Category: Uncategorized

Credit Where Credit Might Not Be Due

One of the consequences of the proliferation of media channels is that many people now seem to be responsible for any celebrated piece of work.

There are now several creatives, creative directors, GCDs, ECDs and CCOs attached to any multimedia project.

Having been involved with several of these projects, I can tell you that creative involvement can range from coming up with the idea and closely shepherding every element of the execution to just being in the room while others added the good stuff (or even making suggestions that make the work worse).

But from the outside everyone gets the same amount of credit, so how can you tell who did what, and therefore who to hire?

I’d suggest that it’s now impossible.

Back in the pre-digital times you had one team of a copywriter and an art director, and if a good piece of work had their name on it, you could be pretty confident that it was good because of what they did. Even more specifically, the writer almost certainly did the writing, and the art director, y’know, directed the art, so if you liked the copy, and you wanted to hire the person who did it, you just had to put two and two together.

Sure, sometimes the AD/client/planner would come up with the endline, but in general, the credits were accurate. 

The CD element might be a bit of a wildcard, possibly contributing something critical, but sometimes knowing little-to-nothing about the project. That said, their reputation would be made on the basis of the entire agency’s output, not just a single commercial.

But as the 2000s wore on, campaigns needed the help of a separate digital agency, with its own creatives and CDs. Later on they might need another experiential agency to add to the numbers. Later still, most of those jobs came under the roof of a single agency, but a campaign might still require several teams so that the TV creatives didn’t have to write all the social post copy while they were concentrating on the edit.

And that’s where we are now. 

Have a look at any multimedia award winner of the last few years and you’ll have no idea who really did the amazing/difficult/original part of the campaign.

For example, have a look at the credits for Moldy Whopper. Three agencies from three countries supplied three art directors, two copywriters, one senior art director, two Group Creative Directors, an Executive Creative Director, and Executive Design Director, two Chief Creative Officers and two Global Chief Creative Officers.

Who had the original thought, ‘Let’s show a mouldy Whopper’? And who was in charge of producing the final image? Those would be the two people I’d like to hire, but I have no idea which of those people really did what.

Maybe they all did a lot of essential things, but unless you were on the project, I think you’d find it hard to tell who did what. So if you want to hire the people who really were behind one of the most awarded campaigns of recent years, you might end up picking the wrong ones.

In all fairness, when I’ve been involved in one of those campaigns, everyone credited did a lot of work, but if I wanted to hire the person who was actually responsible for the original concept, I’d have a lot of trouble narrowing down the list.

I also think it’s fair enough for all the credited creatives to put the ad in their portfolios. If they spent six months working on the final design of the digital part of the campaign that started with a statue, then what are they supposed to do? Leave a big six-month hole in their career even though they worked their arses off?

Ideally, people would be completely honest in their portfolios, but let’s not be naive; we work in advertising, so we spend all day making things look as impressive as possible. If we massage the hell out of all the stats in the case study video, why would we downplay our involvement in a piece of work? 

Back in the mid-2000s a friend of mine created a critical part of a Cannes Grand Prix-winning, globally famous campaign. To be nice to a junior team, they asked them to do a bit of writing on the work (to be fair, I suppose that is real, helpful creativity), but then that junior team were responsible for sorting out the award entry, and magically found that their names were credited ahead of those of my friend. 

I’m going to guess that many mistaken hirings have happened, with many a disappointed CCO finding themselves with the ‘guy who happened to be in the room’, rather than the ‘girl who wrote the entire script but had the credit stolen from them’.

So the credit system is now open to a lot of abuse, but you can just add that to all the shitty things that have happened to the industry in the last fifteen years.

Of course!… But maybe…

Back before he was canceled (then won a Grammy), Louis CK had a ‘bit’ called ‘Of course… but maybe’:

“Everybody has a competition in their brain of good thoughts and bad thoughts. For me, I always have both. I have the thing I believe, the good thing. And then there’s this thing (cue villainous gesture). And I don’t believe it…but it is there.

“It’s become a category in my brain that I call ‘of course…but maybe.’

“(For example) Of course, children who have nut allergies need to be protected. We need to segregate their food from nuts, have their medication available at all times; anybody who manufactures or serves food needs to be aware of deadly nut allergies. Of course.

“But maybe if touching a nut kills you, you’re supposed to die.”

You can watch it here:

If you don’t have the time or inclination to watch the whole clip, he gives the same treatment to military deaths and – yikes! – slavery. Despite the plummet his reputation then took, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t really hold these positions, but who knows?

In that spirit, anyone who has worked in advertising for a while can probably produce their own examples. For some reason, our industry is full of strange contradictions, and yet no one seems to care enough to do anything about them (aside from this post, which is bound to sort out the entire mess by the end of the day).

For example…

Of course our work should be original and different. Of course! That’s how it stands out from the other stuff, and standing out is essential to being noticed. If no one notices your work, it doesn’t matter how good it is, so we must all endeavour to produce advertising that is nothing like the ‘content’ that surrounds it.

