A lonely mother gazing out of the window, staring at a son that she just can’t touch. If at any time he’s in a jam, she’ll be by the weekend.

Watch Netflix films with the screenplay alongside (thanks, D).

What does boredom do to us and for us?

The Australian mullet festival (thanks, J).

Inside Radiohead’s archiving mission.

Best free education on the internet in nice neat categories.

All the ways nature solves problems.

Make custom purrs.

Remember I’m the same one that they used to laugh at. Now they pay me for a feature just to school em like a teacher. Had a dream like Martin Luther having flashbacks. Now it’s translated here to the weekend.

Picking 24 billion cherries in eight weeks.

Have a virtual vacation.

A handy IMDB rating breakdown for all episodes of a series.

The Hendrix of the ukelele:

How Tarantino keeps you hooked:

Oh, the lack of humanity.

Two joys have recently entered my life.

The first is a subscription to The Criterion Channel: $99 a year for unlimited access to many of the greatest films of all time. Not so much the western ‘classics’, such as Casablanca or Citizen Kane (although some of those are included); more the global greats from Fellini, Godard, Sembene, Ozu etc.

I grew up with a movie-fanatic brother, so I saw a lot of those films when I was a teenager, but I hadn’t seen as many in recent years. It’s been easier to experience whatever America’s studios have to offer, especially when taking the kids, but newly housebound, I decided to check out this alternative source of cinematic brilliance, and it’s been a delight.

These films were generally made by artists whose intention was to connect humanity to itself. Super-powered Avengers have been swapped for terminally ill Japanese bureaucrats and I can’t tell you how good that feels.

Beyond the plots, these works of art were all shot on film, usually without special effects, in some form of reality, with actors conveying relatable emotions. And that’s left me feeling connected to the humanity of it all, to the shared experience of being alive with the rest of you.

The second joy is radiooooo.com (article about why it is amazing here), a website that allows you to select any decade and country to hear the music that, for example, was popular in 1965 Mozambique or 1948 Colombia.

It’s been equally fulfilling, as I’m now discovering an unexpected love of Nigerian cha-cha and the prog rock of 1970s Iran.

Perhaps it’s the confirmation that I’m in some way connected to people who lived thousands of miles away from me before I was even born. Perhaps it’s the idiosyncrasies of music played by real people on real instruments, not autotuned and compressed to sound like last week’s chart success. Whatever it is, it feels closer to something essential about being human.

These two portals entered my life around the same time that I read an article by Paul Burke on the benefits of the account management department. I commented:

Excellent, as usual. In addition, this is now heading towards the inevitable use of AI and algorithms to do the ‘Project Management’ job. You can see the spreadsheet you’ll fill in at each stage of the creative process, until all the work is ready to be sent to the client’s dedicated ShareTransferBox, where they deliver their annotated feedback based on another algorithmically-designed set of agreed-upon criteria. (None of that is an exaggeration or joke, by the way. It’s really coming to an ad agency near you.) Suicide emoji goes here.

Shit! My wife just showed me Jira, which is exactly that.

To which Paul replied:

Account handlers brought creative and strategic empathy to a “drop in” whereas project managers don’t. Unless you bring humanity, you will get automated.

It felt like an interesting coincidence.

I don’t know how lockdown has been for you, but I think for many of us it has meant a literal distancing from other people. Lots of us have therefore been reminded of how fundamentally we need contact with the other members of our species; a dose of humanity. Sure, there’s the obvious way of making that happen – a drink or a walk with a friend – but art exists because it can connect us to millions of people at the same time. That’s why it means so much to us.

But the last 10-15 years have left us sinking further and further into a kind of android existence, where we’ve become part computer to experience a regular life (the ubiquity of mobile phones, social media, Zoom, Kindle, Spotify, Airpods etc.). Each one of these alone isn’t necessarily problematic, but they have all encouraged us to trade connection for convenience, and when you put them all together, that trade takes a lot out of us.

