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ITIAPTWC Episode 54A – Paul Silburn, from beginning to Lowe.

At last!

Paul is one of the people I’ve most wanted to interview. He’s arguably been responsible for more classic advertising over the last 20 years than anyone else.

Whether it was for Stella, Nike, Playstation, John Smith, John West, Adidas, Levi’s, Scalextric, Olympus and dozens of others; with a very talented art director or on his own; at Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow and Johnson, BBH, Lowe, Leo Burnett, Leith, TBWA, Fallon, Rainey Kelly Y&R, freelance, Saatchis or BBH (again)… His hit-for-shit ratio is second to none.

But he’s also a thoroughly good bloke: always helping younger creatives (myself included), always up for a chat, always ready with a massively inappropriate but very funny joke in the middle of a creative review… I can’t remember how many times I’ve asked for his advice, but he’s been the first person I’ve spoken to at several career crossroads.

So here’s two hours where you can find out why he spent a year and a half working in Glasgow, why John West Bear was shot from so far away, why he booed his own Stella ad when it won a Gold at Cannes, what happened at Fallon and dozens of other inspiring, illuminating and fascinating tales of one of the great creative advertising careers.

One small thing: we chatted so long that I had to upload the episode in two parts. You can listen to the whole thing in one go on Soundcloud here, or listen to the first half at the bottom of this post, and the second half here, or find both halves on iTunes under ‘If This Is A Podcast Then What’s Christmas’. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Here are some of the ads we discussed. You can find others here.

There’s also a ton of excellent print ads but WordPress seems to only allow me to add them in tiny thumbnails, which seemed a shame. The proper versions can be found here.

ITIAPTWC Episode 54B – Paul Silburn, Leo Burnett onwards.

So here’s the second episode. Thank you for your patience, and thanks to Paul for his.

How to lie down:

Notes on nostalgia:

Let her go:

The Tesla World Light:

“Forward!” he cried from the rear, and the front rank died, and the weekend.

Hank Azaria’s Simpsons voices:

Sculpting Freddie Mercury:

The best version of Kashmir you’ll hear today:

Modern logos in Bauhaus Design.

Words to avoid using in restaurant reviews.

Artists are made by their network of friends, not their skill (thanks, B).

And I am not frightened of dying – any time will do, I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of the weekend?

The psychology behind filmmaking.

How Millennials burned out.

Grow a Bonsai:

Great design ideas (thanks, D).

Far away across the field, tolling on the iron bell calls the faithful to their knees, to hear the softly spoken magic spell… (The weekend; I don’t want to mess with such beautiful lyrics).

People discussing/recommending their favourite TED talks.

Best movie openings ever.

Paintings of songs (thanks, J).

Work out your British/Irish dialect from this quiz.

The security features of a $100 bill:

How ice sculptures are made:

We just wanna party, party just for you. We just want the money, money just for you. (Yeah) I know you wanna party, party just for the weekend.

Guy photoshops himself into celeb pictures (thanks, A).

A tank firing a shell:

Gyroscopic pool table:

Ten hours of fractals with falling tone:

Drawing timelapse:

McDonald’s Delivery: Pros And Cons.

There’s a French McDonald’s Delivery campaign that’s spent the last week or two doing the rounds on my LinkedIn and Twitter feeds:

The coverage and mentions have been uniformly positive, so let’s have a look at the pros, and if I can dredge any up, the cons:


The photos are remarkable. The way they portray a rainy day through a window works brilliantly because we’ve all seen that view a million times, but I’ve never seen it conveyed so accurately in a still image. And it doesn’t just work visually; it also works emotionally, giving you every iota of that drab and disappointed feeling of a wet day from indoors.

The branding must also be very good because, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I always remember it’s for McDonald’s Delivery. Perhaps it’s the very clear logo, and the fact that it’s for a big company that I’m already familiar with. Maybe it’s consistent with the tone of other McDonald’s communications I’ve seen in the past. Whatever it is, it passes that essential test.

It’s clear and simple: ‘Crappy day when you don’t want to go outside? Let us bring your McDonald’s to you’. Got it. If I wasn’t aware of McDonald’s Delivery before, I am now, and if I was aware, I’ve been reminded in a charming way.


Why are there five of these things? When I was at college, and in some of the agencies I’ve worked at since, ‘The same ad three times’ was a withering insult. If each new execution isn’t bringing something new to the party, why bother making it? Which is your favourite of these? ‘Tower Block In The Rain’? ‘Block Of Flats In The Rain’? ‘Building In The Rain’? Or is it ‘Other Buildings In The Rain?’ Come to think of it, why are they all buildings? It wouldn’t make the ads much different, but as they’re just views from someone inside a building, why not add a bridge, or a bunch of shops? Why stop at five? Why not do 37 of these?

It’s 100% generic. Is McDonald’s the market leader in delivered food in Paris? I have my doubts. So these ads are really just for ‘delivered food’. Maybe you see them and think you’ll call Domino’s, or your favourite baguette jamon delivery service. There’s nothing that tells me why I should order from McDonald’s Delivery (not another delivery service) on a rainy day. (May I also add that surely delivered McDonald’s is pretty unpleasant. I have nothing against the food when it comes fresh from the restaurant, but waiting 20 minutes for it to come through the rain? Give me a pizza or a curry any day of the week.)

Somewhat related is this post from Dave Trott. It talks about the great Bob Levenson’s test for a good ad:

“Here’s the test,” said Bob Levenson: “If you look at an ad and fall in love with the brilliance of it, try taking the product out of it.  

If you still love the ad, it’s no good.  

Don’t make your ad interesting; make your product interesting.”

Try that test with this campaign: cover up the logo and see if you still love it. If you did before, I’m pretty sure you still do. What most people seem to like about this campaign is the photography. There’s really nothing here that tells you why MD is good enough to spend your money on. I suppose it presumes that we all know if we like McDonald’s already, so it can just let us know that this thing we like or don’t like is now available for delivery. Maybe that’s enough, but maybe a better ad would give me a good reason to give it a go.

I think that’s enough about the pros and cons. Overall I think it’s one decent ad (with amazing photography/post), not five amazing ones. Additionally, I apologize for the cynicism, but this industry has driven me to it: these ads have a big whiff of Cannes fodder about them. I’d love to believe the client decided to run these five virtually identical ads, but I can’t help thinking at least some of this campaign was created purely for the purpose of entering it for some awards.

If it was intended and created with only its effectiveness in mind, I apologise!

Writing in the half spaces

‘Half spaces’ is a relatively new football term. It refers to the areas between the side of the pitch and the centre:

These are hard to cover because the defensive team is usually set up to stop opposing forwards on the wings and in the middle. If an attacker runs into the half space the defenders can’t be sure whose job it is to stop him.

I think good writing happens in half spaces; areas where the reader isn’t expecting you to appear, so they don’t have their defences up. We’re all attuned to the approach paths of clichés and tropes, so we’re fully prepared to repel their sorry arses, casting eye-rolls in their direction as we bat them away.

Therefore, to retain the element of surprise, we must head to the half spaces!

Writing half spaces come in many shapes and sizes. Structurally, they can appear as plot twists or unusual situations. In terms of form, they can exist in breaking the fourth wall, writing the story through a new medium, such as emails or text messages, or creating a story within a story within a story.

But I want to talk about the smaller half spaces. With a bit of perspective you can create them inside a single sentence, and certainly within a 30-second ad.

I’ll start with a minor fascination of mine. I’m not sure it has a name, so I’m going to call it the redundant elongation. When you talk about those red things you stick together to make a building you tend to use the word ‘brick’. The thing in the corner of a letter is usually a ‘stamp’, and that thing people drive is generally referred to as a car. But they can also be called a ‘house brick’, a ‘postage stamp’ and a ‘motorcar’. Is there a good reason to use a longer word with an identical meaning? No, and that’s the point. It makes the word stick out a little and prevents the prose from becoming wallpaper. It could also give a character subtle colour, or help the rhythm of a line. So it gets to live in the half space: grenade or hand grenade? Boat or sailboat? Worm or earthworm?

Another one is the anti-cliché. I once wrote an Economist poster that asked, ‘What exactly is the benefit of the doubt?’. I took a cliché and turned it into the opposite of itself: something unfamiliar to give the reader pause. My colleagues did something similar with ‘Carpe annum’ and ‘Think someone under the table’.

But so did Radiohead, in their own special way. Listen to the lyrics of You And Whose Army?, which takes that cliché and twists it into an insecure whinge. And A Wolf At The Door (another cliché) uses ‘Take it with a pinch of salt’ in a long list of sardonic bullshit. Even Robbie Williams reprogrammed ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’ in Millennium.

But the real half spaces are the insights that make all good art. Sure you can go deep into the human condition for a Dark Side Of The Moon or Great Expectations, but smaller moments of recognition can be just as powerful because they make us feel connected in a more quotidian way:

The terror of sleeves inching their way down your forearms as you wash your hands.

Why does clingfilm stretch when you want it to tear and vice versa?

What do you do in the no man’s land between a person being close enough for you to hold the door open for them, and the point when they’re a little too far away?

The tingling sensation you get after pins and needles is oddly similar to what happens to your tongue when you lick the end of a 9-volt battery. Are they related?

Why do smoke detector batteries only run out at 4am?

The odd feeling you get when you expect there to be another step at the top of a staircase.

True happiness comes from listening to music in the car and arriving at your destination exactly as the song is ending.


So look to the half spaces. Sneak up on your reader, viewer or listener and give them a touch of surprise and delight, one they may not even appreciate till much later. That’s the kind of stuff we like to consume, so that should be the kind of stuff you like to create.

Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? I’ve seen those English dramas, too. They’re cruel. So if there’s any other way to spell the word, it’s fine with the weekend.

Video game skies (thanks, J).

The story of Friends.

Magnet bouncing on a trampoline:

Like a boss 2018:

Are we living in other dimensions without realising?: