By John Tylee, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 26 February 2010 12:00AM
Maurice Saatchi had one parting piece of advice as he ended his speech to an industry audience at last week's Nabs fundraiser. "Walk tall," he told them. But his rallying cry provoked mixed reactions.
The man synonymous with the barnstorming "Nothing is impossible" days of UK advertising during the 70s and 80s clearly thinks it's about time the industry reaffirmed its self-belief.
His call comes against the background of what the M&C Saatchi founding partner acknowledges is a widespread churlish attitude to advertising and its perceived moral bankruptcy.
"These days, admen receive very little praise," he declared. "What they usually get is offhand criticism from people who question their motives or behaviour.
"People are suspicious of advertising and it's easy to see why.
Advertising is where art and commerce touch most closely. But not everyone agrees they should touch at all. There is an irremediable conflict between art and commerce."
Artists believe artistic integrity can only be achieved through "a self-denying ordinance" as far as commerce is concerned. Men of commerce think of the artists as having their heads in the clouds and their feet off the ground, he added.
So with no hope of a peace settlement between the two camps, how should ad people be defining what they stand for?
Saatchi believes that what unites advertising people is their attitude of mind, their approach to life and their way of looking at things.
People in advertising really do believe they can change the world for the better, he argues. And they believe in simplicity "in the sense that being simple is to be feted rather than scorned". Finally, they believe in the power of words.
"I don't think psychologists could find another industry with such a concentration of these three characteristics as advertising," he claimed. He went on: "Advertising people share a flat refusal to accept the status quo. They share a romantic belief in man's ability to change the world by an act of will."
Above all, he argued, ad people are united by their search for simplicity and their "threshing machine" approach in sorting "the intellectual wheat from the chaff".
"When you get home and you are standing in front of the mirror, ask yourself if you can say yes to three statements," he told his audience.
"One: 'I'm doing something I believe in'. Two: 'It's going well.' Three: 'I think, even if nobody else does, it's important.'"
However, the audience was divided over what Saatchi had to say. "Simple ideas really can change the world and it's good to be reminded of that," Charles Inge, CHI & Partners' creative partner, said.
"I found him inspirational," Marc Lewis, who is re-establishing the School of Communication Arts, commented.
But one agency chief was unimpressed. "He was idealistic but not realistic," he concluded. "Advertising doesn't work like that day to day. We did lose our self-confidence, but that was due to past excesses and we've moved on."
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk