Now founder and creative director John Townshend picks his Desert Island Ads

John Townshend is one of the founders and the creative director of new UK agency Now. He started his career at Ogilvy and then co-founded Rapier which began as a direct marketing agency and became one of the biggest integrated agencies in the UK. He has won many awards for both above-the-line work and direct marketing.

I have always been a collector and observer of great work, in annuals and archives, and my own mad and bursting hoard of ideas, scraps and images. I think it’s important to study good work. It’s a spur, an inspiration and frankly, something to steal. As Jean-Luc Godard said – “it’s not where you take ideas from, it’s where you take them to…..”

These are some of the ads that have given me that sweet and sour combination of “admiration and envy.” I’ve chosen them for the different approaches they demonstrate.

1/Linguaphone : ‘You Old Trout’

The power of words

As a writer, I always loved press ads. I remember returning to this piece of genius by Tim Delaney again and again. I don’t believe press is outdated now. It’s just people don’t do it this well any more. And the art direction? As important as the words. Powerful and perfect.

2/Birds Eye ‘Pizza’

Viral advertising started in the playground

Two dodgy restaurateurs are stuck for things to serve – then a Birds Eye pizza falls from above and lands in front of them. ‘That’s handy Harry, stick it in the oven’, says the waiter to the chef. We used to say it at school. And I loved the ads that did the rounds like that. Like Ronseal’s ‘It does what it says on the tin.’ Nowadays it’s ‘Simples’ by those Meerkats. The utterly uncontrollable art of going viral. It’s just as random today as it’s always been.

3/The Great Schlep

Great creative strategies

I love Droga5, because it genuinely does think ‘360’ and its strategic sleight of hand is as creative as any execution. The brief was to help Obama get elected back in 2008 in the swing state of Florida. The difficult voters were the older Jewish population. The agency decided to target them by targeting their grandchildren – possibly the only children they’d listen to.

4/T Mobile – ‘Station’

Advertising as an event

The world went mad for ‘let’s film an event’ type ads for a while – Jamie Oliver in a chuck wagon, and, er…people releasing weird balloons, building a giant ‘OK’ etc etc. One brand did it better and smarter than the rest: T Mobile. I remember when it came out, I stopped and gawped.

5/Hamlet ‘Photo Booth’

The ‘structure’ campaign

There was a day when there were loads of ‘structure’ campaigns. – giving you one simple product message in one creative structure that is executed differently each time. ‘Heineken refreshes the parts,’ ‘I bet he drinks Carling Black Label’…..and nowadays it’s ‘Should have gone to Specsavers.’ ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamet’ was one of those – I know it’s ancient but no ad has ever made me laugh as much.

6/Walls ‘Dog’

Give the brand a property

In a world where a lot of people are busy making lovely films, it’s nice to celebrate those who are unashamedly doing advertising ideas. From the Hofmeister Bear to Al and Monkey for PG Tips, a great property is worth its weight in gold to a client. The best are always executed brilliantly and the Walls ‘Dog’ makes me smile every time.

7/ VW – ‘Keeping up with the Kremplers’

Classic side-by-side

I was an account exec for a few years and, when I wanted to become a copywriter, I used to work all night trying to get a portfolio together. I didn’t have a clue where to start, until I read Dave Trott’s essay How to Get a Job In Advertising.’ In it he describes the ‘side-by-side’ as one of the simplest ways to persuade. The Aldi campaign is winning awards with just this. But I have included my favourite from VW – have a look. Like Aldi, it shows how good writing can turn a rational argument into something that makes you smile.

8/Nike “Write the Future’

The epic

I am grateful for ads that are just big and beautiful. They enhance life and respect the audience. Guinness’s ‘Surfer,’ Sony’s ‘Double Life’ and, yes, John Lewis. I have included Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ ad here, because it has a good idea at its heart and is a showstopper. It was also produced by someone very dear to my heart.

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One comment

  1. Really good feature from John Townshend who has all the creative authority to know a good ad when he sees one. I agree about press ads, not the least because at CDP, where I was back in the day, they treated press (Met Police, Dunn’s, Hovis etc.) with every bit as much care as TV and posters. Writers such as Tim Delaney, David Abbott, John Salmon, Indra Sinha and Tony Brignull seem to be thin on the ground today. I really do wonder why? As to TV, I am biased because two of his choices were from my Alma Mater, CDP – Bird’s Eye ‘That’s handy ‘Arry and Hamlet. Both good examples of exactly John’s point – ‘structured campaigns’ where the brand earned a place in the consumer’s mind by sticking to a straightforward strategy over some time and simply entertaining the audience. Something that isn’t at all easy to do and that isn’t very common today. That’s why the T-mob ‘crowdsourcing’ is so very good. That’s one I wish I’d done!