Category: Uncategorized

Learn to be better

I often hear a plaintive lament from some of the older people in advertising: the craft skills of copywriting and art direction are supposedly dying out because young creatives aren’t interested in learning them.

Although there’s some truth buried in there, I’m not sure it’s reflective of the situation as a whole. Some younger creatives want to learn and improve, and some aren’t that bothered. But that’s how it was back when I was a junior. Creative departments were divided into people who were utterly obsessed with enhancing their abilities, poring over D&AD annuals and sticking to their talented bosses like underpaid limpets, and the others, who saw making ads as more of a regular job that they could do perfectly well with the thoughts that popped into their heads.

Both categories produce successes and also-rans, but the odds of becoming one of the former are greatly increased by putting in the hours. How many hours? Well, I once heard that the creatives of 1990s awards-magnet agency Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow and Johnson would while away late nights playing a game: the first person would name the headline of an ad from a past D&AD annual. The next would name the writer, then the art director, the CD, the production company and so on, until some poor sod had to have a stab at the page number.

87% of the ads they made won awards.

I know the industry still contains its share of massive ad nerds, people who know that Collins and Webster aren’t just the names of dictionaries. They may not be the majority, but they will end up being the majority of CCOs.

And where do they learn? If they’re dedicated enough, none of this will be news to them, but they can start with the books: for the Brits among you, every D&AD is available to peruse at the reference library on the south side of Leicester Square. The Copy Book is on sale at your local Amazon, as is Helmut Krone. The Book. Hey Whipple Squeeze This is now in its fifth edition and can be read on a Kindle or iPad. And there are many other guides to advertising writing that are no more than a Google away. Hell, you could even plough through Great Expectations or The Story Of Art. They will do you nothing but good.

Then you can listen to the podcasts Dave Dye and I have recorded, preserving the fathomless wisdom of some of the greatest creatives living today. Or insist your boss pays for you to go on a tax-deductible D&AD Masterclass. Or Robert McKee’s Story seminar.

What else? How about finding a mentor? I was lucky enough to work at AMV BBDO from 1998 to 2005. During that time I was able to ask for copywriting advice from David Abbott, Alfredo Marcantonio, Richard Foster, Tony Cox, Mary Wear, Malcolm Duffy, Tim Riley, Nigel Roberts, Peter Souter, Sean Doyle and many others. Yes, I’m aware that most of those greats have since scattered to the four corners of adland, but an enterprising junior could easily track them down.

Find your favourite writers or art directors and get in touch. Send them your work. Stand outside their house with a big sign saying ‘Please Help Me Become You’, then ask them to mentor you. They will almost certainly be enthused by your enthusiasm. 

You could even try joining their agency. When I was a middleweight writer, still at AMV, the best creatives in the world were Paul Belford and Nigel Roberts. I seriously considered resigning from one of the top agencies in town to see if I could join them at slightly-less-attractive Ogilvy. By an extraordinary stroke of good fortune, my boss soon hired them, allowing my AD and I the opportunity to squeeze as much wisdom out of them as humanly possible. After they left I stayed in touch with Paul and continued to tap into his genius, even when I became an ECD.

Besides Paul, I’ve gleaned a ridiculous amount from several other people kind enough to lend me their time, skills or desk space. Dave Trott has given me hours of informal private tuition in philosophy and marketing, Mark Denton has never let me forget that literally everything is an opportunity to express my creativity, and I’ve learned more over cups of tea with Dave Dye than in three years of university. Who could your mentors be? And what new vistas could they open up for you?

Yes, it takes effort, but it will be worth it. Mediocrity has been depressingly sufficient for many an advertising career, but if you’re inspired enough to take this on, working to be the best till your eyes bleed and your typing fingers are worn to stumps, you could improve the industry, the businesses that depend on it, and ultimately the world.

We need more intelligent, elegant voices, communicating on behalf of the unheard. The better those voices are, the more persuasive they become. Work, learn, improve, and who knows? You might be able to pass your wisdom on to the generation that follows you.

Somewhere beyond the sea she’s there watchin’ for me. If I could fly like birds on high, then straight to the weekend.

The Jurassic Park theme at 1/1000th speed.

Making a knife out of cardboard:

Timelapse of the entire universe:

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Guitar Hero stylee:

Amateur vs chess Grandmaster:

Come siamo lontani. Sto bene anche domani. Che m’ha fatto morir Hah… hah… È meglio così the weekend.

The highlights of John Malkovich’s AMA.

Closest calls of all time:

Gelatin cake (surprisingly compelling):

Niagara Falls collapse:

Yuh, Ooh, brr, brr Gucci gang, ooh (That’s it right there, Gnealz) Yuh, Lil Pump, yuh Gucci gang, ooh (Ooh, Bi-Bighead on the beat) Yuh, brr the weekend.

