Feature

I made this: Dave Dye on expressing his love for advertising's 'dinosaurs'

Stuff from the Loft blog and podcast looks back at the pre-digital, glory days of advertising

Dave Dye on his love for Tom McElligott, Joe Sedelmaier and Len Sirowitz

I tried to write a blog once before, but for the wrong reason.

It was at the height of the digital versus traditional war. It was very bloody; us traditional kids took a beating, thousands lost, never to be seen again.

We’d foolishly named our agency after the founders, it sent out the signal that we were “traditional”; at the time, 2008, it was like a “closed for business” sign.

Clients wanted digital agencies with names like The Chocolate Hedgehog or 5 Guys Named Schmo, not Dye Holloway Murray.

So the thinking was that we could offset that name by writing a blog that showed just how excited we were about each new digital development.

How excited was I about QR codes and expandable banners? Not much.

So I got distracted, wrote about whatever took my fancy.

Paul Arden died, so I wrote about him.

Elton John was sending all his chums Felix da Housecat albums. I wrote about that.

And Shadbolt’s veneer factory on the North Circular road. I wrote about that, too.

In particular, its sign facing the road; giant letters announced “Veneer of the Week”, underneath might have been Birdseye Maple, Birch, Mahogany, you just never knew, that’s what was so exciting.

Who was it for? How did they choose? Sales? Quality? Did it help sales?

That kind of chit-chat was deemed to be unhelpful in positioning us as a digitally savvy, non-traditional, dinosaur-free, modern agency.

I stopped blogging.

I think the blogs that work best are the ones with something to say, not sell.

Cut to five years later

Three things collide.

First, I had a bunch of hard drives. Massive ones from CDD [Campbell Doyle Dye] and DHM, not only full of ads, but pitches, roughs, everything. What I noticed when searching through them was the idiosyncratic tags the various studio people had chosen.

So, instead of tagging an ad for Adidas where the headline starts, “Just to the lamp post”, and  created at Leagas Delaney, it had been tagged “Red ad”, rendering it invisible in a search.

I thought I’d try to organise this stuff.

Second, I had a website sitting idle: davedye.com.

I thought I’d organise all my work and dump it on this site.

Just for me to access.

In doing this, starting with scribbles, ending with the finished ad, I thought I may as well write down the thinking, why it changed from rough to rough.

Then it occurred to me that I didn’t need to keep it private, that there may be a few geeks out there that may be interested.

I got a lot of positive feedback almost straight away. Someone said: “I feel like I’m improving 5% with each new post.”

So I did more.

Within a couple of months, I was getting a few thousand visitors a week.

Lastly, I had a bee in my bonnet

Digital was pissing me off.

Not the evolution of digital media; that was amazing, I was all over that.

Just the ads. They were shit.

And very few were prepared to say so, or criticise anything digital, in case they were called a dinosaur.

It hadn’t replaced mass media.

Even the fresh, digitally native students were more interested in doing TV and posters, because their mum and dad might see them.

But my biggest problem with digital advertising generally was that it didn’t seem to be about communicating, it was just targeting.

These new digital prophets can get you a meeting, but don’t know what to say once there.

They don’t simplify their messages.

Charm.

Make you think.

Laugh.

Empathise.

Inspire.

Admire.

Lifeless messages just flop out of our screens like dead fish.

Whereas, even now, look at the work created by the dinosaurs Webster, Hegarty, Abbott and the rest, and you’ll find it radiates intelligence and creativity. (Even with the flared trousers and questionable haircuts.)

That was the world back then; that was when I was looking for a piece of work done by another of these frowned-upon dinosaurs. I typed “Tom McElligott Porsche ad” into Google Images.

Nothing.

I shortened it – “Tom McElligott” – 10 ads dribbled through. Ridiculous, a week’s work for Tom.

Fuck it, I thought, I’m coming out of the closet, I’m going to admit publicly that I like this dinosaur’s work, and I don’t care who knows it.

I got together as much of his work as I could find, posted a blog on him and forgot all about it.

The following week Wordpress kept harassing me to tell me my stats were booming.

After the first week, 60,000 people had viewed it.

Who the hell were they?

The comments suggested they were new to his work. For example: “Some pre-internet writer.”

Why did that post blow up? (I guess I should have asked one of those digital prophets I was slagging off earlier.)

A few comments by ex-Fallon people were miffed that I had featured work approved by Tom’s successor Pat Burnham.

Ding! Email from Pat Burnham.

Oh, here we go, another complaint?

I was wrong, he couldn’t have been more complimentary, never mentioning my errors.

Because he was so nice, I felt guilty and wanted to make amends.

Maybe I could interview him?

Show all of his and his department’s work?

I’d never done it before, and in retrospect it shows – “Who’s your favourite: Woody Allen or Steve Martin?”

I posted it and it seemed to go down well.

I did another, this time with Dave Trott, because most know him as a blogger, not the brilliant writer and creative director he is.

While interviewing Dave, I mentioned I’d been in touch with Legendary DDB NY art director Len Sirowitz about David Abbott’s work.

“You should interview him.”

Of course I should. Why didn’t I think of that?

I did.

Again, my questions were a bit rough around the edges, he took offence at one and suggested we ignore it: Who’s your favourite Len? a) Fairclough b) Ganley c) Bernstein d) Oxlewis e) Kravitz. 

What was I thinking? It was a joke with an audience of seven, and Len wasn’t one of them.

Tim Delaney, Alan Parker, and a tonne of other pensioners followed, all seemed fine.

Then came Joe Sedelmaier

“Happy to do an interview, but I don’t want to write anything.”

Three hours of phone conversation was followed by 10 hours of transcribing.

The bloke in the headphones was different from the one on the page. 

“I told them: ‘Fuck you and fuck the fuckers who sent you’,” reads harshly but sounds funny through the ears.

He’s more Sedelmaiery through the headphones than the page.

Maybe these interviews should be podcasts.

The John Hegarty cock-up

Instead of a blog, I’ll make my “H before BB” post a podcast.

Two hours of fascinating insights and great quotes flew by.

Afterwards, I headed straight to a coffee shop to check out the marvels of my iPhone recording.

First hour good, second hour… non-existent.

Shit!

My iPhone had just run out of storage space, so stopped recording.

I can’t ask him to do it again.

What to do? What to do?

Write down everything I can remember from the second hour, now, while it’s fresh, then transcribe the first hour. I’ll put it out as a written blog.

Did it, got away with it. Now, how do I do these podcasts properly? For a start, what equipment do I need?

Parv, my mate from Wave, will know – he’s the best sound guy on the planet. (Call Ornela on 020 7439 8080 to book today, while stocks last.)

“Don’t bother with equipment, do ‘em round ‘ere.”

The mystery email.

“My dad says try this number.” (A long number follows, it starts with a plus sign, it looks American.)

Who’s it from? What does it mean?

A few days later, the penny drops – it’s from Tom McElligott’s old art director’s son (I’d given him a book crit earlier in the year). It must be Tom’s phone number.

I’d approached a number of people to try to track him down, but nobody knew where he was; he’d quit the business in a haze of booze and arguments and disappeared.

I felt like I was calling Lord Lucan – a tipsy Lord Lucan, who might not want to be called.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, the voice on the end of the phone was more like Mister Rogers. Not only that, he agreed to a podcast, saying: “I haven’t done an interview for 20 years, won’t do one in the next 20 years, so ask me whatever you like.”

Pinning him down to a date was tough: “Oh, I didn’t look at my emails last week.”

We got there, it was a joy.

Next up, Frank Lowe, Gerry Graf.

What next?

Difficult to predict.

I didn’t plan on interviewing anyone or doing any podcasts.

It has led to various talks and, last year, me running a couple of two-day creative bootcamps.

So, who knows?

Although, in the short term, if anyone has any ideas on how I could interview Charles Saatchi, do get in touch. 

(I’m aware I probably have more chance of interviewing Bill Bernbach, but you never know.)

Dave Dye is creative partner and founder of Love or Fear 

Topics