Category: Uncategorized

2016 Leicester City=1980s GGT

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At the time of writing, Leicester City haven’t quite won the 2015-16 Premier League title, but they will.

For those of you who don’t follow football, I feel I’m going to need a few facts to explain how seismic and unlikely an occurrence this is. Actually, I only need one: at the start of the season the bookmakers believed it was more likely that Dean Gaffney would win an Oscar.

At 5000-1, the chances of Simon Cowell becoming PM were ten times more likely.

Some have called it the biggest upset in recorded sports history.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love an unlikely success story, and despite the racism, diving and cynical fouls that have accompanied this win, I am fully behind it. It’s a modern day fairytale, where a cheaply-assembled collection of also-rans bested the billionaire-funded behemoths of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea (and everyone else). It gives us all hope.

But it also makes me think: what conditions would you have to replicate in order to repeat the achievement elsewhere? Well, in the world of advertising I couldn’t help thinking of Dave Trott’s creative department of the 1980s. They laid waste to all comers by producing the world’s most popular and award-winning work, but they were a collection of relatively untried youngsters.

It’s well known that Dave wanted his department to operate his way; putting together a team of superstars from other agencies would make this much harder, as they’d be more inclined to question him and try to do things their way (plus they’d cost much more). So Dave found a bunch of talented, hungry juniors and shaped them into a team of world beaters.

The real question is: why does this method work? I have a theory: these days most Premier League footballers earn millions. They drive supercars, date (page 3) models and have colossal entourages hanging on their every word. This makes a manager’s life difficult. How do you dictate terms to a young, stupid millionaire whose friends spend all day blowing smoke up his arse? I think that’s where Wenger and Mourinho now struggle: unless you show yourself to be a faultless legend (at the moment that’s really just Guardiola and Ancelotti, perhaps with Simeone thrown in) there will be doubts, and those doubts will shave 10-15% off a manager’s ability to exert his will. But for a team to play brilliantly together the manager has to assert his will. He must be obeyed, otherwise the plan goes awry and the points are lost. But if you put together a team of players/creatives who are lower down the totem pole they will be less likely to question the manager or CD’s authority, and that can give you the extra 10-15% you need to beat the less committed teams.

Sure, it takes a very good manager, and possibly an alchemical combination of hunger and talent, but you can either make the whole greater than the sum of its parts or, it seems, less.

I also concede that various circumstances also contribute to this situation: lower expectations; an underdog spirit; no giant overlord (holding company/interfering owner) to corrupt the momentum; the power of the novel (teams unprepared for the strength of Leicester; rival agencies similarly unprepared in pitches, or awards juries moved by the upward trajectory of the latest star agency)… But these are circumstances often made by the team/agency, which means they’re also malleable.

So there you go: be a great manager/CD and fill your department with the talented, hungry and cheap.

The rest will be history.

Inside lookin’ out my window I don’t see nothin’ but rain. Sun up in the sky just a shinin’ (just a shinin’), still I’m lost in my shadow of the weekend.

Inside Guillermo Del Toro’s house of curiosities:

Great art in ugly rooms.

Animated Kafka (thanks, T):

People literally ask Reddit for abuse (thanks, T).

Steve Buscemi onesie, anyone? (Thanks, G.)

Best/worst celeb workout videos supercut (thanks, J).

Adcan 3: This time it’s personal

Hi there,

You might recall that I have posted about Adcan before. For those who can’t recall such a thing, or are new to the blog (hi!), Adcan is a not-for-profit award scheme started by my friend Brydon Gerus and now run by several of our friends.

As the ‘about’ section of the website says:

ADCAN is a #makegood movement that mobilises the film and advertising industries to make a real difference in the world. Our free-to-enter film competition offers up-and-coming talent good opportunities to do good work for good causes.

Filmmakers answer live charity briefs and are rewarded with industry contacts and workshops. Charities get free promotional films to help spread their messages and our partnering production companies get to see up-and-coming talent.

It’s this circle of benefit that makes ADCAN so unique.

So if you’re a creative or director who wants to make a name for yourself, go and visit the site, find yourself a brief and do some good things (that might get you a fantastic break in the industry).

And here’s a film explaining the ethos:

Some new posters I like

Senan writes:

Hi Ben,

Sorry for cold calling like this.

We’re big fans of your blog and thought we’d share a new poster campaign we’ve just done with Dave Dye at JWT.

Basically, we’re big fans of Record Store Day and decided to contact them help this year and help them to promote the day.

Below is the PR blurb for the poster campaign we created, but I’ve attached the work for you to take a look at. We’re really proud of it and hope you like it as well.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. All the best,



Well, Senan, I do indeed like it. You might even call me a ‘big fan’. Here’s the ‘PR Blurb’ and the work:


The PR Blurb

Creatives Senan Lee and Pansy Aung love Record Store Day and decided to support London’s Soho record stores by creating a poster campaign in which the independent shops and restaurants of Soho could use to promote their fellow indy record stores.

Each poster features a popular Soho business, except with a hidden ‘vinyl’ twist. Stores selected the posters most relevant to them, wrote their names on it to show they support the day and put them up to tell their customers where all of Soho’s record stores are. The team managed to install them in over 50 independent Soho businesses, including Paul Smith, Beyond Retro, Pizza Pilgrims, Flat White, CyberCandy and HarmonySexShops. 

The posters were illustrated and designed by a team of illustrators and designers with a passion for vinyl, including Dave Anderson, Jordon Cheung and Toby Leigh.

Creative Director: Dave Dye

Creatives: Senan Lee, Pansy Aung

Illustrators: Paul Bower, Dave Anderson, Jordon Cheung, Chris Gilvan Cartwright, Mario Wagner, Toby Leigh

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The Creative Circle App

I recently read a statistic that the average number of apps downloaded by Americans last year was zero. Can that really be true? Now that we’ve gone through all the ‘drinkable pints’, fart noise generators and Angry Birds I suppose the momentum has slowed somewhat.

But that doesn’t mean it should stop!

My chums at the UK Creative Circle have launched an official app ahead of next week’s Creative Circle Ball. Here’s the blurb…

Keeping you up to date with everything in the run up to the biggest social gathering in the UK’s creative calendar, the handy app enables you to view all the shortlisted, award-winning entries, with the ability to save your favourites into a separate folder.

A whole host of other features have been included to help you navigate the night, including the table plan, guest list, contacts, event agenda and information, and information on all of the night’s sponsors.

There will also be a social feed encouraging guests to post their own photos and statuses from what is promising to be a memorable evening.

Jeremy Green, CEO of Creative Circle, comments: “This really is an exciting development for the Creative Circle and one that should bring out creative community a little bit closer together. The ability to save your favourite work to your phone means you have it on hand for reference at any occasion and you’ll also be able to message other app users – so hopefully plenty of congratulations can be passed around when the winners are announced.”

The app, available to both Apple and Android users, is available on the app store now.

Surely that’s far more tempting than Angry Birds: Ratchet and Clank or Temple Run: 12 Years A Slave…?


Do you have to watch TV ads to make them?

A couple of comments on last week’s post probed the revelation that I don’t watch ads on TV.

Butterbean said: ‘Serious question: Do you think you need to watch TV ads anymore to work in advertising?’

Then Mr. Gash said: I think you should Ben. And ask Prod Co people how they feel when confronted with a team who’ve written a tv script….. but admit to not watching any tv.

I can’t be sure – but I’m guessing that Fords (as an example) are designed by people who drive. 

Do Apple check their that their staff actually use the device they’re designing?

Fair points.

I then remembered that I actually watch quite a few TV ads, just not at home. When I’m in the gym I often watch TV (news channels and Seinfeld repeats, usually) and end up ploughing through the many commercials that accompany the programmes. Here are a few recent examples:

Not that bad, really. But I also get a few of these (check the legals):

So I’m not sure how they slipped my mind, but as I usually end up in the gym during the morning or lunchtime I never see primetime ads, and very rarely see Apple ads in their natural habitat. Is that a problem? I don’t think so. The above are a pretty representative sample of the spots I see, and I think they give me a pretty good context for the commercial TV scene in general.

But what if I never watched commercial TV? Would my work suffer? If I go with Mr. Gash’s analogies then perhaps I should, but here are a few points that might stir the pot a little:

  1. I never listened to commercial radio after about 1992. That didn’t stop me writing a couple of hundred radio ads, including some that made their way into the D&AD annual. Could I just recall how radio ads worked, allowing me to produce similar things years later? Or, beyond that, did my lack of immersion in commercial radio actually help me to make more original spots? I never found myself trying to replicate what was currently out there, and that might have helped me.
  2. Are Fords designed by people who drive? Are Apple products designed by people who use them? Almost certainly, but then a large percentage of people drive and use an iPhone, so that’s a tricky question. Do you need to eat at McDonald’s to make one of their milkshakes? Do you need to wear dresses to design them? Should all barbers have amazing haircuts? I’ve often read of top chefs who rarely eat the kind of things they make because after cooking that stuff all day they prefer to eat something simple.
  3. Do we have to be deeply immersed in digital advertising to create it? That’s a little harder because it tends to come to you, and if you prove to be out of the advertisers’ reach you might not see the work (I’ve mentioned before that I was an Apple fan and dedicated runner, but the first time I saw Nike Plus was in award books). I see a lot of annoying banners but very few of the ARGs and experiential stunts that tend to pick up prizes in these categories. Can I come up with a digital ad despite a lack of opportunities to experience them as a punter? I’d have thought so, so why would the same principle not apply to TV ads?
  4. Much of my work involves producing advertising that works in different countries, but am I sufficiently familiar with the ad breaks in Jakarta, Seoul or Mumbai? Not really, but then I’d need the whole context of why Indian ads are more colourful/emotional/effusive etc., otherwise I wouldn’t really understand why the ads are the way they are. I’d also need the history of the country to make sure I get all the references, and that’s probably impossible. Instead I rely on the eyes and ears of our international staff, who are well versed in such things, but I still know what a good ad is, and I understand the brand I work for, so I can contribute.
  5. I think most of the good ads we see come to us via industry websites and award shows. Is that like the Ford workers constantly test driving Ferraris, even though they’ll never have the need or budget to make one? Or perhaps they’ll learn something from checking the gearbox that they can apply to their own engineering. Then again, many creative luminaries say that the last place you should look for inspiration is award books, which are already out of date and feature work that has already been done. You could watch TV ads all day, but if it leaves you trying to replicate the latest John Lewis style, has it helped or hindered?

