WCRS founder Robin Wight picks his Desert Island Ads

robin-wrightRobin Wight was one of the four founders of Wight Collins Rutherford Scott, one of the best-known and most highly-regarded UK agencies of the 1980s and beyond. WCRS produced ground-breaking campaigns for BMW, Carling and Orange among many others. He is now president of Engine Group, the UK communications group that includes WCRS alongside digital, social, PR and sports marketing agencies in the UK, US and China.


A desert island that has electricity to power a television? Well, I get the point.

And anyhow, maybe there’s a huge supply of batteries.

Or maybe the television is solar powered.

In any event, it’s a useful exercise to think of the personal advertising benchmarks I would select.

The first great ad that I remember seeing was also the ad that made me want to work in advertising.

When I was a young student at Cambridge University, I used to read the New Yorker just for the ads – rather than the erudite editorial.

An ad that caught my eye was the famous Volkswagen Lemon.

It was entirely different to the ads of those bloated automated beasts that dominated the output of Madison Avenue.

That one had really represented the birth of modern advertising. Even though it’s only a still, I’m sure I could meditate upon it for many a happy an hour.

I’m on a desert Island so I could do with a laugh.


There are three ads that I’ve always wished I’d had the imagination to create and the sense of humour to develop.

The first is the Alka Seltzer commercial, done by Jack Tinker and Partners back in the 1960’s.

At a time when Anadin was running those horrific ads which had a hammer attacking someone’s head, here was Alka Seltzer using humour and charm to make its point.

Interestingly, it seems that what made this ad really effective was the pack shot where there were two Alka Seltzer popping into a glass rather than one – which previously people had just been using.

Lets say that humour opened people’s minds to a new usage behaviour.

Of all the British campaigns using humour, for many people the Hamlet campaign from the 1970’s that was originated by the great Alan Parker would be top of their list.

The one I’ve chosen – Photo Booth – is top of my list. It was actually made by a great friend of mine, the late Stak.

I don’t know how much the ad was actually used – except in awards circuits – but it is one of the best pieces of comedy ever filmed in 30 seconds.

I think it would keep me laughing for many hours on my desert island.

The third one was voted the best television commercial in the 20th century by readers of The Sun – and they ought to know!

It’s the first of only three from WCRS ads that I have selected for my desert island.

It’s the Carling Black Label Dambusters film.

I remember at the time ringing up the relevant RAF Association to try and get consent to this ad from the families of those brave airmen who had actually died during the raid.

As a result of all these concerns the commercial was only aired first of all in cinema.

You can imagine just how much people laughed in the cinema. And before long there was a ground swell of popular opinion that even persuaded the censors of television to allow this commercial to be transmitted.

And I don’t believe it had a single complaint from anybody involved with the RAF and the Dambusters families.

They had a sense of humour too!

The ad I most wish I’d written.

There are lots I could have picked and taken to my desert island to keep me feeling humble.

But the one that I am perhaps the most jealous of is John Webster’s amazing Smash ad – Martians.

John was undoubtedly the greatest genius of my whole advertising life span – after Bill Bernbach.

At its heart, this is just a very simple product demonstration commercial, brilliantly replacing consumers with martians.

I also like the jingle ‘for mash get Smash’.

Jingles have a bad name in our industry, but I believe and later brain science has confirmed – they can be the most effective way to embed a brand name into consumers brains.

So I’ll happily watch lots of showings of John Webster’s ad on the beach.

Feeling more modest by the moment.

The two best ads I’ve been involved with.

To balance my sense of modesty from watching John Webster’s Smash commercial, I would pick two I’ve been involved with myself.

The first is a BMW print ad that I would have to remind me of the longest running client relationship – now 34 years – that I’ve ever been involved with.

Though, hopefully, I wouldn’t have to wait 34 years for rescue.

This ad also is a memorial to one of the advertising approaches I developed: ‘interrogating a product until it confesses to its strength’.

I was over in Munich interrogating German engineers as to why 6 cylinder 2 litre engines were better than 4 cylinder 2 litre engines.