Yes, albums, letters, landline phone calls, books etc. are more inconvenient to use or produce, but that’s what makes them great. The corollary of ‘easy come, easy go’ is ‘difficult come, difficult go’, where you treasure things that are earned, or hard-won. Of course, having every song ever made in a little box in your pocket is much ‘better’ than having to spend £12 on a CD, hoping that the other nine tracks are going to be worth the expense. But it’s also worse, because you don’t give the whole album enough of a chance for the songs to grow on you. Pressing a button is easier than going over to a shelf, finding an album, removing it from its sleeve, placing it on a record player, dropping the needle and having to get up and flip it over after every five songs. So why do I prefer playing records?

If you read a book on Kindle you can carry 500 hardbacks in your handbag, but… no one knows what you’re reading, so you no longer have that moment of connection on the bus or by a hotel swimming pool, where you can go up to someone who’s reading the same book you just finished and have a chat about it. You have became more remote from all those people. You experienced less humanity.

So now we also have remote connections at work, where we use algorithms designed by someone in Silicon Valley to decide how we should relate other people, a skill many of us had mastered over years of trial and error: no more than 20 words on a social post image, no more than six seconds of content lest people get bored, the message must appear in the first three seconds because that’s when uninterested people switch off… Never mind that billions of people have enjoyed more than 20 words, sixty seconds of content and messages that come as a punchline/surprise at the end. The algorithm has spoken, and we are now just blobs of organic matter whose job is to obey the computer-ordained diktats of consumption.

And the point Paul was making, that more ostensibly ‘efficient’ systems will drain the creative process of humanity, is the final part of the circle. Use Jira and fill in boxes one (three second intro) through seventeen (algorithmically-approved endline of no more than seven syllables). Then wait for for client feedback on Slack, or the junior strategist’s notes on the Google Doc, and act upon them before the prescribed three-hour deadline or your surgically-implanted microchip will deliver a ReminderShok® at five minute intervals until the AI ProjectBot® deems your response sufficiently optimised within agreed-upon guidelines.

Will such distance from humanity improve anyone’s ability to connect to other humans, the better to enroll them in liking a product or service?

No. That’s it. No. Nope. No way. Uh-uh. Not a chance. No hope and Bob Hope, and Bob Hope Just left town. Norfolk and Chance.

So here we are, deep inside the removal of humanity from all areas of life. If you’re wondering why it’s been happening, it’s simple: people (particularly creative people) are messy, unpredictable, uncontrollable, difficult, inconvenient and sometimes lazy. So if you’re a company who wants to maximise profits, you’ll want to minimise tedious, expensive, annoying idiosyncrasies and turn your staff into compliant robots, churning out exactly what Big Brother requires, exactly when he requires it.


We’re also imaginative, inventive, brilliant, charming, funny, smart, unpredictable, warm, humane, happy, sad, boring, exciting and everything else that makes us want to spend time with each other.

We are life, and that means taking the difficult with the easy and the rough with the smooth, for you don’t get the highs without the lows, and those ups and downs are always better than the straight line of nothingness that android life provides.

So what can you do? Well, there are myriad ways of sneaking the analogue world into the digital universe. My favourite is refusing to work on Slack because it’s distracting (it is! How does anyone get any work done with the constant bings? What’s wrong with email?). Same with Google Docs. Make a pdf and have a separate communication with your CD, or go and find him or her and have a chat IRL (as the kids say). Lean towards albums. Go and see a real old movie at the NFT (or local/lockdown equivalent). Enjoy a real live gig (or lockdown equivalent). Buy a Super 8 camera or an old SLR and explore light, depth and human expression.

Then go and hug someone. Or kiss someone. Or have some good old fashioned sex (or some new-fangled sex).

The more humanity you experience, the better you’ll feel.

It’s official: ads are worse than they used to be, and if we don’t address that we’re all screwed.

There’s a crisis in advertising creativity.

I know what you’re thinking: “Yes, Ben. I’ve been reading your blog for a while. That’s all you ever bang on about. Give it a rest.”

