Category: Uncategorized

Why being fired is really bad then (sometimes) really good

Have you ever been fired? The question also applies if you’ve been made redundant. Employment law pretty much bans actual firing these days, so if you’ve been made redundant, you’ve basically been sacked.

I have.

Back in 1997 I was given my marching orders from Y&R (before it had Rainey and Kelly attached), and I can tell you it was one of the least pleasant experiences I’ve ever endured.

To set the scene, my partner Paul and I had fallen straight into a job off our first placement out of Watford. It was a pretty fun time to be in London as we joined around the time of Euro ’96, the peak of Britpop and a strange run of documentaries that made Soho seem a bit cooler than usual.

To be honest, we didn’t exactly set the agency alight with our brilliant ads, but we did OK for a placement/junior team. At the time I remember reading an editorial in Campaign that said a couple of print campaigns a TV ad or two was a pretty decent return for a creative team, so we managed that and thought we were doing well.

Then I think we began to confuse the lines between ‘Advertising is a bit of a lark, Waldie in the pub all day, lunch turning into dinner etc.’ and ‘working so little that you’re both taking the piss and clearly surplus to requirements’. After a decent start the briefs seemed to dry up – not just for us, but for all the younger teams. At one point the traffic dept told us there wasn’t going to be a new brief for at least two weeks, so we tended to spend our afternoons down the pub or at the movies, and, as it seemed as if the whole agency was on a bit of a go-slow, we didn’t feel as if we were taking any more piss than anyone else.

But apparently we were. Some time in October 1997, after maybe 16 months of employment, our CD (they didn’t have ECDs back then), the double-Gold-Pencil winning Mike Cozens popped into our office and closed the door. (I now fear closing doors, and am very careful about closing doors with younger creatives; if I’m not about to sack them I let them know immediately that this is a ‘good news’ door closing, and they have nothing to fear). But that day was a bad news door closing, accompanied by phrases like ‘It’s just not working out’.

Shellshocked, Paul and I went to nearby Regent’s Park to try and absorb it all and think about what to do next. We’d been given a month’s money, but it was a bit close to the industry-wide easing off of Christmas for another hiring, and besides, we didn’t really have a strong enough book to get another junior job. Really, we’d have to start again. That was the biggest kick in the teeth: we’d climbed some really difficult rungs of the ladder only to find ourselves dumped on our arses, scrabbling around for another placement where we’d again earn very little and have to bust our guts inside out to turn that opportunity into a job.

If you want to know what grim is (I know all this is relative and probably not very grim to a Syrian refugee, but you know what I mean), try entering the above situation just before Christmas: no agency parties, no cash for presents, lots of family meetings where you get to discuss your current employment situation… deck the fucking halls. We also enjoyed the beautiful experience of being on the dole and having to explain to a remarkably unimpressed government employee what the hell a ‘copywriter’ did for a living, only to be told to apply for a job at McDonalds. Even worse, I had to walk past AMV BBDO’s offices on my way to the DSS. Looking in the window of Britain’s biggest and best agency to see a beautiful grand piano only seemed to hammer home my utter failure. On the good side I actually signed up for the credit protection insurance before it got a really bad name, so when I lost my job the bank paid my credit card bill and even sent me some more cash on top.

So we got through that time, which also included my birthday, and worked on our book, taking breaks only to watch Neighbours and Petrocelli. We saw headhunters, arranged crits and I fucked up my foot by standing on a plug, leaving me plodding through the snow on crutches. I think it’s fair to say that we had also downgraded our expectations; after all, if we weren’t good enough for a mid-table agency like Y&R, who would employ us? McCann’s? Grey (which was shit in those days)?

Dear reader, I must thank you for sticking so long with my tale of woe. As a reward, this is finally the part where the whole story takes a turn for the better. After blagging a crit with John Hegarty (easier than you’d think) and having him suggest we go and write for Viz, we tightened our book right up and went to see John Gorse and Nick Worthington at the aforementioned AMV BBDO. They were the best team in the world, working in the best agency in the world, so it was a bit of a coup (but also easier than you’d think). And they loved our book, so much so that they dropped it into the office of the CD, Peter Souter, with a note that said ‘This is a thing of beauty’. Which was nice.

