I really like and admire this.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)
On the 1st of September 1994 David Reid, Adrian Jeffery and myself put the last touch of paint onto the basement wall of our basement home in Tweeddale Court on Edinburgh’s prestigious Royal Mile (we always used Royal Mile in our address because it sounded better than High Street, which was the official postal address). I stood there, resplendent in green and white Y Fronts (I always painted in my Y fronts because it was easier to clean your skin than your trousers) and took a deep breath. This was it. It wasnt a dream or an adventure anymore. It was our livelihood.
At 9.23 the phone rang. Our only client, Spectacles, who one day become 20 20 Opticians.
“Oh Hi John ” I said ” I expect you’re phoning to set up a meeting…”
“No, I’m phoning to fire you.”
I’d never even met him. He was a complete twat as this, and future history (if there is such a thing) went on to prove.
We’d now gone from a prospective income of £12,000 pa to zip; nada; fuck all.
Eight days later Jeana gave birth to our second and third child (the third conception and pregnancy was not some form of record – we had twins).
We were right in the shit then.
Better get some business.
As luck, some would say talent, would have it though we did get some business (Holywood Bowl) and some more (The Blood Transfusion Business) and some more (Smiths Menswear) and some more (Sinclairs Criminal Lawyers) so that by Christmas we had our first six commercials on air. We made a handsome profit in year one and paid off our personal debts. We never drew down the start up capital and things just went from good to better.
One year, I can’t remember exactly when, we had nine nominations at the Scottish Ad Awards and every single one of them won a Gold, meaning that we tied with The Lieth Agency as the top award winners. They were lucky to escape with a tie because we were better.
At times we were cocky bastards. At times we weren’t. (I can’t remember when though.)
But gradually we got bigger and bigger. We won multi-million pound accounts that sucked the energy and, to be honest, the creativity out of us. We became like the establishment that we felt so superior about.
I got bored.
I left in 2003.
But, you know what, those times were, on the whole, the best. I made my bravest, and most foolish, clientesque decisions.
Picture the scene. David and Adrian having been briefed by me to write a series of commercioal virals selling 1576 present me with five scripts with a man dressed up as a six inch penis trying to perform office and day-to-day functions in the guise of a rubbish marketing director (most obscene of all was the penis going for a piss) and I said
“Fabulous, hilarious, it will really stand out!”
Not for good reasons.
Ruth’s Bar, the Friday night swalley, was a hoot – because it was a “free” night out with your mates – and believe me, 1576 were my mates. Every last bloody one of them.
I loved, really loved, the people I worked with. We all cried when I left. Many of us cried last night too (I’m sure) when we learned that cocky, creative, amazing, get it up ya, 1576 was no more.
A very sad day and my heart goes out to David and all the team that were there at the end.