 14 Oct 2010 at 10:50 am
  30. vinny warren wrote:

    no testing involved in bud ad phil.

    Posted 14 Oct 2010 at 8:30 pm
  31. Phil wrote:

    That must be why it turned out so good eh! Cheers Vinny.

    Posted 15 Oct 2010 at 12:22 pm

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