Rob Kavanagh of Oliver picks his Desert Island Ads

Starting his creative career two decades ago at Ogilvy & Mather in New Zealand, Rob moved to London in 2002, working for AIS London, Proximity London, Partners Andrews Aldridge and more. Since becoming Oliver ECD last year, he has worked on a variety of brand campaigns for clients such as Barclaycard and 3M.

Desert Island Ads

A lot of work goes into making an integrated creative. Other people’s, that is. A bit like a decathlete – minus the six-pack, of course – you need to perform in a broader range of areas. So, to understand what good looks like, you tend to seek inspiration from a wider variety of sources. As such, if I’ve ever managed to see a little further, then it’s only by reading over the shoulder of giants. Here’s some of their work that was integral in my early years…

Mary Potter Hospice – Ron was all set to die

Right out of the blocks, this was the ad that made me want to be a copywriter. I was 19, in Wellington, NZ, and I read this double page press ad on palliative care from start to finish. It showed me the power of words, and it was a masterclass in art direction’s super power, too – flawless typography.

Burger King – Subservient Chicken

There was a time when no conceptual creative would go anywhere near digital. And then this acquiescent fella Fosbury flopped onto our screens. It was like nothing we’d ever seen. Suddenly digital could be great. And great was all about engagement.

The AA – Hitch hiker

Arriving in London in 2001, the infinitely influential Steve Harrison gave me my first job. And it was in his shop that I saw the first bit of DM I wished I’d done. This humble, one-piece-mailer demonstrated the impact and persuasion a personalised message could deliver in one-to-one. Below the line did not mean a lower bar for creativity.

The Economist – Management trainee. Aged 42.

David Abbott’s classic showed me (well, it showed everyone) the potency of a campaign legacy built upon consistent single-mindedness. It’s such an enduring corpus of work that illuminates to this day.

The Economist – Mandela

Sticking with The Economist, this Nelson Mandela spot proved that with great insight, you’re already halfway to gold. The genius nugget behind this campaign helped The Economist comfortably tackle the misperception people had regarding its title, truly aligning its brand with a heavyweight influencer.

Burger King – Whopper Sacrifice

One of my favourite social ideas, Whopper Sacrifice cleverly subverted the medium and irritated the hell out of Facebook. An act of defiance and confirmation that, yes, your friends value burgers more than they value you. The campaign encouraged Facebook users to cull ten friends in exchange for a Whopper – mass unfriending ensued, and Facebook shut down the fun within hours (Just try getting them to rapidly change their own functionality, content and policies nowadays). Genius.

Tango – Blackcurrant Tango

OK, OK. So, 20 years on, what was originally a parody takes on a prickly edge in our Brexit-heavy days. But at the time, it demonstrated the fruitfulness of pushing and pushing a creative train of thought right off the cliff, from silly to sublime.

ESPN2 – Knowledge

There’s just something about this series that always stuck in the outside track of my mind. Without the consummate crafting of the director, this simple script would have fallen dead flat. Creating brilliant work takes a pack of brilliant people, each taking their turn at the front.


For sure, this isn’t the greatest logo in the world. But that arrow between the E and the x continues to show that even in the most humble of media and opportunities, there’s always space for a great idea. No such thing as a small brief. Only large egos.

The Choice Factory

Nope, it’s not an ad. But I reckon it is one of the best manuals out there on human psychology and buyer behaviour. Understanding that is still key to creating compelling, competitive and imaginative ideas that resonate with people and drive ‘em to action. A must-read.

And that’s my ten.

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