CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKERS/Tom Carty and Walter Campbell; Wild creatives or products of the establishment?

AMV’s high-profile creative pairing know the value of publicity, Jim Davies says

AMV’s high-profile creative pairing know the value of publicity, Jim

Davies says

It would be easy to pigeon-hole Tom Carty and Walter Campbell as the

requisite wild young things of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s stately

creative department. Easy, but inaccurate.

In fact, Carty and Campbell have been plying their trade in advertising

for more than a decade and are now contented, though still hyperactive,


Curiously, the pair have become establishment figures for a new

generation. This was confirmed last week (Campaign, 8 March) when the

Creative Circle honoured them with the President’s Award ‘for

consistently proving it’s still possible to put across a very powerful,

disciplined advertising message in a seemingly wild, undisciplined way’.

They also walked away with the only platinum award of the evening for

‘twister’, the third and most spectacular of their trio of TV

commercials for the Volvo 850, which were directed by Tony Kaye.

‘It was a great evening,’ Carty admits. ‘What made it even better was

that Manchester United beat Newcastle.’

He’s not being flippant, rather he’s just trying to deflect the

conversation. Carty and Campbell’s natural ebullience and overwhelming

enthusiasm may, on occasion, be mistaken for arrogance, but they remain

a genuinely unassuming pair considering their not inconsiderable


The Creative Circle’s mandate that jurors should be under-35 no doubt

helped their cause last Monday. ‘They’re looked up to by younger teams

and are good role models,’ Dave Waters, this year’s Creative Circle

president and joint creative director of Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters,

confirms. ‘They are very positive in everything they do, and when they

sit on awards juries they tend to be extremely generous about other

people’s work. They certainly don’t believe in slagging ads off for the

sake of it.’

It’s a generosity that has been reciprocated by their peers. In the past

eight years, the duo have won every major advertising award, with

distinctive campaigns for the dance music radio station, Kiss FM, BT,

the RSPCA, Dunlop tyres and, of course, Volvo. ‘There’s no-one quite

like them in the industry - they’re special,’ Malcolm Venville, the

photographer-cum-commercials director who worked with them on a recent

Kiss FM spot, claims. ‘They’re not afraid to challenge convention and

turn everything on its head. The only thing they seem scared of is of

being ordinary.’

Carty and Campbell’s regular collaborations with Kaye have produced a

clutch of films that have been potent enough to spark some of the most

furious industry debates of recent years and tended to overshadow their

finely crafted press and poster work. The 1994 campaign for BT’s

dialling code changes, for example, relied on nothing more than an

impeccable advertising idea. It was a salutary lesson in how to handle a

horrendous brief.

They fell in with each other at BSB Dorland 12 years ago. Campbell had

graduated from Belfast College of Art and Design and signed up as an art

director. Carty had joined straight from school and clawed his way into

the creative department from despatch. They were soon drawn together by

their common backgrounds and interests, and began putting together a

book in the evenings.

Physical appearances aside, their similarities are striking. They’re

both staunch Manchester United fans, neither one of them drink, they’ve

both worked on market stalls, they share an Irish Catholic heritage and

are both fascinated by fashion and club culture. They also share a

wicked sense of the ridiculous.

Perhaps most important of all, they are equally ambitious, industrious

and hungry for success - mutual traits they recognised in each other

from the first time they met. ‘They’re extremely talented guys and have

got this lovely double act going,’ Robert Campbell, creative director of

Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, who briefly crossed over with them at AMV,


On the strength of their extra-curricular work at Dorlands, Carty and

Campbell were taken on as a bona fide creative team at TBWA, before

moving to BBDO, where they worked on a variety of accounts including

Time Out, Alberto shampoo and Bhs. ‘They were uncompromising even then,’

Waters recalls. ‘When I was at GGT, they came in to show me their work.

They’d brought it along in an old hessian sack, which they emptied out

on to the table. I asked them why and they said I’d be more likely to

remember the occasion.’

It was also at BBDO that they initiated their fruitful and long-lasting

relationship with Kiss FM. The episode bears testament to their gutsy

determination as much as it does their creative acumen.

BBDO wasn’t even on the original pitch-list and only secured its place

after Carty and Campbell buttonholed Kiss FM’s chief, Gordon ‘Mac’, at a

London nightspot. They had just six days to come up with pitch ideas but

by enlisting the help of the commercials director, Patricia Murphy, were

able to produced a test film that secured the account and became part of

the station’s debut campaign.

When BBDO was swallowed up by AMV in 1991 the creative supremo, David

Abbott, realised that the pair would add a new dimension to the agency’s

creative output. ‘They brought another string to our bow,’ Peter Souter,

creative director in-waiting at AMV, comments. ‘I’m guilty of being a

poor man’s David Abbott, but having Tom and Walt around at least makes

me attempt to be a bit more groovy. They are good team players.’

Tim Delaney, creative director of Leagas Delaney, thinks a mix of

attitudes and personalities is crucial to any creative department: ‘You

need to be able to express yourself in different ways, so having access

to different sets of skills is important. It’s not unlike having a well-

balanced football team.’

It was their association with Kaye, however, that really thrust them

into the limelight. It began with the 1993 ‘tested for the unexpected’

commercial for Dunlop - a surreal journey through a landscape inhabited

by sprites and sado-masochists, set to a Velvet Underground soundtrack.

They took a calculated risk by using Kaye, who at the time was

considered beyond the pale by many London agencies following his well-

documented dust-up with Saatchi and Saatchi over the shooting of a BA

commercial. ‘They know how to get the best out of Tony,’ Campbell says.

‘Together they make an outstanding team.’

But not everyone was so impressed. Some thought the Dunlop ad lacked

substance. Tony Brignull famously attacked the ad in Campaign last

summer (26 May 1995) as a ‘wilful abandonment of filmatic grammar.’

‘Why,’ Brignull asked, ‘does the film open with a slightly out-of-focus

piano falling off a motorway? No answer... What about that over-made-up

harpy like a reject from Kaye’s ‘Sherry’ spot, or the zipped-up bondage

creative, what do they contribute to the idea? No answer.’

Carty, however, insists that the ad was easily comprehensible to

consumers. ‘Before it was released we pulled about 20 people off the

street, showed it to them once and asked them to write down what it was

all about. They all got it immediately.’

If there are still niggling reservations about Dunlop, the Volvo

campaign has met with almost universal approval. ‘The whole strategy is

about making Volvo into a brand that isn’t stolid and middle class -

and it does so in a very exciting way,’ Delaney says.

But what of the accusation that Carty and Campbell are little more than

glorified producers for Kaye - that they owe everything to him? ‘People

can think what they like,’ Campbell says. ‘It’s a team effort. We’re

confident enough in our own abilities to be able to say that those films

wouldn’t be as good if Tony hadn’t done them.’

‘Tony knows, Walter knows, I know and God knows how we work,’ Carty

adds. ‘And so does David Abbott for that matter, because he sees all the