Monthly Archives: April 2009

Why most advertising doesn’t work

Robert Townsend was the CEO of Avis in the USA in the 1960s. His problem was Hertz dominated the car rental market. There were lots of smaller brands: Dollar, Budget, Econ-o-Car, Alamo, Avis.

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Where’s Dave Morris now we need him?

Last week I spent four days at D&AD, judging TV and Cinema advertising. Over the whole four days there was one amazing piece of original, creative, thinking that totally blew me away. But it wasn’t any of the adverts.

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Never mind the brand bollocks

In the late sixties I’d just started at art school in Brooklyn. I was really disappointed. Everyone was so uncool. They either dressed like slobs or nerds.

I’d just come from London, I was a mod. I thought if London was stylish, New York would be way more so. But I was wrong. Style had totally bypassed America.

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Advertising and sex

A few years back, I read an article in The Spectator. It was by Madsen Pirie, the chairman of The Adam Smith Institute. He was writing about the phenomenon that, in the UK, girls were passing more exams than boys.

He was interested in the reason behind this. Some people thought it was because more girls were being allowed to take exams at higher level.

Madsen Pirie said this wasn’t the answer. Some people thought it was proof that girls have always been more intelligent, but until now they hadn’t been allowed to show it.

Madsen Pirie said this wasn’t the answer either. He said everyone was looking in the wrong place for the answer. The reason girls were passing more exams than boys wasn’t actually to do with girls’ intelligence at all.

It was to do with the exams themselves. At about the time when girls began passing more exams than boys, exams had changed. The examination authorities had begun giving 50% of the marks for the course work, done in the year leading up to the exam.

Previously, 100% of the marks had been for the final exam itself. Course work hadn’t counted for anything. This suited boys, who would do as little as possible all year, and cram like crazy in the last weeks before the exam.

Then it changed, and 50% of the marks were given for course work, this suited girls. Who would work steadily and conscientiously all year. So that, by the time of the final exam, they would already have more marks than the boys.

And, however hard the boys crammed for the final exam, it was only worth 50% of the marks. Madsen Pirie then interviewed a Cambridge don on the difference between male and female undergraduates.

He said that, generally speaking, the girls were better on the detail, but fuzzy on the big picture. The boys were better on the big picture but sloppy on the detail. He said his two best students were a male and a female, and they would both get ‘firsts’.

How does this work in advertising terms? Years ago Amanda Walsh, our CEO at the time, asked me why there were fewer women in the creative department than other departments.

She wanted to know if I thought it was just old fashioned sexism. I said I didn’t think so. The creative department is basically a big playground. Lots of time spent telling jokes, playing games, reading comics or books, watching reels or YouTube, basically (what looks like) time-wasting.

None of this is a problem as long as, by the deadline, you’ve managed to turn it into a great idea. Great ideas don’t happen slowly, incrementally, and conscientiously.

They tend to happen as a result of a short, intense period of cramming information and then a sudden explosion of creativity. More the way boys approach exams than the way girls do.

Account handling, on the other hand, requires exactly the opposite values. Constant attention to detail, an intuitive ability to read situations and feelings. conscientious application that ensures everything possible has been done as it needs to be.

In short, the account handling department gives a lot more marks for course work than the creative department does.

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The difference between a creative pitch, and a pitch with creative

Mike Gold had pretty much managed to talk London Transport Advertising into giving us their account. He just had to take the client to lunch to finalise the details. He said it would help if we could convince him of our design credentials.

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We’re all asking the wrong question

I was doing a speech once, to clients, about creativity in advertising. I wanted to make the point that creativity in our field isn’t like any other field.

So I showed them a slide of a particular chair. It was an upright chair with a brass-finished, square-section tubular frame and a blue velour seat and back. I explained that the chair had been designed by Hans Hoffstedder, the German furniture designer.

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The truth about awards

When I was a junior copywriter at BMP I used to get furious at the D&AD Awards. Usually because the work that won didn’t live up to D&AD’s original maxim: STIMULATION NOT CONGRATULATION.

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It’s a team game

One evening after work, when I was at BMP, I was chatting to Dave Batterbee, the MD. He said, “If people in advertising were footballers, who would they be?”

I asked him to give me an example. He said, “Well John Webster would certainly be Stanley Mathews: he picks up the ball well inside his own area, dribbles it past everyone on the other team, and scores. He’s a one man team, a complete footballing genius.”

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