ME AND MY HERO: PART 1 ADVERTISING - Emma Hall asks six advertising stars to name their heroes of the century
By EMMA HALL, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 19 November 1999 12:00AM
Despite their long and successful careers, it’s not hard to imagine the men on these pages - Martin Sorrell (WPP’s founder), Maurice Saatchi (co-founder of the Saatchi dynasty), David Abbott (co-founder of Abbott Mead Vickers), Jeremy Bullmore (creative leader of JWT’s golden era), Frank Lowe (founder of Lowe Howard-Spink) and John Webster (creative muse of BMP) - as young men starting out in the world.
Despite their long and successful careers, it’s not hard to imagine
the men on these pages - Martin Sorrell (WPP’s founder), Maurice Saatchi
(co-founder of the Saatchi dynasty), David Abbott (co-founder of Abbott
Mead Vickers), Jeremy Bullmore (creative leader of JWT’s golden era),
Frank Lowe (founder of Lowe Howard-Spink) and John Webster (creative
muse of BMP) - as young men starting out in the world.
You can just see them in their first jobs, looking keenly to mentors for
guidance and inspiration. These would-be leaders, who eventually soared
to hero-status themselves, are all ready to admit how they benefited
from role models who helped them to fulfil their potential.
’It’s a natural trait to have a hero,’ Mark Wnek, the executive creative
director of Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, says. ’It’s like those 60-year-old
blokes who are still styling their thinning hair into Elvis quiffs.’
Chris Powell, the chairman of BMP DDB, proves something of an exception
when he insists that heroes, like stamp collecting, went out in the 50s.
’We are formed by a myriad of influences,’ he says.
However, most successful people who are approached on the subject of
heroes are quick to nominate a figure who has influenced their outlook
on life for the better. There’s something rather romantic, especially at
this stage in their careers, about tapping into the youthful enthusiasm
of boyhood hero-worship.
Curiously among the names cited, that of Bill Bernbach is missing -
probably because he’s a hero to almost everyone in the business, and
nobody felt the need to name him as their advertising hero of the
It goes without saying that he inspired a whole generation of youthful
high-flyers to turn to advertising as a career.
From among the next generation of advertising success stories, Wnek
enthuses about Michael Caine and Charles Saatchi. While Rupert Howell,
the chairman of HHCL & Partners, has no hesitation in citing Peter
Gabriel as a hero because he is a ’creative innovator who proved that
not all public schoolboys are pinstriped toffs’.
Next week: media figures on their heroes.
MAURICE SAATCHI ON MICHAEL HESELTINE
The day I met Michael Heseltine was when he was being chauffeured down
Bond Street in his limousine. He noticed a pile of tattered sackcloth
lying in the gutter, wrapped in string, which looked like a human
He told the driver to stop. He took pity on the hopeless creature and
said to me: ’Come with me, my boy. I’ll try and make something of you.’
And that’s how I was taken under his wing.
He gave me an office in a cupboard, a grand title, and set me on my
When I think of Michael, I think of the galvanising effect he had on me
and a whole generation of people. He taught us that ’nothing is
impossible’: that you should ’never say die’.
If anyone had half the inspirational effect on young people that Michael
had on me then that person could count themselves as having done
something very good in the world.
His company was and is a very special company.
I think of it as a model of the pragmatic virtues - hardheaded, prudent,
practical - but somehow combined with the romance of business life at
JEREMY BULLMORE ON SIR PETER MEDAWAR
By 1968, I’d been a creative director at JWT for about four years,
spending most of my time trying to inspire others to have advertising
ideas and then evaluating, modifying and presenting them. Every day, I
was painfully aware of my lack of mental scaffolding: of any working
model of how ideas could be generated, evaluated and explained. Then a
friend, a doctor, lent me The Art of the Soluble by PB Medawar.
For months it lay unread. I told myself that scientific methodology had
nothing to offer those of us trying to think of new adverts for Oxo
It was only after I’d accepted an invitation to give a talk on
creativity that, in deadline desperation, I turned to the book. It was
wonderfully entertaining,unexpectedly familiar and hugely useful.
Later, Bernard Levin expressed his astonishment that a book called
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought could have held him
engrossed. That, too, was by Medawar - and it held me, too. Just about
everything he ever wrote is gathered together in Pluto’s Republic
(Oxford University Press, 1982). Sir Peter Medawar OM, winner of the
Nobel Prize for Medicine, is undoubtedly the person who inspired me
From advertising itself, my equally unhesitating choice is James Webb
Young, author of How to Become an Advertising Man (Advertising
Publications Inc, 1963).
MARTIN SORRELL ON HIS FATHER
My hero is my dad.
He came from a relatively unprivileged background and he left school
when he was 13. He was immensely good at music and acting and he loved
Shakespeare - he could recite great chunks.
Family circumstances meant that he couldn’t take up the music
scholarship he was offered. In those days a son was an earning unit. But
he wasn’t bitter - he was a happy man and always regarded himself as
In the 60s, he built a chain of 750 radio and electrical stores. Retail
is a seven-days-a-week job. On Saturdays he looked in on the shops and
on Sundays I’d see or listen to him talking to regional sales
His whole life was business-orientated, although I was influenced to go
into business by his acquaintances rather than by him.
My father was a constant friend, supporter and adviser. I could talk to
him about anything. We would speak probably every day and when I was
working hard he’d be an extremely good grandfather to my sons. We were
always geographically close and the family got together frequently.
He was immensely patient. He always had time and he was calm and
He taught me hard work, dedication and loyalty.
DAVID ABBOTT ON BOB LEVENSON
Bob Levenson never had his name over the door at DDB New York, but he
was the reason I walked through those doors in July 1966. He was the
copywriter I admired above all others. I knew reams of his copy by heart
and even today, 34 years later, I can recite the opening lines of many
of his ads.
In the 60s, when I worked in his group, Bob presided like an affable
young schoolteacher. He wore a tweed jacket and smoked a pipe. He combed
his hair and shined his shoes and bought his secretary flowers on her
birthday. If his ads hadn’t been on the wall, you’d never have known he
was a paid-up revolutionary - a top gun in the DDB raiding party that
changed the face of advertising forever.
His copy was always exquisite. It had a natural grace, wit and humanity,
but if it felt effortless that doesn’t mean it was. Bob believed that
persuasion was based on evidence and no-one worked harder to understand
a product or client. Bob gave each of his clients their own voice, but
it was always the voice of sweet reason.
Do I have a favourite Levenson ad? Of course - and it may be the best ad
of all time. A multi-coloured VW Beetle is parked elegantly on a plain
page. Above it are ranged these lean sentences:
The green fender came off a ’58.
The blue hood came off a ’59.
The beige fender came off a ’64.
The turquoise door came off a ’62.
Most VW parts are interchangeable from one year to the next.
That’s why parts are so easy to get.
Heroic art direction, heroic writing. There isn’t even a logo.
JOHN WEBSTER ON JACQUES TATI
In my late teens, I saw Jour de Fete, a film in which a French village
postman attempts to modernise his delivery service a la US. It was
hilarious and charming, and was made by a man called Jacques Tati with
whom I felt an immediate empathy.
It struck such a chord that I saw all of his subsequent films, based
around the theme of man struggling to come to terms with his
He opened my eyes to the potency of observational humour. Looking at the
world through Tati’s eyes, I discovered a host of amusing things happen
around us every day if only we care to look.
He taught me that humour and irritation for most people come not from
large dramatic situations but from normal ups and downs of life.
Only the other day, I was following in my car a man in a plastic mac on
a moped. His mac was billowed out by the headwind and from the back he
looked like a balloon on wheels. Stopping at the traffic lights, he
deflated to a sort of saggy, creased condom. When the lights turned to
green, he accelerated and, ’pfft!’, exploded immediately again into a
tight balloon. Pure Tati.
FRANK LOWE ON COLIN MILLWARD
It took me only a few weeks after joining CDP to realise that while John
Pearce was the front man, the power and the soul of the agency rested
Working with him was the most important experience of my career. I
learned one thing above all others: reject those things that are quite
good. In the area of the ’adequate’, the pressures to say yes are very
great. The account man has to be told if it is not good enough. The
client must be asked to be patient. And, most difficult of all, the
creative people must try again.
It was in this thankless area that Colin excelled. For all the fury at
his attitude, clients had ads that worked, and account men had happy
clients. Creatives forgot everything as they collected yet another D&AD
He was not a diplomat. But to a generation of people like Charles
Saatchi, Alan Parker, David Puttnam and many more, he was an
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk