As Told To Marcus Honesta.
In “Part Two” of my sit down with one of the Advertising Agencies more famous, retired Creative Directors I asked him to share some of the more unusual, sometimes hilarious memories of life in this “Mad Men’s World”. What ensued was a collection of “Gems” of wisdom that are just as relevant then as they are today. I share them with you; our readers may especially enjoy these jaunts down memory lane. He told me:
This is a true story. I was working in London quite some time ago. (Decades actually.) I was hoping to get in touch with an old friend who worked in the creative department of a very large and very successful multi national. (They used to drink at the Ship Inn. Remember drinking?)
I called the agency at around 10am. A receptionist answered. (Remember receptionists?) I asked for my friend by name.
“Good God no,” the receptionist replied. “He’s not in yet, call back a bit later.”
I called back at 12.30pm.
“Good God no” said the receptionist. “You’ve just missed him, he’s gone to lunch.
I know this sounds a little far fetched and today such behaviour is just a memory. (For those of us who still have one). But my friend had many a pencil under his belt and any number of head hunters, (sorry, existential recruiters), more than willing to foot the bill at Quaglino’s in return for the chance to represent his services.
This really used to happen too. And you know what. You could turn on the television any evening of the week and see at least a half dozen commercials you wished you had written.
Tell that to the kids these days and they won’t believe you.
Further more he continued:
Have you ever wondered why there are so many dud feature films made?
No one ever sits down and says, “let’s make a shit film.”
Then why do so many of them turn out that way? (Check out what Sir David Putnam has to say about this in his book Fast Fade)
Likewise, no one ever sits down to create a shit commercial. But again, why do so many of them turn out that way?
One reason is research. The kind where you ask a bunch of supposedly relevant respondents, (who usually all seem to know each other), what they think of a cast of badly animated characters impersonating real people using a particular product for 30 seconds. You know the kind of animatic I’m talking about.
Moderators always say they can anticipate the absence of a finished film and interpret the respondents’ comments and suggestions meaningfully. Really?
I was in a research debrief where the researcher thought the photomatic was the finished commercial and couched his analysis accordingly. When his mistake was pointed out he didn’t even flinch. He kept his job and continued to influence which commercials made it into production and which ones didn’t. Amazing!
At the beginning of one research session I attended the moderator dutifully explained to ten housewives sitting around a table littered with half eaten bowls of crisps and casks of white wine that the film they were about to see wasn’t really a film at all. It’s what we in the trade call an animatic he said, ie it features animated drawings of people doing things that when the commercial is made they will be replaced by real people. You know, actors. The housewives all nodded and smiled and gave the impression they knew what he was talking about. Crystal clear is the way I think one lady put.
Anyway, they watched the animatic five or six times over the next hour. They made notes, engaged in intimate private discussions, and drank a fairly serious amount of white cask wine.
At the end of the hour or so the moderator solicited their comments and filed them for his client. He then asked if anyone had any more thoughts on how the commercial might be improved.
A lady put up her hand and said “I think it would be much better if it had real people in it.”