But maybe… But maybe we need to follow best practices, especially in digital media where we know for sure what kind of images and writing will be most successful. So for maximum effectiveness, we should use the same data as everyone else to reach the same insights as everyone else, and place our work in all the same locations as our competition and have our messaging look exactly the same as theirs.

Of course we should make sure our work is simple. Throw one tennis ball and it’s easy to catch; throw a few and its impossible to catch anything. Every communication we offer should reduce any complexity down to the kind of concision that is easy to understand and remember.

But maybe… Maybe the clients won’t think they’re getting enough work for their money unless every single thing we say to them comes in the form of a 128-slide deck presented over the course of three hours. In addition, maybe we should litter billboards with QR codes, use fifteen separate media channels, and expect punters to engage with ads that are five minutes long. Maybe?

Of course we should use a client’s money and public messaging opportunities to improve the world! Of course! Nothing makes more sense than rechanneling the ill-gotten gains of capitalism into initiatives that will benefit the marginalised and forgotten. It’s like a socioeconomic Robin Hood thing, and what could be better than that?

But maybe… But maybe purpose-based efforts are just expensive exercises in wokewashing, greenwashing and whitewashing the bad behaviour of giant corporations, allowing them to game any SEO negativity, while sending lots of money in the direction of the ad industry, who then become complicit in the deceit as they give these sneaky corporate disguises their highest awards.

See? It’s easy. I bet you can think of others:

Endless collaboration/all opinions matter equally vs Accountability and the quality of a singular vision.

Jingles are cheesy and lazy vs I still remember jingles from 30 years ago.

Only present work you want to make vs We only had one idea we we want to make but we can’t back the client into the corner with only one choice, so we’d better show three ideas, even through we don’t really like two of them.

AI is a fantastic tool for creativity vs AI is coming for the jobs of all creative people, thus destroying true creativity.


The Seven Ages of the Advertising Creative

As You Like It suggests that there are seven ages of life. With apologies to William Shakespeare I’m going to explore the seven ages of advertising creativity.

Before I start, a caveat: this is very much a generalisation. Of course people start agencies at all sorts of stages of their careers, and many people, by their own choice or otherwise, never become Creative Directors. That said, I believe there is a broad path that takes most of us from education to maturation.

So let’s begin with the first age: College. At some point you decide to pursue advertising as a career. Sure, you can start in the dispatch department and make the move from there, but you’re more likely to go to some kind of college where you’ll meet your partner and learn the basics.

The point of this age is to enjoy some time with no client comments and an infinite (theoretical) budget. Stretch your legs, make mistakes, eat Pot Noodles and try to make your parents understand why the TV ad they love is actually rubbish because it has a weak concept, and lacks originality.

Your next age is Placement, the first step into the corporate world. A real ad agency is happening around you so you have to juggle doing good work with being the kind of people the agency would like to keep around.

It’s all about converting this strange state of purgatory into an actual job, so you have to keep your eyes on the prize while you continue to eat Pot Noodles, but at least some of your new colleagues will buy you drinks in the agency bar.

From there you become a Junior. At last! A real job! Of course, you will have to do all the less glamorous briefs, but that doesn’t matter because you soon realise that a radio ad means casting, and therefore hanging out with, your favorite comedian. It also means you can order from the giant book of takeaway menus and eat/steal all the Celebrations. Hooray!

But you want to move up, and to do that you’ll need a bigger brief or two, and that means navigating the fact that more powerful creatives in your department would also like those briefs. You’re going to have to beat them at some point, and the sooner you do that, the sooner you get to move into the mystical hinterland of the Middleweight Creative.

(By the way, if you’re reading this in America, a UK middleweight creative is basically an ACD, although I suspect the American love of title promotions has very much made its way across the Atlantic.)

Middleweight is a weird place, in that you never really get formally promoted to that position. After a few years of being a junior you just declare it, then you discover that no one cares. You just keep ticking along with slightly better access to slightly better briefs.

But then you become a Senior Creative, or perhaps a CD. You now need client-facing skills that no one taught you in college. You’ve probably had a few client meetings before this stage, but you didn’t contribute much just in case a cheeky slip of the tongue lost your agency its biggest client.

You could well be ‘in charge’ of a piece of business, helping to shape it for a year or two, and you might well have younger teams working into you, so you now have to evaluate work, give feedback and try not to let the power go to your head. 

The next stage is some form of CD. In a network agency that might involve running one big piece of business or several smaller ones. In a medium agency you get all the responsibility your boss doesn’t want. In a small agency you might well be the boss.

At this point you will be looking to make enough of a name that you can make it to the next stage of being properly in charge. You might write a thought piece for Creative Review, or move to an agency where the path upwards is a little clearer. You might also stay at this age for quite a while, because unless you start your own place, you have to wait to be invited to the top table…

And there it is: the final boss (but not the final age). At this point you are either some kind of ECD/CCO, or you have launched your own agency with some pals you picked up along the way who work in the other departments.

This position can take many forms depending on the size of agency, its location and whether or not you were promoted from within or poached from somewhere else. You are now almost certainly in your 40s, and have to balance all this stuff with a more substantial family life. Good luck with that.

