How will director Richard Phillips react to his role at D&AD, Richard
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
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
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
‘The fact that I have been invited on to the D&AD executive committee is
part of that.’