But this is different. It’s ‘official’ because it’s confirmed by a report from the IPA. (The report is actually a year old, but nothing has improved.)

Tempted as I am to simply cut and paste the whole thing here, I’ll leave you to click on the above link. But for the time-poor among you, here are some highlights:

The report The Crisis in Creative Effectiveness covers almost 600 case studies from 1996 to 2018 and is a follow-up to the IPA’s 2016 publication Selling Creativity Short that warned of the dangers to creative effectiveness posed by short-termism in marketing and highlighted a misunderstanding of how brands grow.

According to revered effectiveness expert and report author Peter Field*, creatively awarded campaigns are now less effective than they have been in 24 years of data analysis and are now no more effective than non-awarded campaigns.

The Report also reveals the continuing decline in the efficiency** of creatively awarded campaigns. Over the pre-crisis period 1996-2008 creatively awarded campaigns were around 12 times as efficient as non-awarded ones, but over the period from 2006-2018, as the crisis developed, this fell to below four times as efficient. It continues to fall and creativity is almost certainly delivering no overall efficiency advantage today.

You might recall how I have often posited that great advertising generally slowed to a trickle around 2008 and (Cadbury’s Gorilla). Yes, of course there have been great ads since then (I’m looking at you, Old Spice, Dumb Ways To Die and You Can’t Beat A Londoner), but the rate has slowed considerably. I blamed that on the rise of digital/social/search, but there was also a monumental economic crash at the end of that year, so it may have been a perfect storm of newly-prioritised short-termism, coupled with the means to address it in the least creative ways possible.

This report suggests that short-termism in advertising and, crucially, the awarding of short-term ads is an ouroboros that means we’re stuck in a short-term mindset that will eventually consume itself, leaving behind nothing of value.

As the report states:

“…left unchecked, the catastrophic decline in creative effectiveness will ultimately weaken support for creativity amongst general management. Money spent on creativity will become ‘non-working’ budget and will be cut.”

So if creative ads don’t actually work any better than non-creative ads (eg: the stuff you find on Facebook, and Google’s SEO fun), no one is going to take the time, effort or money to support them.

And that’s bad, isn’t it? Do you want to live in that world? More to the point, do you want to work in the advertising industry in that world? Of course you don’t. But if you’re not sticking up your hand and objecting to that world, either as a creative, CD or member of a jury you are making that world happen.

To be clear, I’m not blaming you. I’m certain I’ve done this myself (although I have also railed against it). But here’s where the rubber hits the road. If you can’t do something about this directly, show this report to someone who can. Enroll a client in the benefits of longer-term thinking. Petition D&AD to split awards into those for short-term ads (prize: some used loo roll), and those for long-term ads (prize: a bright shiny trophy). Question the legitimacy of a brief that has an ephemeral, ineffective short-term gain as its goal…

Otherwise, we’re going to be in more trouble than we are right now, and right now we’re in a lot of trouble.

Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me. I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed. She was looking kinda dumb with her finger and her thumb in the shape of the weekend.

This is fantastic: pick a decade and a country, then listen to the radio.

Maybe pair your songs with a livecam of some part of Africa.

All Star, but with a single lyric:

Pick a muscle, find a workout.

Learn to touch type.

Make your writing like Hemingway’s.

What gets lost in the current design of D&AD

Last year’s Spotify poster campaign from Who Wot Why was widely appreciated as the best of the year.

It gave us lines like ‘1983, UB40 Red Red Wine/2019, You be forty. Red red wine.’ and ‘1998, Into Britpop. Loves Garbage/2019, Into Britpop. Loves Recycling’, combined with the endline ‘Listen like you used to’.

This brought out the truth of ageing yet tenacious musical tastes and attached them to one of the companies that could cater for whatever they happened to be. You might be reminded that you used to be moved by the music of twenty years ago, and, despite the changes in your life, those tunes still hold a place somewhere deep inside you that might enjoy a revisit. If you’ve binned your old CDs, it’s all free and easy to find on Spotify. Job done.

