Archive for June, 2011

Stardate June 28th 2554*

Mind reading seems to be part of an account exec’s job description these days. So many of them seem know exactly what their clients want, and have an innate ability to double guess their reactions.

Except they don’t.

Most people have a hard time reading the minds of their partners, who they actually live with.

We learned this unpredictability in a rather dramatic way in the early days of dfgw, when we won Independent Television Commission as a client. The ITC were the official body to oversee (and vet) content on all commercial TV and TV advertising. ‘Censors’ in the old language.

The first thing they wanted us to promote was the ‘9pm watershed’, this being the time when more sensitive subject matter could be aired, on the assumption young kids weren’t watching.

So me and my partner Dave Waters came up with this idea of a young kid (8 or 9 yrs old) being seduced by a woman in her twenties, who was suggestively (!) undressing. We cut back and forth between the two, building up the tension. But the pay-off would be we pull out wide and see that it was clever editing and he was actually just watching her on telly. We naively thought it quite a provocative way to make the point.

The ITC were apoplectic. They were supposed to be seen as responsible. (The accompanying gag about them actually being responsible for the uproar if we ran it met with frozen smiles.)

They were too nice a bunch of people to actually say, “get the fuck out of our office and go and play on some railway tracks” but you could see that’s what their expressions said.

Undeterred, me and Dave argued with them for days that even the ITC needs to get noticed and remembered.

We’d have had more luck arguing with the electronic voice in their posh elevator.

Eventually we decided some drama queen behaviour was called for, so we, along with our MD and brilliant head suit Michael Finn, trudged around the corner to the ITC’s office, Dave carrying an A2 layout pad and some pens, me carrying a small typewriter (like I said this was early pre-laptop days, and we’d have looked even sillier storming in with a massive desktop computer), and Finn, like all the best suits, carrying nothing but an open mind.

They looked a little surprised, clearly not used to such prima donna antics inside their conservative establishment.

We sat down combatively across the table from them and said, right, we’re going to sort this out, here, now. Raised eyebrows all round but no one raised any objections, so we gave it one last shot, trying to write around their problems with the idea.

The outer brick walls of the building budged further. They were having none of it. The Boss said, “let me make it clear to you, we WILL NOT sanction any film that implies, infers, indicates, or any other ‘i’s for that matter, sex with a minor, even though it’s not.”

We’d reached a Mexican standoff (in Soho).

Then in a moment of pure anger and frustration, one of us said “well…what if we shot him then…?”

Complete silence as tumbleweeds rolled through the room (still in Soho).

The Boss sighed, shoulders sagged, and said “well, of course we can SHOOT him, that’s not a problem” as the rest of his side of the table came to life in agreement, wondering why we didn’t think of that in the first place.

So in front of them, I typed a script where the kid witnesses a brutal murder and then gets threatened and shot himself, Dave drew a quick storyboard and 30 minutes later we had a signed script to go into production. It also got into D&AD.

Who would’ve guessed that then?

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Stardate June 13th 2554*


Nearly every meeting I’ve ever been to about creative work has included a discussion about ‘branding’.

At some point during the many negotiations over ‘size of branding’ I realised we were actually having completely different discussions. Because the size or prominence of the logo has nothing to do with branding.


I learnt a lot in the ten years I worked for Dave Trott, but one of the very first things he ever taught me (and it defined a lot of the successful campaigns I’ve been involved with) was that branding is where your product is inextricably linked to the message – take the product name away and the line doesn’t work anymore. Or remove the product itself and the idea doesn’t work anymore. Could you replace your product with a competitor product for example?


He’d just done a campaign for an, apparently, unbreakable umbrella called Knirps.


Ker-what? Exactly.


He came up with a line “You can break a brolly but you can’t k-nacker a K-nirps” which I thought was bloody brilliant because suddenly I knew how to actually say the bloody name. (Bit of a barrier to purchase if you don’t even know how to say the name of the product, I’d say.)


Then we won the Toshiba tellys account. Another name problem. Back then, they were unheard of, and the few people that were aware of them would pronounce it “Tobisha” and say it was an inferior product to the well known Sony’s, JVC’s and Philips’s.


These weren’t bars of chocolate you’d try out on a whim, they were expensive kit, and the fact was, Toshiba was actually superior technology to the competitors, but at those prices no-one was buying something they’d never heard of.  In John Hegarty’s book he says “your brand is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world – it occupies a corner of someone’s mind.” And sure enough, people would go shopping with the aforementioned top-of-mind list and they were not buying Toshiba’s in droves.


Dave came to me and played this wacky novelty song by Alexei Sayle “Hello John, got a new motor” and was going to change it to “Allo Tosh, Gotta a Toshiba” and what did I think? I thought he was fucking nuts, but he was my boss so I was polite: “with all due respect, Sir…”. Actually, that’s not true, I was a cocky bastard so I said “nah Dave, don’t be daft – tosh means rubbish, everyone will call it a load of tosh”


He ignored me and went and did it anyway.


Blueprint Man + catchy re-record by Ian Dury + name pronunciation = shitloads of Toshiba tellies disappearing out the stores (and this was before the days when looting became a trendy pastime).


Abject lesson. Never forgotten.


At dfgw, we used the principle very successfully when we launched the unheard of and unpronounceable Daewoo Cars in the UK, with “…that’ll be the Daewoo”. The fact that it was the most successful car launch ever in the UK, and got 95% unprompted recall after three months (more than GM Vauxhall, the biggest spender at the time, got after many years) didn’t surprise us.


Branding’s become slightly more sophisticated since then. But only slightly.


So it’s refreshing when you get a client that doesn’t see the words ‘logo’ and ‘size’ in the same sentence. Last year, me and my team did a campaign for Cornetto for our clients Tommy Wattimena and Nicole Sparshott at Unilever. I promised them a campaign that could only be for Cornetto, that wouldn’t work if you removed the product, that couldn’t be done for another product. There were no discussions about size (well not to do with the logo anyway).

The campaign is built around the ritual of unwrapping the product (you may say the ‘pain of’ or the ‘irritation of’ but the fact is it’s the only way you can get to eat the thing).


It’s the most successful Cornetto campaign ever in Thailand.
People remember the campaign and they remember the product because you can’t take the product out of the campaign. THAT’S branding.
Pretty basic stuff. But this is advertising, and under all the bullshit and powerpoints, it’s a pretty basic business.


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