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We’re not storytellers; we’re better than that.

These days I often hear of advertising people as ‘storytellers’. Apparently we’re all telling stories of products and services in order to promote them.

On this very issue I hereby call bullshit.

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I get it: many of us want to think we’re somehow better or deeper people than mere floggers of goods on behalf those willing to pay us. Perhaps we want to believe that running a Twitter feed for a bank that launders money for drug dealers is not a soul-destroying use of a life. Or maybe we need to know that our 25%-off ad for potatoes is critically important to somebody somewhere.

But overall the pretence that this industry is in the business of something higher order, as if we’re presenting bite-sized versions of Great Expectations, or ‘snackable’ Jane Eyres demeans us all.

You’re an intelligent person. You’re surely far too bright to fall for the baseless flattery that attempts to make this job appear to be something it isn’t.

Watch an ad break. Scroll down your social media. Open a newspaper. Are the ads you’re seeing ‘stories’ by any generally-accepted meaning of that word? Or are they just about, maybe, if you squint really hard and stretch the definition like Silly Putty, something possibly, vaguely story-ish? Vinyl Running Ball - 1.9m

If you asked a bus driver if that poster they just passed told a story, would they agree, or look at you as if you were fucking bonkers?

The general acceptance of advertisers primarily as storytellers seems really odd to me. Somehow a bright, skeptical bunch of people who spend their working days trying to get other people to believe products are more important and significant than they actually are has fallen hard for their own schtick. (I know you haven’t fallen for it, dear reader. As always, we’re talking about other advertising people who are unfortunately a bit gullible.)

So let’s get real: we’re copywriters, art directors and advertisers who sometimes tell stories for our clients, but usually do nothing of the sort.

We’re not storytellers who just happen to do that on behalf of chicken drumsticks and betting shops.Waxed Irish Linen Crawford Cord 3 Ply 1 Spool (app 120 yds) Dark Emerald Green

The sooner we get honest with ourselves about what we do, the sooner we can do it properly. After all, there’s plenty of dignity and pride to be found in this industry. Every time we pretend there isn’t, we indirectly shame ourselves, and life’s hard enough without dealing with shit like that.

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Snap back to reality, oh, there goes gravity. Oh, there goes Rabbit. He choked, he’s so mad but he won’t give up the weekend.

Comedy writers room lingo.

David Byrne interviews David Byrne.

The film snob’s dilemma.

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An explanation of the Dark Web vs the Deep Web:

How Tarantino writes a scene:

Hoe Kubrick adapted A Clockwork Orange:


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Swagger

I sent a picture to my CEO the other day:

For those of you who aren’t fans of Mad Men, it’s the shot of Peggy Olson joining a new agency at the end of the show: sunglasses indoors, cigarette jabbing perkily from a pair of bright red lips, groovy clothes, a box of random possessions, and a shitload of insouciant, defiant swagger.24cm (9.4 inch) - Action Figure Fate Grand Order Berserker Mysterious Heroine X Alter PVC Collectible Model Toy

That used to be the personification of the advertising industry, which is why so many of us wanted to be a part of whatever it had to offer. It was hard-drinking, long-lunching and Ferrari-driving. But it was also the creator of loved and famous additions to culture, and it inspired water cooler conversations, catchphrases and admiration.

(Yes, the lifestyle did tend to breed and attract a few too many arseholes, and there were plenty of distasteful aspects of the industry that belong back in the egotistical 1980s, but this is about the good bits, so let’s concentrate on them.)

Did the salad days precede the swagger, were they born from it, or did they feed each other? Probably a little of all three, but the confidence of the people involved wasn’t misplaced; it existed because they were often responsible for confidence-worthy work.

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Shall we get an Oscar-winning director to turn hundreds of people into a moving face for British Airways? Of course. How about filming an S&M based, hypercolourised acid trip on behalf of Dunlop? Sounds good. Any chance of making an epic helicopter trip through the Arizona desert to sell Benson and Hedges? Step right up.

Advertising thrilled, amused and stuck in the memory for decades. I even recall an entire cinema applauding Levi’s Drugstore, which was far better than the film they had paid to see.

Now, I can see you nodding along (or shaking your head at what might seem like some misguided, romanticised version of the distant past), but you’re probably thinking that the generation of swagger is not an easy task. You don’t just turn on the tap and down a pint of it when you’re feeling small.

That’s true, but it would be irresponsible of me to extol the virtues of massive amounts of self-belief without setting forth a plan for acquiring it, so here’s how it’s done:

First ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve when you create an ad? I suspect the answers differ depending on the client and the brief, but these days the words ‘win some awards’ will somewhere near the top because they’re still the only measurable currency of supposed excellence, and the fastest route to a raise. But what about… let’s see… fame? Or the country repeating your endline for the next ten years? Or a taxi driver reciting your own commercial back to you as you bask in the warm glow of his or her delighted appreciation?Dark Green Elastic Sofa Cover Fabric Stretch Cushions Universal Armchair Furniture Covers Elastic Case Dustproof Change New Sofa style3, 90x140cm 1seat

Surely those situations would be better than a mere Cannes Silver.

If we aimed for such riches we would be infused with additional swagger. The mere setting of such momentous goals would put a spring in your step and twinkle in your eye. Perhaps just a little at first, but then the various littles would would combine to create something bigger, until eventually they’d add up to a lot.  

And that’s when the ball really starts rolling: the experience would start to become infectious as the rest of your agency saw how you rolled and wished they could knock back a shot of whatever you were drinking. And when they tried it they’d want more.

Then the people who currently design video games for Rock Star and algorithms for Spotify would wonder who came up with that cool, witty, deep human truth on the side of the bus that just drove by, and who made it look so damn eye-catching. And when they found out they would cast envious glances in your direction.

Newspaper headlines would make puns based on sentences you wrote. Tom Cruise and Graham Norton would mimic that funny dance you came up with. Lil Nas X would drop your jokes into his upcoming collaboration with Right Said Fred.

And the swagger would grow.

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So let’s go back to the days when the country waited breathlessly for the next Levi’s ad, then sent its soundtrack to number one. Let’s paper our cities with Economist lines that make people think ‘Whoever came up with that is a fucking genius (and I now want a copy of The Economist)’. Let’s write scripts so good that Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis want to bring them to life.

Yes, there are benefits to fear if you use it in the right way, but swagger is what you should be aiming for. Now go to Selfridges, treat yourself to a Mont Blanc Meisterstück 149 Fountain Pen, crack open a brand new layout pad and show the world exactly what it’s been missing.


We were born before the wind. Also younger than the sun. Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic. Hark, now hear the weekend.

What’s it like living under gangs in Honduras?

The problems with social media.

Design Works 2019 Calendar Felt Applique Kit (thanks, J).

How Tarantino steals from other movies (thanks, J):

The architecture of Game of Thrones:


ITIAPTWC Episode 56a, 56b and 56c – Rory Sutherland

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If you’re familiar with Rory Sutherland you’ll know he’s fascinating, thought-provoking and full of incredible insights, just like his excellent new book, Alchemy. So here are three hours twenty-two minutes of that good stuff, where we discussed…

The pros and cons of corporate fame.

The value of noticing unnoticed things.

The unknown benefits of Uber and Air BnB.

The signaling of a legit brand.

‘The worst account executive ever hired’.

Laurel Canyon.

Ethics and B Corps.

Digital advertising.

More signaling.

We interact with brands subconsciously.

Far fewer packaged goods. Far more random services.

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LA grocery shopping.

Amazon.

The American work ethic.

More Amazon.

Obliquity.

Universal basic income.

The Climate Crisis/electric cars.

Apple/Amazon/Argos.

Economies of scale.

Doing good by stealth.

The brain looks for trade-offs.

Uber.

Purpose.

Virtue signaling as counter-signaling.

How to be cool.

Machu Picchu.

Instinctive evaluations.

The S.C.A.R.F. model.

The adjective order.

The pratfall effect.

Unintentional brand explosion: Buckfast/Jagermeister.

More on brand fame.

Mistrust of advertising.

Pre-suasion.

Timetable padding.

The fashion industry.

(There are a few disjointed edits as a result of splicing two separate chats together, and to avoid contravening various NDAs I’ve signed in the past. Apologies.)

Here’s the Soundcloud link if you want to listen to it in one big chunk. Thanks to the vagaries of WordPress I’ll have to split the iTunes upload and the one on this site into three thirds. They’ll basically continue on from each other. (Further apologies.)


Things were better before all the improvements.

When it comes to doing stuff at work we seem to be in some weird kind of somnambulation.

Whenever anyone (I wish I knew who these people were) introduces a new thing, it appears to find its way its way into the fabric of the advertising industry (and often many others) like the noise of an air conditioner: you notice it at first, then rarely again until someone turns it off, at which point you breathe a massive sigh of relief as you realise just how annoying it was.

But while it’s there you just put up with it. Sometimes it’s gets on your nerves, but mostly it’s just there, and there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do about it.

To be clear, I’m talking about recent beneficial ‘innovations’, from open-plan offices to Slack; tissue meetings to directors’ treatments; scamming for Cannes to the spirit of egalitarianism that ensures everyone’s allowed to contribute to the final ad; constant fucking email updates to the delightful, essential, ever-tightening strictures of HR.

OK. Maybe there’s a bat-squeak of merit in some of those, but they tend to lead me to the question: how did anything get done before we had each of these now-indispensable processes, methods and systems?

How, back in the late 1980s, was David Abbott able to come up with the Economist campaign without a word of advice from the planning intern? How did Guinness ‘Surfer’ grace our screens without Jonathan Glazer running his intention for every shot past a discerning client? How can Honda ‘Cog’ have been possible without constant updates on several Slack channels regarding the movement of the windscreen wipers?

And yes, if you hadn’t twigged my implication, the work was much better back then

With each new system it seems as if someone can explain what we have to gain, but there’s very little consideration of what we might be losing: the attention-sap of the supposedly time-saving digital tools; the degradation of the idea that we actually solve business problems that comes with every Cannes scam; the pointless hours spent in tissue meetings that could have been spent on a chat in a pub that sparked off a ridiculously good idea.

Those of you who didn’t work in advertising in the 1990s and before might be stunned to know that all creatives used to have these things called offices (they’re like your current office, but instead of the entire floor of the building, packed with people from finance, planning and account management, they were much smaller and featured only two people). These strange little boxes allowed you to close your door and work in the kind of peace that actually helped you write good copy. You could put your work up on the walls and have your colleagues take the piss out of it, or suggest a better endline. You could share ridiculous ideas with your partner without having to worry about the disapproving glances from the resources manager sitting to your left.

And those things increased the likelihood of better work.

Now we just have desk after desk of people looking at screens with their headphones on. Tap them on the shoulder for a chat and it’s like you’ve awakened a corpse, so you feel less inclined to do it again. Then the whole place is forever silent because the corpses have combined to create a morgue (but no decent advertising).

The funny thing is, you can find countless articles and think pieces on how to improve or ‘unleash’ creativity, but they all ignore the basic fact that things were better before all the improvements.

If you want to maximise creativity, find out what things were like when the creative output was better, and replicate them. Yes, it might cost money, but so do offsite bonding weekends, and architects who bring ‘breakout spaces’ the size of a phone box to your otherwise uncreative office. Have a single creative assessor (or ‘CD” as we used to call them before everyone in the department became a bloody CD) who has both the power and responsibility to champion work without getting cut off at the knees. Restrict Slack to the people who want to use it and find that it makes their process-based work easier. Ask yourself if that meeting/email/client awayday is actually necessary.

They say we see further by standing on the shoulders of giants. Climbing down off those shoulders, scuttling along the giant’s spine and hiding in his bumhole will not improve your line of sight.


Where’s all the money gone? I’m talking to you. All up the hole in your arm is the weekend.

Why has language changed so fast? Because Internet.

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What Naomi Campbell does on planes:

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What do people living in solitary confinement want to see?

A not-at-all-creepy Britney Spears museum.

Pussypedia.

(Those three links come from Ann Friedman’s excellent mailout.)

Save the human race indirectly with vegan pork scratchings.

The rise and fall of French cuisine

The enduring legacy of Do The Right Thing (thanks, A).

Trippy aerial collage (thanks, J):


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I want it that way. Am I your fire? Your one desire? Yes know, it’s the weekend.

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There’s no such thing as guilty pleasure.

The best books to read at any age of life.

Drawing famous logos by hand:


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The pain is calling, oh Mandy, well you came and you gave without taking the weekend.

An ode to Nike’s Air Force Ones.

Deck of Brilliance (thanks, M).

Pints of Blood by Eagle-Gryphon Huch & Friends

How to derail a train for the movies:

And how they shot that corridor scene in Inception:

The puppetry of the movies: