Feature

My first ad

We all start off somewhere. Eight of adland's leading suits recount the first time they were called on to impress clients or their own top brass ... with varied results. Campaign helps to jog their memories.

TIM LINDSAY - chief executive, TBWA Group UK

My first ad is so long ago, I'm actually slightly embarrassed about it. But not about the ad, as it happens. Following my graduate training at Grey (two months with my feet up chatting to Bert in the traffic department; one month writing crap Mince Savour headlines in the creative department; an afternoon in media), I was put on Timex as my first account, working for the gorgeous Margaret Fraser (I hope she reads this, wherever she is).

The client managing director was Keith Holloway, and he wanted to make himself and the brand famous, in that order. The marketing director, Barry Turner-Smith, was a big, bluff sales bloke who thought all agencies were populated by "pink-shirted fairies" (his exact words), a prejudice we duly set about reinforcing.

Grey actually had a great creative department back then, and not a bad reel. The creative team, Roger Barson and Ian Mason, laboured, account men clucked anxiously, the research department (yes, even that long ago) researched, and we presented Timex with the immortal line: "Timex Watches. Too good to keep up your sleeve."

This was brought to life with two scripts, one featuring an admiral, and another featuring an enormously camp Robin Hood, with their sleeves chopped off to proudly display their Timexes. The first film was shot in the rain on HMS Belfast without ITVA approval (that's what the BACC was called back then, younger readers). This was a heinous crime, then as now, and gave me a couple of sweaty, sleepless nights.

We battled through, though, and the wonderful head of TV, the late Terry Fry, put the final edit together himself, located in the basement of the creative department, on Conduit Street. Actually, it wasn't all that bad. But I don't remember a third execution.

MORAY MACLENNAN - chairman UK group, M&C Saatchi

It is 1984. Saatchi & Saatchi is in its prime. I'm a trainee, and a trusting senior planner (Mike Leibling) has decided that a small account such as the Samaritans can't justify senior account handling resource, and that there was a limit to the damage I can do as the sole suit on the business. That was his first mistake. His second was to ask me to present the script. We're in "the theatre". It was a time when commercials were spooled and looped, and the theatre was a special place.

Being in the theatre was (as Simon Dicketts, the writer, reminds me) Simon's idea. It was relevant to present the commercial there because the cinema has, as you would expect, a screen, and the ad involves a face pushing its way through a screen to the Pink Floyd soundtrack Is There Anybody Out There?.

There were five clients in the room. It was a big deal for them. It was the first commercial they had ever made.

Mike says a few things, and then everybody looks at me. I stare back. My mind goes blank. I have copies of the scripts in my hand. After an uncomfortably long silence as I wait for inspiration, but find even more blankness, I panic.

"Here it is," I say, and hand them the script.

There's a moment of hesitation from Simon, as he realises these words do indeed comprise the entirety of my "sell" - the beginning, middle and the end. He throws himself across the table, gathers in the scripts and says something erudite and persuasive as to why this is a brilliant idea.

The client agrees.

I sit there looking a little depressed, aware that I hadn't given an Oscar-winning, career-enhancing performance.

Fortunately, the clients are Samaritans, and quickly pick up on my despair and begin counselling me.

They bought the commercial, it won heaps of awards. Sometimes I like to think that they went with it because they felt sorry for me, and that I had, in fact, played a blinder.

JEREMY MILES - chairman, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy

I had been an account executive at Abbott Mead Vickers a year before I presented my first Sainsbury's Quality press ad. It was an ad that Jeff Fugler, my account director, should have presented, but, due to a diary cock-up, I had to go and see Mike Samuel, the marketing manager.

The pressure was on. David Abbott and Ron Brown had huge reputations in AMV. Once an ad left the building it was expected to be sold. I re-read the brief twice. We always recapped the objective behind each ad.

I rang Eve, David's secretary, and asked if I could pop up. Ron was with David, and both were clearly expecting Jeff. I explained he had to go to a British Bathroom Council meeting in Stoke-on-Trent.

"Any questions?" David asked.

"No, I don't think so," I said.

"Don't worry, Jeremy, the ad will sell itself," David said.

On reaching Mike's office, he asked where Jeff was. I told him. I reached into my bag to recap the brief. "Come on, Jeremy, just show me the ad," Mike said.

When unveiling "mince", with the line "At Sainsbury's, if we don't sell our mince in a day, we don't sell it", I couldn't speak.

Mike loved it and would show it to Peter Davis, the Sainsbury's marketing chief, for approval.

David was right. I didn't speak, but the ad did sell itself.

PS. "Mince" was one of the ten Quality ads that won Best Colour Campaign at the Campaign Press Awards in 1982.

PPS. Twenty-five years on, I realise David and Ron were the first to create food porn!

STEF CALCRAFT - partner, Mother

The room fell into silence.

"That is not the fucking bee!"

And with that, the bull-necked, former Aussie Rules-playing chief executive stood up and stormed out of the room.

The door to the meeting room slammed shut behind him, leaving only a deathly silence. My boss, and the rest of the shell-shocked agency team, looked ashen-faced at the marketing director, who similarly looked as if he had just swallowed a pint of bleach.

The portents for my first-ever agency presentation had not been particularly good.

Earlier that morning, as we had walked towards Fortress Kellogg in Manchester, I realised that the entire Leo Burnett account team had become hushed, a bit like a bunch of Hobbits approaching Mordor, with dread and foreboding hanging heavy in their hearts.

Even the birds had stopped singing. You could have heard a Rice Krispie pop.

Afterwards, as we fled back to London from the "Dark North", the management supervisor decided to brief 100 new bees into the creative department. After bee number six, they had begun to look increasingly inbred and demented, as the illustrators quickly got bored and started to take the piss.

Protracted, Kyoto-style client negotiations swiftly ensued, until a ridiculous mutant was finally chosen as the "Anointed Insect".

The honoured insect was then given to an ageing lothario of an animation director, who chain-smoked Cuban cigars, and was followed around by an alcoholic, Mrs Robinson-type producer/lover/pa/wife (it was never made clear what she actually did).

And so "Loopy" - as the fucking bee had now been christened - was given the gift of life. Three months later, "Honey Nut Loops ... Let's Loop Together" had become burnt into the consciousness of every child in the UK, thanks to Kellogg's unrelenting TV bombardment. Just one year later, poor Loopy was extinct, but at least my advertising career had only one way to go.

ROBERT SENIOR - chief executive, SSF Group

The year was 1988, when advertising was a relatively straightforward and respected occupation, shoulder pads were fashionable and lunches were legendary ... or so I'm told.

As a graduate trainee at Burkitt Weinreich Bryant Clients & Co Ltd, the food chain was very clear. Literally.

My first advertising lunch I can recall was when the great Len Weinreich invited my fellow graduate, Farah Ramzan, and me to The New World restaurant in Chinatown. After buckets of dim sum and Le Piat d'Or, Len departed to a "meeting", leaving Farah and I to navigate our way back to the Tottenham Court Road offices. We got lost, wandered aimlessly around, eventually returning sometime after 4pm and were properly and fairly bollocked. That first lunch didn't taste too good.

My first ad I can recall was around the same time, a business-to-business, black-and-white press ad for P&O Container Shipping to feature in the International Container Shipping Trade journal.

No-one, but no-one, in the agency took any interest. The brief from the client was anything but, and the agency's strategic reductionism ran to several pages. Needless to say, it was palpable nonsense, including the execution that finally found itself in the title.

But the point wasn't the quality of the creativity, that would come later. The point was that, as the only fucker who seemed remotely bothered about delivering the ad, I could honestly claim that I'd made a difference. I made something happen. And that tasted very good.

PAUL LAWSON - group managing director, Leo Burnett

It's 1988 and I've just transferred from media to account management. The agency's a "low-key" place called Allen Brady & Marsh, that is if you are assuming one's definition of "low key" involves having one of the founders start bashing out a jingle, on his in-house piano, during the middle of a creative briefing.

I'm thinking this is my big chance to repay the managing director's faith in me by showing I could survive the transition from being a "meedja boy" to being a "suited smoothie".

