Being poor seems like a right arse

I’m not poor and I never have been.

The closest I’ve come to the breadline were those times at school or university when my pocket money, or Prêt a Manger wages, couldn’t stretch to another comic or pint.

So I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never felt hunger that I couldn’t quell by choice; I’ve only received final demands because I wanted to go to the movies when the earlier bill came in; my kids have always been fed, clothed and allowed to experience all the books and toys they could wish for.

Lucky me.

But I’ve always had this nagging feeling that my circumstances have not quite been available for everyone else. Those less well-off than me seemed to fill up Camden High Street every Saturday afternoon, but I walked past them with only the slightest idea of who they might be or why their trainers didn’t have a logo on the side. Yes, I regularly give £20/$20 notes to the homeless (my version of trickle down economics), but I’ve never really considered how they got there, or how difficult they might find it to change their situation.

Which is why I felt privileged to read this article. It’s a fantastic piece, written by a lady who has experienced the numbing, debilitating grip of everyday poverty. She’s not complaining; she’s just laying out the realities of how and why she, and millions like her, live the way they live.

Coincidentally it turned up in my Twitter feed around the same time as this:

Now, I’m not saying we should react as Russell Brand does, but if you’d like a perspective into the way many people regard the poor in western society, watch the Fox News parts of that clip.

Where am I heading with this post? Down a cul-de-sac, really; I don’t know what to do to really help, especially when the ever-expanding range of problems currently faced by society is paralysingly colossal. But I just thought I’d put this stuff out there. Maybe you have a solution that you could share with us, or maybe you’ll feel a bit more generous next time you walk past or talk about a person who is not as well-off as you are.

Meanwhile, come on the guy who waits by the traffic light at Laurel Canyon Blvd; I have a $20 bill just for you.

Probably the best advertising memo ever written

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(Via Shaheed @ The Creative Floor.)

I’ll just add that when I arrived at AMV in 1998 it was still one team one brief (in contrast to my previous agency, Y&R, where it was as David describes above). I was amazed and delighted for all those reasons.

It worked very well until it changed.

Fucking brilliant

Quirky ad reminds me of the quirky ads from around 2002 -in a good way.

On paper vs on the air

I f you’re an advertising creative (or a scriptwriter of some sort), you will at some point have to produce an ‘idea’ on a piece of a paper, which is then intended to convince lots of clever people that it would be a good TV ad.

So far so obvious, but the process of how a ‘good’ script becomes a good or bad ad, or how a so-so script can become something great is rarely discussed.

I’m aware of a script that said as little as ‘People rub themselves in Levi’s jeans’ that was not only approved all the way up the chain at BBH, but was also taken on by Frank Budgen and shot (here’s the result). I don’t think that script made a classic Levi’s ad, despite the fact that it was Fred and Farid + BBH + Levi’s (when they made excellent ads) + Frank in his prime. But was it a good script? Was the massive free rein the right thing to do? Or was it actually a bit crap and lazy, resulting in an ad to which you could apply similar adjectives?

I heard recently that the same thing happened for a classic Orange ad in its early WCRS days: ‘Just shoot some kites’. I seem to remember that a VO went alongside that, elevating it from the dullness of 60 seconds of nicely-shot kites, but maybe that was a good brief to give a ‘visual’ director. Plenty of ads have no real narrative, so why pretend to have one when you don’t?

Then again, what about great scripts that have produced poor ads? They’re harder to come by, obviously, but I’ve definitely heard the phrase ‘every director in town is after this one’, or ‘Frank’s pitching against Danny’, only to see a rather underwhelming 60 seconds at the end of the process.

Of course, many things can go wrong (or not right) during the process, leaving your ad without the great track, cast member or editor who might otherwise have sprinkled the requisite fairy dust over the production. And the opposite can happen, with a brilliantly chosen bed of sound design or series of beautifully-lit shots elevating something that would otherwise have been humdrum. But at the end of the day you have to fill a sheet of A4 with the right words to get your ECD interested, the client to put his hand in his pocket and the production bods excited enough to take it on and bring their A game. Without that you don’t even get the chance to beef it up/fuck it up with the later decisions.

So have you been surprised by your own B- script turning into an A+ ad? Or vice versa? Have you seen the shiteness of others become miraculously brilliant because you weren’t able to see the hidden diamond that only a great ECD or director could spot? Have you watched an ad on TV, considered the script it must have come from, and thought ‘how the fuck did that ever get made’?

Open on a slightly bored creative, scratching his head…

We left you in pastures rarely seen (holding out the fortress for a while). Everyone knew why the calm had been (keeping friends among you saves a fight). In the dead of the night there was the weekend.

What it’s really like casting Bill Murray (thanks, J).

Best screenwriting blogs (thanks, J).

And the best screenwriting books (thanks, J).

More great books (thanks, M).

Upside-down portraits that look like aliens (thanks, A).

Kanye orchestrates:

Stephen King interview.

YOLO 2 (thanks, J):

Film data (thanks, J).

The homeless Casanova (thanks, J):

Watch this guy race a tube train (thanks, J):

So much great North By Northwest stuff.

Rush Hour (thanks, J):

Nerd raps in the hood (thanks, J):

Improve your Netflix queue (thanks, J).

Art we can all appreciate (thanks, Y).

An app that fills a hole in the quantified self (thanks, H/M).


Genetics, and what they mean for compassion, capitalism and a shitload of other very interesting stuff.

Start-Up article is packed with top advice

I have a confession to make: I often link to articles and films that I have either not read/seen fully or (OMG) that I haven’t actually bothered experiencing at all. 

But they sound good from the title, or they’ve been recommended by someone I trust, so what the hey.

So, in that context, I bring you an article I read from beginning to end.

It’s about creating a start up, but I think it’s full of great advice about creating anything:

“If you can just avoid dying, you get rich. That sounds like a joke, but it’s actually a pretty good description of what happens in a typical startup.”

“When startups die, the official cause of death is always either running out of money or a critical founder bailing. Often the two occur simultaneously. But I think the underlying cause is usually that they’ve become demoralized.”

“If you know it’s going to feel terrible sometimes, then when it feels terrible you won’t think “ouch, this feels terrible, I give up.”

“I like Paul Buchheit’s suggestion of trying to make something that at least someone really loves. As long as you’ve made something that a few users are ecstatic about, you’re on the right track. It will be good for your morale to have even a handful of users who really love you, and startups run on morale.”

“Let me mention some things not to do. The number one thing not to do is other things. If you find yourself saying a sentence that ends with “but we’re going to keep working on the startup,” you are in big trouble. Bob’s going to grad school, but we’re going to keep working on the startup. We’re moving back to Minnesota, but we’re going to keep working on the startup. We’re taking on some consulting projects, but we’re going to keep working on the startup. You may as well just translate these to “we’re giving up on the startup, but we’re not willing to admit that to ourselves,” because that’s what it means most of the time. A startup is so hard that working on it can’t be preceded by “but.””

“One of the most interesting things we’ve discovered from working on Y Combinator is that founders are more motivated by the fear of looking bad than by the hope of getting millions of dollars. So if you want to get millions of dollars, put yourself in a position where failure will be public and humiliating.”

“So I’ll tell you now: bad shit is coming. It always is in a startup. The odds of getting from launch to liquidity without some kind of disaster happening are one in a thousand. So don’t get demoralized. When the disaster strikes, just say to yourself, ok, this was what Paul was talking about. What did he say to do? Oh, yeah. Don’t give up.”

Now I’ve read it twice.

Glazer + Canon


Looks great.

Otherwise, not sure.

So there’s something pretty cool and photogenic that happens in Florence that you might not be aware of. If you like to see interesting things and photograph them, pop over to this gladiator football thing and snap away.


I just don’t quite feel the thrill that would get me booking a plane to Florence or buying a Canon camera (can I be the annoying wanker who asks why I can’t record this event on a Nikon or an iPhone?). I understand that immediate purchase is probably an ask too far, but it’s that thrill – the visceral, tangible, shareable excitement – that I’m not getting here.

Maybe it’s the music. I don’t think The Flight of the Bumblebee Sabre Dance elevates what I’m seeing. I guess it needed a lighthearted counterpoint to all the brutal violence, but I wonder if it made it too thin. I wonder what would have happened if a more stirring piece (like the track from Guinness Surfer for a lazy example) had been laid beneath something that really got me going. The visual material is there, it’s just that tonally it’s a bit like the next Sony ‘Colour Like No Other’ ad (with a more subdued grade).

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety…

How old do you have to be to write an ad? Or be a CD? Or start your own agency?

When I was at Watford the average age of people on the course was 24. Nearly all were post-grads, but some had tried an alternative career and found it not to their liking. That meant that we had sufficient experience of ‘life’ to have a go at briefs and hopefully answer them with a simple human truth. Could an 18-year-old have done that? Probably, but I think they might have found it harder or hit the bullseye less often.

I think the industry shows us that, like many skills, a person’s ability to create ads increases along with the number of times they have to do it. You get to a point where you know what to do, what not to do, what’s been done and what constitutes ‘good’, and when you combine all those it’s bound to trump naivety more often than not.

In the middle of writing this post I started reading this interview with David Cronenberg. He touches on the increase of ability that comes with age:

“You have power and potency at this age. There’s the mythology of age, the bearded elder, the wise old man. In some cultures advanced age is very much revered, the Chinese culture, Confucius and so on: you are supposed to gain in wisdom and experience and therefore be quite a valuable member of society who should be honoured and listened to.

“I can say that the novel I wrote now, I really expected to have written when I was 21 instead of 71, but it couldn’t have been the same novel and I doubt that it would have been as good.”

Reading the above, you might then wonder why you see so few older people in advertising agencies. Well, it’s an industry built on a misguided neophilia, as well as a tightfistedness that lets go of some of its better practitioners because they have risen to a position where their salary is high enough to be questioned, no matter what their contribution.

And what do we lose because of that? Those of you who read the wisdom of Jeremy BullmoreThe Ad Contrarian or Dave Trott will appreciate just how much the less young have to offer. How many others are out there could contribute to the strength of the industry in a similar way?

We’ll never know because those two kids who have just graduated from St Martins know who Deadmau5 is and will only cost £20k each.