Author: ben

We talk in black and white, but all is grey.

It feels like the last five years have given us a constant stream of binary opinion. From Leave/Remain in the UK to Trump/No Trump in the US to Masks Are An Evil Infringement on Freedom/Masks Save Lives Everywhere, the division of complicated issues into right/wrong, good/bad and them/us appears to be the order of the day.

But even within supposed two-horse situations, there are often many other horses involved. Take the 2019 UK General Election, in which the Conservatives beat Labour in a landslide. If you read the media coverage you might have missed the fact that 3,500,000 people voted Lib Dem, and 850,000 voted Green. And that doesn’t even take into account the many shades of difference within the two big parties: Brexiteer Conservatives, Fiscal Conservatives, ‘I Hate Corbyn’ Conservatives, All Of The Above Conservatives etc.

It’s the same with the Republicans in the US. They may seem like one homogenous mass of dumb, uncaring racists, but they are made up of all sorts of groups: Qanon nutjobs, law-and-order Miami Cubans, Christian Conservatives who are just taking the shortest path to the outlawing of abortion, Moderates who want lower taxes, a smaller homogenous mass of dumb, uncaring racists etc.

And look at the many and varied reason people have for giving the vaccine a swerve.

You might also have heard about issues such as ‘Cancel Culture’, where defenders of ‘free speech’ suggest that it’s bad and wrong to demonise people for their incendiary opinions. But if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll soon find that every one of them has something they too wish to ‘cancel’.

For example, here in America a TV host called Bill Maher continually goes on about how corrosive Cancel Culture is:

But he also goes on about hating many of the ‘oppressive’ elements of the Islamic faith, suggesting that they should be… um… canceled. Maybe, like him, you think that these are two different things, and that demanding that women wear burkas or banning homosexuality is a false equivalency when compared to Kevin Hart losing his Oscar hosting gig for being homophobic a decade earlier. But here’s the problem: plenty of Muslims would disagree with you, and that’s because there is no right or wrong here; only opinions. The problem is those opinions are often presented as hard fact, with a dash of straw man nonsense and some pejorative terms such as ‘woke mob’ (by the way, a Twitter user recently accused me of being ‘woke’ because I suggested Margaret Thatcher sometimes did her job in a way that not exactly compassionate. Subjectivity, eh?). I think Bill would be considered to be part of some kind of woke mob if he expressed his opinions in Saudi Arabia. And then he’d probably be murdered. Cancel culture indeed…

I get it. Bill is a comedian who exaggerates to make jokes, but he also uses double standards: he later concedes that people shouldn’t hold a ‘dress up like we’re in the Old South’ party. Is that cancellation? Political correctness gone mad? Where do you draw the line? How do you know? So I suppose he agrees with Cancel Culture, except when he doesn’t… The problems of binary expression.

Have a look at 2:30 in the above video. Bill takes a statistic that ‘80% believe political correctness is a problem’ (quite a vague assertion) and exaggerates it by listing demographics that cover everyone in America and saying they ‘all hate the current atmosphere of hypersensitivity’. Then he asserts that ‘everybody’ hates it, so it becomes even blacker and whiter, and less accurate, but at least it supports his point a bit more forcefully.

So cancel culture is complicated. It’s subjective. It’s contextual. Pretty much everyone wants to cancel something, but the idea of cancelling cancel culture is clearly the most ironic of ironies.

Which brings me to the current hand-wringing over purpose-based advertising. Again, this is a complicated subject that is often spoken about in binary terms. It seems that for many on my Linkedin and Twitter feeds, we as an entire industry are woke idiots who are promoting baseless social justice initiatives instead of getting down to the proper business of selling stuff. There is in fact an entire book out there called ‘Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell‘ whose subtitle is ‘Why adland has stopped selling and started saving the world’. Having read the whole thing I can tell you that it contains some interesting points, but even with a book with that definitive a title, the author mentions several instances of purpose-based advertising being a good thing. So why write a misleadingly binary title, subtitle and Amazon blurb paragraph for a non-binary book?