My first ad was part of a 96-sheet poster campaign for Superkings fags, in the days when we were allowed to advertise such things. It involved recreating the stripy black and gold packs, which were much-loved by those hard-faced women with huge, dinner-lady earlobes that populate the housing estates of Hackney. This was done via some ludicrously majestic aerial shots of massive landscapes featuring, say, a convoy of white lorries to represent the actual ciggie itself.

Unfortunately, my execution - "paddy fields" - is so old, nobody can track down a proof. So, Campaign has very kindly tracked down another example from the series to illustrate this piece. "Paddy fields" used the water-logged terraces of a Thai paddy field in order to recreate the pack's stripes.

We insisted to the client that we had to go to Thailand to do this, because South-East Asia was the only place that we could find an authentic paddy field. In the event, we ended up flooding a field ourselves because none of the "authentic ones" were quite right for the creative director and photographer. I was left with the job of explaining to the client why we went all the way to Thailand only to recreate Thailand at his expense.

My account director's helpful advice? Justify the whole trip on the basis of getting "the right light" ...

SARAH GOLD - managing partner, CHI & Partners

What was my first ad? Well, to me, "my first ad" means something I had a small but material impact upon. This was for Weetabix, and was part of the great "Have you had yours?" campaign.

For a great deal of my early years at Lowe Howard-Spink, I was fortunate enough to work on a series of individual executions that each explored the brand idea through a number of musical rearrangements.

So, whether the ads featured Samson and Delilah reinterpreting the legendary Tom Jones track of the same name, or a nerve-jangled driving instructor proclaiming "I will survive", they were all enormous fun to work on.

But none more so than the first one that I was a part of - the "Marie Celeste" execution, which involved an animated world of wheat-fuelled pirate japery. The creative inspiration came from "the Geordies" - Neil Sullivan and Gordon Graham - working with the brilliant animator Richard Goleszowski, which was all creatively directed rather sagely by Paul Weinberger.

The collective attention to detail was extraordinary, and I will always remember the various discussions we had about how tasty we could make the Weetabix look, not easy at the best of times, but particularly challenging when they were made out of clay. It was certainly an early and invaluable lesson in the importance of craft skills.

In fact, the whole campaign was a real labour of love, with me always a bit too eagerly assuming the singing duties, karaoke-style, when it came to presenting each execution.

Working at a great agency, on a great brand and a great campaign, that even my dad liked, was a wonderful way to start my advertising life.

Unfortunately, I've long since lost my love of "bixed wheat". Nowadays, I tend to prefer my porridge oats in the morning.

MARK CADMAN - chief executive, Euro RSCG London

The elation of being asked to write about my first ad has been punctured somewhat by the realisation that it was a very long time ago.

In fact, my first ad has been so deeply archived that we've failed to find it. Despite this, though, the memory lives on, and I still remember the little beauty.

I started my career at DDB New York. One of my accounts was Ortho Pharmaceutical. At the time, Retin-A, one of Ortho's acne drugs, was creating a stir in the press. Clinical trials had proved that regular use could reverse the signs of ageing.

Retin-A was a prescription drug, so it was hard to dramatise medical claims without having the ad followed by two pages of fly type detailing the risks and side effects. Instead, we decided the best way was to create a general skin-care awareness campaign that highlighted the dangers of sun-induced skin damage. Of course, the message was brought to you by those nice people at Ortho Pharmaceutical, who happened to make Retin-A.

In those days, planners didn't exist in New York agencies, so account men had to write the creative brief. Having attended various research groups, it was clear there was limited understanding that the sun caused skin damage, and we needed to prove this in the advertising. I did a bit of desk research and discovered the fact that the only part of an old person's body that really didn't show visible signs of ageing was the bottom, since it rarely, if ever, got exposed to the sun. I thought there had to be an ad in there and, indeed, there was.

My first ad featured a glorious naked bottom, and the headline "Where the sun don't shine" that encouraged you to read on to find out more about beautiful, wrinkle-free skin. I recall the joy of seeing it appear in magazines.

It just seems unfathomable that something that brought me so much joy is now knee-deep in dust in some archive.

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