It all goes down the same hole

I remember a rum do a few years back when Pepsi put its account up for pitch.

The incumbent was BBDO, who had done Pepsi’s advertising since the year dot, so this was a big deal: one of the biggest, deepest relationships in advertising in danger of coming to a conclusion.

In the end it came down to a shoot out between BBDO and TBWA, which was eventually won by TBWA. Jaws dropped, tears were shed and hands were wrung; the shockwaves were felt across the US advertising community.

Except for one man’s office.

I don’t know exactly what happened when John Wren read the news, but I have a feeling he stifled a yawn, scrolled down to the next email and asked his PA to book somewhere nice for lunch. For those of you that don’t know, John Wren is the head of Omnicom, the holding company that owns such agency networks as DDB, BBDO and, yes, TBWA.

So when that massive account left BBDO for TBWA, it made little difference to Omnicom’s bottom line. The cash continued to flow in from Pepsico, through an ad agency and into the coffers of Omnicom. I guess it made a happy difference to the good people of TBWA who could celebrate a massive account win, award bonuses and point to a capacious bottom line. And I suppose it would have made an unhappy difference to the poor chaps at BBDO, who had to explain away the loss, maybe lay a few people off and promise to do better for Omnicom in the next quarter (possibly overcompensating for the reduction in income by winning an even bigger account, just to show that this setback was not going to be a substantial one). But John would have remained just dandy.

For a quick and easy demonstration of how this works, examine the following image:



Those the vats are, for example, BBDO, TBWA and DDB, and the beer is flowing in reverse up to John Wren’s office.

Now that, my friends, is how to run a company (if you want to make a ton of cash).

The grit in the oyster

I was having a chat with a friend last week. We’ve both written novels and he was explaining to me that he feels the biggest impetus to write when he’s pissed off with his job. He looks at how much he’s making and what he has to do with his day and says, ‘Fuck this, I’m going to do something else with my life. But if I want to do that I’m going to have to get writing’.

I replied that I did the same (kind of). At first it was not conscious, but at the time I started writing novels I hated coming to work, genuinely dreading it and getting into a right old state on the walk in. So for me it was a kind of escape route, every thousand words another dig of the shovel as I tunnelled to freedom. Later I wasn’t so unhappy, but there were times when the briefs were fewer and further between, and rather than do the proactive stuff that might land me a Creative Circle Bronze, I chose to get on with a kind of creativity that felt more fulfilling. Was that the right decision? Maybe. Of course, you can spend every waking hour devoted either to the briefs you’ve been given or others that you’ve made up yourself, but you’re under no obligation to spend every minute of every day on your day job; a few hours on other creative pursuits would surely be just as good to get the juices flowing when it comes time to do the ads.

Anyway, I’m kind of getting off the subject.

For a huge number of successful people, the pursuit of that success is an attempt to fill a hole of unhappiness. Did Daddy miss your school play? Did Louise Blenkinsop dump you and go out with your best mate? Are you going to show those fuckers who’s boss? Of course you are! But is it going to make you happy? Nope. Andre Agassi famously hated tennis, and was quite keen on crystal meth. Did eight Grand Slams cheer him up? Of course not, but the extent to which he hated his father made him a winner. And I’ve just finished the autobiographies of Rob Delaney and Sarah Silverman. Both were bed-wetting depressives. Is that partly why they’re successful comedians?

A CD of my acquaintance was asked what drove him to produce his extra-curricular writings. He said that ultimately it was the desire to get laid, suggesting that the extent to which he otherwise got laid was not enough. He had achieved so much, and yet the hole continued to drive him Pardon the pun).

So is that aching gap worth having because it makes you put in the extra hours to bring a version of success? Or are people who fail at writing novels and winning Grand Slams in a better position because they go through life untroubled by whatever would otherwise propel them to those victories?

For the record, I feel pretty happy right now, and haven’t written substantially this year. Are the two related? Should I cheat on my wife to fuel my fire? Maybe, as Bono once said, I should kill my inspiration and sing about the grief.

Decisions, decisions…

When we all give the power, we all give the best. Every minute of an hour don’t think about a rest. Then you all get the power you all get the best. When everyone gives everything and the weekend.

Great behind-the-scenes movie shots (thanks, J).

What is cool?

Mind-boggling gifs (thanks, W).

Computer games tatts (thanks, S).

Random annoyed footballers (thanks, J).

Ed Miliband on Tinder (thanks, J).

Text fun (thanks, T).

How Seinfeld was written (thanks, J).

Celebrities without tattoos, now with lots of tattoos (thanks, A).

Hitler practicing dramatic poses (thanks, J).

How Rowling plotted Potter (thanks, J).

Food in disguise (thanks, D).

The real Right Stuff (thanks, S):

Dance as it should be (thanks, C):

Nice Coco De Mer student ad (thanks, J):

Like a girl?

This empowering feminist war-cry disguised as an attempt to sell sanitary towels has been doing the Facebook/Twitter rounds lately:

Let’s look at the marketing angle first: someone’s clearly watched the way in which Dove has built a huge brand by being nice to women. If I were a little bit cynical (which I’m definitely not), I would suggest that the kindness is somewhat motivated by the chance that it might generate cash. The Always brand is owned by Proctor and Gamble, who have mined their own seam of pleasantness with this tribute to ‘moms’:

(By the way, is it sexist to connect ‘moms’ to the products made by Proctor and Gamble? Is that not an patronising and assumptive reinforcement of patriarchal gender roles?)

Anyway, being nice to females seems now to be a well-trodden path to selling them things. Is that bad? Can it be justified if a single unconfident little girl is inspired by this ad to gain the confidence she needs to be happy and successful? Well, here’s the real question: do you think Always would have made this ad if thought it would cost them sales? So how genuine is this supposed exercise in altruism?

That aside, does the concept stand up?

‘You ….. like a girl’ is definitely an insult, so I guess they make a good point. But then they seem to link this somewhat spuriously to puberty (supposedly the time when this phrase starts to become an insult), making the connection (I guess) to Always. I don’t know about you, but I would have thought ‘you run like a girl’ becomes negative before then, but if that were the case, what would sanitary towels have to do with the whole thing? (And while we’re at it: ‘Sanitary towels’? Doesn’t that place a negative value on the whole area of menstruation, like it’s something unclean?)

I think this is where we start to realise that someone’s observation that the ‘like a girl’ suffix can cause damage is just one of many unrelated points we could make in the feminine hygiene (negative again?) sector. And anyway, isn’t the prefix ‘man’ (man flu, man bags, man boobs) also negative? Where are the masculists to defend the men from such sexism?. Yes, I am stretching a point, but it is exactly the same point Always is stretching.

Hey, if you want to base your panty liner choice on bollocks like this, be my guest, but I’d have thought that not falling for the patronising, manipulative codswallop of a giant, money-hungry corporation would be far more empowering.

UPDATE: a lady agrees with me.

Side project time

Hey Ben,

 One day we had an idea for a client and they didn’t really go for it. So we did it ourselves and made a business out of it. It just went live today – below is a nutshell.

 HAIRCVT is a new service to help you make inspired choices with your hair: and then find the perfect stylist to cut it for you.

 HAIRCVT salons and barbers are a handpicked selection of the best in London – spread across the city and across different budgets.

 Each of their stylists or barbers has a portfolio of real work, and each hairstyle is smartly categorised. So it’s super easy for you to explore and find what you want – and then book the stylist to make it happen.

 If you think it’s cool, maybe you’d be kind enough to post something on your blog so people will read about it. If not, no sweat.

 Adam and Tarik (we were planners, last seen at Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi)


Well, Adam and Tarik, I do indeed think it’s ‘cool’ (as the kids say).

Moving pictures

I’ve kept a stash of the times my ads or I have merited some kind of mention in the press.

Now that I’m moving house/country/continent it’s time to take photos of those mentions then throw the mags away.

Here are a few, plus some explanatory info:


This was a thing Campaign did about Lunar’s early days. They used that picture for all Lunar articles because it was the only one they had of any of us on file (it was a shot they took for Faces To Watch the previous year).

This is the process of having your photo taken by Campaign (or it was for us): a guy turns up and says Campaign is now taking more ‘graphic’ pictures (as opposed to the ones they used to take on fire escapes etc.), so you look for a more ‘graphic’ background (we used our boss’s office) and set up the shot there. I don’t know what I was trying to do with the clothes – that might just be how I dressed nine years ago – but if I’d known it was going to be used several times I might have given more thought to wearing a T-shirt under a shirt etc. So then he suggests how you should stand and takes a bunch of pics. The annoying thing is that if someone takes fifty shots of you in various expressions/stances, then you have no idea which one they’ll choose and how you will then appear to all the readers of Campaign who may not know you that well. I think I look a bit condescending and serious, which, to be fair, I probably was in those days. So that was used in Campaign maybe five times for different reasons, and however unhappy I might have been about it (somewhat), at least it’s not as bad as this one:


I mean, bloody hell. I look like I’m saying, ‘Oooh, get you in your raspberry culottes on a Wednesday afternoon.’ I guess that was one of the other shots the guy took, which they then used a year later in a recap of the previous Faces To Watch. If I looked condescending and serious in the first one, this one makes me look so far up my own arse I can just about see my molars.

Moving swiftly on…


Look! Page 3 of the Daily Star! If you worked on Walkers then chances are you’d be working with at least one famous person (Gary Lineker), and possibly others. In this case it was just Gary, and clearly it was only a VO session.

He was delighted that we’d made him into a potato head. Or was it his fee he was delighted with? No idea. Anyway, I can’t remember if we invented the whole Potato Head thing (Daz, if you’re reading this, do chip in) or just did the ad, but it was kind of nice being in the paper next to some soft-core pornography. And is the positioning of the upper Gary Potato Head photo deliberately intended to make him look as if he’s ogling the boobies?

And on the subject of Walkers and low-fat crisps, there was also this little effort:


That one appeared as an article in everything from the Sunday Times to the Daily Mirror. This time I only did the press ad (I say ‘I’, but much of the credit has to go to Cam for art directing it and Erwin Olaf for taking a great shot), but it was fun hanging around with Victoria at the height of her fame. She sat in that bath with a sort of flesh-coloured bra thing on, munching M&S low-fat crisps (Potato Heads had yet to be invented) and chatting away with the four or five of us allowed in the room. Then I got in massive trouble for blabbing about it on Popbitch. Oops.

Finally, the old days of the blog:


I’d forgotten, but when the blog started it caused a bit of a stir, mainly because I swore a lot, the opinions were quite forthright and it was technically under the umbrella of BBDO, which made the whole thing seem 8x as naughty. And in the absence of many others doing the same, Campaign would often reprint favourite posts in their ‘Best Of The Blogs’ column. It was all jolly fun at the time, although also quite weird and a bit scary, as comments sometimes led to emails being written to the then Chairman of AMV, suggesting we remove some of the fruitier or more personal opinions (to be fair to Cilla, she never really asked us to do that and was very good about the whole thing).

But as the blog plodded on and I saw nothing from Campaign that seriously took up the issues I wrote about (women/racial minorities/gays in advertising, corruption in awards, shit ads actually being shit etc.), I started being somewhat negative about the magazine. I felt it was another issue in the industry that our biggest trade publication essentially just reprinted press releases and was a pretty poor excuse for ‘journalism’. After a few of these posts Campaign stopped mentioning my blog, which was fine by me – I’d had all the publicity I wanted, and now resented them for using my hard work to fill their own pages for free, so, y’know, fuck ‘em. The mag has been a bit better recently, but it was pretty dreadful for a good decade.

At one point I announced I was stopping the blog, a gesture which merited a mention in their diary:


Nice to be appreciated, but I dunno about the blog not being a clever idea. Maybe ‘clever’ is the wrong word, but it’s certainly been good to me.

So there are a few pics and a little stumble down memory lane.

Ahhh, 2007… Scamp getting hundreds of comments… me posting disgusting flights of fancy in the guise of Kate Moss… the blog occasionally getting sued… Happy days…

Hey, Simon!

Hi Simon.

Thanks for your email. I accidentally deleted it, so if you want to send me another I’ll reply more substantially.

Suddenly the heavens rolled, suddenly the rain came down, suddenly was washed away the weekend.

Arnold Fartzenegger:

How to dance in a fabulous manner (thanks, B):

Donny and Marie do Steely Dan (thanks, B):

David Lynch on where ideas come from (thanks, T):

Taking crazy photos of waves (thanks, B):

Send ANYONE a giant cardboard dick (thanks, V).

Men saying dumb things to Playboy (thanks, J).

Mmmmm… watching calligraphy is niiiiiice (thanks, B):

What if England had won the War of (non-) Independence? (thanks, D):

Awkwardly sitting cats (thanks, T).

US comedy screenwriting masterclass (thanks, R).

(somewhat) Arbitrary awards

So the big winner at Cannes was this campaign:



It won Grands Prix for Film, Press, Promo and Integrated. So that’s four separate juries who loved it enough to give it their last Rolo.

Funny thing is, at D&AD it scored a nomination in TV, an entry for Integrated and didn’t even get in for Press (I assume it was entered). It did get a Pencil for branding, but I don’t think that category crosses over.

So one Film jury of top-level international creatives loved it, while another liked it a fair bit; one Integrated jury of top-level international creatives loved it, while another quite liked it; and one Press jury of top-level international creatives loved it, while another didn’t.

And it’s not the only example (oddly enough from the same agency). This ad won TV ad of the year at the BTAAs, Gold at Cannes and nothing at Creative Circle:

The point I’m taking ages to make is that awards are, of course, matters of opinion. If your ad meets the right people at the right time it will do well, but another, somewhat arbitrarily selected group might ignore it.

So go and worry about something else.

Julian Koenig died last week


Thanks, Vik.