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I’ll just leave this here…

Dear John: A break-up letter to advertising

By Bo Hellberg and Nadya Powell

I’M SORRY. I CAN’T. DON’T HATE ME.

I’m at the point where I think I have to break up with advertising
I really don’t want to. I’ve really enjoyed what we had.
It was great and we used to have a really good time.
I like ideas. You liked ideas.
I like brands. You liked brands.
We liked to make stuff that made people laugh and feel things.
Make people dream.
And we could, because we used to see the world differently to anybody else.
But things have become difficult and you are no longer making sense to me.

YOU DON’T HAVE ANY DREAMS ANYMORE

You stopped talking about what we could do.
You started cutting corners.
Doing things on the cheap.
In less time.
And what’s worst is that you don’t seem to care.

Remember how we used to do fantastic new things?
You remember the weird and wonderful stuff we used to do in digital?
All you want to do now is cheap display.
You stopped caring about ideas and craft.
Stopped having a point of view.

YOU HAVE A NEW LOVE. AND SHE’S CALLED DATA

Data.
You just do what she tells you to, without thinking twice:
Data tells you the target market is always millennials.
Data tells you that when everybody zigs, you should zig too.
Data tells you that a 3 millisecond view by an online bot is a reliable measure.
Data tells you that only way forward is programmatic everything.
And you just agree.

As if that Data knows anything about humans or originality.

The worst thing — is how she and you have turned our amazing planners into insurance salesmen whose sole job now it is to de-risk.

NOBODY WANTS TO HANG OUT WITH YOU

You used to be fun and glamorous.
Everyone flocked around your great ideas, stories of travels and the headlines you made.
Now you’re a shadow of yourself.
Always harking on about the old days.
What are you doing that holds anyone’s attention today?
That would see eyes light up?

And it’s not just that people are leaving you.
It’s that they are not joining your club in the first place.
Because people are looking for purpose and passion
And you have neither.

YOUR NEW ‘FRIENDS’ THINK YOU TALK SHIT TOO
So you’re trying to catch-up, get with the programme.
You’re running around with a bunch of kids.
Influencers you call them.
But you haven’t got a clue and they just smile and take your money.
It’s like Britain’s Got Talent for advertising.
And you buy anything Google and Facebook tell you.
Because you secretly want to be them.
You’re drunk on buzzwords like custom audiences, moon shots, machine learning and AI without a clue what it all means.
And when I confront you, you bring your friend Data to intimidate me and tell me I’m wrong.

YOU CAN’T STOP LOOKING IN THE MIRROR

You use words like modern and diversity.
How open minded you are and how you get culture..
Really? I don’t think you give a shit.
You’re about as cultural and inclusive as the KKK.
You don’t represent the world you want to influence — because you have no respect for that world.
You just want to be with people who look like you.
You’re in love with your own image.
But there’s a whole world out there and until you see it, you’re not worth my time.

YOU HAVE NO BALLS AND NO IMAGINATION.

You used to have a lot imagination.
Be fearless and bold and try new things.
Seek out and reward originality.
But now your benchmark is called mediocrity.
And you lack the balls.
When someone says jump, you ask how high.
I’m fed up with your lack of an honest point of view.
That you never protect ideas.
So fuck you.
You can have your offices, your ‘friends’.
You can spend all your time with your fatso friend Data.
Hope it makes you happy.

I’LL BE MUCH HAPPIER SINGLE.

I’m off to find someone else. Or stay happy and single.
Because there are many others out there who think creativity is a great thing.
Who want originality.
Who get that there are other audiences beyond millennials.
Others that want to do new interesting things.
Work with people who aren’t like you.
Do things that makes people feel something.

BUT I’M WILLING TO DO COUPLES COUNSELLING.

Despite all this I hope you can change.

(Put your friend Data in therapy too so she can learn about people and not just numbers).

Maybe you need to scale back a bit and think about what’s important.
Sell the big office. Spend time with real people again.
Read a book or two, rediscover how and why the world is changing
And maybe you will start using the power of creativity for the right things.
Interesting things.
Maybe then, just maybe, I’ll come back again.