If you started your own place, that work/life balance will be tilted very heavily towards ‘work’ for a few years. Hopefully your agency will thrive, but the odds are not on your side. That’s why you might bounce around between senior agency jobs and optimistic start-ups. Find the one that suits you best and, like a rodeo ride atop a merciless bull, try to stay on as long as possible.

At some point you will find yourself surplus to requirements: perhaps too expensive, or merely a victim of advertising’s love of the new. You might pop back to one of those top jobs, but you might not, so what do you do with all those years between 48 and retirement?

Some people choose this point to launch that start-up, and sometimes that works, but it’s a lot of effort for middle-age, so you might try to be a consultant, or some version of a freelancer, sliding back down the mountain to do the work of a CD or senior creative. Depending on your finances, you keep it going as long as you can, while staring the industry’s ageism right in the face until you inevitably blink first and it casts you aside forever.

Whichever age you’re in, there’s always fun to be had, but you also have to earn your place. Just work hard, be nice and see where the ride takes you. Best of luck!

John Lewis: A Deep Dive

There’s a new John Lewis ad out:

What is there to say?

Well, as each new offering arrives with its own wider context, especially as it’s the next in a long line of ads that genuinely changed advertising, I think there’s plenty.

And now I’m going to prove it:

First, a little of that context. For the uninitiated, starting with The Long Wait in 2011 John Lewis kicked off a new UK advertising genre: the Christmas Ad. The Long Wait was so influential, every major British retailer soon felt the need to provide a massive, heartwarming 60 to 180-second commercial, often with a slow, sappy version of a famous rock song, that would see the country through what we now understand to be the Tory Austerity years.

Was the sociopolitical element really a part of it? Maybe. The previous year, John Lewis had given us the excellent More Than A Woman, so they were already heading down this path before applying it to Christmas. But the warmth with which The Long Wait was greeted gave the other supermarkets and department stores a clue to what the Great British Public wanted.

I’m not going to go into all the other epics dished out to us by Sainsbury’s, M&S, Asda etc., but The Christmas Ad soon became the UK equivalent of the Superbowl, where six months of planning and a massive budget became the norm.

The extra John Lewis context is that it remained the Granddaddy of them all: usually the best; definitely the most anticipated; but also the one with the most baggage. Raising the bar means raising expectations, so if you want to avoid hearing, ‘It’s good, but not as good as last year’, you have to up the standard and eventually attempt a kind of reinvention.

You can find them all here. They’ve done celebrities (Elton John), initiatives (The Beginner), animation (the Bear and The Hare), but mainly they’ve done sweet stories featuring a child’s relationship with something that can be turned into a toy (Moz the Monster, Monty the Penguin, Excitable Edgar etc.) and sold in the stores.

And all seemed to be going well until…

John Lewis started experiencing massive financial losses. Was it inflation? The Cost of Living Crisis? Shoplifting? All of the above?

Whatever it was, this year John Lewis put the account up for review. This article suggests that was down to putting ever-greater demands on Adam and Eve DDB, the agency that produced all that work. There were also many changes in the management of both client and agency, and that rarely helps with longevity.

Saatchi and Saatchi won the pitch, and their first Christmas work is this year’s Venus Fly Trap ad (I’m sure it has a cute name but I can’t be arsed to look it up).

To me it feels a bit like a photocopy of a John Lewis ad from ten years ago. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it’s also not one of the best. Heartwarming story about a kid who sees things differently to his more conventional family? Check. Heartwarming friendly creature that can become a toy? Check. Heartwarming ending that rugpulls a seemingly sad situation? Check. The music is different, but I’m not sure how much this Andrea Bocelli cod-operatic song is going to trouble the charts, if indeed that’s an aim.

Other aims come in the form of merch sales, as The Guardian (regurgitating the press release) informs us:

Shoppable versions will be available on YouTube and Google while the ad will be linked to the widest ever range of associated merchandise including a soft toy version of Snapper the plant for £18, children’s pyjamas for £19 and venus flytrap plants for £10.

Yay! More pointless crap in the world! But that aside, I wonder if people will warm to the tenth John Lewis ad toy offering, or indeed a pair of pajamas. This Venus Fly Trap is definitely not the huggable Monty the Penguin or Moz the Monster, so I wish them luck.

On the good side, I think the strategy/message of starting your own new traditions is refreshing. M&S is actually running with the same theme, but in more of a Grinch-like way that seems to be annoying people (especially with a weird accidental burning of a ‘Palestinian flag’ despite the ad being shot in August), so a nicer, friendlier expression is a better path to take. That said, I don’t think this strategy is particularly clear: the endline says Let Your Traditions Grow, but that sounds more like Grow Your Current Traditions, rather than Create New Ones. And the emphasis seems to be 95% LOOK AT THIS GIANT FUN PLANT and 5% ‘start some new traditions’. In any case, the family go back to their old tree and only involve the troublesome fly trap again out of guilt, so where’s the new tradition?