Has adland really stopped selling? Obviously not. The amount of purpose-based work is dwarfed by that which explicitly tries to sell stuff, but if you are of a mind to decry any purpose-based work, then you can certainly find many examples to back that opinion up. However, an overall assertion that this is advertising’s biggest difficulty deflects attention from larger, more problematic issues (eg: malignant data scraping, the massive talent and money drain to tech, the reduction of fees due to the rise of procurement departments etc.).

But here we are with the binary nature of 2021 language. Purpose bad, selling good, as if they can’t co-exist in any way, except when they do, very successfully (see Nike’s recent Cannes Effectiveness Grand Prix-winning Colin Kaepernick work; or Microsoft’s Gold Effie winner, Changing The Game; or Aeromexico’s Gold Effie-winning DNA Discounts campaign). Sure, many purpose attempts are more Kendall-Jenner-Pepsi than Kaepernick-Nike, but there are lots of crappy, poorly considered non-purpose ads out there, too, and the vast majority of them will get nowhere near a Gold Effie. Perhaps ‘purpose’ is simply another advertising genre, like ‘humour’ or ‘celebrity’, and like those it is done both well and badly, suggesting another situation full of shades of grey.

Additionally we are now in a similar set of circumstances regarding ‘diversity’ (my inverted commas are there to denote the subjective nature of defining that word in 2021) where middle-aged white people are winning discrimination cases. That’s a direct result of people speaking in black-and whie terms about complex issues. If you, as a female ECD, say you want to ‘obliterate’ your agency’s reputation for being full of white, privileged straight men, you might just leave your agency open to charges of gender-based discrimination (I must add here that Jo Wallace, who said that, seems like a decent, intelligent person who has been treated dreadfully by the gutter press).

It’s not a binary issue of ‘obliterating’ a certain demographic to favour others. It’s a very nuanced problem that takes in systemic discrimination, meritocracy, conscious and subconscious gender biases and several other deep, complex topics, each of which could justify an entire post-grad thesis. But this was not a case of oldish white man bad, everyone else good, and I’m pretty certain that’s not what Jo meant to suggest, but here we are in binary world where a complicated issue has left egg on a great many unfortunate faces, and caused massive damage to the very situation it sought to help. Who will now be brave enough to sack an oldish white guy? How much more likely is it that a sacked oldish white guy will take that sacking to a tribunal? What is intrinsically wrong with oldish white guys? (Full disclosure: I am an oldish white guy.)

I know we’ve reached this situation because of the way social media discourse works, with incendiary, attention-grabbing statements leading to clicks and sales, but if we don’t employ critical thinking and nuance in all areas, we might find ourselves shutting off potential avenues of success, or useful and necessary arguments, while heading off in the direction of some pointless fool’s gold.

The black and the white is where the easy shit lies. But it’s also where the bullshit lies. If you find yourself making a massive generalisation you’ll probably find yourself missing out a big chunk of truth. The title ‘Sometimes Sell, Sometimes Don’t Sell: Why adland occasionally uses purpose to great effect, but sometimes kind of fucks it up’ … Hang on, I was about to say that it wouldn’t be as good, but that’s actually a much better title, although it would have to be for a different book. Anyway, there’s no need to be definitive when reality is nothing of the sort. Sure, human beings like certainty and closure, but playing to that need betrays the opportunity to make the kind of difference that happens when you engage with what is actually the case, rather than the superficial headline version of things.

Sure, it requires more work and less simplistic thinking, but what are we saying? ‘Drain the swamp’ or ‘Let’s take a look at corruption in politics and see how we can reduce it’? ‘Lock her up’ or ‘Has this person acted in a way that contravenes any laws? If so, what should be done about it?’? ‘Get Brexit Done’ or ‘We should examine the ways in which leaving the EU might affect most of the people of Britain, then act in the best interests of the majority’?

Yes, the cheap sloganeering is easy to remember, and has incited many people to both support and action, but to what final result? ‘Move Fast And Break Things’ sounds great until you ask what might be broken and discover the answer is Western Democracy.

The simplicity of black and white is so tempting, but life tends to exist within the grey, and we ignore that at our peril.

We made the job look easier, now we must deal with the consequences.

There’s a lot of chat about AI copywriting at the moment. Companies such as this one have been offering some form of machine-generated advertising writing for a while now, and are understandably getting better at it.

Equally understandably, copywriters have been up in arms about this. How could a machine/robot create something as artistically pure as a combination of words that informs people that frozen chickens are available for 20% off at Sainsbury’s?

I jest, but I kind of don’t. There’s a reason why someone thought a computer could come up with copywriting and it might be a little hard to swallow: most copywriting is not very good, and it’s also not very difficult. When you see the post copy on a Facebook ad for cheap wine, or the headlines on most posters, or you listen to most radio ads you probably think, ‘What a load of rubbish. I bet a crappily-programmed robot could do better’. Well, you weren’t the only one.

I get that there are many other elements to the job that AI might still find difficult/impossible. These include thinking up a concept (although most ads don’t seem to bother with them), taking feedback and reworking ads to a client’s satisfaction (I think this one will save all our careers. Clients are not usually good at this, but they are also not usually happy with the first ten versions they are offered), and coming up with something original that no one was expecting (also becoming vanishingly rare). But when it comes to some basic-bitch copywriting, they are as good as at least some of us.

And here’s how that happened: our predecessors wrote a lot of shitty ads, then many of us did the same.

So they/we made the job look easy, and that’s what made other people think they could program a computer to do it. Yes, I know they’re getting AI to do some very difficult jobs these days, but the artier ones, the ones that involve excellent creativity, are the hardest to replicate. Rubbish creativity, on the other hand: piece of piss.

This isn’t the first time we’ve shot ourselves in the foot by making the job look easy. Back in the early 2000s there was a fashion for finding a good short film by an unknown director, slapping a logo on the end and entering it into advertising awards. Here’s an example:

Spot the difference (good luck).

This was then followed by several years of doing the same thing with interesting YouTube clips. For example:

Although the above are both very good ads, and every artist borrows from somewhere, this straight lifting of other people’s work made the job look very easy. Why pay lots of money for an ad agency when an enterprising 15-year-old searching YouTube could produce the same result?

Is it a coincidence that ad agencies are paid much less than they used to be? I don’t think so. Although several factors have contributed to this situation, I think you could make a good case that devaluing our creative currency has been one of the biggest. Making great ads used to be a mysterious process, only managed by a select few. Now it looks much easier, and therefore worth much less.

A third process has contracted things still further: digital and social media is cheap, quick, disposable and done very well by kids and idiots (and both). So it was partly we who made this part of adland look easier, and partly others, but check out the average corporate social media feed and ask yourself honestly: does that look so difficult that it should be expensive or time consuming?


We’ve gone from great creatives (sometimes) writing and art directing ads in such a way that it looked very difficult, to crap that looks (and often is) cheap and easy. And when we did that we let crappier practitioners seem perfectly capable of doing it to a professional level: computers and kids. Who needs excellent, experienced humans when the opposite can give you 80% of the quality at 30% of the price?

We unwittingly made our own bed, and now we must lie in it.

The higher you build your barriers, the taller I become. The further you take my rights away, the faster I will run. You can deny me. You can decide to turn your face away. No matter, cos there’s the weekend.

Making fun of preparing for emergencies.

Writing is rewriting. and this site.

Find the cost of living in every city in the world.

Mock up a book in 3-D.

