We tell the stories of the talent and luck instead of the work, and it doesn’t help.

If you delve into the success stories of anyone who has made it, the emphasis will tend to be on the twists and turns of good fortune, or the ideas that seemingly exploded from nowhere to propel the lucky genius to his or her greatness.

And that’s entirely understandable: those parts of the story provide the juiciness and fireworks that make us raise our eyebrows in wonder and admiration. The thunderbolt moment when certain lines in Hey Jude popped into Paul McCartney’s mind, making no sense until John reassured him of their greatness, are fascinating:

But the days and days when Paul (might have) walked around with shit lyrics swirling around his head, or the hours and hours where he (possibly) fretted over the melody for ‘Nah nah nah na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, Heeeeey Juuuude!’? Boring! Other than perhaps an indication of how long the period between 2/10 shite and 10/10 genius lasted, people will rarely give you an idea of the work and persistence that goes into great creations.

And I think that’s damaging.

When we want to be inspired by great artists, and we read about the one-off moments of chance, the act of creation seems more remote. How can we engineer such thunderclaps of genius? They seem to just appear to the great ones, and if we’re not among the chosen recipients we have to accept our lot and be lesser creative people. And what of those incredible coincidences of fortune that led to the chat with the lady who accidentally said the line that became the great title of the book that sold it to the big publisher etc. etc.? You can’t make those things happen to you, so why bother trying?

Well, (and people generally don’t want to hear this, hence its absence from these tales of brilliance), it’s the long, sometimes boring work that leads to the the great luck or the unexpected visits of the muse. Paul wrote music all the fucking time, for years and years and years. He did those 10,000 hours in Hamburg with the lads. So when, eventually, the lines and melodies for Hey Jude appeared, it wasn’t a result of lying around stoned (well, partly); it was the consequence of the boring old work.

But the great thing is that the boring old work is an option available to literally all of us. You don’t have to be a special person, touched by God, to be a Beatle, or Picasso, or the person three offices down who keeps winning more awards than you. You just have to put the hours in, and if you’re so inclined, an improved set of circumstances will be yours.

The great golfer Gary Player said ‘the more I practice, the luckier I get’. Sorry if that’s boring, but at least it’s possible.

(PS: if you want to see how interesting the story of the ‘work can be, check out Dave Dye’s recent account of the effort it takes to make good work better.)

Chestnut brown canary, ruby throated sparrow, sing a song, don’t be long, thrill me to the weekend.

How is Japan even real? (Thanks, D.):

Hand art illusions:

Muppets doing So Watcha Want? (Thanks, J):

Coppola and De Palma Have a conversation about The Conversation (thanks, T).

Buzzfeed got people high then showed them a sloth (thanks, T).

Get yourself some cash money clipz (thanks, J2).

Ghosts of architecture past (thanks, D).

British words all Americans must learn (thanks, D).

Scorsese! De Niro! Foster! Schrader! Oral history of Taxi Driver (thanks, A).

Great TED talk on procrastination (thanks, F):

How much should you work?

Working differently at W+K London

Continue reading here.

Overall the message is: we’re cool with you working less at W&K London and we’re proving this by asking people not to email each other between 7pm and 8am; we’re only having meetings between 10 and 4; if you work weekends or evenings you can claim the time back.

The main reason is to give employees’ brains the rest they need in order to be able to function at their optimum level. Y’know: devices now mean that we’re always on, so reducing the way they can swamp you with email etc. is a good thing.

Great idea. Not sure I agree with this bit so much, though:

As pointed out in Campaign, we do get called Weekend+Kennedy sometimes. Just as ‘72 and Sunny’ get called ‘72 and Sunday’ and BBH get called GBH. But there’s a reason these agencies, and others like them, have decent creative output. It’s because we work long and hard to get to the best work we can.

‘Decent’ creative output? Interesting adjective. These agencies have acquired a reputation for having long working hours because that’s one of the methods by which they believe they can create ‘decent’ ads. Has that really been worth it? (By the way, just to be clear, I’m not saying that these three places alone are producing work that is generally of a ‘decent’ standard, nor that they don’t have long histories of creating truly outstanding ads. They have been great in the past and their current output is probably of the same standard as it has always been, relative to the other agencies; it’s just that the general level has been getting worse for years and that means that what used to be 10/10 is sometimes closer to 8 or 7.

If ‘the best work we can (do)’ is ‘decent’ then working ‘long and hard’ to achieve it suggests that all sorts of things might be wrong. Sure, it could be the constant connectivity of recent years, but maybe, just maybe, there are other reasons behind the post–Gorilla malaise in which advertising still appears to find itself. Let me think… ummm… The talent drain? The reduction in budgets? The reduction in relative salaries? The ever-shortening deadlines? The sending of money and talent in the direction of ‘big data’ and ads that follow you around the internet all the bloody time? Agencies making the industry look like it’s full depressing liars by creating non-existent work in order to win awards?

I think W&K should be applauded for giving this a go, but I hope due consideration will also be given to advertising’s other difficulties, otherwise all the peace and quiet in the world is not going to change much.

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for the tree to drop. Here is the weekend.

Punk band collectors cards (thanks, T).

Churchill’s booze sicknote (thanks, L).

Google’s very hard interview questions.

The Seinfeld theme as a surprisingly decent track (thanks, H).

The AMAZING Thousand Hands of Guan Yin (thanks, L):

The 20 best Tarantino scenes (thanks, J).

Advertising no longer in the advertising business, but still firmly in the talking shite business.

Here’s the latest pronouncement from Martin Sorrell, the ex-accountant with a background in Economics.

One of the things he says is that ‘we’re not in the advertising business anymore’. I don’t think I’m way off the truth to assume that ‘we’ refers either to his many WPP agencies, or possibly the industry as a whole. Apparently data has taken over and ‘John Hegarty wouldn’t recognise 75% of what we do’.

Now, far be it from me to suggest this is all a load of headline-baiting bollocks, but this, like most of what Marty says, is a load of headline-baiting bollocks. Data has been part of advertising for many years. It’s one of those things that fuels the planning department and allows them to tell you all about the quant vs the qual. So what’s changed? Apparently we’re using more of it and its importance is growing, but does mean WPP’s agencies are no longer in the advertising business?

Of course not.

It just means that WPP’s agencies are now making more money out of creating and selling data to its clients and Marty’s speech helps make them feel comfortable about that so they then spend more.

Do Y&R, Ogilvy and JWT’s global agencies still create actual ads? Yes. So are they still in the advertising business? Yes. So is Marty talking crap again in order to make more money? Hmmmm… I wonder…

And if you had any doubt, have a read of the final quote in the piece: “In that cocktail it’s very tough to grow your top line and you have to contain your costs… companies are pulling in their horns and becoming very risk averse.” (My italics.)

As Jessie J so eloquently asserted, it’s all about the money, money, money and sometimes that means certain people have to be all about the bollocks, bollocks, bollocks.

Side project time


Francois writes:

Hi everyone, 

Our project is to buy a 5 acres land in the desert to make it an open creative space for people needing a space for their project. 

Help us with your donation and have the chance to come enjoy the land, tools and facilities!

We still have 26 days to go with the fund raising. 
$4,000 will allow us to get the land, 
another $2,800 will help us build the first facilities (Toilets, Water tank, solar panels, a bar, lights and tables)

Finally we’re hosting an opening party on May 28th, everybody welcome!

Thanks you all for your donations and shares!

Obviously you are more likely to feel the benefit if you live in LA, but plenty have donated from abroad, and you can do the same.

Good luck, Francois!


How do we really change things?

The other day I became the lucky recipient of this book:


It’s Sell! Sell!’s ‘manifesto for a new creative revolution’ and it’s full of excellent advice on how to improve the current, somewhat underwhelming state of advertising.

That places it alongside the many brilliantly provocative points and suggestions of both The Ad Contrarian and Dave Trott (and perhaps even the lower-quality musings of this very blog). All four of us have spent years pointing out things that might not be as workable as they could be, or putting forward ideas that might help the industry regain whatever used to make it attractive to talented creative brains.

Has it worked? Maybe. Perhaps things would be even worse without our suggestions, but let’s face it: with each passing day advertising seems to get more disappointing. Whether it’s once-great agencies trading TV advertising for sports marketing or advertising’s love affair with data and technology relegating creativity to a footnote or the mistaken belief that individual targeting is the way forward, the industry seems to be heading to places that serve neither it nor the consumer.

Why is that? Well, the problem with human beings is that knowledge is not enough. How many of us know how to lose weight? Over a billion, I’d guess. And how many of us want to lose weight but just can’t seem to? Just under a billion. Knowing things doesn’t make the difference.

So what does? Alas, the answer to that is different for everyone: fear, indolence, stupidity, comfort, ignorance, boredom, fatigue… Then we need the real reason, or the reason behind the reason: why are people happy with the status quo? Why do they think they can’t improve things? What is holding them back? Again, this is different for each person, and it is so damn hard to unpick that stuff. Even if people wanted to make the changes they would take years of therapy, or a weekend at the Landmark Forum.

As much as I hate to suggest it, I think we’re going to continue on this downward spiral (with some delightful and sporadic exceptions) until  enough of us are motivated to make the changes that can turn the ship around.

So the question is, which of us really cares?

I practiced the law, I practic’ly perfected it. I’ve seen injustice in the world and I’ve corrected it. Now for a strong central democracy. If not, then I’ll be the weekend.

The Seinfeld composer re-did the theme every week based on Jerry’s stand-up routine:

The story of The Silence of the Lambs.

Hallways in horror films.


And the same kind of thing, but with matches (thanks, T):

Double Indemnity: the greatest Noir.

This guy paints pretty well cnsidering the speed:

The rules of attraction

I was reading the sublime Ad Contrarian last week, when I came upon this quote:

First, I don’t hate online advertising. I think as it exists today it is annoying, ineffectual, and wasteful. But I think there is a future for it. All that needs to happen is for adtech to go away, and for agencies to start hiring some talented people to do it. I think we’d be surprised that it might light a spark under the moribund agency business.

Agreed, but what really caught my eye was this part:

and for agencies to start hiring some talented people to do it.

That is absolutely essential to the improvement of advertising. Clearly, the more talented people there are to attempt something, the more the quality of that attempt will increase (if those people are properly harnessed; but that’s a separate chat for another day). When creative departments were manned by Salman Rushdie and Alan Parker much of the work was ridiculously good, and even when they slipped off to other creative fields the ad industry was still populated by some shit-hot minds, all pointing in the direction of the country’s brands.

But what attracted them to the idea of spending their working days writing copy and directing art? And, more importantly, do such attractive aspects still exist today?

To answer this question I thought I’d ask a few of the younger people in my agency why they chose to work in advertising. After chatting it over a few times I came to a revelation that I had yet to consider: attraction comes in many forms. You see, I’ve tended to think of people’s decision to work in advertising as quite deliberate; as part of some larger, well thought out plan. But of course that’s often not the case, so what are some of the other reasons people work in the land called ‘ad’?

  1. Convenience. A few of my interviewees mentioned the idea of just ‘falling’ into advertising when it proved to be the easiest alternative when there were no longer any places in the course they had really coveted, or they had no idea what to do but their mate seemed to enjoy his job writing ads, so they thought they’d give it a go. So it’s quite attractive when you have no burning career desire but you’d like some cash. Creative advertising needs no formal qualifications, so you can just ‘fall’ into it, at any time, no matter how much you drink or how well you can articulate your hopes and dreams.
  2. Salary. Advertising might have to compete against many other creative jobs, but those that might be more attractive as actual jobs can often be maddeningly out of reach, particularly when it comes to getting paid. If you’re willing to put up with placement wages and a lowish starting salary you should be able to cover enough bills to be able to live (just about). But if you want to be an author or work on an epic video game of your own design then you have to wait until someone gives a shit about it before you get paid, and how long can you live on nothing? Of course, when you end up earning a better salary you might feel less inclined to strike out for your ‘dream’ job, but that’s a not exactly the worst problem to have.
  3. Flexible hours. Yes, ad agencies are quite keen to squeeze as much labour out of their creatives as possible, which is why they get nicknames like Weekend and Kennedy and GBH. But during those hours you are somewhat left to your own devices, provided you come up with the goods. So if you can crack a brief quickly and keep it to yourself until the deadline then you can do what Salman or Fay Weldon did: write your novel (or these days design your app or whatever). Also, I tended to write best at home, where there were fewer distractions, so if your agency is OK with that you can really just arrange your day in a way that suits you. Some will be easier with that than others, but I feel there is more wiggle room built into the schedule of a copywriter than that of a chartered surveyor.
  4. It is a well-worn stepping stone to certain other professions. If you want to be a film director or run a movie studio there are worse places to start than an ad agency. How did Ridley Scott, Andrew Niccol and David Fincher get their starts? They worked in advertising. What about Hugh Grant and Alec Guinness? Or David Puttnam? Yes, they worked in different parts of the industry, but they worked in a job that allowed them to meet many other creative people, many of whom are restlessly seeking the next opportunity.

So the actual job itself may not be exactly what people want to do (although it often is), but the fringe benefits can be very attractive. And even though other, potentially more interesting jobs have been created in the last fifteen years, draining some of the talent away from advertising, they may not have the overall balance of good things that advertising has.

Having said that, with real pay levels falling, the ads getting worse and the hours getting longer, it’s no longer the tempting number it used to be. But then lots of the other jobs have become equally less appealing (just ask any journalist, author, filmmaker or screenwriter). There are now more people searching for an ever-decreasing amount of job satisfaction, and the bosses know that, so they exploit accordingly. Then it just comes down to relativity: so long as advertising can remain more appealing than the competition it will still attract talent. After all, it dragged you in, didn’t it*?


*If you don’t work in advertising feel free to ignore this question.

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be the weekend?

Every movie would end better to Walk of Life by Dire Straits (thanks, K).

Monty Python’s letter to all the Life of Brian haters (thanks, T).

Bowie’s lost years in LA (thanks, T).

What’s it like to write a successful piece of shit? (Thanks, J.)

Every bomb dropped by the allies in WW2 (thanks, T2; apologies for the Daily Mail link).

Oddly satisfying power wash videos (thanks, J2).

Spike Lee’s 87 essential films (thanks, E).

Odd and dirty Ghostbusters remix (thanks, K):

Can you fold a piece of paper more than seven times?

All of Donald Trump’s lies.