MY FIRST AD: It’s a cathartic experience but all creatives have been through it. John Tylee asked eight admen to dig out their first work and, with the benefit of hindsight, explain what they think of it now

They say you never forget your first time. The breathless anticipation, the angst about whether your performance was OK. And did you still respect the object of your passion the following morning, let alone years later?

They say you never forget your first time. The breathless

anticipation, the angst about whether your performance was OK. And did

you still respect the object of your passion the following morning, let

alone years later?

Producing your first proper ad can be an elating or a chastening


Some recall it as a manifestation of burgeoning creative virility. For

others, the first ad was the equivalent of an unsatisfactory adolescent

fumble. ’It was awful, really bad,’ says one leading creative director

of his earliest attempt to score. Another still shudders at the sheer

ineptness of his opening effort. ’It was a silly, crappy little ad.’

Looking back, and with the benefit of hindsight, most senior creatives

can only laugh at their youthful innocence. Gerard Stamp, Leo Burnett’s

creative director, can hardly bear to be reminded of the day he opened

his account 20 years ago with a trade ad for Moocho gateaux which

boasted the headline, ’What’s the Moocho surprise?’. ’Unaccountably this

ad doesn’t seem to be in my book any more,’ Stamp says. ’I was seriously

embarrassed when I saw it in print. I had set my ambition at a rather

higher level.’

Stamp’s reaction is typical. Seasoned creatives expecting to conquer

advertising’s highest peaks at the earliest opportunity recall the

frustrations and difficulties of having to cope with the lowest slopes

first. And that usually means a humble trade ad.

Dave Trott, an inspirational figure in the careers of countless

creatives, confesses to being hopelessly ill-prepared to crack his first

brief - a 1971 exhibition brochure for Tower pans - and how John

Webster, BMP’s creative director, fired him as a result. Happily, he

changed his mind the following week.

’I’d been at art school in New York and all I’d ever produced as a

student were whole campaigns. Nobody ever taught me how to do a trade

ad,’ he says. ’What I learned, and what I tell the kids I hire now, is

that advertising isn’t about re-inventing the wheel. Sometimes it’s just

about getting the job done quickly.’

For Robert Campbell, a creative partner of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe,

his first proper ad, a TV script for Zanussi washing machines created at

WCRS in the early 80s, provokes a jumble of emotions. ’I felt insecure,’

he remembers. ’Nobody else’s ads looked cobbled together in the way mine

did. I also realised how quickly you lose control of an ad when it just

becomes part of the media environment rather than part of you.’

But what proved an uncomfortable rite of passage for some, opened up an

alluring new world for others. Neil Patterson, a founding partner of

Mitchell Patterson Grime Mitchell, was one of those instantly


Working at Edinburgh’s Hall Advertising in 1971, he produced a poster as

part of an anti-crime campaign for the Scottish Information Office.

It showed a young girl’s knife-slashed face and the caption: ’Someone

stole your car aerial and gave it to someone else.’

’Every time I went out of the office I saw the ad,’ Patterson says. ’You

never forget that.’

Neil Patterson

creative partner Mitchell Patterson Grime Mitchell

’The first ad I ever did was when I was at Hall Advertising in the early

70s. Jim Downie was the art director and it was for the Scottish Office.

The idea was that by following vandalised car aerials it was possible to

work out the route of a gang that probably went on to do worse


I still remember the feeling when I walked to work and saw it stuck in

front windows and on the front page of the Scotsman. People would ask:

’Did you do that?’ I’d reply: ’Yeah. But I sent her some flowers in the


Steve Henry

creative partner HHCL & Partners

’My first TV ad showed an oriental version of Fanny and Johnny Craddock

demonstrating a Chinese steamer basket. It was about as politically

correct as Benny Hill doing a version of the Black and White Minstrels.

(Then again, Benny Hill sketches do sometimes work as ads. Think of

Levi’s ’creek’ or ’drugstore’, both of which could have graced Benny’s

programme.) Surprisingly, this bizarre concept picked up a silver pencil

at D&AD. People always say ’not bad for a first ad’. But what do you

expect when the creative director was Dave Trott and the director Paul


John Dean

creative partner Partners BDDH

’It was the summer of 1982. Simon Green and I were on placement at

Saatchi & Saatchi and had been given a TV brief for the Evening Standard

classifieds. In the commercial, as the paper is opened, we hear phone

calls for various items that are for sale. On cue, the classifieds start

to vanish. One for a Porsche zooms off, another for a train set chugs

out, an ad for a house is levelled to the ground. And so it continues

until the page is blank and we hear: ’Things disappear in the Evening

Standard.’ The ad got us a job and some awards, including a Creative

Circle gold for most promising beginners. Of course, that was in the

days when advertising was easy.’

Paul Grubb

joint creative director Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters

’I joined Gold Greenlees Trott in 1980 and did this ad in 1981 with my

then art director, Andy Lawson. I served my apprenticeship doing

hundreds of small-space ads and I guess this was the first time Dave

Trott trusted me with anything other than a b/w 25x4. Even then, we had

Steve Henry and Axel Chaldecott competing on the same brief in the next

room! GGT was never easy. It was only a specialist press ad for golfing

titles, but, nearly 20 years on, I still like it. I’d be happy to run it

now, though I’d get one of our copywriters to improve the words.’

Trevor Beattie

creative director GGT

’My first ad was for Weetabix (it won the pitch!) in 1981 at Allen Brady

& Marsh. Called ’meet the Weetabix’, it was the first of about ten

animated films we made that year, each with the rallying cry, ’If you

know what’s good for you ... OK!’ To be specific there were five

’skinhead’ characters: Dunk (voiced-over by Bob Hoskins), Brains,

Crunch, Bixie (early girl-power Weetabix) and Brian. The first spot

received more than 100 complaints and was withdrawn by the then ITCA.

Sales increased to the point where Weetabix became the second

best-selling cereal in the country.

As I was only three years old in 1981 I didn’t realise there was such a

thing as an Advertising Standards Authority. My original endlines for

the campaign were ’A boxful of little bastards’ and ’Full of natural


Both rejected by the client, I seem to remember.’

Jay Pond-Jones

executive creative director Bates Dorland

’My first ad was for Boy. It ran in Ritz, Bailey and Lichfield’s

magazine, in 1977. I was working as a graphic designer at the time. The

photograph had already been taken by Martin Brading and he asked me to

put it together because our mutual friend, Matt Ryan, who was doing the

advertising course at Hornsey, was on holiday. When it appeared Matt

said it would have been better with an idea in it. So the ’execution

without an idea’ debate was raging back then. Matt and I remain friends

and, looking back 21 years, he was right.’

Patrick Collister

executive creative director Ogilvy & Mather

’This isn’t actually my very first ad. That was a long-copy extravaganza

for an obscure 3M product, written in imitation of those late-50s ads

like ’The longest left turn in history’. This was my second ad which I

wrote for a metal trading mate. I researched the ads, wrote them, placed

them in the Metal Bulletin and negotiated the commission. All very

exciting, because at Ogilvy Benson & Mather, where I was a copy trainee,

I was doing sweet FA. Full of pride, I showed the ad and its companions

to Dave Trott at Boase Massimi Pollitt. He thought I was full of

something else.’

Peter Souter

creative director Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

’I’m really glad the theme here isn’t ’my second ad’ or indeed ’my 102nd

ad’. Basically I got off to a flyer with this ad which I was unable to

match for about 14 years. It got into the D&AD book and won me a silver

at Campaign posters when I was too young to shave. Then nothing,

oblivion, quarter pages and ten-second radio ads for the rest of the

80s. Things picked up after that.

I owe my start to Jeff Stark who picked this ad as the winner in a

student competition (first prize: an ad that ran). So thank you Mr

Stark, the script’s in the post.’