At the end of the day I think TV ads are much the same as they were 20-30 years ago. They may have differed in style, but they broadly follow a similar format, so I’d have thought that a great 1990 creative emerging from a coma in 2016 could probably come up with something good, but perhaps shot by Daniel Wolfe instead of Tarsem. So do you need to stay up-to-date with the current state of the art? Or will that do more harm than good when it comes to originality?

What about you? Do you watch much/any commercial TV, and do you think it improves your ability to do your job?

Some good work I had nothing to do with…

My friend David just put together these nice films about deaf dancers and their deaf dance teacher…

I do like an interesting doc, and these fall into that category. The brand doesn’t get in the way, but it feels appropriate.

Robert De Niro’s Waiting, talking the weekend

How to talk at TED (thanks, S):

Joe’s barbecue and foot massage (thanks, J):

Stanley Kubrick answers a question (thanks, T).

Funny parenting tweets (thanks, T).

Germans dubbing a porno (thanks, J2):

Incredible trick (thanks, J2):

Game of Thrones latte art (thanks, T2):

Where have the yucks gone?

I was just reading this article from a US advertising site. It says that characters in ‘funny’ ads tend to react in unrealistic ways, and suggests a bit more humanity of character would help.

It doesn’t do much for me, I’m afraid. I mean, The Man Your Man Can Smell Like is plenty funny without being even vaguely realistic. Same goes for The Most Interesting Man In The World.

Actually, I’m only linking to it because it made me think about humour in advertising. I don’t see many TV ads in the real world of America, and I have even less of an idea about the funny ads of other countries, but I seem to remember more ads being funnier in the past. Maybe I was more easily pleased, or just younger, but I can’t recall many ads of recent years really making me laugh.

Humour has always seemed to me to be a great way to elicit a positive reaction and make an ad memorable. This is because laughter is communication; a way of telling people you like something. So when it happens in a room of people it can give a more immediate impression that something is liked. Try watching that Ikea ad where the woman falls out of bed:

Everyone in the room might like it, but you’ll only know if you have a chat about it afterwards.

Whereas this will bring obvious and immediate approbation wherever it appears:

Now, I’m sure you can tell by the flip-phone that the above ad is a bit old. Is that indicative of anything? Not sure. It might just be my memory, but I’m sure there were more laugh-out-loud thigh-slappers 10-15 years ago (and beyond) than there are these days (please feel free to correct me with suggestions in the comments).

If I’m right, is there a reason for that? I could quickly leap to the oft-mentioned-on-this-blog brain drain that means advertising has less talent coursing through its creative departments. Writing and producing shit-hot yuck-based advertising is very hard, so if the people doing it aren’t tip-top (golly, my hyphen key is getting quite a workout today) then nor will the jokes be.

It might also be something to do with the directors. In those days Danny Kleinman, Kuntz and Maguire, Brian Buckley and Fredrik Bond, would be guaranteed to turn your 7/10 script into a 9/10 laff-fest. But aside from Mr. Kuntz, I’m not sure those people are producing funny ads anymore.

There might be another reason: fashion. These days ads seem to be heading in the direction of the tugging of the heart strings that John Lewis has popularised, or the corporate guilt trip of Like A Girl/Dove etc. And maybe it’s easier to make those ads. Once the point has been made you can tell the story with a less craft: let the mawkish acoustic version of the famous pop song do the heavy lifting, or make the most of the tears of the sad people who realise how insecure they’ve been (yes, I know the very best of these are immensely well-crafted, but the imitators are less so). By way of proof, here’s a not-very-funny list of last year’s best ads.

Are ads less funny now? Is my memory piss-poor? Do my reasons hold water? And, most importantly, do you care?

Guess who’s back, it ain’t a fuckin’ question. They know the name, bow in the presence of the weekend.

Bill Hicks’s ‘It’s just a ride’ in comic form (thanks, T).

Dude poos in London’s best toilets before his bum is sewn shut (thanks, T2).

The largest-ever analysis of gender in screenplays is more interesting than it sounds (thanks, D).

Kid’s books that are wrong.

Scorsese on framing shots and opening credits:

What’s the story behind your password? (Thanks, R&S.)

Tripmunks: all four Chipmunks movies played simultaneously at half speed:

The Doors x Steptoe and Son (thanks, D):