Mark started at the BBC in news and current affairs then moved to the music business at Warner Bros. He joined advertising as a producer at CDP, becoming Head of TV in the late 80s, producing some of the most award-winning work of the time. He launched Propaganda Films (Polygram) in the UK and European in the early 90s, which was then the worlds largest commercial, music video and feature production company.He started TSUNAMI Films in the late 90s, a multi award- winning production company, followed by M-A-D-E in 2005 and MADE In London in 2010.
Q: Name the three most important ingredients in a successful film or TV commercial?
A: The script, the script and the script.
The best work is based on the simplest ideas. But they are the hardest to write. In his forthcoming history of CDP, Mike Everett quotes creative director John Salmon as saying, “brevity is the soul of wit. Keep it simple”.
In all my choices here, I think each of their propositions can be summed up in a couple of succinct lines. They are all simple and as a result, very effective. Oh and unlike quite a lot of today’s output, they leave you in absolutely no doubt as to the branding.
Every one of them is an excellent execution, but they also exhibit a crystal-clear, rock-solid strategy and integrity. Interestingly, all have endured.
In Taxi Driver Travis Bickle asks, “You talkin’ to me?” Well these guys certainly are talking to me.
As Mad Men’s Don Draper angrily says to an account man, “clients’ success depends on standing out, not fitting in”.
Audi Ur Quattro ‘Hans & Helga’, BBH 1983.
Take BBH’s Audi campaign for the Ur Quattro. Under creative director John Hegarty’s guidance, writer Steve Hooper and art director Dennis Lewis set out to do this from the very start. They surely succeeded. Directed by Barry Kinsman, it is witty, entertaining and intelligent and looks just wonderful. I think this is the campaign that has set the standard. It has had many imitators. None except perhaps VW has come close.
And dear reader I liked it so much I bought the car! D396 APB. Diamond Black. Leather. Stolen. I miss it.
Volkswagen ‘Snowplough’ DDB, 1963
But, now look at the best exemplar of 60’s New York-style Madison Avenue writing that doesn’t bother with today’s almost obsessively slick production design.
Doesn’t need it. It is simply perfect. Located on an authentic, freezing, snowy night on a real mountainside, how could this possibly be bettered by any modern production values? And what copywriting: “Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snowplough……….”
Great sound too………. I wish I’d done this one.
Rawlings Tonic Water, CDP
Rawlings Tonic Water was battling the dominance of Schweppes and their famous “Shhh…you know who” TV campaign and 90 per cent market share. By the mid to late 70s, CDP was getting pretty good at elevating small budget brands up the charts by doing outstanding creative work. Rawlings was no exception. It’s a simply sublime end-line by Ron Collins. “Rawlings. We knew how before you know who.”
Benson & Hedges Gold Box ‘Iguana’, CDP 1979.
This was the reason I joined CDP. I’d never before experienced a commercial being cheered by a cinema audience. I mean really cheered. Written by Mike Cozens and art directed by Alan Waldie, this was the result of months of searching to find a campaign that would be accepted by the Tobacco Advertising Committee. Directed by Hugh Hudson with music by Godley & Crème (10CC), this spot was simply astonishing. You have to remember the context of the late 70’s – this cinema ad just blew the whole game into the modern era and has spawned a thousand imitation abstract commercial treatments ever since.
The Economist, AMV.
We now visit the other end of the production spectrum. This is a campaign of deceptively simple posters. Conceived by creative director David Abbott and now running into many dozens of executions, this must surely be the most instantly recognisable brand on posters in the UK. As soon as you see red you look for the witty copy. Urbane, straight up and simple!
Sony Trinitron ’Sofa’, BMP 1984.
Written by BMP’s creative director John Webster and directed by Roger Woodburn – the ‘go-to’ director before the advent of computer-generated effects – this is again a masterpiece of simplicity in execution. What a wonderful way to deliver the message that the TV tube in a Trinitron lasts a lifetime. Done just with a ‘locked-off’ camera. Here’s a lesson for today’s creative teams. It isn’t necessarily waving the camera around with lots of special effects that always works. The sofa was a pretty good buy too.
