George Parker: David Abbott and the (increasingly forgotten) qualities of trust, respect and affection

davidabbottthumb_3x2I’m not quite sure why, but the news yesterday of David Abbott’s death on Saturday struck me particularly hard. I never worked with him. I only met him twice, just as I only met David Ogilvy twice. And, I never met Howard Gossage or Bill Bernbach… But these four practitioners of the world’s second oldest profession have had the greatest and most profound influence on me during my long and somewhat checkered career.

Yes, they were unquestionably master practitioners of their craft, with each responsible for an enviable body of work. But beyond that, they respected their audience in a way that is virtually impossible to find in today’s ad biz. Simply look at David’s work for The Economist (below), an up market magazine for the hoi-poloi, and Sainsbury’s, a mass market supermarket chain. Each aimed at a totally different audience, yet each addressed with intelligence and treated with the utmost respect.
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Speaking of other differences… In all the time that David was a partner in Abbott Mead Vickers, the agency had a policy of NO redundancies. In an interview a few years ago he said that the reason for AMV’s success was that it was founded, owned and managed by people who shared the contagious qualities of trust, respect and affection. My God, compare that with today’s agency scene!

Actually, coming back to my opening paragraph, I do realize why this news struck me so hard… It’s because ad people of my generation… Yes, I’m talking about fucking “Mad Men,” are becoming like Korean War vets… We are rapidly dying out. The only reason there are still a few of us left, is probably because of the pickling effect of all those three martini lunches… Plus, I have that picture in the attic…

But no, it’s not about the long gone life style… It’s about the depreciating quality of the work being produced, and the ever diminishing respect for the audience we are addressing. Understand that the four gentlemen mentioned at the beginning of this homage would have been able to cope with the rapidly changing media landscape of today… But, the content of their communication would have been vastly superior.

I have no doubt there are people in the ad biz right now who have the potential to be the next David Abbott. Unfortunately, because of the BDA, BDC, BDHC, structure of the business today, and increasingly, in the future…

There will be no next David Abbott.

Bon Voyage, David.

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About George Parker

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George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, Confessions of a Mad Man, makes the TV show Mad Men look like Sesame Street.