Have the doors of perception been gently but firmly closed?

I was reading an interview with Damon Albarn the other day where he mentioned the extent to which heroin improved his creative output:

‘For me it was incredibly creative. It freed me up. If you’re talking about an odyssey, that was definitely an odyssey… I can only say (heroin) was incredibly productive for me. Hand on heart.’

Then I read an interview with Jeremy Thomas, Oscar-winning producer of The Last Emperor, Sexy Beast and The Naked Lunch. He lamented the change in the way films were made because it used to be de rigeur to provide beer at the end of a day’s shooting, whereas this was now very much frowned upon:

‘I’m not condoning drunkenness. I’m just saying that that part of the creative process is no longer there… There are many constraints on (freedom and creativity) now and my best films were made in an era of wildness.’

This left me wondering what we might now be missing that could be enhancing creativity. The possibly apocryphal stories of yesteryear agency boozing and drugging are legion, and only a myopic prick would try to argue that the work wasn’t commensurately gargantuan in quality. So did the booze and biftas bring on the brilliance, or was it somewhat coincidental?

It’s easy to see a connection between the looseness of mind that comes with inebriation and the random leaps and collisions that bring on the most original ideas. However much the sensible part of my brain would like to dismiss the relationship, the part that’s now two large glasses of delicious Summerland Chardonnay to the good/bad can only see a brick-hard logic in suggesting that one can certainly lead to the other, after all, the work of Hemingway, Huxley and Lennon does seem pretty persuasive here. But does more drinking bring on more creativity? Harder to argue, and besides, one then has to deal with the attendant problems a greater ingestion of alcohol often creates. In addition, we have those pesky tee-totallers, Carty and Campbell and their peerless creative output, proving that A doesn’t necessarily lead to B.

Of course, many other factors have repressed advertising creativity over the years, but I do recall a suggestion from the aforementioned Walter Campbell, who told me years ago that he sometimes liked to come to work at 2am because the mind worked in a completely different way at that time of night (I once tried this theory out and discovered that he was right, but then I was too knackered to continue the experiment and unlike Walt I couldn’t just fail to turn up to work during daylight hours in the service of a thought experiment). So the altering of the brain’s conventional workings, whether conventionally, illegally, or otherwise, has been consistently proven to bring on the good stuff that makes the great stuff.

But how do your own experiences bear this theory out? Does Courvoisier equal Cannes Lions? Can a bit of ketamine bring you a Kinsale Shark? Or is a messy mind entirely unrelated to the creative process?

Answers on a forthright caramel tree house.

I just got your message baby, so sad to see you fade away. What in the world is this feeling, catch a breath and leave me reeling? It’ll get you in the end, its the weekend.

Animals stuck in odd places but don’t seem to mind (thanks, J).

The human condition, perfectly captured in photos (thanks, J).

Romantic pictures from Russian dating sites (thanks, L).

The world as 100 people.

Cool optical illusion (thanks, D):

The futility of existence (thanks, J):

How to contemporary dance (thanks, B):

Chop tomatoes easily (thanks, B):

The best muso insults (thanks, T).

If classic footballers made albums (thanks, T).


Are you a basic bitch?

35 most amazing restaurant views (thanks, T).

Nietzsche writes Upworthy headlines (thanks, T).

London: The Modern Babylon

I saw a truly great documentary last year:

It’s an incredible journey through the life of London from the time of the earliest film footage to the present day. No voiceover; just the people on camera and a lot of great music.

I kept bringing it up with friends and family, and discovered that those who had seen it loved it just as much as I did.

Then I started buying copies on DVD and sending them to anyone who hadn’t seen it.

And now, dear reader, I bring it to your attention.

Buy it now and watch it twice.

A Time of waste

When I was watching the Droga/Henry/Hegarty/Trott talk last week I was struck by an unsettling notion. It was during Dave Trott’s section where he said that it takes a lot of work to be brave, and if you don’t think (your work) is going to run, oftentimes you can’t be bothered. He then mentioned this mug:



Which got me thinking: how many jobs are there where the vast majority of your output is destined for the dustbin? And what are the consequences of that?

