Ben Bilboul of Karmarama picks his Desert Island Ads

Ben Bilboul is group CEO of Karmarama. He started his advertising career at Still Price Lintas working on Peperami and the global Lynx/Axe account. In 1996, after too many years of reconstituted meat and sexy girls he became St Luke’s first hiring, heading up the IKEA account. During his five years at St Luke’s he ran IKEA, the international HSBC account and the agency’s digital division as managing partner. He left in 2000 to start his own consultancy working with clients including IKEA and EMAP and in 2003 merged his company with Karmarama.

Ben Bilboul landscape

Desert Island Ads

Why would you take an ad to a desert Island? Surely no campaign can rank alongside your favourite Coppola movie or that first LP?

Maybe it helps that the first record I bought was Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, because the ads that follow are at least as significant in my life as anything by Mr Loaf.

And maybe it’s because when I first saw them, these ads really spoke to me. And in a few instances in my – admittedly sad – case, they changed my life.

Looking back, the campaigns that did this best have some, or all, of these ingredients: the surprise of being directly addressed and understood; the awe of an entirely fresh creative approach, and a cultural effect that goes beyond the viewing moment. Which in very special cases inspires you to do something, even change career.

R Whites – Secret Lemonade Drinker

The first ad I remember did all the above and more. Brilliantly anarchic and irrational, with a genius soundtrack, as a kid it was the funniest thing on TV. Like Tiswas but better.

I could try and post-rationalise it, but all that really mattered was it was like nothing else on telly. And it proved that somewhere there were grown-ups doing grown-up jobs without being boring.

Levis – Laundrette

Fast forward a few years and I’m a teenager sitting in a provincial cinema, wearing Farahs and with my arm painfully stretched across the back of my date’s seat for the entire movie.

When this came on it was instantly and quite clearly THE BEST AD EVER MADE. Beautifully shot, brilliantly cast and to this day the best soundtrack in an ad ever. It didn’t seem to be selling anything and yet it convinced me I should and could be a ginger Nick Kamen.

I swapped my Farahs for some 501s and boxer shorts that very Saturday. And a pot of Brylcream to make my ginger quiff even greasier.

Thanks very much Sir John.

Dunlop – Tested for the Unexpected

I said Laundrette had the best soundtrack ever. But this beats it. If I had to pick one ad it would be this one.

Can you imagine being the next in break after 60 seconds of Venus in Furs and Tony Kaye’s nightmarish visuals? Good luck with that.

I think what I love about it – and Laundrette before it – is the obvious ambition of the team behind it. They weren’t trying to make a slightly better tyre ad – they wanted to do something that could hold its own with anything in popular culture. And they did. At the time It was like receiving a broadcast from Mars: I wanted to know who had made it and if I could go there.

Fedex (three minutes in to this Joe Sedelmaier reel but they’re all worth a look).

A few years on and I’m no longer wearing 501s but a cheap suit, a fake Ralph Lauren shirt and working in an ad agency with a very long name. And it wasn’t everything I thought it would be. Interminable meetings about yellow fats and largely awful ‘vignette’ based advertising. My formative years were pretty light on shock, awe and cultural impact.

And there was no YouTube to share the good stuff. Instead me and my fellow grad trainee had a U-Matic reel of ads from the American Golden Era. Volkswagen, Alka-Seltzer, FedEx.

Maybe it was because I was a pretty hopeless account manager that this Sedelmeyer ad spoke to me the most.

It just seemed a shame that the Golden Era was over.

Citrus Spring

And then Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury started up.

Their ads were smart. They didn’t patronise you, they played with the conventions of advertising (which in the 90s were pretty conventional) and they did it with humour and anti-establishment energy.

I could have picked Blackcurrant Tango – but it looks like too many of my fellow desertees have beaten me to it – so I’ll go with an earlier campaign that started the whole post-modern-advertiser-talks-direct-to-audience thing. The UR-Tango if you like.

It literally made me look for a new job.

IKEA – Bill & Betty Griffin

Not quite getting it together to join HHCL, I joined St Luke’s, which had been set up by two very talented ex-HHCL creative directors.

There I was lucky enough to work with IKEA – one of the most consistently creative advertisers of the last 20 years – who were equally determined to find fresh, unique ways of expressing themselves.

This ad – laughing at customers who bought from IKEA before the sale – still makes me wonder how it got made.

Most clients would fire their agency before running something similar but, interestingly, customers loved it. ‘It’s true’! “It’s funny!” “It’s different!”

Don’t let anyone tell you that sale ads have to be boring.

IKEA – Kitchen Party

IKEA again and another brilliant soundtrack.

For a category that generally sells on price rather than quality or design, IKEA stands out for recognising that, for most people, home is the most important place in the world. So why not raise the bar and show some imagination?

Burger King – Subservient Chicken

I could have put Gorilla or Sony Balls, but they’re shipwrecked on other islands so I’ll finish up with two more transmissions from Mars.

Subservient Chicken was the Shazam of advertising. Something so good and how-did-they-do-that? that everything else looks instantly old-fashioned.

I love the fact that all around the world adults-who-should-know-better were typing ‘Go on touch yourself’ in an attempt to make a man in a chicken suit do something bad.

Suddenly advertising felt full of possibilities again.


And finally the case study video that launched a thousand case study videos. Don’t hate the playa, hate the game….

If you can put aside the slightly smug voice over and self-regarding tone, what’s inspiring about Droga 5’s idea is that it created a cultural moment in an entirely new way, without the need to lean on TV. And somehow it developed a platform that gave equal status to all its participants. Jay Z, the fans, Bing themselves; it really did unite them all through the power of an idea.

For once the celebrity didn’t look like he was just doing it for the money. And it showed the industry that there were new creative approaches and partnerships that didn’t involve recycling old ideas.

And it made us want to hire Nik Studzinski, the man wot did it.

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