Just read Sam Delaney’s recent book ‘Get Smashed’. It’s about the heyday of British advertising, from the 60s to the 80s, when its influence on society was dramatic (partly due to far fewer media channels than there are today) and its practitioners were apparently more charismatic, more badly behaved, and more rich than they are today. The book isn’t quite on a par with ‘Motley Crue – the dirt’ as an expose of career-building through sex, drugs and alcohol abuse but that’s kind of the angle it seems to be going for.
Between the 1960s and the 1980s some of the most influential men in the country spent most of the day in the pub and got paid more than the Prime Minister. They were responsible for transforming a lifeless advertising industry into something exciting and extravagant…They changed what we ate, how we dressed and who we voted for and celebrated with fast cars, private jets and champagne. "Get Smashed" is a story of ambition, obsession and excess and how the ads that began by reflecting British culture came to define it.
Clearly, this was a time when some extraordinary talents made their names: David Puttnam, Ridley Scott, Alan Parker, Peter Mayle and the Saatchi brothers among others. There are some great anecdotes in the book and it’s a good read, though it does repeat much of the content of the excellent BBC4 documentary about CDP, ‘The men from the agency’.
The book suggests that advertising as a business and as a medium has become more boring and less rock and roll since those drug-fuelled glory days. Which may be true. But I’m not sure that I buy the implication that drunken irresponsibility was the cause of the flowering of creativity. I think you can argue that it worked the other way round. Like Hollywood’s ’easy riders and raging bulls’ generation of the 70s, who hit on a vein of movie making that was critically acclaimed and commercially successful and were therefore indulged by the studios in personal and artistic excesses, it seems to me that the growth of the industry, combined with changes in British society and media, led to ‘bad boy’ behaviour on the part of star performers being indulged. There were plenty of alcoholic art directors who never won any awards.
I (Neil C) started in this business way back in the mid-eighties and though the party was almost over by then, quite a lot of the atmosphere of boozy laddishness, old-school client schmoozing and squandering of cash that the book describes does ring true. I remember waiting for my interview for a first job at Allen Brady & Marsh. (ABM in those days was a top ten UK agency, famous for its jingle-driven campaigns – ‘Milk has gotta lotta bottle’, ‘I’m a secret lemonade drinker’, ‘Ever Ready – power to the people’, ‘That’s the wonder of Woollies’, ‘Harp stays sharp to the bottom of the glass’, ‘This is the age of the train’… I could go on. Creative Director Rod Allen had a white grand piano in his office on which he would compose these works, all of which spring easily to mind nearly 25 years later. Creative reviews were invariably a live musical performance.) The receptionists were giggling amongst themselves and asked me, ‘Which are you, then?’ They explained that they were playing a game where they guessed whether interviewees were from Oxford or Cambridge. They’d never had anyone from Aberdeen before.
I also remember – having actually got the job at ABM - being taken out to lunch in my first week by a senior account director, who advised me on the importance as an account handling trainee of learning about wine and mastering the art of hailing cabs. This chap ordered a new bottle of wine for the two of us with each course of the lunch. Which amounted to four or five bottles. Clearly, we didn’t finish all this (though we tried manfully). At the end of the meal, he got the waiter to re-cork and bag up the unfinished bottles for him to take back to put in the drinks cabinet in his office at work. I got the impression that this was very much standard procedure.
But I couldn’t claim that this sort of stuff was what made the agency better or more successful. On the contrary, I reckon that the combination of highly successful populist jingles and 15% full-service commission created a cash-rich company with a culture of license. Things crashed pretty rapidly for ABM a couple of years later when their jingles came to seem increasingly unsophisticated and old hat, and clients stopped paying those full commission rates. The clients left, the cash dried up, the booze cabinets went empty and the agency was bought and merged with Lowe.
So, any views from our readers? More bad behaviour = more creativity? Or is it the other way round?
Meanwhile, here’s one of the classic commercials from those times, from the days when it was OK to advertise fags.
So this is my goodbye. I am Joe and have been on work experience here for a week. I also happen to be Anna Smith’s little-‘big’ brother, and I can't believe none of you have tried to get any embarrassing info from me about my sister (and there is some!). Oh well, now you’ll never know…. Anyway just like to say thanks for having me; it has been a very interesting learning experience. I have done and seen a lot of new things. Due to my keen interest in all the elements of music my favourite part of the week would have to be going to Wave sound studios, where I got to sit in on a studio session for Rolex and have a look around the transfer room. Other highlights included going to the Mill and Jungle studios on Monday, and sitting in on the WK agency meeting on Wednesday where I got to see lots of the really good work you have all been doing. This has been a very important learning experience for me as I have never spent longer than 2 days in our lovely (hectic!) capital city, let alone work in it. I have had a good insight into how an advertising agency works, and how all the different departments work and interact with each other. Once again thanks for having me and I wish you all the best for the future.
Mick Bailey models the new W+K T-shirt, which arrives fashionably late for the summer 07 season. Lovingly crafted in 100% actual fabric it is available in two colourways - grey and orange (gents) and black and pink (ladies). The adventurous may choose to experiment with these arbitrary gender assignations. The shirt bears a reproduction of the now-legendary 'rules' of W+K, as found in the bottom of a drawer when Dan and Dave were asked to clear out their office at their former employers. They thought, 'Don't know who wrote these but they'll do just fine', and adopted them as the code of behaviour for the new agency they were leaving to start up.
"Don't act big. No sharp stuff. Follow derections (sic). And shut up when someone is talking."
The rules: they're as good for you today as they've always been. You can buy these shirts off us, if you want.