In the early part of my career I worked at an agency where several teams were put on each brief, so you knew that unless you won the client’s favour (often by doing the work that was easiest to buy rather than the work that was most original/different/exciting) your efforts would be for nothing (I explored this somewhat in last Monday’s post). Then I moved to another agency (AMV BBDO), where it was pretty much one brief, one team, so it was far more likely your work would run, partly because of the lack of competition and partly because, in those early days, the work was almost always sold first time. God, it was great working like that.

Then as more clients required more work the lottery re-emerged and the cannon fodder system gradually took over.

But what does that do to the working mentality of the ad creative? I think that in the beginning you accept that the odds are against you, particularly on a big brief where you might be up against a senior team who know how to play the game a bit more and might get their work closer to the front of the queue by fair means or foul. Then you get to the middle point of your career, where you accept as normal the fact that your work is likely to die, leaving you with a thicker skin and a greater capacity to roll with the punches. Then you might get into the senior ‘know how to play the game’ position, where your work could well be better, but you might also be able to position it in such a way that it’s more likely to be what the client chooses. But equally you could well be a bit jaded by that stage, with a couple of decades of crapshoots weighing down your poor, delicate soul.

18 years in I definitely find myself to be more sanguine about the longer odds of getting work made (partly because I’m a CD, so the work tends not to be ‘mine’, although I certainly invest myself greatly in the hoped-for success of anything I approve), but having Mr. Trott put it so bluntly does make me wonder if the effects of the expendable reality are more substantial and insidious than I realised.

Doesn’t it seem to make sense that you will put less effort into something you think has a greater chance of dying? Isn’t that just human nature? Whether you’re aware of it or not, isn’t there a likelihood that you’ll ease off the throttle just a little bit? Go to the pub just a little earlier? Live through some version of the message on the mug?

Then again, as Kate Moss so perceptively put it, that’s the job. The screenwriting book I read a couple of weeks ago was bursting at the seams with similar tales of burning the midnight oil in the production of thousands of bons mots, only for them to be read by no more than five people before dying in a slush pile somewhere. They are playing far worse odds than advertising creatives, with thousands of scripts vying to be one of the hundred or so that get made each year. They also go though the same seemingly arbitrary changes of heart that kill a piece of work they were sure was going to win that Oscar, but for them the hopes are higher, as are the stakes. On any produced film there will have been many different and discarded versions of the script that finally got made, each one 100 pages of crushed dreams. If we think we’ve got it bad, there are worse situations out there.

The same goes for novelists. How many millions of words sit rejected and unread in the trash cans of callous and tasteless agents and publishers? And musicians, with their hours of hopeful demos cast aside by unfeeling record company philistines. Lord knows how many unwanted works of art sit unseen and unloved in studios across the world.

But, y’know, you can let it get to you, or you can listen to Young MC, get back on that layout pad and tell yourself that tomorrow is indeed another day:

My love, tell me what it’s all about. You’ve go something that I can’t live without. Happiness is so hard to find. Hey baby, tell me what is the weekend.

Really compelling and impressive drawing of a city (thanks, D):

And, as a companion piece, the growth of LA:

The alphabet sandwich (thanks, J).

Profanity in rap, analysed (thanks, A).

Under Pressure, just the vocals (thanks, T):

Strangely satisfying footage of a man painting a road sign (thanks, J):

Behind the scenes of 2001 (thanks, R).

101 kick-ass music magazine covers (thanks, M).

And more great magazine covers (thanks, V).

Excellent film reviews (thanks, T).

The technical reasons behind the success of Get Lucky (thanks, T).

Great infographic (thanks, D).

The strangely compelling Jeans and Sheux (thanks, C).

Supercut full of spoilers (YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED):

Awful haircuts (thanks, J):

33 amazing places to visit.

Have hours of surreal fun with Baseball Card Vandals (thanks, J).

The brilliant rear sides of famous album covers (thanks, M).

How a Michael Jackson CD is made:

Man, how does lurpak keep making the same ad so differently and beautifully?

Dir: Dougal Wilson.

Ad: fucking brilliant. As usual.

Listen to Droga, Trott, Hegarty and Henry chat about bravery in advertising

On this link.

And as a special bonus, here is the very lovely Bob Hoffman, AKA The Ad Contrarian, on The Golden Age Of Bullshit:


Fuck the poor

Interesting angle.

Reminds me of Die Hard 3:

Let’s base more ads on parts of the Die Hard films.

Ah, this is how a public service print campaign should be done

Fine art direction, excellent writing and a clear message:









(Interest declared: I’m friends with most of the people involved in this. Nice one, Paul, Antonia, Peter and Jeremy – and the other people involved that I have yet to meet.)

The target beyond the target

I was sent this the other day:

Despite it being a bit of entertainment whose attachment to an artificially sweetened soft drink is tangential at best, I find something about it very interesting (and I’m not talking about the obviously set up reactions from members of the ‘public’): it appears to me that this would have cost a fair bit of cash to put on – far more than you could justify for the number of people who would sit at that bus stop. So for it to make financial sense it must have an intended audience beyond the few hundred passers-by. I guess we don’t have to look far to work out that its real audience is the 5.5m+ (so far) who have viewed it online, in which case it doesn’t matter how contrived the ‘public’ viewing is; the point wasn’t to make a fun bus stop; the point was to make a viral YT clip.

Having one ostensible intention that disguises another is neither new nor uncommon. How many people would have passed this car and understood its message?


Few, I would imagine. But the further PR about a VW with free air conditioning would have multiplied the possible audience many times over.

So far, so elementary.

But this practice is by no means limited to ambient media stunts.

For example, lots of ads are often presented to the client to demonstrate how much work the agency is willing to do on its behalf. The agency may not be very keen to make them, or think they are the best solution, but they make up a big wadge of paper that shows the client some measurable love.

Such work can also be used to ‘run interference’ (this is an American football term that basically means to distract attention so that something else can have an easier path to success). If the client is shown three campaigns then they feel they have been given a fair choice, but also that they ought to buy one of the three, otherwise they’ll look thick/indecisive. This gets a campaign bought earlier in the process and if that process is skilfully played, the sacrificial lambs will be the ones the agency didn’t want to make anyway.

I’m not saying that these methods are always used, or always intended, but they’re often sitting there in the background and can come into play depending on the nature of the client or how the meeting is going. The days in which the agency would confidently offer only one solution to a brief are generally behind us. There’s also the truth that you make money if you sell a campaign first time, break even if you sell it second time and lose money after that, so you want to increase your odds of first time success, and if that means work becomes cannon fodder, well, that’s life. Every team knows that if its work is one of three campaigns going to client, two will die. However, they’re all probably thinking ‘may the best ads win’, and in many instances, they’re right; it’s very hard to predict a client’s reaction with complete accuracy, so they might well choose the supposedly sacrificial campaigns, which then go on to be made into good ads. But sometimes work makes up the numbers and that purpose can be just as valuable as the creation of the winner.

So a creative’s job may not always be what he or she thinks it is. But knowing the secondary purposes can lead to other interesting situations. Take this ad for example:

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 14.42.28I remember laughing pretty hard when I first saw that, and like many CDs, the first place I saw it was the 2002 D&AD annual. So it went beyond the judging panel and into the permanent book collections of thousands of people who would be impressed by it. Brilliant.

This could take us on to the thorny subject of scam ads. People get very indignant about the ads for highlighter pens and nose hair clippers that litter the press sections of Cannes and D&AD, but what is the intended result? For the teams, CDs and possibly even the clients, an appearance in an award book could be a very cost effective way of spreading a message about the abilities of those teams and CDs, and the benefits of working on that client for any award-hungry creative.

When Daryl and I started Lunar BBDO we did some ads that were intended to get us noticed, to give us legitimacy and attract publicity and good staff. Of course we went through the proper processes with the clients, but we knew there could be a target beyond the target: more fame and exposure than the media budget would allow.

The same thing happens on pitches: the point is not always to do the most groundbreaking creative work possible just to show how darn brilliant you really are. That might scare a new client off, so you might instead choose to present something a little safer then stretch the boundaries once you win the business. So an opportunity to show your mad skillz is actually just an opportunity to coax a client into a more receptive position further down the line.

Do you always hire the very best creative team available? Yes, but the definition of ‘best’ may take into account those who can do that ‘safer’, pitch-winning work. The Pencil-winning superstars might seem the clear choice on paper, but if you want to win the business so that you can have accounts that other teams can do great work on you might want something more MOR; the target beyond the target.

So when you’re doing what you think you’re doing, think again.

You may be doing something else entirely.