Posts Tagged ‘Dave Trott’

It’s not very often I get to give advice to Dave Trott.


The great man taught me pretty much everything I know about advertising (yet only a fraction of what he knows).


He was surprised to hear me say that his way of thinking is more critical to the advertising industry now, in the digitally obsessed world, than it ever was.


Sure, things have changed.


But the basic premise of advertising has not.


The single most important thing: You have to get noticed.


If you don’t, everything is irrelevant, and a waste of money.


We’ve been immersed in digital and social media for over a decade now, and agencies have invested in a lot of digitally savvy individuals, many of who are not people savvy.


They get how tech works; they just don’t get how people work.


So the terminology has changed.


Apparently old-style is ‘interruption’ and new-style is ‘engagement’.




Everything we do is interruption. Everything.


I’m scrolling through my facebook feed and your ad interrupts me: Fuck off.


I’m scrolling through my instagram feed and your ad interrupts me: Fuck off.


I’m scrolling through my tumblr feed and your ad interrupts me: Fuck off.


I’m about to watch a video on youtube and your ad interrupts me: Fuck oh…wait a minute, this looks interesting, I’ll check it out, and maybe even put you on my mental shopping list.


Make no mistake, we are ALWAYS interrupting people.


Point is, we can interrupt people annoyingly, or we can interrupt people pleasantly.


Same as we always did.


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I was chatting with my mentor, Dave Trott the other day.

It’s always an enjoyable refresher course in many things.

In June 1980, he opened Gold Greenlees Trott.

Very shortly afterwards, I was fortunate enough to be the first creative bod Trotty hired (it was a serendipitous event but that’s a story in itself).

I worked for him until late 1989.

He taught me pretty much everything I know about advertising.

But only a fraction of what he knows.

However, he also taught me about many other things.

If you read his brilliant blog or equally brilliant books, you can’t fault his unerring logic and common sense.

They relate to advertising, for sure, but they’re lessons in life, ways of being.

I soaked all this up for almost ten years.

But he was never my boss.

He reminded me of that the other day – “I wasn’t a boss, I was a coach, that’s why it worked for you. I didn’t make you do anything, just showed you how to do what you wanted to do – the rest was all you.”

A big distinction, and I’ve experienced ‘bosses’ subsequently.

They boss people around, tell them what to do and what not to do, bollock them if they do something wrong (and are usually stingy with praise if they do something right).

Trotty never did that.

He didn’t FORCE any of us to do ANYTHING.

Instead he hired people who wanted to do what he wanted, and showed them the way.

If anyone, for a second, doubts the validity of that management style, the GGT he created went on to be voted by USA’s Ad Age magazine as ‘The Most Creative Agency In The World’.

I’m incredibly proud and blessed to have played a part in that, and it’s a lesson I’ve tried to live by as a manager of people.

It sure beats trying to bully people into doing things they simply don’t want to.

So maybe the expression shouldn’t be “Like A Boss”.

But “Like A Coach”. (more…)

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Stardate November 15th 2554



Most creatives have spent hours, days, months even, looking through D&AD, One Show and American Art Directors annuals.

Seeing a brilliant idea can be incredibly inspiring.

But way back at GGT there was one book we used to pore over more than any other: The Art Of Advertising by George Lois.

It’s a big hardback mutha, bigger than an LP cover (those things that pre-dated CDs, you know, those things that pre-dated downloads) and about 2 inches thick. I just managed to get a copy from an Amazon reseller – it’s been out of print for years – but they’re not cheap at around 160 USD. Absolutely worth every cent though, because Lois did some truly groundbreaking stuff that any current creative genius would be proud of.

Before I’m accused of backward looking, check out the example here. The ad itself is no great shakes, but fuck, what a brilliant IDEA the entire concept is – read the description – every bit as good, and relevant as anything, anywhere out there now. The media is irrelevant; it could quite easily be promoted on social network sites.


Could your agency sell this idea?

I can envisage many excuses why it shouldn’t be done. But the only thing that truly matters is the result, surely?
It got me thinking, because I was chatting with an art director friend the other day and he was saying how he couldn’t be bothered to try anymore because, well, the big agency he works at couldn’t sell anything decent anyway, they just do what the clients tell them.

The culture of ‘collaboration’ has allowed everyone to have an ‘input’, so junior suits and planners would be changing the ideas. By the time it reached the client it was barely recognizable as the idea he started with. And then various ranks of clients have input. This is why, he was saying, so many creatives (in Asia especially) resort to scam.

The truth is, a lot of Lois’ genius was being able to sell some of his ideas. Even almost 50 years later (yes, 50 years, for those who think advertising has progressed) some would still be seen as too challenging for a lot of today’s networks.

And there’s that overused sound byte “there’s no such thing as a bad client”. Er…of course there is. Just as there are bad bank managers, bad taxi drivers, bad manufacturers, bad politicians and yes, even bad creatives. This is a myth perpetuated by some agency managers to whip creatives and cover up the fact that THEIR AGENCY IS INCAPABLE OF GETTING GREAT WORK MADE.

It’s about honesty.

Clients on agency rosters serve different purposes.

Some are there because they do great work but pay little money (sometimes none).

Some are there because they do poor work but pay LOTS of money (and therefore keep the agency doors open)

And best of all, some are there because they do great work and pay lots of money.

I remember Dave Trott once complaining to Mike Greenlees that a particular (high paying) client wouldn’t buy any good work, and in the words of Dave, was “also a cunt”. Mike replied “yes Dave, but he’s OUR cunt.” Dave understood and the client kept his place on the roster and GGT produced genius work for other clients. GGT were honest enough to realize that particular client was vitally important to the agency, but not for great work, so they didn’t kid themselves or anyone else.

Most creatives come up with good ideas at one time or another, maybe not as good as Lois, but certainly better than the general dire output the public gets subjected to.

Sadly, very few agencies are actually run by creative people anymore (it’s no coincidence that the ones that are, are doing the best work btw). So the first scapegoat when there’s a problem is the creative guy or gal.

It’s worth remembering one thing that hasn’t changed about our business – for all the meetings and powerpoints, the only thing that really matters is the end product, what people actually get to see.

And given that we’re unlikely to change the culture of collaboration, it’s only right that the business partners take an equal stake in the successes and failures.

Because no matter how great an idea is, it isn’t a great idea until it actually runs.

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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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