This is one of the funniest things I’ve come across for a quite some time. It concerns a designer called David Thorne. He’s an amazingly humorous designer, satirist and man you don’t want to start having an email discussion with.

His website is outrageously amusing. He documents email discussions with people. Which sounds fairly normal. But his emails are always slightly off-kilter. You’re often not sure if he’s serious or messing with you.

He tried to pay an overdue bill (for $233.95) by sending a picture of a spider that he had drawn. He notes in his email “I value the drawing at $233.95 so trust that this settles the matter.” Needless to say it wasn’t the end of the matter. It was just the start of a beautifully bizarre exchange with a lady called Jane Gilles. It’s very much worth a read.

One of my favourite exchanges on his site is with a secretary in his office. She asks him to make her a poster to help her find her missing cat. On the surface it’s just him messing around after a secretary in his office asks him to make a poster to help her find her missing cat. This is known online as the ‘Missing Missy’ case.

If you read a wee bit deeper into it, I think it’s a great example of what can go wrong if the person briefing you doesn’t think enough about what they actually want. I see it as a searing indictment of people’s inability to think things through properly and write a proper brief.

The best way I think to show you how the conversation progresses (and how David uses exaggeration to make his point) is to just show you the conversation.

So here goes. Buckle up.

Missing Missy 1

Missing Missy 2

To be fair, his tone and heavy use of sarcasm should alert us to the fact that this isn’t going to be the normal polite email chit chat.

Missing Missy 3

Shannon, the secretary, comes back with a couple of questions. And David answers them. I love his negative space comment.

Missing Missy 4

As a small aside here, if you’re asking someone to do you a favour saying “That’s just stupid.” is unlikely to aid your request.

Missing Missy 5

Again, he’s followed her instructions to the letter. Which starts to show why writing a loose, poorly-though-out brief is asking for all sorts of trouble. Guess what? Shannon’s not happy with his amends either. I, however, am loving his work. Especially when he points out that “I don’t come downstairs and tell you how to send text messages, log onto Facebook and look out of the window.”

And so it continues. (I defy anyone not to laugh at the next image.)

Missing Missy 6

Again, he’s followed her brief to the letter. (Granted he’s not followed the spirit of her request, but he has answered her brief.)

Missing Missy 7

Shannon’s patience seems to be beginning to wear thin.

Missing Missy 8

Hands up who spotted that’s not Shannon’s cat?

Missing Missy 9

Surely he’ll send her what she wants this time?

Missing Missy 10

Shannon thinks she’s finally got across to David all that she wants in the poster. But we know better.

Missing Missy 11

Again, he’s followed her instructions. And she’s still not got what she wants.

Missing Missy 12

I love that he’s deliberately messing with her to prove his point – unless you think about what you’re asking someone to do it’s unlikely to end well.

Using the creative work to refine the brief is a crazy way to work. It’s lazy, disrespectful and shows you don’t actually care about the work your project will ultimately produce. You’re pretty much the nightmare client.

If only we were all as brave as David, then perhaps the people who write really terrible briefs would get their just desserts. Unfortunately, most of us are far too polite to actually point out the lack of clarity in other people’s thinking. Certainly more than once or twice on any single brief.

If you’re on the secretary’s side you’re most likely someone who writes terrible, terrible briefs.

There’s an old saying that people get the work they deserve.

So when you’re writing a brief, think hard.

Always try to communicate one single idea.

I promise you’ll get better work if you write a better brief.

If you don’t, give me a call and I’ll answer the brief for you.

And a final salute to David. Hats off to you sir. Your whimsical response to a shabby brief should be an inspiration to us all.

 

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Frank Budgen was a groundbreaking copywriter, director and inspiration.
He died on Monday 2nd November 2015.
I loved his work.
He continually delivered astonishingly effective and beautiful adverts, and yet remained humble and keen to learn new things.
He understood the need to make an impact.
So he changed and evolved to ensure that his approach always felt fresh. It always had something different.
He was a hero to many.

He was responsible for one of my favourite pieces of film (not just adverts) of all time, the ‘Double Life’ spot for the Sony Playstation. For me, it absolutely nails the target audience.
They don’t see computer games as a waste of time. They’re proud of the effort they put in and the alternative digital lives they lead. It’s a tribal thing, where the advert recognises the emotion that gamers feel. It looks fantastic and it still gives me goosebumps to watch.

He began his journey in advertising when he started as a copywriter at BBDO. He then moved to M&C Saatchi before becoming creative director at Boase Massimi Pollitt (BMP). The reputation that BMP enjoyed was based on their excellent creative output – one that saw regular award and account wins.

While working at BMP Frank directed his first commercial (that he also wrote) for John Smith’s Brewery.

By 1992 he had decided he wanted to direct rather than write and he left BMP to join the Paul Weiland Film Company. He continued to develop his skills there and launched his own production company, Gorgeous Enterprises, in 1997.
It’s one of the delights of working in advertising to call Gorgeous and be greeted with “Hello Gorgeous”.

He features in The Commercials Book: How 32 of the world’s best directors make their commercials. It’s a fantastic read. He talks at length and eloquently about how he approaches directing.

“In the end you have to let a piece of work kick you in the gut. I think too many people look for rules in advertising. It’s not about that. You have to feel it, and often too much of it gets strangled by logic.”

“I see my work as a team effort where there’s no distinction between writer, art director or director. Anybody can contribute to any part of the process. Most of my best work has been a collaboration between me and the agency at script stage. And it’s great when that carries on through the shoot into post production.
A lot of trust has to be given to a director the team may hardly know and I guess having an agency background can be reassuring.”

“Some people say that advertising has changed for the worse over the years. I actually think it’s got better.”

By his own admission he rarely knew what the finished commercial would look like. He took the approach that change was constant and he remained flexible in his approach to casting, rehearsals, locations and editing. And he wasn’t pigeon-holed by a style, or a technique or an approach. As he put it: “People tell me that I’ve got no style at all, which I think is meant as a compliment.”

He was recognised in 2012 at D&AD’s 50th anniversary celebrations as Britain’s most-awarded commercials director (jointly with Tony Kaye).

When he was working as a copywriter he wrote this ad for The Guardian that still resonates today.
It’s simple, memorable and powerful. The idea fits perfectly with the proposition – that The Guardian gives you every angle on a story. It was directed by Paul Weiland, who Frank went on to work for after BMP.

Here’s a selection of beautiful adverts Frank shot after he became a full-time director. Judge for yourself if he had no style.
(I think I’d change that earlier sentence to: Frank has no one particular style associated with his work. But, damn, he had style.)

Audi ‘Number One’ (1995)

Capital Radio ‘Static’ (1996)

VW ‘UFO’ (1996)

Centraal Beheer ‘Museum’ (1996)

Guinness ‘Bet on Black’ (2000)

Levi’s ‘Twist’ (2001)

Reebok ‘Escape the Sofa’ (2001)

Nike ‘Tag’ (2001)

NSPCC ‘Cartoon’ (2002)

Nike ‘Shade Runner’ (2002)

Playstation ‘Mountain’ (2003)

Xbox ‘Jump rope’ (2006)

Sony Bravia ‘Play Doh’ (2007)

And finally Playstation ‘Double Life’ (1999)

Well, it is my favourite.
Watch it again and marvel at the sheer beauty of it, on all levels.

Frank Budgen
(1954 – 2015)
Copywriter and director

Goodbye to a man who commanded armies and conquered worlds.
He will be missed.

Volvo has launched a great initiative called LifePaint. It’s come from their belief that road safety shouldn’t just be for the few, but for everyone.

Like all great ideas this invention is brilliantly simple.

It’s a spray can that has smart water in it. You spray it onto your clothes or your bike frame. It’s invisible during the day, but becomes highly reflective when headlights hit it. It’s water-soluble and it lasts about one week from when it’s sprayed on.

Now you see it, now you don’t

It’s part of Volvo’s stated aim that: “By 2020, no person will be killed, or seriously injured, by a new Volvo.”

And you can’t argue with the results.

The spray makes cyclists far more visible. And that’s surely got to be a good thing.

Highly visible when headlights hit the spray

Highly visible when headlights hit the spray

Or so you’d think. While researching this article, I came across a group of people who think that this is a bad idea. And they’re all cyclists. They argue that this is part of the automotive industry’s plan to blame everyone except car drivers. Which I just don’t get. Volvo doesn’t appear, to me, to be blaming anyone. They seem to be genuinely trying to make a difference.

Surely anything that makes cycling safer has got to be a good thing?

Some protesters have suggested that Volvos should be sprayed with LifePaint. Others argue that the paint isn’t particularly effective.

Even the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) seem to be against the paint.

Rosie Downes, Campaign Manager at the London Cycling Campaign, says:

“Life Paint and its accompanying marketing campaigning is a slick idea, but will it reduce road danger? We don’t think so: collisions aren’t caused by cyclists not wearing reflective paint.

“The video tells us that cyclists need to make themselves visible, but neglects to mention that drivers who are not paying attention can and do hit anyone, whatever they are wearing. The money spent on this campaign – and on the product itself – could be much better spent on concrete measures to reduce road danger, by improving street design and tackling driver behaviour – not giving drivers a reason to take less care.”

I don’t see it as giving drivers another reason to take less care.

I see it as a great idea that’s part of the solution to making roads safer. I absolutely agree that driver education is the way forward. But enforcement by the police would make a big difference.

How often do you see people on their phones? How often do you see people in slow-moving traffic texting or using their phones to get online? How often do people drive without paying attention?

These are the things we need to eradicate.

Here’s a great advert from Tower Hamlets that shows how dangerous texting is while driving (it’s as dangerous as driving drunk!). They’ve simplified the problem and then exaggerated it, creating a hugely powerful image that hammers home the point.

Simple yet hugely powerful

Simple yet hugely powerful

Volvo has a history of safety firsts. They’ve been responsible for many safety features we all take for granted nowadays. The first three-point seatbelt. First rear-facing child seat. First to offer side-impact airbags. First to offer a blind-spot information system (that really benefitted cyclists). The list goes on. They are true innovators. You can see more of what they’ve created in this timeline video.

This history of innovation in safety has underpinned their advertising for a long time. I think LifePaint is another area where they’re trying to use smart thinking to make the roads safer. Here are some previous examples:

Designed to crumple and protect the occupants

Designed to crumple and protect the occupants

Volvo cotton wool

Simplify, then exaggerate

A great thought that won loads of awards

A great thought that won loads of awards

One of my writing heroes, putting his money where his mouth is

One of my writing heroes, putting his money where his mouth is

There are a huge number of things we need to improve to help make our roads safer. Driver behaviour and concentration have to be at the top of the list. But anything I can do to improve my chances of being seen while I’m cycling is a great idea by me.

And I think that LifePaint is a great idea. Let’s not forget, Volvo is under no obligation to do this. So let’s try and not be cynical. Let’s embrace a great idea that will help cyclists be more visible and safer.

There’s a lovely example of how tone of voice works in an episode of Have I Got News For You. They’re discussing the class system, and how a new survey has identified seven classes in the UK as opposed to the traditionally acknowledged three.

Alexander Armstrong, who is hosting the episode, asks if anyone is working class and one wag replies “Rather!”.

Cue hysterics from the panel and the rest of the audience. It’s a superb joke because the person who shouted “Rather!” is playing against accepted norms. We would expect someone from the upper reaches of the socio-economic scale to shout “Rather!” as opposed to a person from the so-called working classes.

In this instance they were looking for people to laugh at their uttering. In this case, the inappropriate language is amusing.

It can be dangerous for a company to deviate from their tone of voice. Unless it’s a) done well and b) for a good reason.

If you pull it off you can make it really work for you. Like this ad for The Economist. Traditionally the Economist used a red background with simple white type on it. Here they changed one simple thing and created something much bigger – the advertising equivalent of synergy.

Full of surprises - rather!

Full of surprises – rather!

Tone of voice can seem simple. However it can be hard work to make sure that all your communications speak with the same voice. But it’s always worth doing. Brands that succeed do so in no small part thanks to getting their tone of voice right. But beware, simplicity can be deceptive. With hard work and diligence it’s achievable, and it can lead to great rewards for your brand (and your profit margins).

“Writing is thinking on paper.”

William Zinsser

We all know how to think. And most of us are reasonably OK at talking. We should try to write as we talk. Every business, every organisation and (I believe) every individual needs to influence, persuade and convince people on a regular basis. Life is a series of competitions, so we need to be clear what it is we offer that’s different/better/faster/greener than anyone else.

We have the ability to shape these discussions using words. They’re free, everyone can use them and there’s almost no limit to how you can arrange them to carry your message. Stay true to the way you speak and you’ll not go far wrong. And never fall into the trap of thinking that shouting louder is the way to go. In the long run it will only hurt your brand.

Wise words from Bishop Desmond

Wise words from Bishop Desmond

Our tone of voice is the way we write and speak – it’s what we say and how we say it. Your individual company will know what it wants to say (or it really should know).

How you say it should be determined by your company’s personality. And you can decide how you want to sound. Fresh. Fun. Intelligent. Knowledgeable. Attitudinal. Even dull. That’s right, dull.

Leica Cameras has just made “the most boring film ever”. It’s pretty much 45 minutes of an engineer polishing the aluminium frame of one of their cameras. But it’s a stroke of genius. I’m pretty sure they don’t really expect people to watch the whole 45 minutes. But it does say very quickly that they’re a company that does things properly. Laboriously, meticulously and, yes, boringly. The antithesis of the modern tech companies. And justifying (probably) the vast cost of their equipment. (They’ve also had a huge amount of media coverage due to their unusual approach.)

You need to know your vision. How does your company see things? Where are you heading? And how you want to get there. You need to know your values. What are the principles that your company stands for?

A green energy company will have vastly different values, principles and aims than an oil company. But they may share a number of these, too. Once you take all your values together you’ll be able to work out who your company is, and how you want to communicate with your customers. Once you know that, you can develop your personality.

Imagine the company as a person. How would they act? What would they say? Would you want to have a chat with the company if you met it in the local coffee shop? Ask yourself simple questions about how you want to talk to your customers and you’ll not go far wrong. One place that companies seem to enjoy having a playful tone is on their 404 errors page. Here are some lovely examples.

The North Face 404 message - beware the goats

The North Face 404 message – beware the goats

Space Invaders 404 error - making mistakes more fun

Space Invaders 404 error – making mistakes more fun

Pants down 404 error message

Pants down 404 error message

They’re all different, yet all playful. They realise that this is an opportunity to show that they’re humans – and that they have a sense of humour. As a slight aside, I hate when an error message says “You may have typed the address incorrectly.” What that’s saying to your customers is that you think it’s their fault. For me, that’s a really poor way to handle things. If you must cede some of the potential blame, then try to do it nicely. Something like: “If you typed the address into the address bar, check that it’s spelled correctly.” Or, better still, don’t blame your customer. Help them solve the problem. Give them a link to contact you so you can help them.

It’s a smart move to always put yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you’re selling pacemakers it’s unlikely that a cockney barrow-boy is the tone of voice you’ll be aiming for. Likewise, if you’re selling sports shoes you’ll probably not want to sound like Lord Hailsham. Or perhaps you do. It’s up to you. Just make it true to your brand and make it genuine.

And always, always talk to your customers truthfully. The public are like elephants when it comes to lies – they never forget. Which leads me neatly to a great quote from one of my favourite art directors. Helmut Krone worked at DDB in the 1950s and 60s. He is responsible for much of the groundbreaking Volkswagen advertising that changed the way a whole industry talked to its customers. He said: “A little admission gains a great acceptance.” You can see this philosophy at work in a lot of his advertising. Here are just a few of the beautiful VW ads that he gave to the world.

VW. Lemon.

VW. Lemon.

VW. Think small.

VW. Think small.

VW. Makes your house look bigger.

VW. Makes your house look bigger.

And what he meant was that by acknowledging you’re human and that, occasionally, you’ll make a mistake means that your audience see you as a person like them. And that way they’ll be more trusting of you and your messages.

Innocent Drinks has a tone of voice that is often held up as being perfect for their audience. It’s fun, playful and shows that they’re not too worthy. Like this little idea they’ve added to their cartons. (Innocent Drinks went from start-up to selling the company to Coca-Cola within 15 years – making each of the three founders a reported £33 million each. So there’s money to be made from getting your tone of voice spot on.)

Innocent Drinks. Making bottom jokes.

Innocent Drinks. Making bottom jokes.

Try it. Talk honestly to your customers. Give them the warts and all story. You’ll find they’ll like you more for it, as will your finance director as your profits increase.

Sir John Hegarty is a very, very talented art director. He also knows a thing or two about business, having founded Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH).
His CV speaks for itself. His client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s most successful companies. He’s been creative director at BBH for the past 30 years and is responsible for the Levi’s ‘Launderette’ ad. For introducing ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ to the UK. For the ‘Flat Eric’ Levi’s ad. For seven tracks from Levi’s commercials becoming number ones in the UK charts. And so it continues.

His agency is still producing great ads, year after year. Here are some really simple ads for Google. They’re promoting the voice function for phones. And they’re lovely. They’re so good because they allow the reader to ‘get’ them. There’s a little moment where you feel good once you realise what they’re talking about.

Google Vlice Search Piccadilly Circus

Google Voice Search FTSE 100

Google Voice Search Latest scores

Google Voice Search Covent Garden

Google voice Search Taxi numbers

Google Voice Search Leicester Square

He’s quite disappointed with the level of creativity in advertising nowadays.
Here’s his list of ten things you should strive for to try and be more creative:

1 Be fearless: Be single minded in the face of opposition
2 Keep it simple: Don’t try to say or do too many things at once
3 Stop thinking, start feeling: Creativity is driven by the heart, we respond more to emotions than logic
4 Get angry: Channel the things that annoy/upset you into more creative tasks than getting stressed
5 Juxtaposition: Don’t be afraid to place two things next to one another that wouldn’t normally sit together – even in your head
6 When the world zigs, zag: Look in the opposite direction to everyone else
7 Avoid cynics: They drain your confidence – see number one
8 Ask why? a lot: Question everything like a child
9 Philosophy: Always be looking, thinking, watching. Absorb everything
10 Remove your headphones! Don’t cut yourself off from your environment

Here are some of the other things he managed to deliver by focussing on his creativity:

BBH Levis Zig Zag

Vorsprung_durch_Technik

Flat Eric

A painting by John Hegarty to raise money for NABS

A painting by John Hegarty to raise money for NABS

Here’s a little piece of what he wrote for a book called ‘The Art Direction Book’:

Herb Lubalin, probably one of the most influential American designers and typographers, once ran an ad. It said in big bold type “Nobody ever noticed good typography.” Underneath in very small print it read “They’re too busy reading the ad.” The art of art direction is to do more than get noticed. It is to get consumed.
Although we have quite rightly shrugged off the constraints of the Helmut Krone VW layout that dominated advertising since 1960, in its place we have adopted an attitude that says anything goes. We have drifted into startling our readers with a look – rather than an idea.
I’m sure the recurring theme from many people in this book will be about the primacy of the idea. Sadly, that is being forgotten by many art directors and award shows that increasingly give out gongs for craft. Without an idea, art direction is nothing but candy floss. It melts to nothing under the heat of scrutiny.
It’s ideas that change the world – not the letter spacing in your headline.

I love his work and his approach to creating. And the fact that he believes so strongly that ideas change the world.

Next time you’re trying to create anything, try and remember John’s list. And, if you can’t remember the other nine, make sure you remember the most important one – keep it simple.

And reading old awards annuals (D&AD annual are the best) is a great way to see how other people’s creativity works. Don’t steal, just use the annuals for inspiration. They can help your mind approach a problem from an unusual angle. And that’s normally where the great ideas are waiting to be discovered.

This is a lovely idea.
It’s a poster where you can swipe your credit (or debit) card down the middle of the poster.
When you do this the image on the poster changes and you donate €2.
But the changes in the poster are lovely.
It shows you slicing off a piece of bread for a hungry child. Or slicing through the ropes binding an imprisoned man’s hands.

Invite people to interact with your message. It makes them feel part of it, and therefore is more likely to get a response.
It’s the same when you’re presenting creative work (or copy, or art direction, or a media schedule) to your client.
Always, always make them feel part of the process. They’ll be far more likely to buy into the idea if it’s partly theirs (or even if they feel that it’s partly their idea).
Plus, it’s far less likely they’ll kill the idea stone dead if they’re responsible for its inception.

Reminds me of the Skoda brand manager who was almost fired for approving the ‘new’ Skoda ads about 10 years ago.
It’s a long story, but it’s a rewarding story for those of us who try hard to get ideas into our communications.
Basically Chris Hawken was given the task by VAG group to head up the Skoda brand in the UK.
He sold the board on repositioning the brand as a quality marque, rather than the slightly-less-than-quality reputation it held.
He (very bravely) decided to not use the internationally-renowned agency that the company normally used.
He chose to go with Fallon instead.
He bought ads from Fallon that were superb.
Many of the ads were written by Andy MacLeod and art directed by Richard Flintham (who were also executive creative directors and founding partners at Fallon).
They acknowledged that the marque had issues in the past. And they highlighted this by having people unable to accept that the lovely car they were looking at was a Skoda.
Here are some of the TV ads that they used to change people’s perceptions.

But when he presented the campaign idea to his line manger, the line manager refused to approve it.
So Chris Hawken resigned.
Once the board level management heard about his resignation, they asked why.
They then saw the ads he was proposing, and they invited Chris to return to the company and sacked his boss instead.
Last I heard he was heading up the whole of the VW/Audi Group in Australasia.
This is a lovely tale of the right idea winning out. Sadly it doesn’t happen all that often.
So grab every opportunity you see. Make the best of any job you ever work on. Because you never know when everything will click and you’ll get some dream work out there.
Ideas make a big difference. Honest.