Lucky General Andy Nairn picks his Desert Island Ads

unnamedAndy Nairn co-founded Lucky Generals, one of the brightest new London agencies, with Helen Calcraft and Danny Brooke-Taylor in 2013. He spent his first nine years in the industry as a planner at AMV BBDO, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe and Goodby Silverstein and Partners, later moving to MCBD where he was executive planning director.

He has won 24 major effectiveness Awards, including the coveted 2005, 2007 and 2010 Grand Prixs at the IPA Effectiveness Awards. He has been named by Campaign magazine as the UK’s top planner and one of the top ten planners in the world.


Desert Island Ads

If I had to be marooned on a desert island, I’d want some good company. So for the purposes of this column I’ve mostly gone for ads with great characters in them.

I’m going to start with the Smash Martians: a fond childhood memory and one of many great character-based campaigns created by John Webster. The haughty but loveable aliens remain far more engaging than most food campaigns today, so they would be welcome first guests on my island.


Next, a campaign from my first agency, AMV. I was lucky enough to land a job on Old Marylebone Road when David Abbott was in his prime. His pitch-winning campaign for BT was not only strategically brilliant (‘It’s good to talk’ is one of the best pieces of planning ever), his writing was so powerful that he could make complete silence mesmerising. That might come in quite helpful on a desert island, so Bob Hoskins, please step ashore.


While David ruled the waves at AMV, Tom Carty and Walter Campbell were making them. Their extraordinary work for Kiss FM, Volvo and Guinness dominated the 90s awards juries but the ad that had most impact on me was their first collaboration with Tony Kaye: Dunlop’s ‘Tested for the unexpected.’ It launched in my first year in the industry (1993) and gave me a lasting respect for the ability of creative brilliance sometimes to defy logical analysis. The cast of fetishist freaks and surreal spirits would ensure that island life never got dull.


The other enfants terribles of the 90s were the geniuses at HHCL. They created an amazing body of iconoclastic work, for the likes of Fuji, First Direct, Pot Noodle, Ronseal and Maxell. Any of these would enliven my tropical stay but I’m going to go for the best execution in their best campaign of all: ‘St George’ for Blackcurrant Tango. The heroic Ray Gardner (an early inspiration for David Brent?) would be just the chap to raise my spirits if exile became too much.


In 2000, I left Blighty for San Francisco (a place where I could happily spend my enforced confinement). It was spectacularly poor timing on my part as the dotcom bubble burst as soon as I arrived and the city’s economy imploded. But it did allow me to work at Goodby Silverstein and Partners – then riding high as the US Agency of the Decade. One of their specialities was finding simple human insights in boring categories and then dramatising them to the nth degree through the lateral use of comedy. Their long-running Got Milk campaign was a perfect example of this and would remind me of fun times in foreign climes.


Talking of long-running success stories from San Francisco, I need to pack some Levi’s for my trip, don’t I? BBH’s campaign was a 28 year lesson in brand-building brilliance, so there is a whole host of candidates for inclusion here, from Laundrette and Swimming Pool to Creek and Odyssey. But for me, Drugstore just clinches it, for its clever story-telling, set to a fantastically counter-intuitive soundtrack.


On the subject of contrary thinking, my next ad makes it to the island by managing to make “hate” beautiful. As with most of the examples I’ve picked, there’s a simple story behind the execution (namely that Honda’s engineer hated Diesel engines but determined to channel those negative feelings into making a better one). However, the execution is anything but one-dimensional, so the assorted hummingbirds, frogs, goats and rabbits would bring some much-needed colour to the place.


My penultimate choice was set on a beach so might work quite well in my new surroundings. I love the way Southern Comfort’s relaunch ad stems from a tight, branded premise (‘Whatever’s comfortable’) but then brings it to life through some outrageous casting, audacious camerawork and inspired music. The big man would bring some serious cool to my beach, although I might have to ask him to borrow some Levi’s from the Drugstore guys, to cover up his budgie smugglers.


Finally, the definitive desert island ad: Queensland’s ‘Best job in the world.’ All my other choices have been TV ads, just for ease of presentation. So this one not only qualifies on its own merits but on behalf of all the great non-TV ideas I’d have included, if they’d been easier to show (Burger King’s Whopper Sacrifice, Red Bull’s Stratos Space Jump and the Obama campaign’s Great Schlep for starters). It’s a lateral solution, in a very traditional category, and I love its understanding of the new intersection between advertising and PR. Best of all, it might remind me that being stuck on a desert island isn’t the worst fate in the world – just as this exercise has reminded me that our industry isn’t so bad after all.

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