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The 2016 D&AD Winners (well, some of them) rated and reviewed.

I would like to preface this post by making it very clear that these are simply the arbitrary opinions of one 42-year-old bloke, and not to be taken seriously.

TV first. Only two pencil winners. Here’s one:

Thought this was decent but surely not one of the best ads of the year. Nicely shot, but a maximum 40-second idea strung out for a minute. Good twist, but is it great? Nope. 8/10

This was the other TV winner:

Another good-not-great one. The ad is a fun, entertaining watch, and feels jauntily original, but is the payoff 100% satisfying? I’d say 82%, so I’m going to give it another 8/10.

Press ads:


Apparently this is a bigger idea where Burger King’s competitors (not McDonald’s, who declined to participate) were asked to collaborate on a burger for World Peace Day. So is this the press ad from that? It doesn’t really work on its own, so is it a part of some mixed media thing (it also received a Pencil for Integrated and Innovative Media)? No idea. Anyway, it really only works if McDonald’s is involved and you know what it’s about, so as a standalone press ad I’ll give it a slightly confused 7/10.

Writing in advertising went to these radio ads for Dove. Radio is always a bit of an odd category – if you look down the years you’ll find variable quality among the winners. But I think these are very well written and produced, and the reveal at the end is powerful. I’ll give these a 9/10.

The other writing winner:

Fucking brilliant. 10/10

Outdoor. Bit of an odd category, this one. Doesn’t seem to be about posters so much as stuff like this (this is the TV ad for a beer brand that uses its waste products to make car fuel):

Very good idea, and the carried it through well. Leaving my ‘Outdoor’ reservations aside, I’d give this a 10/10. Here’s the full explanation.

Then there’s this one. Another stunty thing, but at least it’s on a poster site. Not quite as impressive as the beer thing but still very good. 9/10.

Radio: these ads from KFC are very good work for a tricky sector in an unpredictable category. 9/10. And a lovely bit of writing and VO in these for Doom insecticide – 9.5/10.

Film Crafts: this won for Use of Music and Direction. Both very good, but I also liked the editing (but not the pay-off) – 9/10.

Gold pencils: as far as I can tell, this one is for some people who make sticky tape. They hung loads of it from the ceiling in an exhibition hall. To give you an idea of how jealous I am of this idea, take ‘fuck-all’, divide it by infinity and stick it up the arse of a passing fly. 3/10.

This one, however is a full-on 15/10 idea:

Having the idea is amazing; making it happen is amazing x 1,543,835. (Small quibble: the above Vimeo link appeared in November 2014, making it eligible for last year’s D&AD. I wonder why it was entered this year.)

Did you agree with the above? Are there other ads you’d like to highlight? Are you wondering why I didn’t cover direct and mobile and all that jazz? (Answer: life is just a few seconds too short). Have a look at all the winners here and give as many shits as you can muster.

When I was a very small boy very small boys talked to me. Now that we’ve grown up together they’re afraid of the weekend.

Class A marketing: drug dealers show us how it’s done (thanks, N).

When Dylan sounded like Snoop.

Odd Sarah Silverman short (thanks, D):

A blast from the past: Kriss Akabusi Sex Stories.

A small plug for the guys who design and maintain my sites (this site designed by Paul Belford).

A guide to using the tube.

Neat data viz on how wealth inequality happened (thanks, D).

Lots of great Serpico stuff.

Great pics of the early years of hip hop (thanks, R).

Hiding the cash in plain sight

I was listening to this football podcast the other day. It’s an interesting analysis of why Jose Mourinho’s appointment as the new manager of Man United makes a certain kind of sense that may not be immediately apparent to the majority of football fans.

(For those of you who aren’t into football, allow me to give you a quick background to this situation: cast-iron, 24-carat thundercunt, Jose Mourinho has been a ridiculously successful manager, winning league titles wherever he goes, and occasionally the Champions League, too. He’s also been a toxic mess, sacked three times for being shit after he was good, and for creating schisms and hatred amongst his players, then leaving the clubs in quite a mess. By now everyone knows what they get from appointing him: a desperately insecure man who has to make every situation about himself, while throwing scoolground-level barbs at other players and managers. He also creates teams that occasionally play very good football, but more often simply spoil things for the other team, creating fucking boring games that are played by some of the most skilful players in the world.)

Anyway, the podcast suggests that actually managing a football club (not just the team, but the entire enterprise) to trophy-winning success is a very difficult thing to do. What is much easier is to spend a ridiculous amount of money on ‘star’ players and managers to keep people watching all over the world. Maybe Man U will win things with Mourinho; maybe they won’t, but it doesn’t actually matter because the aim of Man U’s Executive Vice-Chairman is to make money off the ‘brand’. If Man U stay ‘big’ then they can leverage sponsorship and other commercial deals to ensure that the cash flows in, no matter what happens on the pitch. They’ll probably spend another £100m-£200m this year, taking player spending in the last few years to over £400m. But if that nets them £800m in deals, it’s all good.

The men who took over Manchester United several years ago are the Glazer family, who actually leveraged the money they needed to buy the club against the club itself, leaving it in colossal debt, which they’ve been paying off ever since. But apparently that doesn’t matter because it hasn’t affected team spending, and the Glazers appear to be cool with doubling down on that stance by making it ALL about the money. Football has been big business for a couple of decades now, but this situation is simply growing beyond anyone’s imagination.

So Man U are playing a different game: use the football to bring in the money, which is the opposite of the previous practice of bringing in money to support the football. And this is all a longwinded way of saying that people may not be playing the game you think they are. Does BBH’s transition to a ‘Sports Management’ agency that doesn’t seem to give a toss about TV ads a new way of playing a different game that has nothing to do with great work? Does Martin Sorrell give the first toss about how good his companies’ ads are if they’re making loads of cash in other ways? (Last year I spookily asked if WPP was following the model of a football club, kind of the flipside to this post.)

In these days of huge amounts of cash and power sloshing around in channels of subterfuge it’s hard to know exactly why trusted institutions are behaving in unexpected ways, but it really just comes down to that quote from All The President’s Men: follow the money.

Pencils are now fairly worthless

When I were a lad the D&AD Pencil was a very clear indicator of massive creative talent. To have one or two was great; to have any more than that was the kind of achievement reserved for a top 1% creative. Many brilliant copywriters and art directors missed out on that final confirmation of their talent because they were not given out lightly. I recall a few years where not only did a certain jury not award a Pencil, they even didn’t let any work into the Book.

So there used to be this kind of mythology about who won them, who missed out, why a great ad won for one thing but not something else. It was all kind of interesting and led to the D&AD Pencil being the one award a UK creative really wanted. I recall someone asking my old boss Mike Cozens if he thought a creative would prefer to win a Cannes Grand Prix (there only used to be four or five of those back in the mid 90s) or a D&AD Gold (Mike had two of those). He replied that the D&AD Gold would be the more coveted, partly because they were as rare as rocking horse shit, and thus jurors were loathe to give them to anything not 150% worthy.

Anyway, fast forward to this year and news reaches me that Pencils are no longer so rare (this may have been the case for a few years; I haven’t been paying attention). They now give a plain wooden pencil for anything that got in the book. so how many did they give out this year? Well according to this count the number is 747.


Seven hundred and forty fucking seven.

Now, I get that the plain ones might be worth less than the yellow ones, the black ones or (Jesus wept) the fucking white one, but this now means that a D&AD Pencil has been utterly devalued. It’s like hyper inflation; the advertising equivalent of the Zimbabwean billion dollar bill. It’s become meaningless. When you flood the shelves of creative teams with that many Pencils they cease to become a respected badge of honour and instead take on the cachet of a Cannes Shortlisting. Perhaps they’ll make trophies for that soon.

I recently followed a Facebook chat about D&AD in general, in which the great Mark Denton, winner of several Pencils when they were hard to come by, added the perfect quote from The Incredibles: ‘When everyone’s super, no one is‘.

The truth will set you free

I’m currently reading an interesting book called Lying, by a neuroscientist called Sam Harris.

It’s an essay on the damage that can be done by even the smallest white lie and it suggests that we can radically simplify our lives and improve society by merely telling the truth in situations where others often lie. If you lie to a friend in front of another friend the second friend will then realise that you might lie to them, too. This may not be conscious, but it will slide in somewhere and leave your relationship damaged. Or a friend might ask what you think of a painting they just completed. If you don’t like it but you tell them it’s great you’re doing the social equivalent of sending them out with a ‘kick me’ sign on their back. Is that what a real friend would do?

Anyway, it’s full of similar examples and makes a lot of sense, but instead of making me consider the problems caused by lying it made me think about how many great things happen when we tell the truth.

I don’t just mean telling a friend how their painting could be improved; I mean being authentic, open and fully self-expressed. Here’s an example:


Now, I’m not saying that Will Ferrell is in poor condition, but he’s not exactly Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Does he care? If he does we certainly can’t tell. He’s just comfortable in his own skin (literally) and it makes him more likeable. Those of us who would rather not let it all hang out for fear of being judged have to live a somewhat hidden life that reflects fear and a greater value placed on the opinions of others, neither of which are generally considered to be attractive traits.

Another example is Howard Stern, the US radio DJ. I listen to him most days as he goes into ridiculously graphic detail about whether or not he masturbated the previous night, what kind of porn he watched as he did so (usually babysitter scenarios), what his clean up tissue routine is, when he takes a dump and how he wipes his arse. Now, that might sound to you like an unpleasant overshare, but it’s actually surprisingly refreshing. He doesn’t talk about this stuff in a boastful or titillating way; more like an explanation of a trip to the supermarket or attempt to cook dinner, and it tends to come off as self deprecating, particularly as he regularly mentions how small his penis is. Perhaps you have to give it a listen yourself, but millions tune in every day, partly because there’s actually a mega-famous A-list celebrity who happily talks about every part of his life, whether you feel comfortable about it or not. And why shouldn’t people discuss masturbation or going to the toilet? Why are those subjects considered to be taboo or disgusting? Perhaps if more people were open about that kind of thing people wouldn’t behave like 12-year-old boys or matronly aunts when those topics come up, and maybe people wouldn’t be so squeamish about getting checked out for testicular or colon cancer.

Anyway, I digress…

I’m not saying that everyone should share every thought that pops into their head; that would be disastrous. But I am suggesting that repression and suppression can often end in misery and restrict our connection to other human beings. After all, what is it about art that we really appreciate? It’s anything that shines a light on the human condition and makes us feel as if our experiences are not ours alone. You may not want to be the one who puts their hand up to express a vulnerability, but you sure appreciate those who do.

And it’s a path to artistic success:

Louis CK suggests the way to creative fulfilment is to say what you believe, and that trying to please people is a short-lived victory.

Richard Pryor’s open, truthful style broke barriers for people to talk about race and sex: “When you hear him do those routines they are making it easier for people of different races to talk to each other and laugh with each other. It was groundbreaking.”

You may not like Kanye West, but he was the one who said what we were all thinking:

And what about the way social media silently encourages us to present the very best sides of ourselves? Wouldn’t it be great if the fear that surrounds every dismal humblebrag were replaced by bold authenticity?

Just to be clear, I am as guilty as everyone else of the sins of mendacity mentioned above, but I’d be delighted if there were more truth shared around the planet. And why does it seem so hard? I can’t help thinking that we’re liars by habit, drawn to the short-term gain, somewhat unaware of the long-term pain. It’s scary putting the real version of yourself out there, because if it gets rejected it’s a rejection of you instead of one of the masks you wear. But on the flipside of that, if people accept the false version of you then they’re only accepting one of the masks, and that sounds more than a little sad.

I think the above also applies to brands. Pretty much all of them try to present their best face, but only a few actually have a face that’s worth presenting. It’s the dodgy ones that want to seem so much better than they actually are that don’t endear themselves to us: lying about your CO2 emissions to fool people into buying your car; using sweat shops to make your products while preaching about global togetherness; using the words ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ in their loosest and most flexible senses; banks wittering on about how they help small businesses while they help the super rich to avoid tax and launder money for drug cartels. All crashingly disappointing, but does it do them damage? Well, the corporate world in 2016 seems to default to the kind of behaviours we disapprove of, but then they’re so powerful that the negative consequences aren’t as prevalent as we might like. The Sun still sells millions of copies post-Hillsborough and Leveson; Starbucks is still full of queuing punters even though it shamefully pays little tax; Donald Trump lies several times a day and his support only grows. Perhaps our knowledge of this subterfuge is interpreted as some kind of authenticity, strengthening the brands in a roundabout way.

Hopefully this blog has been an expression of authenticity: I’ve told you all about my salary record; even as a freelancer I’ve criticised work/agencies that I see as damaging to the industry; and I blab on in great detail about my actual opinions on a wide range of topics. Has it done me any harm? Not that I’m aware of. Has it done me any good? Well, I like to think that any benefits have come from my authenticity – there aren’t many outlets for this sort of thing; perhaps that’s why some people appreciate this one.

As David Abbott once said: a small admission gains a large acceptance. So what does a large admission gain?

Big homie better grow up. Me and my whoadies ’bout to stroll up. I see them boppers in the corner. They sneaking out the back door. He only want me when I’m not there. He better call Becky with the weekend.

Steamboat Willie – Koyaanisqatsi remix (thanks, T):

Brilliant wooden sculptures of famous film directors.

What it’s like to be Stanley Kubrick’s assistant for three decades.

Celebrities photoshopped to look like their crappy fan art (thanks, V).

Forklift Driver Klaus (thanks, A):

15 things you didn’t know about Pet Sounds.

Every Metallica riff played in four minutes (thanks, J):

Excellent observational photographs (thanks, J).

Drive, the Uber version (thanks, J):

Funny photoshopping (thanks, J).

Great Hamilton article.

Finally, there’s an introduction to Landmark for creatives happening in London 7pm this Monday (23rd). Let me know if you’re interested ( It will be amazing (I promise!).

perception vs reality


A friend and I were just discussing the recently-relegated Newcastle United. We both found it kind of odd because we’d lived through the 90s, during which time Newcastle were a frantically entertaining and relatively successful club. One week they’d lose 4-3 to Liverpool, the next they’d buy Faustino Asprilla to shore up their title challenge.

So the dissonance comes from the old perception we had of the club vs the current reality (being shite, run by a malevolent discount sporting goods CEO, only playing well when they’re on TV etc.).

I experienced this first-hand when I freelanced at one of the post-Frank versions of Lowe in 2009. My AD and I had lived through years of Lowe producing some of the best advertising in the world, and although we knew it was no longer that Lowe, we couldn’t help thinking it still had something in its fundamental structure that would still allow it to produce greatness. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case; by that stage it was mainly the London outpost of an uninspiring international network, producing some pretty dry ads for Knorr, Vauxhall and Cif.

There was no longer any Stella Artois, Olympus, Paul Silburn or Vince Squibb, so what made Lowe Lowe? And, indeed, what was ‘Lowe’? I suppose once the great accounts and brilliant staff had departed it was no different to any other so-so ad agency. Soon after, it merged with an agency which, up to that point, had been pretty mediocre, becoming DLKW Lowe, and the transformation was complete*. But I still hear the word Lowe and think ‘good advertising’, which makes me wonder how long perception lasts beyond a material change.

I recall David Abbott once suggesting that a person or company could live off its reputation for three years. I think that period of time differs depending on the strength of the reputation and who is regarding the person or entity. The rational, analytical side of an observer may understand that the good times have definitely left the building, but the emotional memory may live on. I wonder if it takes as long to fully lose a reputation as it does to gain one; Lowe had spent so long being so good that I found it hard to wipe away the entirety of that perception.

And of course it works in the other direction. Look at Grey: for so many years the punchline of jokes about the worst agency in London, it now regularly wins the most creative awards in the country, and genuinely pushes the advertising envelope (even if some of its efforts are depressingly scammy). However, in the back of my mind it’s still slightly Grey, slogging its way through a depressing series of P&G shitefests.

I suppose we experience so few spot-changing leopards that it’s a situation we rarely have to confront. Most things stay somewhat consistent over time so we’re used to retaining our initial impressions of them. Perhaps it takes a long time to trust any kind of change because we need enough examples of the new entity to cancel out our perception of the old; one swallow doesn’t make a summer, nor a single penguin a winter.

So live off your fat days, or accept that if you’re crap today it’s going to be hard to shift that perception, even after the reality has changed.


*By the way, I don’t pay enough attention to the current UK ad scene to know what state Lowe is in these days, but I do know it has a fine pair of ECDs and some excellent senior creatives, so I’m hoping for the best.

Remember ‘Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads?’?

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 18.07.29

The utterly wonderful and excellent book on old VW ads is back,       bigger, better and more complete.

I'll let one of its authors, the great Alfredo Marcantonio, take up the story of the new edition:

This edition has a new MADMEN inspired cover and it’s a third bigger than the earlier versions, with 100 new ads and importantly for people in your part of the States a new section on DDB’s LA posters. It is the first and only record of this work.


The ads live on in old magazines and newspapers, the commercials exist as films, on tape and digitally but the posters went up and came down without leaving a trace.


A few years ago when I was in LA on a shoot, I was lucky enough to track down the son of Si Lam the Creative Director of DDB’s west coast office back in the day. Fortunately, his dad took pictures of each of the posters while they were up and thanks to digital retouching we have been able to create copies.


I had lost much of my original collection when my cellar flooded. Took 18 months to buy them all again on the internet… and I found a bunch of new ones too. 


There are more details on the website 


Hope you enjoy the book…



I did indeed, and continue to do so. 
If you'd like a copy, it's available all over the world, and would make a fine gift for any ad nerd, VW nut or person with exquisite  taste.

I have never been the same. Intelligent eyes in a hunger-pang frame, and when you said “Hi,” I forgot my dang name, set my heart aflame, ev’ry part the weekend.

100 years of film in 100 shots (thanks, D):

Punks look back to their wildest days (thanks, T).

Cool inventions (thanks, P).

Bicycles built off people’s shitty drawings.

Al Jaffee explains how he created those fold-ins at the back of Mad magazine:

Social media overshares (thanks, T).

Fantastic John Stewart interview:


Have you ever wondered why we admire the things we do? What is it about Guernica, Astral Weeks or Great Expectations that has left them venerated as lasting classics?

Sure, they are all beautifully crafted, but what does that mean?

I think it all comes down to difficulty. Could you have conjured up the ideas for those works of art then executed them to such a high standard? Almost certainly not, so that makes them worthy of your respect.

And it’s not just art: Rosa Parks, Edmund Hillary, Albert Einstein, Usain Bolt, David Attenborough, Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, Gandhi, Amelia Earhart… Can you imagine going through what they went through, or coming up with their ideas? It’s not impossible, but it’s ridiculously hard, so they get to be admired. Whereas the average bus driver, dog groomer or copywriter? Not such a big deal because their achievements tend to look achievable.

Think of the ads that have made you jealous. I think some will have seemed impossible:

…while others might have just made you kick yourself for failing to come up with them:

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 15.48.12

That Economist ad is a great example of the latter. Could you have done it? Possibly. Did you do it? No. As someone who spent many, many hours trying to come up with Economist posters I can tell you that it never seemed within my ability. If it had been I might have got close to it, but I (and many other people far more talented than me) literally could not come up with it. It was too difficult, and therefore worthy of our respect.

It’s the reason why, when it comes to writing, people admire economy of expression: it’s fucking hard. Wittering on and expressing yourself vaguely in cliched terms is pretty easy, so even if it manages to convey the point we don’t admire it as much. Maximum meaning, minimum means is both a brilliant encapsulation of itself and a guide to artistic difficulty and excellence.

It’s also the reason why certain examples of modern art are derided: it’s easy to dribble paint over a canvas or set up a pile of bricks. But that misses the point: it’s actually very difficult to do those things and have them represent an element of the human spirit or the state of society.


And it’s really only when the difficulty of something hits us that it the excellence reveals itself. For example I recently showed this to my son:

He plays guitar, so he watched the first things Prince did and said they were good but possible. Then I showed him what happens around 4:03 and he conceded that his mind was blown. The playing in that sequence is so difficult he couldn’t get his head round being able to do it. He then said that he wanted to be better than Prince, a man he now admires.

You might think of examples of difficult achievements that you don’t admire, but I’d argue that you can admire the quality of the achievement without liking it or the people behind it. For example:


So that’s all there is to it, really: do things that are either difficult, apparently difficult, or easy for you but difficult for everyone else; then life will be a breeze.