Ask an adman: Some answers
To the Royal Society of Medicine on Monday night where, under the auspices of the IPA, we were treated to the reminiscences of Lord Tim Bell and Sir Frank Lowe, as well as the more pertinent reflections on today’s advertising industry from Sir Martin Sorrell. The night’s interlocutor, Peter York, was generous in plugging his film, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man’, as well as eliciting enough by way of anecdote and insight.
Some contemporaneous notes and direct quotations from the evening follow:
PY: The word ‘creative’ is en-English and embarrassing.
FL said of TB: “Dogs crossed the road to be patted by him.”
[On expressing incredulity that Tim Mason of Tesco would phone FL, and give him the Tesco account, just like that] PY: “So an enormous client rings you and says, ‘Can you open an agency just for us?’” It’s another planet isn’t it?
MS: Adland might eventually be made up of engineers. Silicon Valley is disintermediating the industry.
TB: JWT used to be run by ex-Army officer types. The best time to try and speak to them would have been first thing in the morning, when they had come to the office straight from Annabel’s.
TB: Of course, the industry was dominated by WASP-y types…
MS: …There were Jewish people in the industry. You just never could figure out who we were.
FL: Americans were the inspiration – DDB in particular. The difference was that we did it in a British way…
MS: David Ogilvy bridged the gap between the US and the UK, with humour and effectiveness.
MS: A financial director at Saatchi’s worked on TB’s expenses full-time. There was once a receipt for a £1,000 foie gras.
FL: There was a generational shift in the industry when TV came in. There needs to be a new generational shift to take advantage of digital.
MS: The impact of technology will be greater than we think…
FL: …but creativity will come to bear on the internet soon.
TB: Don’t forget, five words can transform the way that people look at themselves,
TB: The great men of the golden age, men like FL< were impresarios: they created an event, news about a product. They shook people, involved people. But it involved the product too…
FL: …and taking risks.
MS: What ended the golden age? The separation of media from creative. Geographical expansion. Technology’s growing importance.
MS: Today, have we reached the stage where the medium is more important than the message?
FL: The flotation of agencies meant that the creation of lowest common denominator work. It had to be visual, not verbal.
TB: Do you know how ads get signed off at Procter & Gamble? In a fridge in a basement somewhere in Cincinnati, there are the skulls of Mr Procter and Mr Gamble. The CEO goes down there, and reads the skulls the copy. If the skulls rattle, the ads get made.
FL: I went to Interpublic board meetings, once a month for eight years. And the number of times we looked at ads in the meetings was less than the fingers on this hand.
MS: Saatchi’s proposing to buy Midland Bank? We did get a bit too big for our britches.
TB: There are now an outrageous number of PR and advertising Johnnies in the House of Lords.
MS: You cannot assume that the UK will remain the creative centre. There is great creative work, global campaigns, coming from Argentina now. And it is the height of arrogance to assume that with so many Indian and Chinese people, there will not be creative talent there.
MS: Successful media people won’t bend the knee to creative people again.
TB: Recession? Remember what Disraeli said: “We haven’t got any money. We’ll have to think.”