Feature

My first ad

You always remember your first time ... Here, top creatives peer through the mists of time to the days of spotty youth and stainless innocence to recall the moment they lost their advertising virginity.

TREVOR BEATTIE - CREATIVE DIRECTOR, BEATTIE MCGUINNESS BUNGAY

Long, long ago ... Somewhere between the Crustacean and Jurassic periods, there briefly flourished an advertising agency known as Allen Brady & Marsh. And my, how it flourished. Unbeatable in new-business pitches, unloved by the rest of the advertising industry and unmatched in its ability to lay a mind-poisoning jingle on any brand that swam in its waters: "Call it Wrigley's, call it spearmint, call it gum." "This is the aaaaaaaaaage. Of the train." And "Ooooh, Mr Confectioner, please. Give me Toblerone."

T'was into this febrile environ that the young, innocent me (I believe I was nine at the time) and my toddler of an art director, Kaarl Hollis, nervously wandered. (And here's a trade secret for you, a certain Cilla Chadwick (later Snowball) started life as account grad on the very same day. Sorry, Cilla.)

We were put straight to work on the Weetabix pitch. Having spent a day or two throwing the rock-hard dry product around our office, we settled on the Bacc-challenging notion of "A boxful of little bastards". This, following a few gentle words in our shell-likes, evolved through "Full of natural badness" to "If you know what's good for you".

Peter Marsh approved the campaign. Rod Allen suggested we add a jingle, and even popped the additional "OK!" (his own voice) on to the endline. We were off. ABM won the business and we persuaded the fabulous Sergio Simonetti to animate the TV campaign. Sales went skyward and we made a dozen or so ads in our first 12 months.

We set up a fan club for the Weetabix characters and I even found myself in the peculiar position of writing reply letters to schoolkids, in the character of a female breakfast cereal called Bixie.

I carry the mental scars to this day.

NIK STUDZINSKI - EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, PUBLICIS

My first ad was a trade ad for Castlemaine XXXX at Saatchi & Saatchi. My copywriter, Jason Fretwell, and I were very excited, not just because it was the first ad we had had approved by a client, but because it was for Castlemaine XXXX.

We chose a great photographer, who did a very nice shot and, after a little bit of art direction, the ad was ready to leave the building to go to the printers. Bar one more level of approval. Enter Paul Arden. Paul was the executive creative director and, as such, he had to see every ad before it left the building. I'd never met him before. "Don't worry about it," Wendy Moser, the traffic person, said. "He'll love it. We'll be in and out in two minutes."

Reassured, we went down to his office on the ground floor and joined the queue of slightly anxious creatives and traffic people. Our time finally came. We presented the ad (mounted nicely on an A2 piece of polyboard) and all I could see was the top of Paul's head. I saw it shaking in disapproval and then, from behind the board, I heard his voice: "No, no, no, no, no. I hate it. I hate it! Get out!" And with that he broke the board in two over his knee and threw it at us. We left his office. Quickly. Not a great start.

Fortunately, it all ended well, thanks largely to some calming words from James Lowther, and the ad made it to the printers intact. Wendy got a bunch of flowers from Paul and we got a silver from Campaign for best trade ad. Not a bad start.

PAUL SHEARER - GLOBAL EXECUTIVE, CREATIVE DIRECTOR, NITRO

This ad is from the days when you got £50 a week, couldn't pay your rent, and had to endure your parents asking why they paid all that money on school fees for you to not have a real job. Those were the days.

The ad itself, as I search my memory cells, was probably early 90s at Butterfield Day Devito Hockney and it was something we did to try to get work in my portfolio.

When you first start as a creative, it's all about getting work made. For a creative, you get a buzz out of the finished work.

I always say the same thing to youngsters now. Go out, find a client and produce some work. Do stuff.

It was the only way then and it's the only way now.

We used to stay late every night knocking out ads, begging clients to run them.

After finding the client, we begged the amazing Malcolm Venville to shoot it. It's a great piece of visual imagery that has a real focus on everyday humour.

I worked for Mick Devito at the time and he was the master at visual imagery. (I can still hear his dried-up markers scribbling away.)

I owe a lot to both him and Derek Day for allowing us the freedom to evolve. So I look back with fondness and a certain amount of regret that I am not doing more spontaneous stuff.

STEVE HARRISON - WORLDWIDE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, WUNDERMAN

I suspect any howlers committed by the other people in this feature can be explained by their youth. Mine, I'm afraid, can only be ascribed to impending middle age. I was 30 before I began as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather Direct.

At the time, I buoyed my confidence with the thought that David Ogilvy was 39 before he wrote an ad. For the first months, however, it looked like I might reach that venerable age, too. Bangtails and billing stuffers - the flotsam and jetsam of the creative department - were all that drifted my way.

Then, I was given my chance. The Financial Times needed an ad aimed at students promoting their Graduate Recruitment Special Report. As you can imagine, there weren't too many people queuing for this brief. In fact, I doubt if there actually was "a brief".

Anyway, for months, I'd read everything on "How to Write an Ad". And everyone from David Ogilvy to Tony Brignull seemed to agree that the safest place to start was "How to ...". But, while I followed the book on "How to ...", I committed the worst sin that my mentor Mr Ogilvy could imagine. I attempted humour.

The headline read: "How to get the job that will make you so immensely successful you'll have to get up at 4am each day to have time to spend all the money you're earning." And the body copy carried the whimsical explanation.

Seeing it again, it's clear that nothing in the ad is as funny as my attempt at art direction. However, it could all have been a lot worse. But as Jeremy Bullmore said, it's possible for a trainee to do a good ad on their first day. But it usually takes them five years to understand what made it "good". I'm still learning.

BEN PRIEST - CREATIVE DIRECTOR, RKCR/Y&R

David Harvey and I could not believe our luck.

A whole week on placement at Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow Johnson.

This was an agency you'd happily kill your own granny to work at. Chris Palmer and Mark Denton were the best young creative directors in town and the agency's work on Nike, Wrangler and the Terrence Higgins Trust was frighteningly good.

We only had five days and all they wanted us to work on was Wrangler posters, but we felt like we had won the pools.

Every day we papered the walls of our tiny office with more Wrangler concepts. Every day Chris and Mark turfed us out when they went home, fearing, quite rightly, that we would run off with D&AD Annuals and anything that wasn't nailed down if left unattended.

The corridors echoed to the rough cut of "DJ", Chris and Mark's new Wrangler commercial shot by Vaughan and Anthea, and all seemed well in the world.

At the end of the week, we had covered every inch of the walls with ideas and headed off to Ogilvy & Mather for another placement. About three months later, we got a phone call saying they'd shot our "W-fronts" concept and it would be in Private View the following day. Greg Delaney panned it, but we didn't care, it looked stunning. Mark, Andy McKay and Malcolm Venville had made a swan from our ugly duckling. Very sensibly they'd kept us well away from the production process. A few months later, we got another call saying it had got in D&AD.

Sadly, not long after these happy events, David became very ill and eventually died. Our first ad always reminds me of him.

PETER SOUTER - DEPUTY CHAIRMAN, AMV BBDO

My first ad was a freak of nature. It won a Campaign Poster silver, Creative Circle Promising Newcomer award and got into D&AD twice. I just assumed that this is what happened with your first ad and swanked about in a rather unfortunate manner.

I'd written it at college for a competition judged by the mighty Jeff Stark, to whom I will always feel grateful. My partner Lee Goulding and I used it to get a job straight out of St Martin's College working for a branch of the Delaney family (The Greg and Barry branch). They helped sort out the terrible student typography, which was, of course, hand-set metal type in those days when a Mac was something your dad wore.

The ad ran in every hospital and medical magazine in the south of England and started helping itself to prizes like Winona Ryder let loose in Selfridges at midnight.

I thought I was God's gift to copywriting. Fortunately for me and my ego, it then took another four years to get back in the D&AD. I got over myself and started trying to learn my craft instead of polishing my "best creative foetus" prizes.

Eventually, I became just about good enough to get poached by God (aka David Abbott) and my first ad helped blag me a job at what I hope will be my last advertising agency, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

DAVE TROTT - CREATIVE DIRECTOR, CHICK SMITH TROTT

In 1971, John Webster had just hired me as a trainee copywriter.

At the then Boase Massimi Pollitt, a junior writer could get all the press briefs they wanted, but TV briefs only went to the senior teams.

So I used to wait until the senior creative teams had gone home, then go into their offices and nick the TV briefs.

Or I used to just offer to work with whoever was around.

Or stick my head in their office and say: "Whatcha working on? Need a hand?" Sometimes, if they were stuck, they'd let me join in.

The team in the next office to me, Graham Rose and Graham Collis, had been given a brief for a commercial to announce that Unigate milkmen now delivered bread.

I'd just come back from four years in New York, and I was fiercely proud of the odd, quirky, unique things about England that Americans couldn't understand.

Like, how a song comparing a milkman to a Wild West gunslinger could be the biggest-selling record in the country.

Benny Hill's Ernie had everything I loved about England in one song: self-deprecating humour, brilliant lyrics and an arrogant parochialism.

I suggested using him for the Unigate commercial.

As I remember it, the two Grahams politely said: "Ye-es, but it's a bit corny."

And in my head, I'm thinking "And your point is ...?"

Anyway, as I remember it, I wrote most of the lyrics (you'll have to wait for the two Grahams' article for their version).

And, in my innocence, I thought that made me part of the team responsible for the ad.

Until I went on the shoot and Martin Boase, who hadn't been told I was anything to do with it, said: "Send Trott back to the agency after lunch. We don't want him hanging around here all day."

That experience influenced me to make sure all briefs are available to junior teams, and make sure they get credit.

Topics