 

(Ben again. There’s more stuff here.)



Two sides of the coins

Let me tell you about a situation that happened to me in my relative youth:

I was due to begin a morning radio recording session at 9:30, so the day before I asked the producer to order a cab to pick me up at 9.

She was a little taken aback and asked why I couldn’t just make my own way to the session, in effect altering the destination of my morning commute so that I ended up at the studio instead of the agency. I explained that I walked to the agency in the morning, making my morning commute free of charge. Getting to the studio would involve me paying money for a bus, tube or cab and I didn’t see why I should do that. As a reasonably-paid middleweight copywriter I had an OK salary, but compared to the client’s my financial resources were paltry. So why should I put my hand in my pocket to save the client money? If they wanted me to do the session then they could pay for me to get there. If the session had been at 2pm we’d have taken a cab from the agency, so why should this be any different?

The producer did order the cab (I think the option of me expensing a bus ticket would have been a bit weird. Besides, at that time of day my chances of getting a bus with enough space to let me on was unpredictable. A cab was a guarantee that I wouldn’t be wasting the expensive studio time by waiting at a bus stop) but the reluctance was obvious. I’m not sure if there was a difficulty with the budget, but this was a massive client with plenty of cash. Maybe they had asked the agency to reduce its expenses, including unnecessary cabs, but one little tenner would surely not have made much difference. I could have ordered a £10 pricier lunch and the effect would have been the same.

Looking back, I can see both sides of the argument. My art director took the tube because that’s how he normally came to work, so he had a travel card, possibly making my request seem like an unfair luxury by comparison. In addition ‘cabs’ seem to fit into that deep-seated part of the brain reserved for lah-di-dah indulgences. A cab, you say? Would sir also like a butler to shine his shoes?

But fuck all that.

To me this was an interesting example of instances where we almost pay to do a job for millionaires, and that’s a slippery slope.

Here’s another one:

Around the same time my AD and I got wind that there was an open brief doing the rounds on one of the agency’s juicier accounts. It was one of those clients where awards seemed roughly eighteen times more likely to materialise than in the usual day-to-day stuff. So we found a bit of spare time and squeezed in some work. In addition we thought about it while watching TV, in the shower, walking home etc.

The next day the head of traffic came up to me and asked if we were working on the juicy account. When I told him we were he told me he needed extra help on a different, duller account, and if we had any spare capacity we should use it to work on that. I explained that this wasn’t so much ‘spare capacity’ as us kindly devoting our free time to agency business at no extra cost. He didn’t see it that way, instead insisting that if we had time to work on something that he saw as an unnecessary indulgence then we had time to work on some boring shite.

Again, I can see where he was coming from, but then I can also see where I was coming from. If he’d never been told that we were working on the juicy account he’d never have brought the issue up. We’d have worked on the fun stuff and nobody would have been any the wiser. But he seemed to think that any hours we might apply to the job were his to direct, which is a road to insanity. When did the agency’s hours stop and mine start? If I chose to give my spare time to agency business, wasn’t that a good thing? If I did the work I’d been given quickly enough to take on something else, could I use those hours, or did they belong to the company?

So when are you, as a human being, part of your place of work, and when are you not? In an amorphous job like creative advertising the definition of ‘working hours’ becomes one big grey area: you’re often asked to work outside your contractually stipulated 9-5:30, but many creatives often choose to do that because another hour or two might be the difference between a good ad and a great one, and therefore no award/an award, no raise/a raise, no promotion/promotion etc. But when does choice become obligation or expectation? What is it about certain jobs that mean their hours stretch like tedious elastic? How is it OK that a company gets 1.5 x You by making you work another four hours each day at no extra cost? Did we simply start working longer to advance out careers until it became the norm?

Ironically it’s many of the lowest paid creatives who are the ones flogging themselves to death for the benefit of a multi-million pound/dollar corporation. In an effort to seem amenable, hardworking, a team player and all that jazz, creatives immediately head down the path marked ‘your life is not your own’ and remain on it under the guise of the devoted artist, struggling to shape David or apply brush strokes to the Mona Lisa (or price ads for Curry’s and radio ads for 10% off green beans at Tesco). And when most people do this, the ones that don’t stand out, and not in a good way.

But if you look at it from 30,000 feet, it’s another instance of the subjugation of the worker to the corporation. Does Mercedes know or care if you missed your mum’s 50th birthday? Does Axa Insurance give a toss if you cancel a holiday to re-pitch for its business? If we go down to 15,000 feet, does WPP or Omnicom know or care about your increasing blood pressure or incipient drinking habit? At 5,000 feet, how much does your agency truly pay attention to your work-life balance? And by that I mean really care in a way that might cost them money, as opposed to paying lip service to the notion, or finally doing something when you work late yet again, drive tired and hit a lamppost.

As salaries fall, working hours increase, margins shrink and timelines shorten this is only heading in one direction.

Is that a problem? Well, when you compare it to the death of coal mining communities or the mass replacement of humans with robots in manufacturing, it’s small beer. But I don’t write a coal-mining or manufacturing blog, so I’m just pointing out the degree to which people in advertising willingly subsume themselves to wealthy, indifferent corporations. And it might feel fine on a day-to-day basis, but long-term, it might be taking the kind of toll that has deep, lasting consequences.

Do you want to know what the really funny thing is? It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no law that says you shouldn’t earn overtime pay. There’s no law that says you should work past 5:30 or miss a holiday or wedding. There’s no law that says your out-of-work hours are not your own. And there’s no law that says your agency should bend its knee to its clients, providing ever more work at an ever cheaper price.

Many current agencies have got themselves into this death spiral, making it harder to escape it. But if you’re starting an agency, why not see if you can prioritise the humans who work for you over the money they generate? Why not ring fence working hours? Why not create partnerships with your clients instead of supplicant ‘them and us’ relationships of submissive dysfunction? Why not give employees the choice of working late, then pay them more for doing it?

There’s no law that forbids any of that.

And there’s definitely no law against giving it a try.



Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling. Do you feel my heart beating? Do you understand? Do you feel the weekend?.

Very funny (thanks, M).

Terrible/excellent panorama shots (thanks, B).

Behind the scenes of Taxi Driver.

China blacklists Winnie the Pooh (thanks, C).

All the Apple TV aerial screensavers.

Swear words ranked.

Make an ice lolly stick house for a rat:

A different kind of hand painting (thanks, T).

Something cool (thanks, T):

Waves like you’ve never seen them (thanks, T):

Sitcom bloopers (thanks, L).



ITIAPTWC Episode 38 – Matt Keon

It’s another start-up episode! Well, semi-start-up – I spent about a third of the chat getting some of Matt’s background before delving more deeply into how 18 Feet and Rising came about and all the pros and cons of the path they created for its future.

As I say in the intro, it’s interesting how many different stories there are behind the creation of an agency. Matt’s route to his own place is similar to Mark Denton’s, in that he was invited by someone else, but it’s also like Dave Dye’s because the responsibility for the creative output lay almost entirely at his feet (all 18 of them).

For more background, including all the ads, everything ‘Matt’ can be found here. Otherwise, listen to us discuss…

Beginnings in Sydney.

A trip to the UK.

…which led to Singapore.

…and back to Sydney.

…and back to the UK.

To Fallon and the unique advice of Richard Flintham.

So much stuff to do…

Creating 18 Feet and Rising.

…with no clients.

And no briefs.

What was new and different?

The wild card or the more interesting option?

A place creatives would want to come and work.

Increasing human potential.

Money.

Chasing the feeling of the first time (and not catching it).

Always get clarity between you and your partners.

The relationship between money and output.

Here’s the chat, the iTunes link and the Soundcloud link:



I would never ask you to do something I wouldn’t do. I could never lose you. At least I’d never choose the weekend.

Cool rare stuff.

Disney characters updated.

Great puppetry (watch the puppeteers):

Interesting walkway (thanks, T):

Best of Ralph Wiggum (thanks, W):

 



Guest Post: Writing/Publishing a book.

My friend Damian Simor writes…

Hi Ben,

Reading your book and your experiences in getting it published really did inspire me to write my own. This is the result.

Although I haven’t been as successful as you, I do recommend that anyone else who’s thinking about having a go should just do it! For one thing, it’s a real joy to be able to escape into a world of your own making when work gets a bit tedious. Plus it may look like a pretty gargantuan task to begin with but the whole thing gets a lot more manageable as soon as you break it down into lots of little tasks. The hard part is breaking new ground with little or no quality control. After that I found myself quite happy to spend an insane amount of time sharpening it to get it as good I could.

This Aftermath started life as a screenplay – I was asked by a film producer friend of mine to pitch some ideas for a 28 Days Later sequel (yes, it’s that old) – but turning it into a book has a real upside: If no one wants to publish it, it’s still a book.

If you’re looking for a nice and easy holiday read – 28 Days Later meets Three Kings, basically – you can buy it here for only 99p. Price is no reflection of quality : )

https://www.amazon.co.uk/AFTERMATH-Taliban-Afghanistan-Al-Qaeda-England-ebook/dp/B073QSPYFW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499515596&sr=8-1&keywords=damian+simor

And, while you’re at it, you can buy Ben’s book here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Instinct-Ben-Kay/dp/0241952115/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499515685&sr=8-1&keywords=instinct+ben+kay

If you enjoy either of these please give them glowing reviews as every good word helps sales a bit. Thank you.

Damian

No, Damian – thank you.



ITIAPTW Episode 37 – Dave Dye Part 5

Continuing the start-up theme, we now have the inception of Campbell Doyle Dye.

I remember at the time that it seemed like the ultimate agency dream team: Walter Campbell, creator of many brilliant TV ads, together with Sean Doyle and Dave Dye, creators of many brilliant print ads (this was basically pre-digital, kids). They added the new business guy from the most successful agency in the country and the head of planning from the Agency of the Year.

What could go wrong?

Well, as far as the work went, lots of things went right (see below). But a combination of circumstances conspired to give the agency itself a slightly rocky start and a premature end.

But the details are fascinating:

To Testa or not to Testa?

Agencies start up by accident.

Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry.

9/11…

WPP or Omnicom.

How did new business arrive?

Mercedes.

McCain.

‘What have you done as CDD?’ (Even though CDD had just started.)

With three CDs did someone need to be in charge? (Yes, and it was Dave.)

Award-winning work on Adnams.

Even more awards for Merrydown (‘It’s drunk by students and tramps, and that’s not good’).

People inside and outside circles.

Too casual?

Would Testa have been the right decision after all?

And here’s the real lesson: every start-up situation is different. If someone sets up with three mates in 1980, it’s not the same as three completely different mates in 2002. It can’t be. The dynamics will always be different. You need friction, but not too much. You need chemistry, but that can be precarious. You need a vision, but you need that vision to be shared by a disparate group of people. Good luck!

Here’s the chat, the iTunes link, the Soundcloud link and the excellent work:

Merry Down Idents Merrydown Cider ‘Robot’

‘Free Beer Tokens’ CDD, DPS



I got 1 job, 2 jobs, 3 when I need them. I got 5 roommates in this one studio but I never really see the weekend.

Accidental Wes Anderson (thanks, J).

Everything you need to know in a single gif (thanks, D).

Did you have the same idea as a Lion winner? Enter it here (thanks, J&R).

Photoshop prankery.

Art history pictures that convey modern life.

How Kendrick Lamar collaborates (thanks, D):

How the Tango campaign happened.

 



A lot of advertising is oddly like domestic abuse

In 2003 I watched an excellent documentary called The Corporation. Its central assertion was that if companies were people they’d be criminally insane:

Continuing that theme, I think it’s possible to compare much of the world’s advertising to the Modus Operandi of a domestic abuser.

Here are some of the things domestic abusers do:

  • Telling the victim that they can never do anything right
  • Embarrassing or shaming the victim with put-downs
  • Looking at or acting in ways that scare the person they are abusing
  • Dictating how the victim dresses, wears their hair, etc.
  • Stalking the victim or monitoring their victim’s every move (in person or also via the internet and/or other devices such as GPS tracking or the victim’s phone)
  • Preventing the victim from making their own decisions
  • Telling the victim that they are a bad parent.

In addition, many use psychological tricks to keep victims confused. They might be insulting one minute and apologetic the next so the victim never knows where he or she stands.

So how many ads suggest that you’re doing the wrong thing by using Brand X instead of whatever they’re selling? Or implying, through the use of idealised models or lifestyles, that the way you do things simply isn’t good enough? Are you too fat? Too ugly? Poorly dressed? Maybe your hair isn’t shiny enough. Perhaps you could look slimmer on the beach this summer. Does your home need a coat of paint? Are you reading the wrong newspaper? Are you feeding your family properly? Did you buy the right phone?

I’ll just reiterate that not all advertising does this, but plenty does.

People are rarely aware of their identities being influenced, subsumed or removed, poster by poster, Instagram ad by Instagram ad, tweet by tweet, but it’s happening all the time, all over the world.

Why are you going to the gym? Did you feel bad when you couldn’t afford that shirt? Why such a strong urge for a new car?

And what about the stalking? You thought you had some privacy, but no chance: you looked up that pair of shoes just because you were bored. Ten minutes later an ad for those same shoes appeared on Facebook. Did you just Google Amnesty International? That must be why you got a message from them in your Instagram feed.

Has a big corporation made you feel like you’re mean/stupid/uncaring lately? Why do you say ‘throw like a girl’, you heartless bastard? Why didn’t you notice that little girls are strong enough to stand in front of charging bulls? And those poor women who describe themselves as uglier than a random stranger would? That’s all your fault. Even though P&G (LIke a Girl) has been perpetuating gender stereotypes for decades, State Street Global Advisors (Fearless Girl) has been the subject of a class action lawsuit for the contents of securities they sold, and Unilever (Dove Real Beauty Sketches) has for years flogged Lynx by objectifying hundreds of women to an audience of adolescent boys, you’re the bad person. And the reason why they’re pointing this out? To make money, of course. And if you feel bad as a result, well that’s just collateral damage.

And the mixed messages… How do you know where you are? Beautiful women are great! No they aren’t you sexist pig! You should be the kind of fun guy who likes a flutter! But gambling’s so wrong! Hey, why not drown your sorrows in this beer? Because you should be at home feeding your kids a nutritious meal! Then wear these clothes! No not those; these, you tasteless berk!

Positive advertising can persuade you to buy something just by telling you how great it is. Unfortunately, with so much homogeneity in today’s products, most advertising needs to conjure up something more than a simple product demo or message just to stand out. And who suffers as a consequence? About 7-8 billion people, with their figurative fat lips, black eyes and psychological scars, that’s who.

(By the way, I’m fully aware that I may have both created the above kind of advertising in the past, and written positively about it on this blog. Sorry about that.)



ITIAPTWC Episode 36 – Mark Denton Part 2

 

This week’s episode marks the start of a series (I hope) on the mysterious subject of start ups.

Mark Denton has started five different companies, each with their own particular set of circumstances.

So, despite his protests to the contrary, there’s plenty to learn here:

“I never ask the sensible questions.”

“My brief: be as good as CDP was back in the seventies.”

Five different games?

“I’ve never got out of bed and thought ‘I’ve got to earn a load of money today'”.

Never stopped doing the work.

“I like scaring myself.”

“I wish I’d been kicked out a year earlier.”

What you stop to think about what you could lose, you stop yourself doing something exciting.

Good old autonomy (that’s what it’s all about).

Hanging on to a winning formula turns into a losing formula.

Joining Therapy.

More ‘no deep thinking’.

Answer the phone.

It all happened by mistake.

Starting up Mark Denton Design by accident.

Seduced by other things.

The better the idea, the more people will want to get involved.

You want a box of comedy chocolates.

Coy.

“I didn’t realise it was dead.”

And if you want to get into his orbit, go and see his exhibition, 6:30-8:30 at the Jealous Gallery in Shoreditch, this Thursday, July 6th.

Here’s a delightful critique of his work by Alan Ford, who played Bricktop in Snatch.

And here’s a taste of things to come:

Here’s our chat, the iTunes link and the Soundcloud link: