Talking crap

This one, from my friend Gerry Farrell, Creative Director of The Leith Agency, is a cracker.

He appeared in a BBC4 TV programme charting the history of advertising and was outraged when he read this review of it in The Scotsman last week.

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So annoyed was he that he was moved to write to Paul Whitelaw, the TV critic responsible for irking him so much.

I reproduce the article and letter in full for your comment, amusement, anger.

I’m totally with Gerry in defending our industry’s professional standards. Is it fair for this guy to make a sweeping generalisation that our industry is a pack of disingenious snakes who will happilly feed a pack of lies in order to sell consumers our product?

No Mr Whitelaw it is not.

Dear Paul,


I just read your TV review in Wednesday’s Scotsman and, like all good admen should, I felt like stabbing myself through the heart with a breadknife.

Let me declare an interest right away. I work at The Leith Agency and the BBC interviewed me and broadcast some of what I said on The Hard Sell on Tuesday night. I`ve only got council telly so I didn`t see the show but I`m sure I did “state the bleeding obvious” and I can quite believe that it was tame and bland, nor can I understand the public`s appetite for programmes about advertising, least of all ones like this, put together by lazy journalists who don`t look far beneath the surface.

Hope you spotted the hint of menace there. How tedious it is to have to take another knee-jerk kick to the nuts from yet another lazy journo with opinions pre-formed in the Sixth Year and unchanged since.

Bill Hicks. Yeah,yeah,yeah. Tom Lappin used the same quote a couple of months back just before he called Alan Hansen “ a money-grubbing whore” for doing TV ads for Morrison`s Supermarket. And now, from your bottomless journalistic well of investigation, research and experience (aka Google), you`ve drawn up a very similar bucket of insults.

If you`d had the energy to click more than once, you might`ve found “Advertising is the rattling of a stick in a swill bucket” (George Orwell) or – my personal favourite – the title of a French adman`s autobiography, “Don`t Tell My Mother I Work In Advertising, She Thinks I Play The Piano In A Brothel”.

And so you rummaged around your own personal swill bucket and came up with the usual lazy rubbish that “ most admen are disingenuous snakes…who.. feed consumers a multi-pack of lies”.

Whoo. How edgy and unpredictable.

Where to start.

Show me a society with no advertising and I`ll show you a government that lies to its own people. Show me a daily newspaper with no lies in it…wait a minute, that`s silly, the average daily newspaper contains more lies, half-truths and uninformed opinion than you`ll find in a month`s worth of ads. Journalist ain`t got much moral high ground to play around on; every paper or magazine I`ve ever read has been funded by the ads it carries. How much does that bother your conscience?

Thought not.

There isn`t even any logic to your position. You watch a lot of telly, apparently. If the Sony client runs a beautiful ad with coloured balls bouncing down hills to tell people the colour on a Sony Bravia is amazing and somebody goes out and buys one and the colour`s shite, they`re not going to sell many more. The best way to kill a rubbish product dead is to advertise it because people will only buy a crap thing once and once isn`t really enough for those wonderful folk who flog beer, cornflakes and Yakult. The internet makes bad word of mouth virally infectious. None of our clients can afford to publicise anything that doesn`t do what it says on the tin. (See what I did there).

It`s persuasion, not mass hypnosis.

Where`s the lie in Cadbury`s drumming gorilla ad?

Have you actually ever been so outraged by an untruthful ad that you`ve complained to the Advertising Standards Authority? Try it. My bet is you`ll struggle to find a single untruthful claim. If you do, and your complaint is valid, the ad will be pulled and the ad agency punished. That`s because we operate under a draconian code of `legal, decent, honest and truthful` that`s a hundred times stricter than your toothless Press Complaints Commission.

More to the point, the vast majority of the men and women I`ve worked with over the last 28 years ( and it`s a fifty/fifty gender split, by the way) are also nice, decent, truthful people. In fact half the people in this agency give up their free time once a fortnight to do free marketing clinics for any business that`s based in Leith for no other reason other than that we love Leith and we think we can help small businesses to market themselves more effectively.

Oh dear, I`ve ranted onto a second page. Let me finish with an invitation and a challenge. Come into The Leith Agency for a day. If you can find a single ad with a lie in it, I`ll buy you an Eighties-style advertising lunch at the posh restaurant of your choice. If you can`t, the lunch is on you.

Alternatively, if you`d prefer something more adversarial, I`ll stand up and debate the point with you anytime, any place, anywhere (see what I did there again).

Or, if you feel particularly feisty about the whole thing, I`ll fight you for it in a boxing ring, all proceeds to a cancer charity.

Any of those three would give you material for a more interesting piece of journalism than the tired old tat you bashed out for your TV review in Wednesday`s Scotsman.

Yours Wearily,

Gerry Farrell
Creative Director, The Leith Agency

(Postscript.  I reproduced this post onto my personal blog and it got a LOT more comments which you may enjoy.  Here.)

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3 thoughts on “Talking crap

  1. A typically fine and withering riposte from Gerry, there. And the threat of violence was well deserved. Although perhaps now might be the time to mention that the journo, although looking deceptively scrawny in his photo, is no other than Paul ‘The Killer Southpaw’ Whitelaw: former Scotland middleweight boxing champion. With three convictions for GBH. (And one for dismal journalism.)

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