It was certainly refreshing to see a properly visible billboard campaign using witty, quotable copywriting in service of a big, juicy idea. So I fully expected it to wipe the floor with all-comers at this year’s D&AD awards. How many Silver Pencils would it pick up? Maybe one for the campaign, but another one for the writing was a distinct possibility, plus a raft of Graphites (what they call nominations these days. They also have shortlistings now so at least it’s a bit more like Cannes, eh?).

It was eventually awarded just two ‘Wooden’ Pencils (that’s what they now call In-Book). How odd. I mean, I know the standards of D&AD are supposed to be high but that seemed a little harsh.

Then I saw the jury and all became clear: of the eight jurors, two were from South Africa (one of whom works in London), one is an Australian working in Indonesia, one is Japanese, one Colombian, one Spanish and one English. (I should mention that one of those jurors, Masaya Asai, is a friend and former colleague.) 

I’m going to say this very clearly lest my point gets misinterpreted: of course those people are brilliant at advertising, and fully capable of assessing a great campaign idea. But they will have their own cultural backgrounds and references that mean the pop songs that they heard in 1998 Bogota or Sydney might not be the ones that the people of London were dancing to. Will they get a joke about Nasty Nick? A reference to the 2003 march against the war in Iraq? A sly dig at how Ed Milliband eats bacon sandwiches? The chances are slim.

But, equally, will the English juror, when faced with a reference to Ay, Dios Mio by Karol G (Colombia’s current number one) appreciate it enough to know why it makes an ad great rather than good? What about a nod to Laskar Pelangi, Riri Rizar’s movie that went down so well in 2008 Indonesia?

See what I mean? Everyone gets a shot, but no one really wins, and that’s before I point out that you can only have eight nationalities on a jury, so tough luck if your ad is French, Chilean or Kenyan, or from one of the other 185 countries on this delightful planet of ours.

This point is in no way to lay any blame at the feet of those esteemed and highly-qualified professionals, but more to point out that D&AD’s inclusivity has inadvertently led to an exclusivity of great but localised advertising.

Which brings me back to the Spotify campaign and the reasons why it will always be under-awarded by an international jury. How many of them understood that ‘Garbage’ was a band, allowing the ‘recycling’ pun to make sense? Did they get the subtle yet essential difference between ‘Red Red Wine’ and ‘Red red wine’? (To be fair, this might also be an age thing, but that’s a matter for another post.)

Unlike the broader international-friendly ideas that were more highly awarded in the category, Who Wot Why couldn’t use the case study video to explain every pun and reference, leaving the ads to succeed and fail on their own merits. And even if they did explain them, getting across the way a fortysomething UK music fan might really feel those lines in their (funny) bones would be an almost impossible task.

Yes, I understand that D&AD can’t possibly cover the explanation of every comma, syllable and shade of mauve in every entry, and I’m sure some ads fell by the wayside in years when it was British-only. But by expanding so far into Cannes’ territory the problem has only worsened.

I also know that this is not a new problem and others (myself included) have had a pop at it before. However, here were are in 2020, with far more international companies producing far more work intended to run in many markets, with only cursory adaptation. That work, as you’ll agree if you spend any time in an international airport, is almost entirely bland: a picture of the product with a logo, or a meaningless easily translated, inoffensive platitude in the place of some copywriting that might actually engage through well-observed relevance.

Part of D&AD’s original remit was to stimulate, not congratulate; to fire people up to produce greater work which would then pull the whole industry along by inspiring its practitioners to greater heights. By sanding off the locally-brilliant edges, more and more of the work is rooted in the one-size-fits all territory of global blancmange. Not necessarily ‘bad’ ads, but generally corralled into the accepted template called ‘more likely to be understood by an international award jury by using minimal words and no local cultural references’.

So we now have a kind of format for awarded creativity that feeds into the style of the work produced in the real world, which then feeds into what people think advertising should be, which then shapes what is made, run, entered and awarded, and so the circle continues.

I get why D&AD did this (kind of): I assume the lure of more entry fees from across the world was too tempting to turn down. But this is clearly not a move that helps more people see a wider range of excellent creative solutions by which to be stimulated. There’s very little difference between the current winners of Cannes, Clios and D&AD, so why do we need all three? Even the One Show has gone some way down the same path, robbing us of some of those fascinating ads for Wyoming bike shops that might present a different method for tackling a London homeless shelter brief.

In the end, Spotify was awarded for its idea and its writing, so D&AD fans will get to see the campaign and learn from its craft. So, does any of this matter? Well, the problem isn’t so much the reduced awarding of the ads we’re aware of; it’s the invisibility of the ones that might have bitten the dust because of all the reasons I’ve mentioned above.

We don’t know what we’re missing, but I suspect it’s more than we might think.

Soak it in ’cause it’s the last you’ll ever see, c’est la vie, mon ami. I’m so shiny, now I’ll eat you so prepare your final plea, just for the weekend.

How people remember popular music (thanks, Popbitch).

The story of Cactus Plant Flea Market.

Aykroyd and Landis on making The Blues Brothers.

A travel time radius for any location.

All drinking games ever.

Help stop sex trafficking by uploading pictures of hotel rooms.

Learn morse code in 15 minutes.

Offensive dinner plates (thanks, J).

Charlie Kaufman discusses his excellent new book:

If you turn a critical eye he’ll drill you through the middle and cry. It’s just Tonton. It’s just Tonton. It’s just Tonton Macoute. Just the weekend.

How flexible work just became 24/7 work.

Amazing fluid simulation.

And a lovely rain simulator.

Abandoned America.

Enter the ingredients in your kitchen and find a recipe.

Learn to be a butler with Graham Fink’s dad:

The art of composition:

Mind The Generation Gap

Some facts:

1: Advertising likes new things.

2. Advertising does not like old things (staff, consumers, media channels etc.)

3. Advertising is now run by the money people.

4. Older members of staff are usually more expensive than young ones.

5. Most people in charge of advertising aren’t that good at it.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that some of those five facts are interrelated. The facts that advertising is now run by the money people, and that older members of staff tend to be more expensive than young ones kind of lead to the fact that advertising does not like old things (staff). The fact that most people in charge of advertising aren’t that good at it (by which I mean good at producing excellent work) is not unrelated to the money people and not liking old things facts.

It’s not so much a vicious circle as a vicious vortex, with winds coming in from several different directions to destroy what was once substantially more attractive, respected and enjoyed.

But there’s one central breakdown, fueled by the above, that multiplies all those effects simultaneously: a removal of senior staff in service of financial savings has led to a gap of talent and experience, which is currently filled, more often than not, by the victims of that gap. The fact that advertising in general prefers new things to old has helped to accelerate that process, but it’s the generation gap that represents the biggest, darkest, most problematic hole in the health of the industry.

When I were but an AMV junior copywriter, I could come up with a fairly mediocre ad, then go upstairs to show it to Steve Hudson, Victoria Fallon, Paul Briginshaw, Malcolm Duffy, John Gorse, Jeremy Carr, Peter Souter, Sean Doyle, Dave Dye, David Abbott, Tony Cox, Tom Carty, Walter Campbell, Guy Moore, Tony Malcolm, Tim Riley, David Newton, Richard Foster, John Horton, Mary Wear, Damon Collins, Andy McKay, Rob Oliver, Dave Hieatt, Paul Belford, Nigel Roberts, Ron Brown, Tony Strong and Mike Durban (apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten). They would then improve said ad, and I would learn from their suggestions. This made the ad better, but it also made me better. It was like being paid to spend eight years at the greatest advertising school in the world. 

Although I fully admit to being something other than a genius, I have passed some of that wisdom on to people who then worked for me, who then went on to become ECDs, award-winners, and employees of some of the best agencies in London. 

However, some of the best of those best have now left the industry, weakening the chain of education. On top of that, many of the names I mentioned two paragraphs ago are either no longer in the industry, or they are freelancers, and not in a position to impose their creative greatness on a department that might really need it. Every one of them could improve literally any creative person working today, but it won’t happen. The industry has discarded most of that generation, and most of mine, leaving a younger group that could benefit from the kind of experience that is rarely available.

I’m not saying that advertising has an obligation to keep its best practitioners on in perpetuity, but the better people you attract and the better people you keep, the better the work, and the happier and more grateful the clients. Instead we have a situation where the standard has slipped, sending clients running to the arms of GoogleBook. Why would you pay top dollar for a product that is obviously worse than it was ten years ago, especially when there’s a measurable way of making up the shortfall of effectiveness? We’ve traded incredible engagement for incredible targeting, and the bottom line has improved. Sure, way more people (ourselves included) hate 99% of advertising, and it’s led to some little problems like the end of functioning democracies, but, hey, some rich people are richer, so what’s the problem?

Here’s the bit where I turn to the solutions, and the good news is a couple of them do exist. First, there is far more online education than there used to be (there was no ‘online’ when I started, so I had to save up for D&AD and One Show annuals). Anyone inclined to do so can visit Dave Dye’s imperious blog, and listen to his peerless podcasts. It’s a free starting and finishing school that still teaches me a thing or ten. You can also find all the great ads for nothing on D&AD’s online archive. Beyond that, even I’ve managed to record the wise words of some true greats on the ITIAPTWC podcast, and you’ll find similar excellent stuff at the A List podcast, Dave Trott’s blog and in books like Hey Whipple, Squeeze This and The Copy Book

I would also imagine that any enterprising young go-getter could track down any of the best practitioners of the past and present and work out how to flatter them into giving you whatever advice you need. If you’re polite and grateful and willing to work hard you can use that vehicle to travel a long way.

The other solution, which is more theoretical, is this: if advertising as an industry could get over its antipathy towards anyone older than 25, it could find ways to retain those great, slightly older people that would suit everybody. I understand that some older creatives are on their ninth divorce with six kids in public school, but in general, the older you get, at a certain point the more likely it is that your expenses go down. Perhaps advertising salaries could go in a kind of inverted V shape, where you earn the most in the middle of your career, but suck up ongoing pay cuts afterwards. So instead of being too expensive on £150k, you could be just right on £100k, then £75k and so on. Mortgages are going down, school fees are replaced by kids leaving home… Perhaps senior people on less senior salaries could retain proven talent, knowledge and experience without breaking the bank quite so substantially. Just a thought… And if you think that would be sad, it’s kind of what happens now anyway, only you have to keep looking for new jobs, which are often less enticing. At least this way you could have some more security and feel you’re contributing, in an additional mentor role, to an agency you’ve done great things for.

And if you’re an ECD or CEO reading this, feeling a bit icky about having people in their forties hanging around your ping-pong playing Millennials and Gen X-ers, consider this: at some point, we all find ourselves on the wrong end of a financial reshuffle (yes, I know some leave by choice, but a lot of them end up coming back, too). When it’s your turn in the woodshed, you might find things easier if you’ve already instilled a culture of valuing your older members of staff. You might then get to choose a 20% pay cut instead of a definite redundancy. It’s also worth remembering that older people have more spending power, consume more media and like to be spoken to be people of their own age, so older creatives might actually be something of an asset.

Your staff might win, your clients might win, your agency might win, and the whole darn industry might win. 

What have you got to lose?

When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we’ll see. No, I won’t be afraid, oh, I won’t be afraid, just as long as you stand, stand by the weekend.

Two million free icons.

The internet arcade.

Vocal ranges of the world’s biggest singers.

Create a near-seamless playlist between two artists.

You may not know these 15 songs, but you’ve heard them.

How ‘premium’ orange juice is really made:

Cadbury’s Creme Eggs have been shrinking: