How to speak advertising

(thank, J.)

Should I call this post ‘double dave’ and enjoy the alliteration, or ‘double trott’ and enjoy the ‘double top’ pun? (enjoyment levels quite low on both.)

For those of you who need a primer in the basics of advertising, Dave Trott has kindly offered everything you need to know in one simple TED talk:

And when you’ve finished that you can read his new book, 1+1=3:413FmdXiWtL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_

It’s entertaining, thought-provoking and comes in lovely little bite-sized chunks (I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but those chunks seem to last about as long as a poo).

Buy it here and have a slightly better life.

Old spice bringing the batshit crazy with aplomb

Like a prisoner who has his own key, but I can’t escape until you love me. I just go from day to day knowing all about the weekend

What if ‘Don’t You Want Me’ by The Human League was just the line about working as a waitress in a cocktail bar? Well, you’d end up with something surprisingly wonderful (thanks, T):

Mark Hamill: best autograph signer of all time (thanks, T).

Houses that look like Game Of Thrones characters (thanks, A).

National Geographic photos of the Year (thanks, L).

Let’s mash up the XX and Biggie Smalls (more here; thanks, G):

Kim Kardashian’s face as a roamable mountain range (thanks, J).

Another great musicless music video:

John Malkovich recreates famous portraits (thanks, A).

And then a lady recreates model shots with herself (thanks, G).

Football’s bad boys recreated with kids (thanks, T).

When life gives you lemons make lemonade, or perhaps cut the lemon into slices, freeze those slices then stab yourself in the face with them until you die.

I was just listening to Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast interview with Judd Apatow.

About halfway through they started to discuss Stephen Colbert, who lost two brothers and his father in a plane crash when he was ten.

He said that as he’d already been through the worst thing you could possibly imagine there was nothing to worry about. Apparently his mum said to him, ‘You need to look at this through the light of eternity’.

When Stephen explained this to Judd, his reply was, ‘Yes, but why did you listen to her? Why didn’t you just do drugs?’

‘Oh, I did do drugs!’ Stephen replied.

At the time of the crash Stephen simply stopped doing any work at school and barely graduated. He felt that there was no threat anyone could have over him.

‘I was a broken kid,’ he said. ‘Don’t get me wrong. But I did not compound that by feeling guilty about not doing work. But the real point is that it forced me to look at the world differently.’

Then Judd says in the podcast interview, ‘What I don’t understand is why that works’.

Indeed… Why does that work? How do some people use that incident as rocket fuel when others use it as poison?

I then listened to Howard Stern interviewing Louis CK in 2006:

Louis had some pretty odd things happen to him as a kid, such as being sent to a summer camp for the mentally handicapped for three straight years at around eight years old.

And, after many visits to prostitutes,  he turned the lemons into lemonade, too.

It seems that whatever happens in our formative years, we make decisions about it that create what we are today. We have no choice over those decisions because we don’t know we’re making them, and the vast majority of us have no idea they’re still controlling everything we do.

If we’re lucky, things work out, even with a few bumps along the way. If not, they don’t. But whatever the decisions, they become the life we live into.

What I find odd is how the same incident can send one person to Skid Row and another to Madison Square Garden. Or both.

Getting into advertising in 2015

I’ve recently been judging some of the portfolios that have been entered in the Cream portfolio contest run by The Talent Business.

So far the standard has been very high, but not just of the work – the websites (there are no actual books) are remarkably professional.

That made me wonder: what exactly does it take to get your first job in the creative dept of an advertising agency these days?

When I left Watford back in 1996 things were kind of different. No one expected you to have access to a computer, let alone a website, so portfolios were no more technical than they were in the 60s: paper, pens, maybe a bit of (colour) photocopying and photography if you were really making an effort. And of course the work was almost all press, poster, TV and possibly a tiny bit of radio. 8-10 campaigns and with no computer wizardry to bump it all up, the idea was naked, front and centre. A CD would flick through it, maybe flick back at the work he or she liked and that was that.

Now, as far I’m aware, there are no physical portfolios (I have no idea what they’re planning to put up at the Cream exhibition). I only have websites to look at, and not much of your bogstandard Cargo Collective drag-and-drop jobs, either; these have landing pages and navigation that function as well as many corporate sites I’ve visited, and many come complete with blogs and other extra-curricular activities to help the team nose ahead of their competition. And the work is a mix of really well shot case studies that explain multi-media and digital ideas in the best tradition of a Cannes entry film.