The erudite German engineer waxed lyrical about moments of harmonic balance. But I told him that I couldn’t bind him into the Sunday Times magazine so he could lecture to the British audience.

So suddenly, in a flash of inspiration – he picked up a glass of water that was on the table.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do” he said, “I would take this glass of water and put it on the engine block of a 4 cylinder 2 litre engine – as in a Mercedes. The imperfections of balance in the engine would mean that though the glass wouldn’t move the water inside it would bounce up and down”. “By contrast, if you put the same glass on a BMW 6 cylinder 2 litre BMW engine, neither the glass or the water would move because it is perfectly balanced”.

It sounded too good to be true.

When I got back to my offices in London I had a Mercedes and a BMW parked outside the door of the agency.

I brought down a paper cup full of water and did exactly the test the engineer had described.

And exactly what he had described happened – the water bounced up and down on the Mercedes engine and it didn’t move on the BMW engine.

So I went upstairs with my wonderful art director Cathy Heng.

And in fifteen minutes we’d done this ad.

BMW - Shaken Not Stirred

The other point that I like about this ad is that we borrowed the slogan ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ from the BMW campaign in America.

Sometimes it’s good to use the genius of others, rather than just rely on your own skill.

The most effective campaign I’ve ever been involved with.

Though I can claim a leading role in the BMW ad, I was just one of the team working on the launch of Orange in 1994. The most extraordinary thing about this campaign that it was so effective that within 6 years Orange in the UK was bought for £29billion!

The fact that the purchaser, France Telecom, ravaged the brand to the point when in the UK the Orange brand no longer exists would certainly make me feel sad.

But all the memories of five wonderful years working on Orange – with the wonderful client Chris Moss – would cheer me up in moments of sadness.

The best advertised brand in the history of advertising

Though Volkswagen with Lemon was the brilliant creator of modern advertising, there’s one brand which for 40 years had consistently innovated and out communicated its rivals.

That brand is Coca-Cola.

And I’m sure that on my desert island I will be thirsty for lots of Coca Cola.

Which of all their many ads would I choose to commemorate the great brand building advertising of Coca-Cola? Undoubtedly it would be the ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’, done by Coke in 1971.

Even today the freshness and originality of this ad makes many of its successors seem average.

Coke’s genius today is not just about advertising it’s about owning huge events like the World Cup in South Africa a few years ago.

If any brand can claim to have managed modern media best, I think Coca-Cola – just a bottle of fizzy water – can claim the prize.

The most influential ad of my era

If I was to pick one ad that really shaped the way that advertising was created in my own advertising lifetime, I’d pick Levis ‘Launderette’.

What made it so revolutionary?

Well, music had been used for years in advertising.

But this use of music was new and different.

Suddenly Levis was burnished with a new visual energy. Suddenly a commercial had made an old jeans brand cool. It was an act of pure genius by John Hegarty at BBH, and he deserves a Knighthood just for creating this.

And it led to many imitations. One of which was WCRS. We were able to do our own parody of the ad for our ‘I bet he drinks Carling Black Label’ campaign. But we could never have done that but for John’s genius in creating it in the first place.

The desert island survival kit advertisement

If I’m going to be on a desert island and survive, I need to make more out of less.

All the ads that I’ve shown you are beautifully produced. Rich ideas, often with music but to symbolise a more down to earth side of advertising I’ve chosen this Electrolux poster from Denmark. It’s pure genius.

All it is is a tarpaulin on a building hording that’s pulled through a window symbolising the huge suction power of an Electrolux vacuum cleaner.


Utterly brilliant.

Utterly simple.

And by meditating over that poster, I think I would be inspired to make the most of the least.

And with that I hope I would survive on my desert island.

What would I like as my special treat to support me in my lonely sojourn on the desert island? A bible? Shakespeare?

No, I would just like a photograph of Countess Paola von Kovacz who happens to be my fiancée and will shortly be my wife.

Staring at this picture will I’m sure inspire me to survive!

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