How they made Bill and Ted’s.

Your chance of dying ranked by sport and activity (thanks, J).

Scrubs but we can’t hear JD’s thoughts:

Marble sculpture in five minutes:


Alone without you. A hot room. September’s gloom. Lick my lashes. Kiss the weekend.

Spray paint artist:

Amazing Japanese flip books:

The evil wasp:

Fucking crazy Roman football (the most violent sport on Earth):

The accidental genius:

Quick nterview with the greatest rapper of all time (thanks, A).

What to do if you win the lottery.

I can’t sleep at night, I toss and turn, listenin’ for the telephone. But when I get your call I’m all choked up. Can’t believe you called the weekend.

Old movies stars x Uptown Funk:

Butterfly Wing Under electron microscope:

Before and after Photoshop.

Breeding gummy animals:

172-ft dive:

How come twenty four hours, baby, sometimes slip into days? A minute seems like a lifetime, baby when I feel the weekend.

Why is John Bonham such a good drummer?

The slidewheel:

Concentric wave singularity:

The most satisfying videos in the world:

Objects invented to defy the law of physics:

Two domino world records:

Where is planning heading?

One of the great things about subscribing to Creative Review is the access it gives you to the mind of Paul Belford.

I recently read back through all his columns and discovered a very interesting point that bears repeating: some of the greatest advertising of all time was created without the benefit of planners. He was referring specifically to the early VW ads such as Lemon and Snowplough, but he could have included anything brilliant created before 1965-8, when the discipline was formally invented in London by Stanley Pollit (the ‘P’ of BMP). Surprisingly, planners didn’t really reach America until the early 1980s, so any great US ads created before then came to life without the help of that department.

(Then again, there were also plenty of crappy ads created in that time. Was that down to poor strategic input? Possibly…)

The need to consider who might like to consume the thing you want to sell, how best to address them and the ways in which your competitors present themselves are basic elements that didn’t magically materialise in the late 1960s. But at that point a degree of formality was deemed necessary, so the industry decided to make planning a specialism, and handed responsibility for it to a separate collection of people in a new department.

The reason I bring this up now is that we appear to have come to an unexpected schism: the idea of doing away with planning its current form has been mooted by no less an industry figure than Mark Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at P&G. He has advocated for the discipline to be handled in-house, with its resources instead allocated to the creative department.

Further commentary has come from Andy Nairn, founding partner (on the planning side) of Lucky Generals. Understandably he has defended the his turf, asserting that planning strengthens the voice of the consumer, one that often gets drowned out by the agency perspective. That makes sense, but he also acknowledges that some planners can be ‘speed bumps’ and ‘resistors of change’ (to be fair, those two categories also exist in creative and account management).

It’s also worth mentioning this crisis of confidence is happening a mere decade after planners were insisting they be granted admittance to the edit suite. Apparently this would allow them to give their valuable input to parts of the creative process from which they had been hitherto forbidden.

So where is this all heading? A reduction in the number of planners? A redistribution of planners’ wages throughout the creative department (winky emoji)? A redistribution of planners’ responsibility amongst Comms Planners, Media Planners and Client Brand Guardians? A redistribution of the three months it takes planners to write a brief back into the creative process? A new way for strategic knowledge to permeate through creativity?

Who knows? I still think there’s great value to be gained from strategists who can analyse the heck out of a business and/or category, offering insight and rigour that uncovers hidden gold. But that only seems to be a small part of the current job, which might explain why the discipline in its current form is going through something of an identity crisis. In addition, the creative department, and advertising in general, have been going through their own ten-year malaise, so planning difficulties might be just one symptom of a more widespread disease.

The offerings of Facebook and Google circumvent every part of the industry, leaving us all fighting for our positions, possibly at the expense of each other’s.

A wise man once said that a creative who works without planning is like someone trying to reach a destination without the aid of a map. Good point, but it feels like the transition from Ordnance Survey to Sat Nav has not been without its hiccups.

Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry anymore. Cause when life looks like Easy Street there is danger at the weekend.

Adult Swim is making stock footage into disturbing films.

Crazy megavalanche:

What if English were phonetically consistent? (Thanks, D):

Climbing the tallest chimney in Europe:

How to imagine the tenth dimension:

This ain’t a song for the broken-hearted, no silent prayer for the faith-departed. I ain’t gonna be just a face in the weekend.

Cool smoking pipes.

Why are expensive watches expensive?

Bands FC (thanks, J).

You are not original on Instagram.

Ivy League colleges took nude photos of all students between 1940 and 1970.

Fireworks in reverse.

Why modern music is awful: