Just as I looked away, I saw a face behind you. A little boy stood at your door, and as I looked again I saw his face was shining. He had my eyes, he had the weekend.

Lovely British things that made me slightly miss Britain.

Oddly compelling GoPro wedding booze:

This is your soul legend on drugs:

And this is your Autotune ‘legend’ not on Autotune:

Paul Thomas Anderson 1 hr masterclass.

Writer of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 explains how to begin a story:

Funny Craigslist shiz (thanks, N).

Cats that look like pinup girls (thanks, J).

In-depth Christopher Nolan interview.

Screenwriters’ big breaks (thanks, J).

Isn’t it time for Movember?


Very excellent new Honda ad

Find it here.

Haven’t seen that before, and it’s really fun tapping R like an epileptic woodpecker.

Copy vid day 3: holding out for a hero.

‘The copywriters… I don’t know what they are or where they come from or what they do. It just doesn’t seem to be… Who are their heroes?’ – John Salmon.

‘I don’t think we have any modern day heroes, actually in craft.’ – one of the younger ladies.

‘We never got down to the nitty gritty of being taught the craft to a T.’ – Kat Hudson, junior copywriter.

‘In modern agencies I think there’s less and less time to actually coach and mentor people.’ – Tom Harman, ACD, TMW

That’s an interesting area.

I think it’d be great if there was more mentorship, but I also feel that the inclination for self-improvement really has to be there for that to work.

When I started at AMV I was definitely a writer. English was my best subject at school, I wrote in my spare time for ‘fun’, my parents and brother are/were professional writers… So when I got the AMV placement I also got The Copy Book (I was already mildly obsessed by D&AD) and read it again and again and again. By choice. Luckily for me, five of its authors worked in the agency (David Abbott, Tim Riley, Alfredo Marcantonio, Richard Foster and Tony Cox) along with several of the copywriters who were asked to contribute to the updated version (Mary Wear, Nigel Roberts, Malcolm Duffy, Peter Souter, Sean Doyle etc.) and others who were fucking good writers but have not contributed to that book (Victoria Fallon, Tony Malcolm, Nick Worthington, Jeremy Carr, Tony Strong – sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone).

Occasionally I had to write long copy ads, and if that was the case I’d read all of David Abbott’s old work, but then I’d also go around the offices of some of the above writers and ask them to help my make my writing less shit. It was somewhat embarrassing and uncomfortable, but it made me a better writer, so huge thanks to all who helped me.

Alas, those greats have now been scattered to the winds. If you’re lucky you might be able to find an agency (TBWA currently has Souter, Carr and Doyle) with a few of them, but otherwise their expertise is harder to come by, either because they’ve retired or because they’re freelancing from a nice big house in Norfolk, and that means the greatest, thickest links of the copywriting chain are now broken. So now all the aspiring copywriters of the next generations have to go and weep in a corner, watching through their fingers as the onset of shitty copywriting rivals the onset of climate change as the 21st Century’s most damaging development.

But fuck that right in the motherfucking ear…

If you really want to be great at copywriting there are loads of things you can do. Here’s just one suggestion: track those writers down and beg them to make you a fraction as good as they are. Write to them every single day. Stalk them like Peter Souter did with David Abbott. Pay them if you have to. Here’s another suggestion: read every single ad that has ever got into the Copy section of D&AD, then write them all out until the rhythms of great writing seep into your pores. I’m sure you can think of some more yourselves (hint: they involve the consumption of great writing followed by the production of a lot of writing of your own).

A wise man once said: you can have the thing you want or you can have your excuses.

Copywriters: day two

Some quotes that stood out for me:

‘There is hardly any writing in it, is there?’ – Tony Brignull on social media. Tony, Tony, Tony… That is simply and clearly untrue. Maybe you’ve never seen a Facebook page or a blog, or perhaps you’re just being wilfully obtuse. Either way, it doesn’t reflect well on your ability to contribute to this debate. Even if we don’t count blogs as ‘social media’ (Tony might have been referring only to Twitter and Facebook) the number of words cranked out is hardly an indication of the quality of the argument. In fact, I once heard a great copywriter explain that ‘a 48-sheet poster is a wonderful opportunity for a copywriter to use five or six words and one picture to tremendous effect.’ That writer was Tony Brignull in the video I posted yesterday. If you can have a great impact in five or six words, why not in 140 characters? Some Tweets get retweeted many thousands of times, and not just because they were written by Justin Bieber.

‘We have a youngster…who loves the craft, and he reads a lot,’ – Nicky Bullard, CD LIDA. I’m sure it was just a throwaway comment, but using ‘he reads a lot’ as a justification for the quality of a copywriter is the kind of thing that makes me laugh and cry. I laugh because everyone who aspires to any kind of professional writing career should read a lot. It’s the lowest bar of all, like saying a young guitarist ‘listens to lots of music’. I cry because we must be in some kind of society where reading a lot is unusual enough to be remarkable. Was it Mark Twain who said there’s no difference between being unable to read and being able to read but not doing it?

‘Copywriter is a bit of a misnomer now,’ Matt Longstaff, ACD at AKQA. He didn’t get a chance to explain that, but I’d like to suggest the ‘nomer’ is just fine. If we take copywriting merely as written communication on someone’s behalf (that doesn’t take into account scripts etc., but I’ll use that smaller definition to make my point), it now exists in many other media while retaining its original locations, none of which have become obsolete. The ‘Mavens’ then seemed to agree that a copywriter should be able to work in all disciplines (although Matt then made the excellent observation that ‘just because I can drive it doesn’t mean I can win the Formula One’. I’m not sure that was relevant to the versatility of a writer, but it’s a good lesson in general). This was countered by Mr. Brignull who pointed out that print writers aren’t always great at TV and vice versa. Tony is absolutely right, and has been proven so by the careers of many print creatives who ‘can’t do TV’, and TV creatives who can’t put together a 500-word argument in a press ad. So I wonder if the same is true of the new disciplines: can a great tweeter write a script for a branded video game? Would a blogger be able to manage the narrative of an experiential event? I think the ability to produce writing that is intended to be read should cross media, but other writing may be more specialised.

Let’s see if I can cobble any more nitpicking together for tomorrow.

There’s only one way to resolve the differences in opinion from these generations of copywriters… fight!

Wow, Howard Fletcher, John Salmon, Barbara Nokes, Tony Brignull…

So many of my copywriting heroes all in one room together (Elena’s L’Etoile was clearly the most appropriate venue for the copy titans of the 70s and 80s to meet).

Rather than write about their opinions, and those of the modern writers (no offence to them but I can’t quite use the word ‘equivalents’ here), I’m going to let you have a gander at that clip and let me know what, if anything, it brings up for you. Then I’m going to take the bits you and I found most interesting and drag them out into next few days of posts. So if you’re an AD, or a bit thick, just pop back on Friday for the weekend links.

Meanwhile, the copywriters amongst you might like to take this census. It’s the reason the little video was made, so shove your tuppence worth in the cyberslot and feel like you’ve just done something worthwhile or something utterly pointless – I have no idea what they intend to do with the results of the survey, so I don’t know if you should give it hours of consideration or just wipe your cyberarse with it.

The choice is yours!

PS: ‘Madmen v Mavens’? I appreciate the attempt at alliteration, but it’s a bit odd/poor that they’ve gone with something that’s somewhat tautological. The ‘Madmen’ are also ‘Mavens’; many would argue they have a more substantial claim to that word than the people in the Clapham gastropub, one of whom is a junior copywriter. I mean, if you’re going to stand for the promotion of excellence in the written word, write the right fucking words on your YouTube clip, FFS…

The search for gold

Is it possible for  every problem to have a brilliant solution?

I ask that question as someone who, either as a copywriter, CD or author, is presented with a regular supply of challenges, the answers to which are plucked from a bucket that’s basically infinite.

So if you are given a brief for 25% off carrots, in theory you might be able to come up with an ad that is so unbelievably witty, so life-alteringly persuasive, so game-changingly original that it makes every single person who reads it stop in their tracks and run as fast as they can to the nearest Aldi. 

In theory.

And it’s the same with every word or sentence you add to a novel: the possibility that you might surpass the greatness of Ulysses or Great Expectations is always on offer.

In theory.

Of course, we deal with limitations of talent and time, which makes the odds of the above happening very small. But the perpetual possibility is an interesting thing to deal with. If we go one more hour, one more day, one more week we might find the pot of gold.

Or not…

The work that’s on the table isn’t going to get worse, but will the search be worth it? And will the people involved in that search recognise the gold when they find it?

I think the impossibility of answering those questions is what keeps these tasks endlessly fascinating and endlessly frustrating: the gold might be out there, and the only way you can ever know is if you have a good hard look. Which might end in massive disappointment.

Everything you don’t use will lose its value tomorrow, consume too much today and you can always borrow. This paradigm’s the best one since the day of creation, get your gear and shape up this is the weekend.

David Bowie predicts the future:

The making of Full Metal Jacket:

Movies boiled down to 5-second pictograms (thanks, J).

Photos of Star Wars in real life (thanks, L).

12 very middle class things (thanks, S).

Coppola on filmmaking:

Fantastic advice on writing. More Milch here.

25 funny church signs.

Very weird self photos (thanks, A).

Brad Pitt and Louis CK between two ferns (thanks, D).

This is quite amazing: The Empire Strikes Back made by different fans (thanks, A).

cool promo

Let’s disagree to agree

When I was a junior copywriter I remember marvelling at how an ad ever got made. First the idea has to make it out of your own brain, then it has to be accepted by your creative partner, then the CD, then the client.

The one that I found a bit of struggle was the creative partner. Many times we agreed on what was a good solution to the brief, but disagreement happened often enough that I’d find it pretty frustrating. One way or another the CD and client are your bosses; what they say goes and after a few attempts at persuasion you have to accept what they say, but what about the person who sits across the desk from you? They’re usually at exactly the same level you are and yet they can still have the power of veto over your work.


If that happened you’d have to find another way. Sometimes we’d present both ideas to the CD and let him decide, other times I’m pretty sure I presented my idea round the side, either by showing the CD when my partner wasn’t around or slipping it into a review when the other work had been killed… ‘We did have this other idea about hot air balloons made of cheese…’ If either of those paths succeeded then my partner was often happy enough that we had an ad on the go to forgive my subterfuge; if they failed then it was never that big a deal. The partner would then feel somewhat vindicated and probably let it slide as a well-meaning throw of the dice.

But then it’s not the best way to work with someone you spent 8-10 hours a day with: ‘Hi, I didn’t really respect your creative opinion on that thing so I went behind your back in a way you could do nothing about. Now I get to say ‘I told you so’ and you kind of owe me. Or you now think I’m a bit of a sly prick.’

When I was at AMV Dave Dye told me what he and Sean Doyle would do under those circumstances. They would present neither of their preferred routes and instead come up with a third that they were both happy with. I was stunned to hear of this. That just doubled the workload AND it meant throwing out good ideas. Sacrilege! But it seemed to work for them, the super-talented, hard-working bastards.

On the occasions I was able to work on my own (freelancing, AD on holiday etc.) I felt a great sense of freedom that whatever decision I made would be the one that would be acted upon. Then again, I had no one to bat ideas off and I had nowhere to hide if the idea crashed and burned. Pros and cons…

How have you got past your disagreements? Have they been cataclysmic, or are you good-natured and polite about it? Do you feel like great solutions have remained unmade because you weren’t able to persuade your creative other half of their excellence?

I really don’t want to call this post ‘how to get ahead in advertising’, but that’s what it’s about.

I’ve just finished reading this excellent compendium of advice from current successful advertising people.

For the time-poor:

1. Trust your instincts in terms of which job to go for.

2. If you have the choice, work somewhere good for less money that somewhere shit for lots of cash. The money will follow the good work you’ll do at the good place.

3. Don’t let your title define you. Look for ways to contribute even if they’re above or below your pay grade.

4. Be open to experiences outside advertising in order to keep yourself fresh (and not fresh for your job necessarily; fresh for life as a functioning human being. None of them said that, but that’s my advice. The idea that everything you do has to have an ulterior motive of career success seems a bit empty and dark).

5. Be hungry, but feed that hunger. Don’t be timid.

6. Be ego-free: don’t judge ideas by how clever they make you look, but by how useful they could be for the audience, or how they will inspire your audience to feel.

7. ‘Stop jerking off spiders’ (I suggest you read the article to find out the meaning of that one).

8. Be really fucking nice to everyone.

9. And always be positive. I was in a meeting the other day where certain things started to look a bit difficult. I responded by saying: ‘the bigger the crisis the bigger the opportunity’, But the crucial thing is that I meant it, and it changed the mood. And it’s true. You can go through life solving tiny problems that don’t really matter, or you can take on something big that needs a shitload of work to make it happen. Which do you think will be most satisfying? Which will help you grow? Which will make sure you die happy?

I hope that helps.