David Abbott, one of the most highly respected figures in modern British advertising, died Saturday at the age of 75.
Known for his grace in writing as well as in professional character, Abbott was a founder of London’s Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO which created famous, award-winning campaigns for clients like Volvo, The Economist, Sainsbury’s, Ikea, Chivas Regal, Yellow Pages and the RSPCA. He retired as chairman and creative director in November 1998 from the boutique he helped launch in 1978, which went on to become the U.K.’s largest agency group. Within advertising circles, AMV also came to stand for something more: quality work and a principled approach to agency management. It was a shop that refused tobacco clients and toy manufacturers—believing that children were too young to filter advertising—and tried to stick to a policy of no redundancies during tough economic times.
“I like to believe that when staff or clients move on from AMV, they take with them a conviction that advertising is an honorable and effective trade, that hard work can be exhilarating, that ambition doesn’t have to be cut-throat, that a good idea deserves reverence and that talent grows best in the sunshine of security and encouragement,” the elegant, silver-haired Abbott once said.
Abbott, a gifted copywriter, began his career at Mather & Crowther and went on to DDB London. In 1966 he joined DDB in New York before moving back to London and founding French Gold Abbott in 1971. In 1978 he teamed up with Peter Mead and Adrian Vickers to create AMV, in which BBDO acquired a stake in 1991. Abbott was well-regarded among creatives throughout the world and was awarded the D&AD President’s Award in 1986. In 2001,The One Club for Art and Copy inducted him into its Creative Hall of Fame and in 2011 the American Advertising Federation did the same in that organization’s Hall of Fame.
Longtime partner Peter Mead said of Abbott: “He meant more to me than I can possibly express in words. He transformed my life from the moment I met him some 45 years ago ... . His talent catapulted AMV into the advertising stratosphere. I never saw him write a bad line of copy, could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I saw him lose his temper and remember countless times when the three of us were helpless with laughter.”
Former AMV account exec Andrew Robertson, now global chief executive at BBDO, also recalled: “David was a gentleman. Polite and principled, generous and witty—just being around him made you feel better. But what really sets him apart is his work. I don’t believe there has ever been a copywriter whose work has had more impact. The work he did on Sainsbury's, Volvo, BT, The Economist, and so many others had a profound effect on those businesses, and continues to inspire anyone who loves advertising.”