A first ad is like a first kiss - so much depends on it that the
build-up of nerves can have a paralysing effect. Yet at the same time,
you are dying to get stuck in.
Fortunately for most new agencies, the demands of business usually mean
that there is little time to sit around agonising about their debut
Clients want immediate solutions and agencies must provide them, which
often means that the best work comes later on, once the relationship is
David Abbott, speaking to the camera on an early Abbott Mead Vickers AAR
reel, addresses potential clients with the honest admission that
"whatever field you're in, if you appoint us, the first work we do for
you probably won't be very good. It takes time for us to get to know
each other and for the agency to develop the best work".
As an example, Abbott pulls out some pretty average early work for The
Economist. This lacklustre display is followed, with a dramatic
flourish, by the legendary "red" Economist campaign.
Most agencies, though, take an affectionate pride in their first
Bartle Bogle Hegarty's corporate logo (a black sheep) and motto ("when
the world zigs, zag") were taken from its debut Levi's ad.
Even the modest Abbott must surely gloat just a little over his agency's
first creative work. It was a trade press ad featuring a picture of the
three founders next to the line: "How long can these men survive without
food?" The aim was to secure a food-related account and the result was
the Sainsbury's business, which has remained with the agency - despite a
few ups and downs - ever since.
Every agency's first ad inevitably comes in for close scrutiny from
peers, some of whom watch eagerly in the hope that the latest industry
darlings will fall flat on their faces. More generous souls allow a
"honeymoon period", during which mistakes are forgiven and judgment
Mother's debut work for the Channel 5 launch campaign was just what the
client ordered, but didn't live up to the "dream team" tag attached to
Mother and the rest of the Channel 5 marketing line-up.
Four years on, the agency has developed its recognisable style through
early work for clients such as Batchelors Super Noodles and Lilt.
A new agency has nowhere to hide. As Charles Inge points out: "A big
agency can conceal an awful lot of rubbish behind a couple of good
things a year. A small agency doesn't have that cover."
Which is why the raw exposure of unleashing your first ad on the world
is remembered in excruciating detail by anyone who ever had the balls to
start their own agency.
CHARLES INGE, Clemmow Hornby Inge - Carphone Warehouse, 2001
I'm glad to get our first ad out the way. I feel better now. You're
terrified and you think everyone's watching, but they're probably all
just watching themselves.
When you're working on your first ad, you have to put the fear aside and
stop worrying what people will think. It's like if you try to win
awards, you never do - you just have to try and sell the product.
Having said that, it would be great if people like it in the industry
because it would mean we have succeeded as a company and it would also
mean that good people will want to work here.
It's the most complicated production I've ever worked on. There are two
directors - one for animation and one for live action - plus a whole
Czech orchestra for the soundtrack.
In a big agency you have support, but here, if it goes wrong, what do
you do? Try harder is the answer.
There was no TV - let alone a TV department - so when the casting tapes
arrived, we had nothing to watch them on. We were trying to juggle two
directors and sort out coffee cups at the same time. There was no headed
note paper to write to directors on and no invoices either.
Carphone Warehouse is our founding client, so if we can't do good work
for it, we're in trouble. It left a safe pair of hands (TBWA/London) and
put its trust in us as an agency.
A lot has happened since I first wrote the ad, and it's not as fresh as
it was six months ago. I make no pretence that it will win creative
awards, but I'm sure the commercial will be popular with consumers.
We are aiming for quality and longevity - you can throw a thousand
briefs at this campaign and they'll all stick. For us it's a business -
we want to do big work for big clients.
ROBERT CAMPBELL, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R - Virgin Atlantic,
Everything is terribly precious when you start and you treat everything
so lovingly. But Virgin Atlantic needed something fast and asked us for
a quick fix, so it ended up being a bit of a rush job.
Virgin briefed us to extend the franchise of Upper Class beyond the pony
-tail brigade to what we called British Airways "maybes". We wanted to
get away from Virgin's "cocaine and shagging in the toilets" image, and
had a lucky break getting Terence Stamp, who is rock 'n' roll, but also
serious - he's nobody's fool.
We loved the ad to bits and sent it straight to the AAR and
The client liked it as well, although Richard Branson was harder to
impress - it wasn't how he perceived the airline. But the campaign
really worked and, because airlines are such a cash-sensitive business,
the enormous benefits of our work were felt immediately.
It was a good start and it won a bronze at the British Television
Advertising Awards. Virgin was our only client (apart from a bit of
consultancy work for BT) and the ad helped us to win more business.Your
first ad is all about having the confidence to take risks even in
adversity. If you were too scared, you wouldn't make anything - your
life is on the line but you have to try not to think about it.
We were really on a roll for our first 18 months. After Virgin Atlantic
we launched VH1, then we changed sanpro advertising with the "Zen"
Lil-lets campaign and after that we did Millertime, which was also quite
It was a happy and a miserable period - I was thin and poor and rode a
bicycle to work. I think the creatives have a duty to appear
happy-go-lucky; it's other people's job to get scared.
JOHN HEGARTY, Bartle Bogle Hegarty - Levi's, 1982
Our first ad - a poster for Levi's - is framed and hanging in our
reception. Not many agencies would do that. Most new agencies' first ads
don't stand the test of time, because all that angst makes you tense up
and you try too hard to be different.
The work is always a crucial new-business tool. We were small and
under-resourced and hungry, so the work has an even greater importance
than it does in a big agency.
Levi's presented us with a short-term opportunity. It had some sites and
wanted us to do a poster for black denim, which was quite new in 1982,
when everyone was wearing white jeans.
We knew that black jeans wouldn't reproduce well on a poster, so we
decided to show the "essence" of black jeans. It was an interesting
client presentation - the client wanted to know where the jeans were, so
we said: "Don't worry. This represents what black jeans is."
Levi's must have thought: "Oh God, we've hired this mad agency," but you
don't hire a dog and then bark yourself, so it ran it and it was
It got lots of positive feedback from the sales force and from the
industry, but it didn't win a Campaign poster award. We were
My experience has taught me that when establishing a relationship with a
client, the first work is critical. If you deliver, then you cement the
relationship in a unique way. It takes a very sophisticated client to be
understanding when you don't hit a home run first time.
Levi's later apologised for being a pain in the arse and gave me a black
sheep, which I still have in my office.
Fifteen years later, when we were moving into our Kingly Street offices,
the designer asked if we had a logo and I realised we did. It's the
black sheep. We can spot an idea - we're fast.
STEVE HENRY, HHCL & Partners - Danepak, 1987
We won the Danepak business two weeks after the agency launched, but the
idea that won us the pitch bombed in research, so we had to go with the
second or third choice.
It was a technique I'd once tried in a pop promo - take famous people
and super-impose an actor's mouth saying something else. We had people
such as Cyril Smith, Tommy Cooper and Noel Coward singing Pass the
Dutchy by Musical Youth. I remember that Noel Coward's substitute mouth
looked particularly unappetising.
Technically, it was a complicated thing to do, and we didn't do the idea
justice. Doritos did it a million times better.
The idea had only been included in the pitch as a light-hearted
It wasn't us at our strongest and it doesn't really feel like an HHCL ad
- there was no major strategic breakthrough or new approach to
advertising or even a reason to buy. Just a catchy song.
HHCL's launch was speeded up by someone breaking the news to
It was only later that we developed the working processes that produce a
different type of work, but we hadn't had time to get to that by the
time we made the Danepak ad; it was more me and Ax (Chaldecott) doing a
GGT on the brief.
Ax and I were disappointed that the idea we won the pitch with
It parodied programmes that taught you foreign languages on Sunday
mornings, but no-one knew the programmes so they didn't understand the
joke. Adam (Lury) panicked. It was all going wrong.
Our Molsen work telling people not to drink lager was more like our
first classic HHCL advertising.
But we kept the Danepak account for about six years and eventually did
some decent work for it. I like the Andersen family standing around in
the nude eating low-fat bacon.