The Guardian, ‘Points of View’, BMP 1986.
BMP again. Shot in black and white and with no soundtrack except voiceover, director Paul Weiland rated this as one of the best things he had ever directed. Writer Frank Budgen and creative director John Webster deliver what is a pretty sophisticated message about ‘getting the whole picture’ and thus avoiding bias in a very powerful but straightforward way. The first time I saw this I really thought it was going to be about street violence. Ian Holm’s voiceover delivers all the authority the brand demands.
Heineken, Lowe Howard-Spink, 1982.
“Refreshes the parts etc.” A long-running campaign and a line, which has entered common usage. Originally written by Terry Lovelock at CDP in the late 70s, the brand had moved on with Frank Lowe to his new agency in 1981. Of all the TV spots for Heineken I think this is the best-written and the funniest. It was a bang up-to-date idea at the time if you recall the ‘Sloane Ranger’ craze. Sheer wit from copywriter Adrian Holmes and art director Alan Waldie, directed by Paul Weiland. The actress is simply priceless.
British Airways ’Face’, Saatchi & Saatchi, 1989.
I had worked with Graham Fink at CDP in the mid 80s and he’d done some of its best work there. But moving to Saatchis and crafting this cinema and TV spot, he cranked things up to another level altogether and took the whole of London’s adland by storm with what must still be ranked, even today, as a real ‘game-changer’. By the way, have you noticed? Hugh Hudson seems to pull this off once a decade. Malcolm McLaren did the music. Absolutely stunning.
Federal Express ‘Fast Talker’, Ally & Gargano (NY) 1982.
John Salmon educated me in classic New York-style ads. I have always thought that the best of US work is unbeatable. This spot proved it for me. By creative team Patrick Kelly and Michael Tesch and directed by the inimitable Joe Sedelmeier, this campaign went on into dozens of executions. It must have had more copy on the page for a sixty second than any other spot in history. We tried to work with Sedelmeier on several occasions but he was, unsurprisingly, always busy.
Olympus ‘Wedding Photographer’, CDP 1978.
Back to CDP and to one of the agency’s longest-running campaigns. This is another example of CDP’s ability to gently make fun of quite famous people but leave everyone looking good. Testament also to Alan Parker’s view, that 45 seconds was the perfect time-length for commercials. Something was lost when we went digital.
An example of a pretty small ad budget getting big results, this piece is a master class in writing by Mike Everett and Paul Smith. Directed by Alan Parker, it had become immediately apparent that Bailey was no actor. To get this ensemble performance under such difficult circumstances is a tribute to all concerned and maybe most of all to the editor? There is not a single wasted line or an opportunity missed to get a reaction. Full-on product features and branding too! Matchless.
Barclaycard ‘Alan Whicker’, CDP 1984.
Another example of CDP’s perfect matching of celebrity to product whilst having fun but at nobody’s expense. Writer John O’Donnell and art director Paul Collis came up with a long-running campaign – Collis got the idea to use Whicker – which was never expected to reach the creative pinnacle usually expected of CDP’s output. It just worked a treat. Overseen by creative director John Salmon, I still view this as some of the most satisfyingly effective advertising I’d ever had the opportunity to work on. Michael Tuchner – a first time ad director – had done Whicker’s World for years and he contributed much to the final result. Alan Whicker’s sheer professionalism under occasionally trying and difficult circumstances was an object lesson to everyone involved.
Audi A5 ‘The Swan’, BBH 2012.
Bookending this selection is the latest Audi spot. No star except the cars. Created by Ian Heartfield and Matt Doman, directed by Joachim Back, this neatly illustrates the continuity of strategy and quality of copy, art direction and immaculate execution which have made this, in my opinion, the most successful automotive ad campaign of all. It never takes itself too seriously and yet always makes very serious points about the product. It’s great. And it’s British.
Thanks also to Frances Royle of Royle Productions for helping to source the ads.