Paul Simons picks his Desert Island Ads

The influences that began to shape my thinking started in university days with TV programmes such as Monty Python. New ideas were slowly creeping out and the migration to advertising didn’t take long. It was a period when the creative juices were like the sap rising in spring across various pursuits such as music, photography, cinema, art.

Thinking about a desert island as the brief I decided to choose work I admired and which also cheered me up.

Outstanding work is relatively rare. It’s because it is hard to do, it requires intelligence, talent and tenacity. Whenever I see something exceptional I always wonder how much effort has gone into it along the road from brief to final product.

These are a few examples of work that has left some sort of indelible mark on my memory.

Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut

My first job was as a brand manager at Cadbury Ltd in Bourneville, a golden period there with a treasure chest of fresh, fun, intrusive advertising assets across a wide range of brands. I was surrounded by young crowd of very bright people who were not afraid to push for new and better ideas.

Two agencies at the time kept laying the golden eggs, Y&R and Leo Burnett.

One of the many distinctive campaigns from Y&R at the time was the work featuring Frank Muir work for Fruit and Nut, ‘Everyone’s a Fruit and Nut Case’. It became part of the language (and, to this day, is still referred to (by people of a certain age).

As we will see Cadbury was a believer in strong advertising properties – what a great place to start a career in marketing and advertising.

Apple 1984

When I saw the Apple 1984 spot for the first time I was bowled over. A magnificent idea, brilliantly produced which, from my point of view, established the ethos of Apple.

It also put Chiat Day on the global map and years later I had the great pleasure to meet Jay Chiat several times. When Simons Palmer merged with TBWA we spent time at Chiat Day in LA and later we had the pleasure of rolling out the ‘Think Different’ campaign across Europe that flagged the return of Steve Jobs to Apple.

Toshiba

Dave Trott hit his stride at GGT with so much work coming out of the agency over 5/6 years that has influenced so many people. One of my favourites was ‘Hello Tosh Gotta Toshiba’. It was rooted in a clear and simple premise; with so many Japanese brands fighting for attention Toshiba needed to stand above the crowd and be different to get attention.

Before the campaign Toshiba was an ‘also ran’ but within days of the TV work breaking the ‘Hello Tosh’ became a sound bite out on the street. Sales rocketed. It was another key period of influence for me; working with Dave and the creative department there due to the focus and clarity of what the advertising job was for each of our clients.

Cadbury’s Smash

This campaign was another landmark piece of creative thinking, addressing one benefit of the product and making it famous. The Smash Martians work is just outstanding; from BMP ( now Adam & Eve/DDB), under the supervision of John Webster.

Whenever TV programmes review the most popular advertising ever made, Smash Martians always get close to the top of the list.

No matter how many times I see the ads I still laugh; the craft involved is exemplary.

Levi’s

BBH pulled a big rabbit out of the hat with ‘Laundrette’ for 501’s. I can remember clearly the first time I saw it and drooled with envy. I’ve often felt ‘I wish we had done that’, this spot is one of those.

My understanding from John Hart, the client at the time, was that Levi’s had a few problems and 501’s were not selling too well. BBH’s approach of appropriating the rural, retrospective images of Americana captured a lifestyle sense that converted in to sales in double quick time.

Some years later Simons Palmer appointed by Wrangler and the wags at BBH sent round a parcel to our office when the news was announced. The note with it said something like, ‘This is the only way you will get sales for Wrangler’ and they had stapled a Levi waistband label to a pair of Wrangler jeans.

We got our own back with ‘Crosstown Traffic’ from Chris Palmer and Mark Denton, directed by the late Roger Lyons; word is it put the wind up Levi and BBH.

Sony

Fallon created a blockbuster with ‘Balls’.

I popped in to Fallon to see Robert Senior one day and he ushered me in to a meeting room and put on the spot ahead of it going on air. The first words that came out of my mouth were ‘this will be Fallon’s defining work’.

It remains a stunning piece of work and again it magnifies a product point with superb ingenuity. When this is achieved the effect on the brand is far greater than the point being made about the product. It portrayed Sony as a clever, creative brand via innovative techniques; hence the value for money is awesome.

Nike

No apologies for picking one example from my old place (I thought you’d like to see ‘Crosstown Traffic’ – Ed).

In the late ‘90s our relationship with Nike was bumpy, mainly due to W&K: both having a pop at us whenever they could and also planning to open an office in London which meant curtains for us.

Adding to the difficulties, our client was an ex-Simons Palmer account director who was very nervous about a new project to deliver another film about soccer.

Tony Malcolm and Guy Moore (the hairdressers!) had just returned to our place as creative directors after a stint at CDP. This project was the first job they confronted – serious pressure.

Our argument to the client was a need to move away from the glossy TV work and get back to the roots of the game,

‘Park Life’ was the end product, shot on Hackney Marches. As it turned out it became our swansong for Nike due to W&K opening their London office. We were all very proud of the result and it was a very popular piece of advertising.

It appeared despite continual anxiety on the part of the client; several times it was close to being shelved.

Virgin Atlantic

Steve Ridgeway, the recently departed CEO of Virgin Atlantic, has overseen the evolution of the airlines brand for 27 years, almost since the inaugural flight to New York.

In my book this has been one of the best case histories in brand management from the top of a company. No chopping and changing when a new marketing director arrives, just pure, consistent values developed with care.

A great deal of credit must also go to RKCR/Y&R who have held the airlines account for about 18 years. I would pick out the spot to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Virgin’s existence.

It is a fantastic statement of the personality of the brand without a single product point, a bold and confident expression of who they are and what they stand for. The set-up is a ‘yuppie’ talking in to a mobile house brick, the female crew are all in red set against a background of greyness, a great track from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and then the pay-off from the two blokes at the end of the spot; “I need to change my job” followed by “I need to change my ticket” from the other.
Never fails to make me feel good.

Campari

This one is included just to hear three words.

For younger readers Campari enjoyed some superb creative work in the 1970s and this spot, from JWT, featured an actress called Lorraine Chase.

It’s set in the sumptuous gardens of a beautiful mansion, maybe Barbados. After the smooth posh bloke has delivered the product bunny he turns to Lorraine and says, “have you wafted in from paradise?”

She replies “No, Luton Airport” in a strong East Enders accent.

I can’t imagine the damage this might have done to Luton Airport over the years. If I was advising the management of Luton Airport I would strongly advise them to change the name.

Very funny (it’s a bit creaky but worth it).

Cadbury’s Dairy Milk

I’ll finish on a more contemporary example, again from Fallon.

My daughter was a young account exec at Fallon; I called by to meet her for a drink one evening. She ushered me in to the same room I’d seen the Sony work with Robert and put on the yet-to-be-aired ‘Gorilla’ spot for CDM.

It was another one of those moments when envy kicked in immediately. I thought it was one of the most powerful bits of film I’d seen in years. From memory I believe there was uncertainty about ‘Gorilla’ from the client so it went viral first, maybe to test the water. However it didn’t take long for it to move to mainstream TV.

In terms of power it defies anyone not to watch and wait for the moment when the gorilla hits the drums; it must have also given Phil Collins another lease of life.

I love it.

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.
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