Cool Kubrick documentary:

Plenty of paths to perfection

When Stanley Kubrick was making The Shining

He recorded the sound of a typist hammering out the words “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, because he thought the sound each key made on a typewriter was slightly different and he wanted complete accuracy. To make sure that the line was as effective in foreign versions, Kubrick painstakingly translated it into idiomatic German, French, Spanish and Italian and re-shot the scene, placing the translations in the typewriter for Jack’s wife Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) to find. The Spanish phrase “No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano” (No matter how early you get up, you can’t make the sun rise any sooner) captures the tone of crepuscular horror perfectly.

That’s just one of the many stories of Kubrickian perfectionism. He never compromised, went to extraordinary lengths and drove his actors crazy with endless takes. So that’s how you achieve excellence, isn’t it? You obsess over details and never let up in your monomaniacal drive to achieve your singular vision.


Jean Luc-Godard, a similarly revered director did nothing of the sort. In making his classic Breathless, he ‘wrote the script as he went along‘. ‘Filming began on 17 August 1959. Godard met his crew at the Café Notre Dame near the Hôtel de Suède and shot for two hours until he ran out of ideas.’ ‘Actor Richard Balducci has stated that shooting days ranged from 15 minutes to 12 hours, depending on how many ideas Godard had on a given day‘. ‘(Director of Photography) Coutard said that when (producer) de Beauregard encountered Godard at a café on a day on which Godard had called in sick, the two engaged in a fistfight.’

In addition, like many European directors of the time, Godard employed American actors who did not speak French/Italian/Spanish and simply dubbed the appropriate language over their English line reads. Jack Palance in Le Mepris, Burt Lancaster in Il Gattopardo, Alain Delon in L’Eclise… I just want to emphasise that these are some of the greatest films of all time, and the sound doesn’t match the mouth movements – and there’s not even a pretence of an attempt to do that!

In later films they worked out that the mouth shapes for the Italian/French words could be matched to the mouth shapes of English numbers, so an English actor’s line would be ‘Three, seventeen, nine, four, twelve’. Not the actual lines with the emotional content of the correct words, but a list of numbers.

Let me add still further: Fellini liked to direct as the acting was happening. He would shout at the actors as they were reading their lines, even the Italian ones. This meant that all the dialogue was post-synched, so it had none of the ambient sound, and didn’t match perfectly.

All that is to say that Kubrick (and other great perfectionist directors, such as Ozu, Chaplin and Malick) would presumably have had a fit about any of the above. If he insisted typewriter sounds were perfect, can you imagine him dubbing over a carefully chosen actor’s voice so it didn’t match the mouth movements? Or making up the story as he went along? Perfection and spontaneity are not easy bedfellows.

So which is best? Perfectionism or looseness? If you squeeze too hard, do you destroy the delicate object in your hand? Or is it possible that the wrong colour blouse or a misplaced apple can destroy or compromise an entire creative vision?

With so many greats on either side of the argument, it might be better to define perfection. What Kubrick et al would see as the essential control of every element until it matches the vision in their head, Godard might see as a lighter, more emotional expression of an artistic idea, with the spontaneity being as crucial to him as the control was to Kubrick.

I was involved in making two ads for the same big client a while ago. One had a budget of millions, was minutely planned and examined, and involved thirty agency staff. The other had a budget of ten thousand dollars, was briefed in by two mid-level creatives, and forgotten about until the directors sent in the final result. Both were excellent, and I think each would have suffered if they’d experienced the same level of budget and attention as the other.

I know of excellent art directors who are happy to brief a photographer then wait till he sends the finished shots in. I also know of excellent art directors who minutely micromanage their photographers. I also know of excellent art directors who work wonders with stock shots.

I know of excellent copywriters who pore for days over every syllable in a three-word line. I also know of excellent copywriters who find great phrases hidden in company brochures. I also know of excellent copywriters who crank out hundreds of words as easily as they breathe.

