He then became deputy creative director of Y&R before moving to Saatchi & Saatchi in 1998. He was creative director on the NSPCC and Toyota as well as working with the Labour government on party political broadcasts. He was made the agency’s first head of copy.
In 2011 he founded Johnny Fearless with Neil Hughston.
Funny thing when you try to identify a point when your whole attitude to a genre of popular culture changed.
And can it be that simple?
It was for me. With music and with advertising.
With music, it was the first chord of Stay with Me by The Faces.
An ‘E’ as it happens. That has a lot to answer for.
Off I skipped down the cul-de-sac which was to be my musical career.
With advertising it was a Shell TV ad. Cute images of flora and fauna, the real life cast of Bambi and numerous pretty flowers happily thriving in the countryside, passed in front of me while a voice over asked what I would do if I heard that Shell had plans to lay a pipeline through this Arcadia. Well, ‘this was the valley after Shell laid their pipeline.’
Ta da! I was hooked. How clever was that? Not that clever really. But to me it was genius. I fell for the build-up and the rug pull.
I was very young at the time. But I wondered there and then who could write these little dramas and would they let me have a go.
Having done a lot of reading at school and uni, mostly against my will, somehow I still clung on to a love of words. And still do. Early on as a young writer in Manchester, someone introduced me to the work of DDB and, naturally, Volkswagen. Jesus, you could make the words in adverts intelligent. And funny. Really funny.
When I finally got a job at DDB in London it was like playing for Man United. Except I hate Man United. And Man United aren’t that good anymore anyway. But you know what I mean.
Finally and with some sense of pride, I got made head of copy at Saatchis. The executive creative director at the time, not necessarily ‘on it’ and not from round here, asked how I was enjoying looking after the ‘Copiers’. I hurried off to check the toner.
VW PRINT CAMPAIGN IT’S UGLY BUT IT GETS YOU THERE – writing
GREENPEACE VW STUNT
How ironic – not that ironic really in the great scheme of things – that my favourite stunt/viral link up of recent years should be one attacking the venerable VW. I’m heartily pissed off with stunts for stunt’s sake. I’m bored of clients who want an ‘event’ because everyone else is doing one. (I always imagine that an event will inevitably involve a marquee). So let’s invoke the spirit of the 60s and call it a ‘happening’.
For a great ‘happening’ you still have to have a great idea which has an impactful and hopefully disruptive visual element.
I loved the way this caught fire. One tube station, that’s all it takes. Oh, and balls.
PHILIPS RADIO AD – FIRIPS
My Dad played me a lot of radio comedy when I was a boy. He was obsessed by The Goons and I still believe it is some of the most gloriously surreal and incredibly imaginative comedy writing ever done. And so, thanks Dad, radio has somehow ended up as my favourite medium. Total control (usually because people can’t be arsed getting involved). Budget no object. (It’s hard to spend too much).
Philips (here) was up there. The dialogue was so perfectly timed and played to that great radio secret – you can’t see what they can see.
No apologies for picking the bloody obvious.
When you see something genuinely brilliant it feels like something has changed.
And, as with the death of a mega-celebrity but in a more ‘birthy’ sort of way, you even know where you were when you saw it. When I was sent the link to ‘Gorilla’ I was in Prague on a shoot. That evening, over dinner, we all had a very animated argument about it and I found myself heavily outnumbered.
My passionate defence of the ad was not based on the actual creative idea but on the door which I sensed had been kicked down. This gave us the template for how we could push through more subversive work. Additionally, the explosion of pastiches supported a view we have here that if you have a really great idea you should be prepared to let it escape into the public domain. Release it. Let it be appropriated and used in whatever way the public want to use it. They will take something, and therefore a brand, to their hearts if they feel it is theirs.
‘Hello, hello what’s going on here then? Someone’s worked out how to do something useful in a creative marketing way with the internet.’ So ran the train of thought when I first saw the pantomime chicken which obeyed – loosely – your every command. It was the first tentative and retrospectively quaint sign that people could harness the internet and digital content to capture the imagination at the same time as promoting a product. My how we were smitten with this. Briefly.
And hey you, corporate marketing departments, ‘silly’ works.
The novelty value was hard to deny but I’m not sure many things in Cyber Street have generated such an instant wave of populist interest since.
NSPCC – CARTOON BOY – Droga years
If you’re fortunate enough you end up being in the right department at the right time. The Droga years at Saatchi in the Noughties was one such time. Office after office filled with unbelievably talented people in competition which was deadly serious and bloody funny. It was a joy. The creative juice which went into people’s nicknames was worthy of a black pencil alone. ‘Cartoon Boy’ is one example of the great work which was done. I could gave picked from another 30 spread across every team. I still don’t know how Dave did it. Mirrors?
BA PICCADILLY poster
It’s reassuring, well to me anyway, that posters continue to be such a powerful medium. Nothing but nothing can stop you in your tracks like a poster. As long as people continue to use their legs there’ll be the need for great posters. From the Araldite ‘also sticks handles to teapots’ through ‘Labour isn’t working’ and now to the recently and rightly highly acclaimed BA digital poster in Piccadilly Circus. It’s a poster. It’s a big space filled by a memorable image and really clever thought which just happens to be linked to a plane flying overhead.
I love its ambition. Soaring you might say.
This is a fantastic example of lateral thinking. Where most creatives and strategists would have started with images of bent metal and twisted lives, the team involved here went for the repercussions people probably don’t get as far as imagining. They went for what actually happens in prison. And they didn’t just tell you, they got a psychopath to tell you. There’s always an unexpected way to do things. That should be etched on everyone’s bathroom mirror.
SAATCHI FOOTBALL Most inspirational idea
If any one idea has shown me the way it is the work Saatchi Rome did on behalf of the Italian Football Association. They were apparently briefed to do a poster campaign or a TV ad. Instead they did this. It was utterly fearless. Utterly inspired. And utterly free. It is the idea which has most influenced the work I want Johnny Fearless to do. It is fiercely intelligent and it changes things through its audacity and the simple premise that a wonderful piece of thinking can’t be confined by media or convention.