And that’s it. Not bad, but for this client that’s a long way from what’s needed. John Lewis has to turn its fortunes around during a cost of living and inflation crisis that will have many of their customers tightening their belts. They needed a game changer, ironically one that could change the very game they themselves created, one that has settled into a cosy meeting of expectations rather than a breath of fresh air, a bolt from the blue or, heaven forbid, a paradigm-shifting shot in the arm that could send John Lewis off into a new decade of success.

The funny thing is, they did indeed let their traditions grow: one more year, one more ad and one more repetition of a formula that is now well over ten years old. In fact, after the unusual initiative of last year, there’s a palpable sense of going back to something that worked. the problem is, you can’t step into the same river twice. Things have moved on; the competition has caught up and it’s possible that the people involved may not be up to the incredible standards of the campaign’s originators, or even some of the great creatives who Let This Tradition Grow in its early years.

Like I said, it’s not bad, but that’s not quite good enough.

Good Isn’t

I saw this poster yesterday:

I have questions.

Why is the package closed and full of food when she’s clearly had to open it to make the meal?

Is Menyu a bit racist? Here in America we have a supermarket called Trader Joe’s, which recently suffered accusations of racism for the names of their ‘ethnic’ food ranges, ‘Trader Ming’s’ (Chinese), ‘Trader José’s’ (Mexican) and ‘Trader Giotto’s’ (Italian). They were actually going to change those names, but then decided not to, much to the delight of Fox News. When Fox news is on your side, maybe you should think again.

I’d never really considered it before, but ‘good’ is a bit of a limp word, isn’t it? It’s kind of like ‘nice’ or ‘pleasant’; positive, but blandly so. Maybe they like it that way, as they seem to want to spread the word around their work like a flavourless jam:

I think ‘Good’ must be some kind of platform for them.

Franki Goodwin, Chief Creative Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, said:  “It was so exciting to get our hands on this amazing range and bring the food photography to life. It’s the start of a lot of GOOD we’re going to be doing in the coming months.”

So far, so blah. Sure, one person’s branding platform is another person’s reason to yawn, but this seems pretty similar to the ‘Food To Feel Good About’ positioning that Adam and Eve launched exactly a year ago (it’s still the endline). Maybe Saatchi and Saatchi think they’ve expanded it so that it can also be used to promote the benefits of a ‘midweek quickie’.

Talking of things it’s very close to, someone else wants to tell us about how their food is ‘good’:

I think this is a recent one, so Sainsbury’s are taking the unusual step of adopting a strategy that’s almost identical to the one used for over a year by one of their competitors. How odd. Maybe New Commercial Arts knows something I don’t, but it seems pretty uninspired.

But it did make me wonder if this is just something all supermarkets are doing now, so I Googled ‘Good Morrisons’ and – knock me down with a feather! – I found that their endline from three years ago was Make Good Things Happen, which seems to be basically interchangeable with the Sainsbury’s and Waitrose strategies.

What happened to being distinctive? Different? Not boring?

Going back to Waitrose, they used to produce excellent advertising that really stood out, and was tonally consistent with their position as the more upmarket supermarket. Maybe I’ve been out of the country too long, and there’s no longer any difference between the major supermarkets, but it seems odd for Waitrose to give up their premium status to join all the other mid-market choices.

Anyway, all these ‘good’ supermarkets are merely descendants of the original (also Sainsbury’s), who used the word to establish an entirely new positioning: a supermarket that prized and promoted the quality of their food:

That line ran for over thirty years.

Will the others prove to be as good?

Finally! Another Podcast! Episode 70-ish: Stuart Semple.

I seem to produce these things on an annual basis now, but they’re always worth the wait (IMHO).

A few weeks ago a creative called Ben Friend got in touch:

For the past couple of years I’ve been working with a conceptual artist called Stuart Semple sort of CDing his studio and also half-arsedly running the e-comm business that is Culture Hustle. You may or may not know how CH came about. If you don’t, here’s the story. So a few years ago Billionaire artist Anish Kapoor bought the rights to Vantablack, the most dense black material on the planet. Once he had done this he stated that no other artist would be allowed to use it. This pissed Stuart off as he believes that colour can’t be owned. As a piece of performance art he made a pinkest pink powder pigment released on the internet. He stated that it was for everyone, except Anish Kapoor. When you bought the pigment you had to sign a disclaimer that you were not AK, Were not buying on behalf of AK. It blew up so he then launched a kickstarter to fund the making of his own blackest black paint to rival the one in AK’s possession. He raised a ton of cash and made a really good black paint available to everyone. Hilariously this idea grew and that when I came in to give purpose to this accidental business and come up with new materials that are consistent with the original mischievous intent and also help Stuart with the ideas in his art practice. You can read all this and more of course but the reason I’m writing to you is to ask, would you be interested in talking to Stuart on your podcast.

How could I be anything other than intrigued?

Now that I’ve spoken to Stuart I’m a little surprised I hadn’t heard of him. In fact, it’s more likely that I had heard of him, but now that I’m getting old my memory is not what it was.

He’s definitely the ITIAPTWC interviewee with the longest Wikipedia entry, but beyond that he is insanely fascinating. From basically dying, to being managed by Uri Geller, to selling £1m of art one year only to be homeless the next… Just one of these situations would be the most interesting occurrence in my life, but he seems to attract/generate/create them on a regular basis.

And that’s because he’s a real artist. His life is his art and vice versa.

Beyond that, he’s had a lot of contact with the ad industry, and could definitely show us a thing or ten thousand about what real creativity is, as well as how to generate massive fame time and time again.

If you’d like to find out more, follow the rabbit hole of his Wikipedia page, or check out this fantastic project he created in response to Adobe ringfencing lots of their colours.

And here’s the Soundcloud link to our chat. (WordPress is currently refusing to upload the file to iTunes, so I’m going to keep trying things until I get that to happen. Apologies…)

This ad is great. Here’s why:

Given that my most recent Creative Review column suggests that there is no objective way of measuring advertising quality, I thought I might take this opportunity to ironically explain why one particular ad is unarguably, totally and utterly ’great’.

The ad in question is this one for Communion from Uncommon:

So why is it good?

  1. It stands out. As old Mr. Bernbach used to say, if nobody notices your advertising, everything else is immaterial. I’ll just repeat that: if nobody notices your advertising, everything else is immaterial. I mean, sure, that’s obvious, but you wouldn’t think so from watching most of the ads that slide past your consciousness as if they never happened. This stands out and it does it in two ways: it’s different to the other ads in the break (or LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook feed), and it’s different to other financial services advertising. And with that grinding rock guitar and grimy black-and-white aesthetic, it’s literally made to be noticed. Big tick.
  2. It’s constantly engaging. There’s a V-sign, which is intriguing, but there’s also a list of things to which you might like to apply that gesture. What’s this all about? What’s next? Whose fingers are they? Do I agree? Who is running this ad? Is it an ad? Why is it black-and-white? So many unanswered questions to keep you interested. And those unanswered questions will provide the depth that will make people pay attention to it again the next time it appears.
  3. It has a satisfying conclusion, by which I mean you don’t feel the preceding 50 seconds were gratuitous. The answer is a good one, and it makes sense. You can’t really disagree because you think about this kind of thing all the time: ‘If only I had X amount of money, I could living in a better place, and I wouldn’t have to listen to that arsehole, or get up at that time of the morning etc.’. This is ‘If only I could win the lottery’ but in a way that is attainable. Money IS freedom, and this is what that freedom will get you. You don’t open a savings account; you open the chance to move out of your parents’ house.
  4. It has a great strategy. Financial services strategies are usually along the lines of ‘save for a rainy day’ or ‘feel secure with a blah blah pension’. Both of those are negative and dull. This is positive and inspiring. And great strategies are rare these days. They usually say things like ‘Live your best life with X’ or ‘Unleash your potential with Y’. Generic, forgettable, easy to ignore. Not like this, which is the opposite of those three things.
  5. The branding is excellent. It’s all irreverent attitude and block capital letters. You are not going to confuse it with Prudential or Aviva. And if you’re young, and not even thinking of this category, this will be the financial services company for you. Sure, it will put some people off, but this isn’t for them, and that stance will get them bigger, more devoted fans. They’re not growing the category; they’re growing themselves, and as a challenger brand, that is an essential distinction.
  6. It’s topical. People are brassic. The mismanagement of Britain’s finances by the current government has left millions tightening their belts. Fuel prices, inflation, mortgage rates… fuck all that. But what’s the solution? Communion. ‘Save Enough To Save Yourself’? Damn right. 

And that’s why this ad is great.

Rank Insecurity

When I was maybe three years into my first job, a question popped into my head: ‘Am I now a middleweight?’ 

For those of you who are a little younger than me, that term is probably one you’ve only heard applied to boxing, but in the early 2000s it was the next stage up the creative ladder from ‘junior’. The stage after that was ‘senior’, then, if your agency was large enough, ‘Group Head’, then came the final level: CD.

We’ll get to the change of job titles in a second, but let’s first address that status uncertainty: the transition from junior to middleweight was not a formal promotion. You could literally declare it, and it would then be so. In practice it was only relevant if you moved jobs and you or your headhunter wanted to frame you in a more substantial way, but it felt like a big-ish deal back then.

Even when I became an agency founder in 2005, junior/middleweight creatives would regularly ask me when they would be allowed to shed the former title and emerge from a kind of creative chrysalis to become the latter. They were delighted when I told them their boss probably couldn’t care less, so they might was well just declare it there and then.

The change to ‘senior’ was harder. You’d probably need at least seven years’ experience, but as it was a slightly more substantial title, you’d also need a decent bit of work behind you. It was also a vaguely formal promotion, so it was usually up to someone else to declare it for you (again, this made more sense if you moved jobs).

Then you became the boss of some sort, with a proper job title, and that was it.

Now we obviously have many, many creative job titles, each of which requires a formal promotion. The journey from placement to junior to copywriter/art director to ACD to CD to GCD to ECD to CCO (or whatever the ladder is like in your country/agency) is a bit of a nightmare because there are no universal criteria for passing each threshold. When you’re a cub scout you know exactly what you have to do to get a Gold Arrow; when you’re a creative there is no such clarity, and it will vary from agency to agency and country to country.

I’d also suggest that the question of whether or not Pete and Mike are now ready to move from ‘copywriter and art director’ to ‘ACD’ is so ridiculously low on a CCO’s list of priorities that they probably care more about the colour of their tea. But now that each ‘band’ does have a set of duties and a suggested salary range, it’s a big deal to anyone wanting make that jump.

Talking of a set of duties, I recently received the following message from an ECD:

A CD used to be the head of the department, now they’re a senior creative, an ECD is kinda head but not really because now we have the CCOs. What next I ponder? And I also feel like my timing has been so shit, when I finally reach that elusive title that I think will see me running things, they invent another one.

Interesting point. 

When I was that aforementioned agency founder, my job title was ‘CD’, but I had friends at bigger agencies who were also CDs, despite doing a quite different job to mine. I had to deal with network relationships, P&Ls, shadow P&Ls, hiring, firing, raises, budgets, decisions about whether or not to take on an account etc. They just had to deal with the creative output of one account, and they had a boss of some sort to take any real responsibility off their hands if required.

But now the fragmentation of media means the ‘Big Agency CD’ job has changed. For a start it is now called ‘ECD’, but there are so many pieces of work in so many media to wrangle that one person can’t functionally be across everything. So you have to allow yourself to be subsumed into a team whose leader might not be readily apparent, and that can undermine any authority you might have thought you had. On top of that, there are no universal rules for how this happens, and personalities and agendas might shunt certain people forward, while others shrink back into the shadows.

So that ECD who wrote to me is right: she’s an old-fashioned ‘senior creative’ or ‘group head’, but the title of ECD – Executive Creative Director – sounds very important, and used to describe what is now the CCO (around 2002-2010 the CD title became ECD, before morphing to CCO, although in some agencies/countries the CCO is quite a different position to ECD, carrying more responsibility as a true member of the ‘C-Suite’). So the expectations for anyone in that position should be great, but again the reality depends on the agency and any arrangements that might change from account to account or project to project.

In one situation you might be the boss of bosses; in another, a cog in the machine. That’s quite a whiplash-inducing change, especially as it can happen several times in the same day, but that’s the 2023 reality, and nobody will be coming to sort it out.

In the freelance part of my career I’ve done every creative job, from copywriter to CCO, sometimes writing social lines; sometimes running and presenting major nationwide pitches. At the same time as I was covering those possibilities, I also founded an agency, wrote a blog, produced a series of podcasts, wrote a column for Creative Review and emptied the cat litter. 

To me it’s very much the current reality, and if that means occasionally biting my tongue while a less experienced CD rejects my suggestions on the way to a disastrous outcome, then so be it. It’s another skill to know when to push things and when to stand back, and that really only comes with experience. Sometimes people need to make their own mistakes because that’s the best way to learn.

It also helps to avoid being precious. If the ECD that wrote to me can gain anything useful from these circumstances it might be the understanding that losing a battle can help you win a war, and, as the old movie-making cliché goes, Nobody Knows Anything, so chasing a definitive ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is futile. Just try to help make things as good as they can be but wear your beliefs lightly.

That means that the question of ‘Am I a middleweight?’ might now apply to all of us. Depending on the circumstances the answer can be ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’, and that answer might only be valid for a single response in a single moment.

Greet all that uncertainty with a winning smile, and you’ll have a much better chance of staying sane.

Good luck!

Flying In The Face Of The Climate Crisis

Creatively speaking this campaign is excellent:

It does everything right. It’s insightful, original, memorable, able to support hundreds of executions in any media, and could continue for years.

That’s why I’d rather it didn’t exist.

The whole premise seems to be based on pointing out reasons to fly that go beyond the usual pair of business and leisure. There’s ‘It’s not you, London, it’s me’, ‘Head meet sand’, ‘Detox of the century’, ‘Tour de French cheese’ and hundreds of others.

The problem is, it’s 2023 and finding new reasons to take a flight that you might not otherwise have taken is very much Not A Good Thing.

This article explains why, but here’s just one paragraph to make things a little clearer:

A return flight from London to San Francisco emits around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per person – more than twice the emissions produced by a family car in a year, and about half of the average carbon footprint of someone living in Britain. Even a return flight from London to Berlin emits around 0.6 tonnes CO2e – three times the emissions saved from a year of recycling.

More flights means more fuel burned, which means more carbon in the atmosphere, which means a hotter planet, which means we are fucked, and the people who will be most fucked most immediately are the people in the poorer parts of the world, the ones who are least prepared to bear the brunt of a UK resident’s decision to Tour de French cheese.

Like I said, the campaign is brilliant, but the better it gets, the worse it will be for all of us, including everyone who works for BA and everyone who works for the agency.

We need to stop holding up this kind of work as something to aspire to and call it out for the damage it is going to cause to life on earth. If Cannes is going to award Lions for Sustainable Development Goals while also awarding a Grand Prix for this campaign, what’s the point of any of it?

We had many years of awards for cigarette advertising, then banned it. Perhaps we should now do the same for airlines, fossil fuel companies and anyone else whose financial success jeopardises our collective future.

(Sorry, Uncommon. I generally love everything you do, but when you’re this brilliant at mass communication you should think twice before creating something that will cause so much harm to so many of us.)

While I’m on the subject of the Climate Crisis, I also wrote the following on behalf of Green The Bid, an organisation co-founded by my wife.

They are committed to bringing sustainability to advertising production, and reducing flights to shoots is a big part of that.

If you’d like to see how you can help, read on…

I remember the first time I flew for a shoot. It was back in 1998, and for some strange reason we were going to recreate a someone in a deckchair on Brighton beach by heading to Miami. I’m not sure it made sense but I was not going to argue. As a junior creative on £12000 a year, any opportunity to take a free trip abroad felt like a minor lottery win.

We ended up getting upgraded, so it was also my first experience of business class. In those pre 9/11 days, Virgin Atlantic offered on-board massage, a spacious bar area and mini personal movie players. When we landed in Miami I was in no hurry to disembark.

So I get it. Flying can be fun. Maybe not always as fun as that first trip, but certainly a lot more fun than sitting at your desk for four hours then heading out into the rain for an underwhelming lunchtime sandwich.

In the following twenty years, I flew a lot for work, and was delighted to do so, even when the departure time was early and the destination was a day’s conference in Berlin. I think that’s because everyone’s early experience of flying always starts as a vacation, so it’s hard to deprogram those endorphin-loosening cues of pleasure and excitement: airports, passports, boarding, take off, your own food, drink and endless movies… When you’re a kid that seems like the most fun you can possibly have, and then it all leads to further fun at your destination: hotels and sunshine and no homework.

So when it happens in your working life, it’s hard to ignore all that, especially when you add free booze to the situation. Sure, you’re ‘working’, but you’re also staying in a hotel, meeting interesting people and being taken for free lunches and dinners in a foreign city. Traveling is generally considered to be one of the best experiences a person can have, but the one thing that makes it even better is having some faceless corporate sugar daddy pick up the entire tab while a producer organizes everything for you.

Yes indeed: flying is very, very good, but it’s also very, very bad.

Allow me to explain why…

Picture the scene: your script has been approved, bids are in, and production suggests you’re going to be shooting in Brazil (if you’re reading this from Brazil, picture Los Angeles instead). Do you:

  1. Wonder if you can buy Havaianas at the airport, look for that tube of SPF 30 and dream of your first in-flight margarita?
  2. Prep yourself for the to-ing and fro-ing with finance about whether or not you’ll be flying business or premium economy?
  3. Fret about the additional impact your script will now be having on the climate crisis?

I imagine 90% of you will choose some version of a), but that might be because you’re not aware that flying creates 60-90% of the emissions produced by the average advertising shoot.

So unless more people answer c), we’re going to continue doing a lot of harm, all while our minds are on casting, Cannes and yes, the occasional Cuba Libre.

‘But,’ you’re probably wondering, ‘what am I supposed to do about it? All I did was start my script with ‘Open on Ipanema at sunset…’ How can I be to blame?’ Well, joking aside, it does actually start with the locations you add to your ideas. 

Sure, you can find yourself shooting in a Prague studio because the labor rate is cheaper, or South Africa because it’s February and your commercial will appear in June, which means rainy London is out of the question. But actions have consequences, and the selection of a faraway destination over one that’s nearby might give you a chance to add to your air miles, but it will also add to the PPM of atmospheric carbon.

As this article explains, if air travel were a country it would be the sixth-biggest CO2 producer in the world, so when a casual ‘Ipanema’ on a script suddenly adds fifteen business class flights (creatives, CDs, clients, account people, production, assorted people who ‘have’ to go on what looks like it might be a quasi vacation etc.) to the planet’s emissions, it might be worth considering another destination.

And yes: I understand that life is hard and annoying, and a little business class trip to Brazil could really take the edge off some of those stresses. I also understand that this specific location might be critical to the success of your script, and that, after all, is your primary responsibility. Finally, I understand that your single excursion will only be 0.0000000003% of the final total of all global emissions, so what’s the big deal?

Let’s take those one by one: yes, life is difficult, and addressing the need to make it feel less so is something we do every day, in ways both big and small. But many of those ways fall in to the category of ‘short-term gain; long-term pain’, where the immediate pleasure creates a larger problem at some point in the future. And that’s exactly what any unnecessary air travel does. The carbon cost will be borne by everyone, long after the shoot has faded into a distant memory. Will it be worth it? That’s a subjective matter for your own conscience, but at least you can now approach that quandary from an informed position.

Then there’s the question of whether or not a flight (or fifteen) is necessary to make your commercial as good as it can be. Will the journey improve it enough to make it more effective? More impactful? More awarded? It might be impossible to know for sure, but maybe we can reframe it for you: if you agree the flights are problematic, where do you draw the line in adding something problematic to improve the commercial communication you are making on behalf of a corporation? Is promoting negative body imagery too much? What about causing depression in teenagers? Or increasing the power of a retail giant to crush a mom-and-pop competitor? Any of those might or might not be the result of your the script that comes out of your MacBook. So how far is ‘too far’ for you?

Last is the question of how much difference your flights will make in the grand old scheme of things. Well, it’s only a grand old scheme of things because it’s made up of millions and millions of smaller old schemes of things. Will setting your spot closer to home make much of a difference to the overall rise in the global temperature that will cause financial hardship, migration and death? No, but if we all think that way, the human race disappears. And besides, one action can inspire others. If you’re the only person deciding not to fly, you might feel a little exposed, but if others take your lead, and flying to shoots takes on the same stigma as, say, racism, your choice could make a real, significant, positive difference.

It’s an easy decision and very complicated one.

It could make a huge difference or a tiny one.

It’s could be a problem or an opportunity.

But the good news is that you’re an intelligent, committed person who is now armed with some useful facts. Maybe you can’t prevent this shoot, but if you bring it up this time, or talk to your CSR person, or your holding company’s CSR person, you might find that you start the ball rolling into all sorts of unexpected areas. (Pro tip: companies don’t like spending money. This is a great way to avoid spending money.)

So that’s your run-down of flights and flying and the climate and cash and your need for pleasure rubbing up against your responsibility to avert the heat-death of the world. 

I hope it hasn’t been too guilt-inducing.

If you want any advice, Green The Bid has spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking, writing and talking about this. It’s their thing, and they like nothing more than spreading the word to expand the effect. Get in touch at and find out all the fantastic ways in which we can make the advertising industry more sustainable.

Patience, patience.

I once read a story about John Hegarty, or rather one of his employees. This junior creative came to see John to ask for a raise. When John questioned why he was asking for more money so early in his career he replied that he wanted to be out of advertising within ten years. John’s response was to laugh and explain that it took him ten years to finally come up with his first good ad.

If it took a legend like John a decade to produce a decent piece of work, what hope do the rest of us have?

Well, no need to despair. Instead you should accept the amount of time it takes to become someone who can create work of quality, and understand that patience is not only a virtue, but also a necessary element of the process.

Sure, it’s possible to create something ‘great’ in the early years of your career, but the ad industry is littered with examples of people who needed quite a while to reach any kind of a peak.

Another Hegarty-adjacent story of patience can be found in his book, Hegarty on Creativity. In it he explains that Saatchi and Saatchi spent eight years being unsuccessful and unknown before finally reaching the formula which allowed them to launch into the stratosphere of the advertising world. And that was with Charles Saatchi at the helm, a proven creative genius.

Talking of proven creative geniuses and eight years, that was roughly the amount of time that elapsed between the inception of Doyle Dane Bernbach, and the iconic VW Lemon campaign that made its name. Yes, another creative genius took the best part of a decade to deliver a piece of work commensurate with his current reputation.

Back in the 70s, it took David Abbott around eight years, and a failed attempt at a start-up, to go from being the CD of DDB London to one of the founding partners of Abbott Mead Vickers. Of course he produced some very good work in that time, but he needed a particular set of circumstances, and several further years to progress to the status of legend.

As a keen reader of music biographies, I can also tell you that success did not simply fall into the laps of many of your idols. From the Beatles, to the Stones, to Stevie Wonder, to Quincy Jones, to David Bowie, each faced rejection, line-up changes, years in the wilderness and several false starts before becoming the Hall-of-Famers we know today.

I bring these stories to your attention for two reasons: the first is to allay any fears you might have about the speed of your progress or the success of your start-up. If the greats needed time to practice the age-old process of trial and error, chances are you will too. Creative brilliance is a marathon, not a sprint, so settle in for the long haul.

The second reason is to be aware of other people going through the same set of circumstances. If it takes time to be really good, that time is going to be spent being various shades of so-so. A team might skip their way to a Cannes Lion in their first couple of years then win nothing for the next five. That doesn’t necessarily mean the early award was a fluke, or that the wilderness years were a truer reflection of their talent. It means that experience is hard-won, and often arrives more quickly through failure than success.

You’re not born good or bad at creativity. You have to learn it to earn it, and it might take a while to arrive at the agency or boss that brings the best out of you. If your sense of humour doesn’t chime with that of the person assessing your work, you’re going to be treading water while he or she throws your scripts in the bin.

Sometimes an appropriate boss or agency arrives to meet your greatness, but sometimes it’s the circumstances. Perhaps the 1950s were not ready for Bill Bernbach, but the creative leap of the 1960s laid the welcome mat for his work. In retrospect, the grim 1970s didn’t feel quite in tune with the glossy, financially focussed Saatchi brothers, but when Thatcher ushered in the individualism of the 1980s, they fit that decade like a glove.

You might find yourself feeling as if the world of social media, programmatic and SEO isn’t for you, but if you hang on, you might find that AI creates a new context that is exactly what you need. Someone is going to make that breakthrough. It could be the team in the next office (or at the next open-plan desk), a kid entering the industry from a couple of unproductive years in video game design, or you.

So take heart from the wilderness years and wrong turns of the very best of our industry. If you want to go far, it’s going to take a while.