So, a few questions:

Where do they find the time and money?

How long does it take to go from an idea to a finished ‘case study’ film?

There’s very little print and poster these days. Does nobody ask for them even though they’re still a huge slice of what makes up advertising today? And they used to give a CD a clue to the art directional abilities of the AD (or ‘creative team’). Without them will anyone bother with that skill (let alone with its nerdier cousin copywriting)?

How are CDs expected to view them now? In the old days you’d have a pretty good idea of a book’s quality within a minute of flicking through (especially as the best idea usually goes first). Nowadays that’s just about long enough to get through half a case study. Three or four books used to take 15 minutes. Now it’s usually going to take an hour most of them surely can’t spare.

How did things end up like this?

It seems there are pros and cons to all of it, and if everyone’s doing the same thing then I suppose you have to join the party, but I miss some of the old simplicity.


Not a Millennial.


C’est payé, balayé, oublié, je me fous du passé. Avec mes souvenirs, j’ai allumé le weekend

Why I deleted your promo email (thanks, S).

The Beasties play a gig in a London skate shop in 1994 (thanks, T):

Kramer doesn’t like it when his costars mess up (thanks, P):

Famous pictures made out of Lego (thanks, T).

Great essay on Tom Cruise’s performance in Magnolia.

Leon Black’s best advice (thanks, J2).

Expressionless guy on theme park ride set to Sound of Silence:

Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey diary.

And Kubrick’s 1968 Playboy interview.

Sparklingly good use of youtube

Well, I watched it all the way through and didn’t feel in the least bit like I’d been had.

I think they’ve made a tricky writing and filming process look easy.

Just like the method of donation.

Trojan Horse Shit

This morning I was listening to Howard Stern interviewing Alec Baldwin:

Here’s a clip that is totally unrelated to what I’m about to discuss:

The bit that caught my attention was when Alec mentioned how movie studios package movies for the cinemas. He said that they will offer a big film like Jurassic World on the condition that the cinema chain gives a couple of weekends to, say, five other films that might not seem such obvious hits.

As soon as Alec said that I began thinking of the other occasions where this happens:

The movies themselves may well have a small number of great scenes/moments/lines (most of which appear in the trailer) that are surrounded by long minutes of boring crap that you also pay for. I get that in books/movies/TV shows the structure of story means that you need some downtime between the fireworks, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean that movies especially are often constructed around those trailer moments that make up maybe 10-20% of the finished product. But the other 80-90% must be filled with something, and invariably that ‘something’ is not as well thought out and has fewer resources dedicated to making it good. So you pay for 120 minutes of entertainment, much of which is simply filler.

Many albums hide a few crappy tracks around the good ones. I guess that the people responsible always intend to create a body of music that’s entirely of great quality, but 999 times out of 1000 they don’t manage it, and with a release date looming they have to put something out. So maybe they think that track that was shit a month ago is actually not too bad. Or maybe they couldn’t care less, because if a fan wants the good tracks they have to take a chance on the shit ones (obviously the Spotify era has altered a band’s ability to do this somewhat).

Many magazines offer five decent articles amid three dozen shit articles and 100 pages of ads . Yes, I enjoyed the interview with Jack Nicholson, but the ‘Ten Ways To Look Great With Your Shirt Off’ is probably not the kind of journalism that will trouble the Pulitzer judges. And of course magazines need ads to support themselves, but when you pick one up at the newsagent you don’t really think about how many of the pages are just full of messages from car or clothing companies that you’ll simply ignore. Imagine how thin magazines would be if the only contained the bits you actually wanted.

Finally, let’s face it, advertising creative departments, where you might get the superstars but you might also get the inept juniors or the unimaginative workhorses, also fall into this category. When clients pay huge amounts of money to ad agencies do they always get the very best people in the building? Unlikely. Instead, they get a random mix of unpredictable ‘talent’ that might be incredible helpful for their brand, or might just keep it treading water. Sure, the CDs are there to keep the quality as high as possible, but if the winning idea is generated on a lucky day by a team that is poor at execution then the quality of the finished product will suffer, but the client will end up paying broadly the same fee that they would for the best team in the department.

For financial reasons agencies have to operate by this model – and it’s the only way to give younger people an opportunity. But for the client it’s sometimes the equivalent of taking on Paul Blart Mall Cop when they paid for Mad Max.

Some fine lessons from a writer

I’ve just finished reading an excellent piece by Susanna Grant, the writer of Pocahontas/Erin Brockovich.

I highly recommend reading the hell out of it, but if you don’t have time to do that, or you want to know which bits of it I found most interesting, read on…

Her Pocahontas experience, writing animation for Disney was not great, and yet also great:

And then there was the work, which was constant. There isn’t any scene in that movie that was rewritten any fewer than 30 times.

We wrote and rewrote and rewrote, often addressing notes from people who hadn’t even read the scene on which they were giving notes.

We wrote, literally, until we ran out of time.

And it sounds kind of hellish, and it was kind of hellish, but here’s the thing: Much like freshman year, despite all it’s frustrations, it was a fantastic experience. I wouldn’t change for anything.

I learned more in my year-and-a-half as one-third of Jim than I would have on 10 live-action development deals.

I learned how to throw something out if it isn’t working. Or if someone very powerful doesn’t think it’s working.

I learned to trust that I’d come up with something just as good or better.

I learned when to shut up in a meeting, which is a very valuable thing to learn.

I learned that I’m not always right, which is a very painful thing to learn.

But most importantly, I learned how to have a good time.

A lot of unpleasant things are going to happen to you in your careers and they will be infuriating.

Believe me, taking script notes from a Transylvanian artist whose only words of English were, “Script should be more like Witness. Make likeWitness.’” — I know frustration.

But if you can remind yourself that you’re getting paid to write, that you’re making a living as a creative person and remember what a privilege that is, those frustrations will be a lot less burdensome.

Those are important things to learn in many creative businesses. We all have meetings with people who are paying for what we’re making, and they all want us to change what we’ve created. Life gets much less frustrating when you learn how to bend with the wind rather than standing firm until it snaps you in half. And you are getting paid to do something other than empty the dog poo bin in a park, or wipe up toddler vomit, or stand for parliament on behalf of UKIP. Count your blessings, for they are likely to be legion.


A producer friend of mine happened to tell me about a woman whose life rights she just optioned named Erin Brockovich.

The moment I heard about Erin, I knew I wanted to write the script.

“Yes, please,” I said. “Sign me up, I’ll do it, whatever.”

She said, “Well, we’d love to, but we’re out to Callie Khouri right now.”

A few weeks later I called her up and said, “Hi, how are you doing? Heard from Callie?”

And she said, “Yes, Callie passed. Now, we’re out to Paul Attanasio.”

A few weeks later, I called her up and said, “Hi, heard from Paul?”

It went on like this. I’d call, she’d mention an A-list writer, we went back and forth.

Finally, they all passed and I think she just got tired of hearing from me and she said she would introduce me to Erin.

As long as she approved, I could have the job.

Bless her heart, Erin did approve. We got along great.

So, yeah… persistence. There’s an aspect of persistence that I don’t think we always recognise: rule-breaking. You can try, try again, but you can also force yourself through the status quo or the accepted way of being. How and when you do that can only be your call, but until you stop thinking of obstacles as such, they will always remain obstacles. In Susanna’s case, politely refusing to bother her friend would have meant no Oscar nomination. Being a bit annoying made her career.

That also applies to this advice:

You must write what you want to write.

Don’t listen to people who tell you you shouldn’t write something. Or if you do write something, it will never get made.

I’ve been told that a movie about toxic waste would never get made.

I’ve been told that a movie about someone in rehab would never get made.

I was told that if that someone was a woman, it would definitely never get made.

And I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told that a movie with a female lead will never get made.

There are no rules. Write what you want.

Write what moves you. Write something beautiful and unique to you.

Write something that no one else could write.

How many people do you know who write things that no one else could write? Pretty much none, I’d guess. So look at the size of that gap in the market. It’s all anyone wants, but no one does it, so people settle for Adam Sandler comedies and umpteen Marvel rehashes of the exact same plot because they have to make something.

It’s the same in advertising: nearly all ads are a pale version of something you’ve already seen. If that’s the kind of thing you’re doing that might be why you’re not as successful as you’d like to be, and it might be why the industry as a whole is so moribund.

Try something new today. What’s the worst that could happen?