A few days later Peter called me up (interrupting Neighbours, FFS) and invited us in to begin a placement at the BEST AGENCY IN THE WORLD, which was also nice. Over the next few months we converted that placement into a job, showed work to David Abbott, went to lots of award shows, worked in Miami and the South of France and generally experienced a level of enjoyment that was diametrically opposed to the misery of Christmas 1997. Going to industry parties and having people ask what we were up to was a delightful buzz. Up till then AMV had taken on two placement teams in their entire history. I was now their youngest copywriter.

So that was the really good part, but to get to it we had to go through the really bad part. I know lots of people who have experienced the soul-destroying horror of being unexpectedly given the heave-ho, and almost all of them seemed to find themselves in a better position at their next place. For me and Paul it was a kick up the arse to do some bloody work, and when we did we ended up in our dream job. I don’t know what would have happened if we’d stayed at Y&R, but I doubt it would have been quite as fun as that first year at AMV.

Oh, and around that time Arsenal won the double, playing some remarkable football. Good old 1998.

Anyway, what about you? Have you been given the old Spanish Archer? If so, how did it turn out?

Don’t mess with my toot toot. Don’t mess with my toot toot. Now you could have the other woman, but don’t mess with the weekend.

Hip Hop country dancing (thanks, J):

Remarkable cover of Hello (thanks, C):

15+ people who have accidentally dressed like their surroundings (thanks, T).

A comprehensive history of clubbing (thanks, J2).

Quite brilliant and entertaining analysis of where the world’s biggest companies are heading (thanks, S):

Indian Superman and Spiderwoman (thanks, G):

An illustrated talk with Maurice Sendak:

Teletubbies x Joy Division (thanks, J3):


And Donald Trump x Ralph Wiggum (thanks, G).

Japanese fart scrolls (thanks, G).

Remarkably funny sketch:

Embroidered X-rays (thanks, J).

Very good History of Japan (thanks, J):

Animals that look like celebs (thanks, G).

Side Project Time

Hi Ben,

I thought a few of your readers might like this:

The brief was to create a piece of film as timeless as the cars themselves.

It turned out so well that approached us to run it as a partnership, so the exposure has been phenomenal.

The Mill in LA did all the post and it was shot by Tash & Tanya at Unit9 Films.

The whole process has been one of the most joyful things I’ve worked on in a long time.

The aim now is to create a film a year.

I don’t work with big budgets but if any of your readers love cars I’m very up for collaborating.

My email is


My pleasure, Cam (Cam Mitchell is a good friend who’s worked at many excellent agencies, including AMV and Fallon).

‘How to write a brilliant brief’

Here’s an interview with Lesya Lysyj, former CMO of Heineken USA, where she tells clients how to create better briefs.

Her five points are:

First is Know Thy Brand – if you’re selling an emotional product, such as beer, you need to have emotion at your core. Rational products, such as gum, need a rational benefit.

Is chewing gum really a ‘rational’ product? I remember this ad from when I was at school:

All emotion, nothing rational. It seemed to sell a lot of gum. In fact, I can’t recall a single rational gum ad. Surely the ‘rational’ benefits of gum are all subjective (flavour etc.), while longevity is a function of how quickly you get used to the flavour (this is why you can take your flavourless gum our of your mouth, leave it somewhere, then start chewing it again to discover the flavour has returned). Anyway, on the brief side of things, ‘do a brief that matches the emotional/rational level of the product’ makes good sense and is fine advice if you’re so thick this thought has never occurred to you before.

Next is Don’t Get Bored With A Great Brief. She changed a brief because sales were declining. This messed things up even more, so she returned to a version of the original brief and sales picked up again. Great, but her original brief clearly seemed to be something other than ‘great’, hence the falling sales. If everyone had thought it was still ‘great’ they wouldn’t have changed it. So she’s really saying, ‘Don’t fail to recognise a great brief’, which again seems both obvious and a bit of a tricky ask.

Then we have Every Word Counts. This is illustrated by an example where calling out ‘bollocks in beer’ was changed to the wider canvas of calling out mere ‘bollocks’, allowing for a bigger idea. I suppose that’s a good point, but I think it comes down to ‘write a good brief that allows lots of good work; not a shit one that doesn’t’, and again that’s a bit obvious. It’s not just the words that changed in her example; it’s the whole scope of the idea. When you change words you change the brief, but you still need the smarts to think of the better brief.

The next one says How Much Creative Is Actually Needed? But it’s not really about that, so much as suggesting you divvy up your media budget up front for some reason that seems less and less clear to me the more I read her paragraph. Sorry, but I can’t really work out what she’s on about, let alone how it relates to the amount of creative needed.

The final one is Mandatories. She says that this laundry list of things to include in the advertising can kill the final work, so don’t have more than three. I’d say that it’s not the number of mandatories that matters but the nature of them. One mandatory that says ‘feature a squawking, shitting monkey throughout the spot’ will do more damage than ten that say things like ‘Don’t feature junk food’ or ‘include a shot of the new pack’.

She signs off with this:

Good luck. As I have said before, this whole thing is incredibly difficult. Like raising kids, most of the time you are wondering if you’re doing the right thing and just hoping for the best. And you won’t know if you made the right decisions until they end up being a Rhodes Scholar or going to prison. The best you can do is follow your instincts, trust your planner, and don’t be afraid to adjust along the way.

That’s more interesting, because when a brief finally arrives on the desk of the creative team it often seems like it’s taken a long time and (supposedly) a lot of effort to produce something that can be uninspiring or break down easily under scrutiny. I guess a brief that doesn’t do that is hard to come by, hence the ‘incredibly difficult’ part of what she says. But because a brief is a single piece of paper that has sometimes taken months to produce (sometimes leaving a few days for the creatives to answer it) the feeling is that it had better bloody well be good when it arrives. I don’t think many creatives have a clear sense of what has gone into the process, and our ‘natural’ sense of grumpy, come-on-then-impress-me cynicism means that we’re rarely blown away when we read one.

And when you read articles like that you wonder how many of them across the industry really are just poor.

Drop it low and pick it up just like this (yeah). Cup of Ace, cup of Goose, cup of Cris. High heels, somethin’ worth a half a ticket on my wrist (on my wrist). Takin’ all the liquor straight, never chase the weekend.

ECDs with folded arms.


The insanely wonderful The Chickening:

Nice illustrations of the horrors of 19th Century surgery.

Everything is a remix (thanks, R):

Istanbul via Inception (thanks, J).

Camera on a potter’s wheel (thanks, J):

Sad, sad cookery (thanks, K).

Hours of Truffaut interviewing Hitchcock.

Composition in storytelling (thanks, J):

Colour in storytelling:

Paris in movies (thanks, J):


An interesting movie trend reached a peak last year: the remake in disguise.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens essentially remade Star Wars: A New Hope.

Creed was a remake of Rocky.

Mad Max was a second go at Mad Max 1.

Jurassic World was a pretty faithful remake of Jurassic Park.

And of course, Spectre was a remake of every Bond film ever made.

And these were five of the biggest films of the year, so apparently no one noticed, or if they did, they didn’t mind. In fact, most  were also well reviewed, so even film critics, who you might expect to be disappointed in the lack of originality on display, didn’t have a problem with it.

But despite all those quotes about ‘talent borrows, genius steals’, the point of using the work of others to inform your own is that something new gets created, not something that is basically the source material under another name. Otherwise what’s to admire? Where is the process of creation? If the greatest twist in movies is that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father then using a virtually identical twist 34 years later is surely just lazy.

When I was at advertising college the biggest sin was to produce something that had already been done, even if you were unaware that it had already been done. This continued in my working career when people (myself very much included) would point out even tenuous similarities to other, often obscure, campaigns. And there was plenty of sense in that: the benefits of originality (your work standing out more; its freshness being more stimulating and memorable) are obvious.

But if people don’t care that much for originality, and even enjoy the kind of familiar tropes a remake provides, should we always seek to provide it in advertising? And what would happen if we remade great ads?


Saves time and money.

Perpetuates ‘quality’ advertising.

No need to research.


The original companies and agencies that made the ad may not exist, so you’d have a tough job with rights etc.

The original messages may no longer be relevant.


Doesn’t seem impossible.

What if Levi’s remade Creek or Drugstore? Could Guinness replicate Surfer? What about another go for Cog?

Well, just in case you think there’s merit in the idea, the real question is: can the quality of the original be maintained? Unfortunately, that’s almost impossible to answer for sure, but we do have at least one example where a brilliant original…

was remade with poor results:

So perhaps the reduction in quality of ad agency personnel over the last ten years has left us with people unable to replicate the brilliant originality of others, let alone come up with their own.

Or perhaps remakes, Hollywood or otherwise, are a bit depressing.



How many times does an angel fall? How many people lie instead of talking tall? He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd (I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not the weekend).

Albert Watson takes his own estate agent photos (nice flat).

Swear engine (thanks, T).

Cool random shit cut in half (thanks, S).

Swedish TV accidentally runs kids TV subtitles under political speeches (thanks, D).

David Bowie impersonates the greats with incredible accuracy:

Good (depressing) analysis of why the film business is in its current state (thanks, J).

The 90s in full effect:

Please read this

I can’t add a comment that would improve this one iota, so I’m not going to.

Except for that one.

The false end of false recognition

Last week Amir Kassaei, CCO of DDB Worldwide, made the brave promise that we would see ‘less work from DDB agencies at some of the shows’.

I’m sorry I can’t be more definitive than that, but I only have Mr. Kassaei’s words to go on, and they’re frustratingly slight.

The overall suggestion of the article (entitled ‘The End Of False Recognition’, if any of you fancied sending something in to Private Eye’s Pseuds column) is that DDB is finally fed up with award schemes being overpopulated by ads created purely to win awards, so much so that YOU WILL SEE LESS WORK FROM DDB AGENCIES AT SOME OF THE SHOWS!

That there’s fightin’ talk, Goddammit!

You want more strong words? Brace yourself, ’cause here they come:

‘We have to stop the madness. Not only by talking about it, but by also doing something against it.’

But what?

‘We will be coming up with a plan to divest ourselves from the madness.’



You’ll be coming up with a plan? And it’s going to do something as vague as divesting yourselves from the madness? So to avoid the crime of only talking about a solution, you’re going to talk about a solution?


Look, Mr. Kasseai, it’s not that hard. I can do it for you right now: just say that no DDB agency will enter work that has not originated from a proper client brief and run on a proper media plan. Then tell the ECDs of your agencies they’ll be fined a month’s salary if any ad is entered that does not fit those criteria. Done.

He continues: ‘There will be a lot of people out there who will hate us, who will point fingers at us and accuse us of being harmful to award shows and our industry in general.’ Sorry, Amir. No one’s going to give a monkey’s. You’ve made the most anodyne promise in the history of an industry littered with anodyne promises. My last fart will inspire more hatred.

Finally, he invokes Bill Bernbach: ‘But we are lucky. At DDB we have always had a foundation built by Bill Bernbach at our core to guide us to be brave. As Bill once said, “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some people against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you and nobody for you.” 

But you haven’t actually stood for anything. Bill also said ‘it isn’t a principle until it costs you money’. Let’s see you put some reality behind these words, then we’ll know whether we should stand with you or not.

People have been complaining about the gaming of awards shows for years. Coming out and saying you also oppose it is pretty uninspiring. Coming out and saying you’re going to do something about it without saying what that is seems like the kind of depressing flim-flam that Mr. Bernbach would have fired people for, especially when the alternative is so simple.

One last thing: an amusing ad placement next to the article…

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 18.58.50

Will you stay in our lovers’ story? If you stay you won’t be sorry, ’cause we believe in you. Soon you’ll grow, so take a chance with a couple of kooks hung up on the weekend.

Inside the Pantone factory (thanks, J):

Mistaken identity of DJ. Hilarity ensues.

RIP, The Dame (thanks, J).

Pixar’s movie references:

Snow dicks (thanks, J).