So there’s no agreed-upon path to greatness, and the important thing about that is the fact that your method might be the best route to the best work, but so might anyone else’s. That’s not to say that sitting around doing nothing is the most likely way to win a Cannes Grand Prix, but bunking off to see a movie could prove as effective as pulling an all-nighter. Letting a top director do their stuff could be as useful as constantly looking over their shoulder and insisting they do fifteen more takes. Nailing down a script might be a good idea, but so might turning up with an outline and seeing what you might get from a bit of improvisation.

Try a bit of Kubrick, then maybe go for a touch of Godard. There’s no right or wrong; only what works – and many, many things can work brilliantly.

I’m the arsenal, I got artillery lyrics of ammo, rounds of rhythm then I’m ‘a give ’em the weekend.

Spend Elon Musk’s money.

Simple graphs that show your region’s temperature change over time.

Turn your drawing into a 3-D model.

How procurement departments screw ad agencies:

Keiran Tierney, Keiran Tierney, Mag-Ni-Fique… The weekend.

Create your own drum machine.

Your life in weeks.

Cats looking at cats looking at cats.

Run a country during a pandemic.

The worst commercials of all time:

The power of love is a curious thing, make a one man weep, make another man sing. Change a hawk to a little white dove, more than a feeling, that’s the weekend.

What did Back to the Future 2 get right/wrong?

This website will self destruct…

Free hi-res public domain artworks.

Show me something awesome.

The first ever website.

He didn’t just say what I think he did, did he?” And Dr. Dre said, nothing, you idiots! Dr. Dre’s dead, he’s locked in the weekend.

Are we living in a simulation?

Ace Ventura perpetual scream thing (it’s better than I’ve made it sound).

Draw the roads in a city.

Why almost everything you thought about running is wrong (great design).

What if the laws of physics were different:

Collective Insanity

The other day my dad sent me an article about advertising that (among other things) bemoaned the current lack of sonic idents, or ‘jingles’ as we used to call them. Whether it’s the four notes that accompany the words ‘Intel Inside’, or the entire collection of slightly racist words that explained the geographical origins of Um Bongo, the use of memorable musical stings seems to have fallen from advertising favour.

And yes, I know that isn’t exactly ‘news’, as it’s been that way for a while, but the arrival of the article coincided with me standing in my kitchen in Los Angeles and singing ‘We’re all going on a Hoseasons holiday’ to the tune of Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday. Why that particular jingle, having lain dormant in an obscure corner of my hippocampus for decades, had decided to reappear at that particular moment, I have no idea. But what’s even stranger is that when I started to sing it my wife joined in.

The campaign ran in the 1990s, and, as you can see, it was shit:

But that didn’t stop me recalling it spontaneously, five thousand miles away, some thirty years later.

Pixar’s Inside Out made a fine joke out of this phenomenon, but they couldn’t have done so if it weren’t true:

On a more topical note, living outside the UK means I’ve managed to avoid seeing this:

However, I know all about it. That’s because, utter load of plop that it is, its jingle has apparently permeated the national consciousness. Just this week Dave Trott added to a Twitter conversation about the campaign with this cartoon:

His tweet inspired this reply:

So jingles work, but the advertising industry rarely uses them. Sure, some (maybe most) are crappy and annoying, but most ads are crappy and annoying, and that doesn’t stop us churning them out in their thousands. Why draw the line at the music?

It’s just one example of how many elements of the practice of advertising that don’t make any sense. I know it’s an art rather than a science, so there are no guarantees (I also know that adding a jingle to every ad would soon make jingles pointless) but it does seem that clients and agencies are spending a huge amount of money producing an enormous number of communications that no one notices, remembers or acts upon, while also doing many things that are underpinned by no logic whatsoever.

Here’s another example of some 24-carat stark raving bonkers, from this morning’s Ad Contrarian newsletter:

The ANA (Association of National Advertisers) did a survey recently of media executives. Before we get to the results, here’s an explanation for civilians: A KPI is a “Key Performance Indicator.” In other words, it’s an indicator that marketers use to evaluate how well their media dollars are performing for them. In this survey the ANA identified 39 potential KPIs and asked media execs to rank them on certain criteria.

Two of the most critical criteria were,
– What KPIs are most important to you?
– What KPIs are you using?

You would think that in any sane universe the KPIs that are most important to them would be the ones they’re using, right? But in a sane universe these people would be driving for Uber. In fact, if you look at the top 5 KPIs, there is almost no correlation between the ones these geniuses think are the most important and the ones they actually use.

– The KPI they use most is “Cost Per Thousand.” They rate it as the 22nd most important
– The KPI they use second most is “Cost Per Click.” They rate it as the 27th most important

No, you can’t make this shit up.

You certainly can’t. No one would believe it because it’s batshit crazy, yet it’s also the considered behaviour of a lot of supposedly intelligent people.

I’ve spent the last decade or so writing and reading about what’s gone wrong with advertising. Sure, I’ve also joined the conversation when the industry has done great things, but the general vibe has suggested that things are getting worse.

What I don’t understand is this: if we can see what’s going wrong, and we can point it out to each other, why isn’t the wrong becoming right?

Every time I read a post from The Ad Contrarian I wonder why digital advertising hasn’t ground to a halt, or at least adapted to the point of being unrecognisable from its current form. I also wonder why the people running certain social media companies aren’t in jail, and why people are so chill about having every aspect of their lives spied on, dissected and sold to thousands of companies for the purpose of enriching them. This is the kind of surveillance that would make the KGB blush, yet we’re willingly participating in it for the opportunity to share Condescending Wonka memes and a daily rundown of what we had for dinner.

Then I read Dave Trott’s posts and I wonder why well-paid agencies and clients don’t prioritise the noticeability of their advertising. Why they don’t start by trying to make their ads markedly different to those of their competitors. Why they don’t try to make sure they do something that not only improves the chances of people attributing the communication to the brand that paid for it, but also to remember said communication and association. Isn’t that the point of advertising? As Dave asks, why isn’t the question of noticeability on every brief?

Then I read Richard Shotton’s tweets (and his book), and I wonder why, when plenty of information is available to help improve the efficacy of an ad, no one seems particularly inclined to utilise said information to make their ads work better and their money go further. It’s all out there for the very reasonable price of his book – a massive, easily accessible advantage to anyone who wants to make use of the information. But nah.

It’s almost as if we’re in some weird nether world where most of the people tasked with communicating on behalf of a brand have no inclination or interest in doing that effectively. And, even stranger, the people who pay them to do it give a similarly minuscule number of fucks about creating something that actually works, that might then get them a raise or promotion.

Instead we have a smorgasbord of blandness, underpinned by the apparent certainty that producing several really long decks should be our priority. Or that we should be trying to feed a voracious social media beast, the better to continue a non-existent online ‘conversation’ between desperate brand and utterly uninterested customer. Or that we should be producing advertising that we ourselves would loathe, and purchase an adblocker to avoid.

Why is this? Why are logical methods for improvement superseded by the kind of guff we’d all prefer not to be responsible for?

I think there are lots of reasons. Here are a few:

The Newark Reason

Are you aware of the Newark Choice mentioned occasionally by Rory Sutherland? Flying into New York through Newark Airport is a better choice than JFK. It’s quieter, faster and closer to Manhattan. But here’s the thing: if a PA booked their boss a ticket to Newark and something went wrong, they would be blamed for making that slightly odd choice. But if they booked good old JFK, and there was some kind of problem, the boss would blame the usual crap that comes with flying into such a busy and disorganised airport. So the wise choice, with a low ceiling but no floor, is to book JFK because if you are the PA nothing can go wrong for you personally. You might think the PA misses out on an opportunity to show some great initiative, but that is a small, risky upside against a potentially disastrous downside.

In advertising terms, that translates to a client (and possibly agency) that would rather plod along close to the average, reasonable, so-so status quo. Why buy something unusual that might freak out your boss? What if everyone loves it, but the boss’s friend sees the boss at the tennis club and asks why they made that weirdo ad with the orange kangaroo. The boss then asks the CMO, and when the response is too esoteric or abstract the CMO could well get fired. That doesn’t happen when you make an ad a bit like last year’s, and sales increase by an expected 0.46%. Not much of an upside, but crucially no downside.

And if the CMO behaves that way (kind of understandable when you have a mortgage, kids in private school and a divorce to pay for, and he or she will only be in the job for a year anyway, so why scare the horses?), the agency will follow suit. You know they won’t buy the orange kangaroo campaign, so why write it, let alone present it? Maybe you can show it as the wacky one in the group of three, so you can all chat about how great it might be to make it before, with a heavy heart, going for the slight repeat of last year.

For lots of reasons CMOs now spend on average of 40 months in the job, by far the shortest time of anyone in the C-Suite, and half the average tenure of the CEO. This might be a chicken and egg situation, where they don’t like to do the job because it’s unfulfilling, or it’s unfulfilling because it made up of unlikeable tasks, but whatever the reason, people are generally not trying to blow shit up in that role.

We can trot out the truism that it’s actually braver to do non-descript advertising because its far more likely to fail, but we all know the that’s not how the CMO thinks. Brave advertising is brave advertising; the kind of thing that is unusual, and stands out from the crowd, leaving the brand at the mercy of its new found fame. There are of course no guarantees, so a courageous new path could well go ‘Newark Airport’, while no one gets blamed for the dull old JFK.

Yes, some brands and their CMOs do want to make a splash, and they tend to find the agencies that offer splashy campaigns, but they are by definition the exception rather than the rule. There are far more tortoises than hares in the world, and far more people still fly through JFK, and if they all switched to Newark it would soon become as problematic as JFK.

The Proliferation Reason

There are too many things to wrap your head around: too many channels, too many ads, too many sizes, too many versions, too many people to oversee, too many markets, too many influencers, too many lines, too many shapes, too many decks, too many slides, too many CDs, too many clients, too many charts, too many meetings, too many deadlines, too many opinions, too many cooks, too many broths.

I’ve written before about the problems of increased complexity, but it fits in this post because of the way in which it harpoons many of what we might refer to as ‘best practices’. For example, we always espouse the benefits of simplicity; it is the way in which we get more people to understand what we’re trying to say. But if, for example, an idea has to go through many CDs, then it will be more likely to change on that journey. And if you have lots of channels, a single CD can’t always be across every execution, so the simplicity is further diluted.

And of course the money has to be spread more thinly. It still takes a surprising amount of time and effort to come up with ads for a social feed or programmatic campaign. Each execution still has to be art directed and (probably) written, approved internally, altered based on that feedback, presented at an external meeting, altered based on that feedback, probably altered again both internally and externally, resized and re-art directed for those new sizes, possibly rewritten for a new audience etc. etc. etc. And that’s just one strand of the larger whole. A TV ad might still have to be made, and a director chosen (you also now have to send a director’s deck to persuade them to be interested in your project, so you have to write and art direct that), along with the internal and external meetings it will take to approve that choice etc…

That’s really only the tip of what has now become an iceberg of ridiculously unwieldy proportions. For every new/extra thing you have to do, time is lost that could have been used to improve the idea/writing/art direction of something else, and the inevitable consequence of that is a reduction in the quality of what we make. The process has spent a good decade heading consistently in the direction of this greater complexity, with staff being spread thinner and budgets doing the same.

So when you see people talk about the logical benefits of extra craft, that train left the station long ago. I recall a time where my art director could spend a week or two with a designer to improve a press campaign. Now there just isn’t the time or money to do that, and the communications have suffered accordingly.

The Data Reason

We all know the benefits of data: it brings a veneer of certainty to an uncertain process. If you can’t guarantee that a particular line or image will produce a certain response, then at least can now be certain that it will get in front of the right person at the right moment. So what’s the downside? Well, I think we all know that the promise of data has yet to be fulfilled, and we know this because of our own experience. Advertising doesn’t yet read our innermost thoughts and desires, serving us an ad for a pizza at the exact moment we were thinking of buying one. It has a good go at that, but mainly annoys us to the extent that hundreds of millions of adblockers are now used all over the world.

This contravenes the received wisdom by promoting the notion that you can lean into this so-called certainty at the expense of messaging that stands out from the other ads on the site. They all promote a list of ‘best practices’ that include the number of words you should use, the correct layout, and the kind of messaging that goes across well. But the problem is, if everyone is following the ‘best practices’ all the ads will appear similar. For millions of ads, there is now a rulebook for copywriting and art direction, which is the exact thing copywriting and art direction should not have.

But the ability to point to facts and figures is delightfully addictive. It means you can now prove that your advertising has this reach, or that clickthrough rate, and that both these figures are so-and-so percent better than the previous quarter. Ad agencies and CMOs are big fans of that. It means you don’t have to justify nebulous bollocks such as likeability, or whether the message will resonate enough for someone to buy the product in three years’ time. The numbers do not lie (of course they do), so let’s have more of them.

The Ker-Ching Reason

As Mick Hucknall sagely observed, money’s too tight to mention. Margins are thinner, shareholders want the kind of short-term financial benefits that comes from cost-cutting, profit and loss figures are reported quarterly… Cash is king, and its decrees reach into every nook and cranny: longer hours, smaller salaries, lower budgets, worse snacks, project-based accounts, more pitches and shorter deadlines.

So we have to skip many of the things that made the kind of ads that happened when those fabled ‘the ads are better than the TV programmes’ charts were produced. Of course spending more money to attract more talented people and giving them the time they need to make their best work is more likely to produce something admirable, memorable and inspirational. Every financial step away from that makes that outcome less likely. But as in the Data Reason, you can measure money, but you can’t always measure quality, so guess which one wins.

The We’re Still Cool Reason

Going back to the jingles, like I said the industry has been anti-sonic mnemonic for ages. Funny little tunes and cheesy little songs aren’t cool, and that means they’re out, because we’re cool, aren’t we?

Well, maybe, but I think you could make a good case for ‘maybe not’. Despite producing the occasional Guinness Surfer, Honda Cog, Phillips Carousel; despite going on shoots to far-flung locations; despite doing a job where some of us get to meet Thierry Henry or Daft Punk; despite having a boozy festival in the South of France; despite our output being seen by millions of people… are we actually cool (whatever that means)?

On current evidence we are apparently too cool to use a jingle.

But that might mean we’re also too cool to produce a piece of work that someone will remember three decades from now.

Now, I’m not saying that missing out on that opportunity is a definite indication of collective insanity, or that we should all be adding jingles to our ads, but at some point in the 2050s, someone somewhere is going to say the words ‘Autoglass repair’, and someone nearby is going to reply, ‘Autoglass replace’, and they’re going to laugh about it.

But they’re not going to laugh about that DOOH blag that got you a D&AD shortlisting in 2026.

How will that make you feel?

I’m 100% aware that writing the above will probably not make the slightest bit of difference to anything, that the time I have spent on this post is another indication of the ubiquity of the insanity. But fuck it. I actually enjoyed working through all that, watching clips of Inside Out and having another look at Carousel.

If it sparks something somewhere that improves something for someone, then great.

But even if it doesn’t I’m just going to hum the Chicken Tonight jingle, add a couple of slides to Tuesday’s deck and have a chat with Cillit Bang’s twitter feed.

Wibble wibble.

I sewed the answers in linen. Dance em’ under the thread. Pretend I’m riding in your cities when n****s scared of the feds. There’s a ghost on my bike City lay with the weekend.

Drop a raindrop anywhere in the US and see what happens.

Search movies by dialogue.

Find a long read.

Dude tries a strange kind of self-torture: