CAMPAIGN CRAFT: PROFILE; D&AD dissident joins forces but sticks to his guns

How will director Richard Phillips react to his role at D&AD, Richard Cook asks?

How will director Richard Phillips react to his role at D&AD, Richard

Cook asks?

In the bad old days of the Cold War and the Eastern Bloc, communist

chiefs sharpened two main weapons against the voice of dissent. Either

they would have the leader of the opposition shot, or else (and only if

he were especially troublesome) they would invite him to join their

government. The logic being that once the supporters saw how ineffectual

their own champion was, they would realise the futility of the demand

for change.

No-one knows whether the D&AD considered the first of these options, but

the surprise appointment of Richard Phillips to its executive committee

certainly reminded several seasoned observers of the second.

Phillips is the man who launched a fierce broadside at advertising

awards in general, and at D&AD in particular, in the pages of Campaign

this summer. The man who coined the phrase ‘the advertising thought

police’ to stand for pretty much everything that is wrong with the

current state of British advertising. The man who stressed that awards

had become merely decoration for the creative’s CV, and were now utterly

divorced from the world of selling and from the clients themselves. And

finally, the man who laid directly at the awards-giver’s door a list of

charges ranging from the reduction in job numbers in the industry to the

growing importance of below-the-line advertising.

Naturally he accepted his invitation to join the D&AD executive

committee with alacrity. ‘At least they can’t say they didn’t know what

they were getting,’ Phillips laughs, ‘but I’m not about to recant. I do

think that we have all lost sight of what we are doing; that selling,

which should be our lifeblood, has become a dirty word. It just seems to

me to be so wrong to say that people are too sophisticated to be sold to

nowadays, so that’s why you have to come up with in-jokes and lavish

production values. Surely advertising is simply about making people

suspend their disbelief and listen to the message?’

It’s not just rewards for creativity that get short shrift from

Phillips. He doesn’t hold much truck with effectiveness medals either.

‘I’ll tell you how to get your ad voted as the most effective,’ he

laughs. ‘It’s no secret - just spend pounds 50 million on it.’

Phillips is similarily open about his belief that his invitation to the

D&AD is the latest example of a sea-change in British advertising. He

claims to have been buoyed by the support he received since his Campaign

article in the summer.

‘I think and hope that we are already moving away from ads with attitude

to ads that are concerned with selling your client’s product,’ he says.

Unfortunately, part of that process may involve the diminution of the

director’s role. Phillips isn’t distressed by the thought.

‘I’m very much against the cult of the director, even if I’m very much

for the earning power of the director,’ he grins. ‘But it isn’t the

director’s job to impose himself on a film. Most people aren’t

interested in who the director is, it’s just conceit to suggest

otherwise. Old- time movie directors like Billy Wilder had fewer credits

than some modern commercials directors.’

Certainly Phillips’ showreel is stuffed full of the sort of ads that are

unlikely to win many competition garlands but which scream effectiveness

from the heads of their typically nuclear families down to their toes.

He made his directing name with the Beattie ads for British Telecom, as

well as the Melitta ‘sex change’ and Pizza Hut ‘klingons’ spots, but it

is hard to think of too many other directors who would be quite as

delighted to stuff their showreels with frenetic ads for First Choice

Holidays and Findus.

‘I think of the job of the director as being like that of the

barrister,’ Phillips says. ‘You should be judged, not on the brilliance

of your summation, but on whether your defendant gets 20 years or not.’

Phillips founded R. J. Phillips and Co three years ago after a spell at

Guard Macmillan Phillips and Hughes, and an eight-year period as a

senior creative at J. Walter Thompson WT. Before that, there were stints

at Davidson Pearce, Young and Rubicam in London and New York, and French

Gold Abbott.

Directing seemed like a natural move after he had taken the helm on a

couple of BT ads and done some work for Sure in his last years at JWT.

‘I was always giving the directors we brought in such a hard time, it

seemed like the only thing I should really be doing,’ he says.

But how will Phillips - an unorthadox and eccentric individual - react

to his role within the D&AD? After all, if the director effaces himself

as much as Phillips advocates, how can he judge exactly what his input


‘The only way to judge how good a job a director has done is to look at

the script he was originally given,’ Phillips says. ‘Actually, I’m not

sure that’s right. For my Pizza Hut ad that used the BBC 2 logo, the

finished product was exactly what the script said. And I still think I

did a bloody good job by leaving it entirely alone.’

Awards mystify clients and send them scurrying to below-the-line

advertising. They cause unemployment in the industry and inflate egos to

the point of bursting. And don’t get Phillips started on the

appropriateness of some of the celebrity judges employed in recent

awards. At least no one can pretend the D&AD doesn’t know what his

position is.

‘The fact that I have been invited on to the D&AD executive committee is

part of that.’


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