There is an irony inherent in the choice by Tim Delaney and David Abbott, considered by their peers to be the world's best copywriters, of two Doyle Dane Bernbach campaigns as their favorite press ads of all time.
For Delaney, creative director o.f Leagas Delaney, the selection is a 1968 road safety campaign for Mobil, written by Bob Levenson. The ad shows a dead youth lying on the ground, his upper half covered by a leather jacket inscribed "Jets," and the headline "Fresh-killed chicken." Then a junior copywriter at Young & Rubicam in London, Delaney says it had a huge creative impact.
For Abbott, chairman and creative director of Abbott Mead Vickers/BBDO, the pick is a 1966 ad for El AI airlines created by Levenson and Len Sirowitz. It shows a line drawing of pairs of animals entering Noah's ark with the headline 'We've been in the travel business a long time." Abbott learned the copy by heart prior to arriving in New York in 1966 to spend a year working at DDB. "I reported to Bob's office just as he was hanging a framed proof of this ad on his wall, so it gained an extra significance," he told British trade magazine Campaign in an article about the 1993 National Newspaper Campaign Advertising Awards. 'What impressed me was its courage. There were no smiling stewardesses, no aeroplanes, no destination-- simply this wonderful, slightly wacky drawing of Noah's ark which was entirely relevant. Bob and Len gave the airline an identity. The ad also made me want to fly El Aj. It was a beautifully crafted advertisement where copy and picture were indivisible and I have tried to emulate this quality over the years."
The irony lies in the fact that when it comes to examples of the DDB legacy of wit, intelligence, humor, honesty, directness and truth, there are far more across the pond than in DDB's country of origin. And it is in the print work of Delaney and Abbott that Bill Bernbach's influence is most apparent.
'We are just executing the Bernbach idea of intelligence, wit and humor," says Delaney. "Advertising is not something you can pass onto someone. It's intuitive, a gift, it's like scoring goals in football."
Adds Abbott, "For my generation, DDB and Papert Koenig Lois were enormously influential. It was like a window opening on what advertising could be like. It was all about the intelligence, tone and look of the ad. It was about the idea that charm, wit and information could sell products and that we could possibly get personal satisfaction from creating ads. We discovered it worked here as well and we've hung onto it."
Delaney, a tall, intense man in his mid-40s, is famous for his passion for advertising, his outspokenness and his asceticism--you will not find him gracing the bar at Groucho's (a trendy Soho watering hole) of an evening. One of six brothers, all in advertising, he left school in 1961 to be the mail boy at Rex Publicity. He now heads up a 63-million-pound agency (it was independent until 1986, when Abbott Mead Vickers acquired a majority stake) just north of London's chic Covent Garden. Housed in a 1927 building with a revivalist Egyptian stone exterior and a purpose-built mock-Egyptian reception area, the agency has a green-carpeted, pastel-partitioned interior Delaney describes as post-modern. ("Whatever that means," he says.)
Abbott, 53, an Oxford graduate, is a relaxed, softspoken man with an enigmatic smile who started out writing copy for Kodak. His 350-million-pound agency has offices (where Ed McCabe hung his hat for a while in the late '80s in between agencies) not far from Madam Tussaud's in Old Marylebone Road. The place has a glass atrium design complete with glass elevator and an American-style bar and a Wurlitzer in the reception area.
Both men have built their reputations and agencies on classic DDB-ism: excellence in art direction, attention-grabbing headlines, long copy and elegant typography. Both are chairmen of their agencies, create the bulk of the ads themselves, inspire devotion verging on idolatry among the industry and have nothing but good things to say about each other.
While 13-year-old Leagas Delaney is known for its prize-winning work for (in its early days) Philips, Pontins and Terry's and (more recently) Harrods, the Nationwide Building Society, Hennessy Cognac, Mothercare and Potache, 15-year-old Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, the eighth-largest agency in the U.K. and one of the hottest shops in London, established its credentials on innovarive campaigns for British supermarket chain Sainsbury's, Chivas Regal, Cow & Gate, the Leeds Building Society, The Economist and Volvo. One of Abbott's personal favorites is a print ad for Volvo which shows a child wrapped in cotton wool over the stark headline "Or buy a Volvo." In the recent NNCAA, while the overall winner was a stunning campaign for Haagen-Dazs from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Leagas Delaney won 15 awards and AMV/ BBDO took home eight.
British press advertising is generally regarded as the best in the world, and unlike in the U.S., newspapers have proved to be a particularly successful medium for building brands. The reasons for this strength are a function of both size and of the nation's homogenous nature.
According to Barry Day, vice chairman and director of international advertising development at Lintas/ London and someone who has overseen creative on both sides of the Atlantic, "Print has been the main medium much longer than it has been in America. TV came later to the U.K., so the print tradition lingered longer and resulted in a better training in graphic design. The English are besotted with words. They've a better educational system, and there's a tradition of playing on words that there's not in America."
"In Britain, despite the recession, there's a lot of robust national newspapers which cover the whole demographic spread," says Abbott. "It's possible to use them as a lead medium. You can still build a brand. And it's the power of this medium that lets us spend money on other marketing areas."As an example, Abbott cites his agency's campaign for the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which was designed to lobby for political effect. One ad depicts a close-up of a dog's head strangled by a wire noose with the headline "Killed by a legal loophole." The body copy urges readers to support a bill to protect wildlife. "The first campaign we did only cost 150,000 pounds," says Abbott. 'Yet it created a lot of fuss." The fuss Abbott is talking about included 200,000 letters in two weeks, MPs complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority and London Transport and several Tory boroughs refusing to run the ads. For a nation of animal lovers, the campaign hit a nerve.
"There are things you can do in the press you can't do with TV," says Delaney. "TV appeals to the emotion, print appeals to the intellect."As evidence, Delaney points to his agency's work for the Nationwide Building Society (a savings and loan company) that criticized ordinary banks. The campaign consisted of a series of long-copy black-and-white press ads with pithy headlines such as "Dear Miss Dixon, we'd like 7.50 pounds to bounce your 4 pound cheque" and 'What the banks giveth, the banks taketh away." The cost was minimal, he says, and the public's reaction so great that banking regulations changed as a result.
Delaney also cites the example of U.S. client Timberland--something of a sore point after the outdoor wear maker's recent flight back across the Atlantic to the waiting arms of Wenham, Mass.-based Mullen. (Ask Delaney what he thinks of Mullen's advertising and the answer's mostly unprintable. "Mullen's ads are not good enough--that's my view," he says.)
"Before we had Timberland they were running halfpage ads in the back of Vogue," explains Delaney. '"We persuaded them to use the press. We spent 100,000 pounds, developed a series of different executions and positioned Timberland as a classic authentic U.S. brand."
"We stole their land, their buffalo and their women. Then we went back for their shoes," reads the headline above a long copy ad that features a black-andwhite shot of an Indian chief and a photo of Timberland shoes in the bottom right corner. All the other ads took a similar approach and ran in such newspapers as The Times, the Independent, the Observer and the Daily Telegraph to reach a young upwardly mobile market.
"We created a sense of being big, which is what you get when you go on TV," says Delaney. "The advantage was that not only did the intended audience see the ads but the trade saw them too and thought that Timberland was a big brand with a big budget."As for the campaign's effectiveness, when Leagas Delaney first landed the account, the U.K. branch of the company was based in the basement of someone's home. Four years on, it now operates out of two big offices, says Delaney.
What makes a great print ad?
According to Delaney it's drama, great headlines, and a great layout. According to Abbott it's impact. "Part of the impact is originality and truth. It's got to be something that stops you from turning the page," he says. "It's all about relevance, tone and a kind of ease. The best ads look as if they've had an easy birth. Copy that makes you go back and read it again is bad and so is copy you're conscious of. Great copy is invisible."
Both men agree the advent of the computer and of new technology is having a huge effect on creativity. "The Macintosh puts the ad in a form you can see right away," says Delaney. "You can judge the dynamics of the art direction early on in the process. It helps incredibly in new business pitches."
According to Abbott, who has a laptop parked in the background but an artist's sketchbook filled with ideas on the desk in front of him, "It's an irreversible trend. It creates creative possibilites. If you can think of something, you can do it. Advancing technology has meant greater use of color, more variety and flexibility, and a greater variety of tities. You can really see the effect of the Apple Mac on ads. There's more use of color type, or type aligned in various ways. It's encouraged more product categories to use print. In this country print is still a more effective way of reaching ABs, and newspapers have had a marked advantage in talking to upscale men."
To do that more efficiently, Abbott's agency has formed a separate computer software company called The Electronic Studio (which Abbott says is the most advanced of its kind in the world). The company has developed a new software package called Face to Face, which works like a video phone and allows agencies and clients thousands of miles apart to work on the same ad.
But if the effect of computers has been to stimulate creativity, the effect of a recession in Britain has been to dull it. "The recession has brought everything into sharper focus," says Delaney. "Rather than throwing money at the problem, the role of advertising has to be more tightly defined. Clients are asking what exactly are they paying for? Now everything is such a risk. The recession is biting at every client. The general atmosphere makes people jittery and less brave. When people cut back, everything gets affected. Clients want to see four campaigns instead of two."
Says Abbott, elliptically, "We've had several robust conversations with clients. There's less new products, more re-running of old campaigns; less brand building, more price emphasis. Everyone is more cautious than ever before. It's more price- and brand-driven.
Clients are more conscious of the bottom line, there's a greater emphasis on margins. Every retail account, with the possible exception of Samsbury's, has become more price-conscious. We did research to see if the elfects of the recession will be permanent. What we discovered was that, in a recession, people jump between human needs and wants. There's a trade-off they may decide not to have the expensive foreign holiday, but they eat better food from Sainsbury's."
Although financially AMV/BBDO is one of the few British agencies to have retained the confidence of the stock market, it has seen a decrease in profits over the past three years. "There are deals going down all round town just so agencies can keep afloat," says Abbott. "But we've always run lean and mean, we've always had a high profit turnover and we haven't had to trim down."
For Leagas Delaney, on the other hand, it is a time of change and pressure. With parent company BBDO likely to acquire a majority share in the AMV group later this year, Delaney is pondering the notion of buying his agency back. And as well as having lost Timberland, Delaney promptly resigned the Nationwide account after the client announced a review. ("It was the principle," Delaney says. "If they're not pleased now they never will be. I had a lot of sympathy for Ammirati & Puns.") Then there was the sudden departtn-e last month of his partner, art director Steve Dunn ("The best art director in London," says Delaney) for personal reasons. On the other hand, the agency did bag some $25 million worth of billings on Adidas last year.
Both men get dissected with predictable regularity by a trade press that worships the cult of the personality. One recent analysis of Delaney in Campaign depicted him as an "enfant terrible," who thought he was always right and was unable to admit mistakes. "It's just more of the myth, isn't it?" Delaney says. "Someone who knows me said, You must be the most examined man in advertising.' Other people who know me read these things and say they don't recognize me at all."
Abbott similarly comes in for his fair share of scrutiny. Another recent article took the form of a reappraisal by Leon Jaume, a copywriter at Wight Collins Rutherford Scott. Jaume criticized Abbott for, among other things, being too nice to be true, being too determinedly middle-class in his approach and having a funny haircut (a silvery Beatles mop). Jaume pointed out that even people Abbott has fired have nothing but good things to say about him.
Although similar in many ways, Delaney and Abbott have markedly differing views on a number of issues, such as American advertising. "You see some terrible retail in The New York Times," says Delaney. "It's 'as if no one is prepared to write anything of intelligence. Trust between the advertiser and the consumer seems to have broken down in the U.S. The only agencies doing good work are Wieden & Kennedy, Fallon McElligott and The Martin Agency. The attitude here is that you have to entertain people, so why not write ads as ff people are going to read them? Advertising is intuitive. In America, people have given away the intuitiveness. That's what's gone wrong. I'd like to see more great advertising coming out of America. I can't believe that all those people have lost desire."
Abbott, on the other hand, is kinder and gentlet in his observations. "I'm not a typical Brit," he says, "because I actually like emotional advertising. I like the humanity the U.S. is capable of producing. I like ads that move people in an emotional way. I like what BBDO does with Pepsi and Hallmark. Most purchases are a mix of head and heart, and we all have a lot of emotional baggage."
Is British advertising more original? Does it have better ideas? Delaney thinks yes. "We've all been brought up by BBC and newspapers that have educated us to a higher level of expectation. Because it's a class society, we've been more suppressed by the establishment and it's as if we're in dustbins trying to push the lid off."
Abbott on the other hand, doesn't believe the Brits necessarily have better ideas. "I don't know if you can say British print is better than American," he says. "There's only about 10% of any country's advertising that's any good."
Both men still profess an enthusiasm and love for the business. "I think I'm as enthusiastic as ever," says Abbott. "I still work hard. For the last six months I've not done as much as I would like. Some accounts I've started I still continue to play a leading role. I've done all the Sainsbury's TV. I did RSPCA. I did one ad today for Bisto gravy. I've got a mind that's probably never going to write a novel, or even a short story. I like this business. I like problem solving. And you get very well rewarded."
As for the future, "size is not important," says Delaney. "We just want to maintain standards. We want to work with people who like intelligent work. No one has grandiose ambitions anymore. We're very picky about new business--what we do every day is important to us."
According to Abbott: "I want to do the kind of advertising I like and respect. We're not going for every kind of client. I'd never do work for the Sun, for example, although I don't denigrate their success." And, like Bernbach, he would never work for a cigarette company (Abbott's father died of lung cancer). "I'd like us to get better, to be incontrovertably the best in the U.K. by popular opinion of peers. One dramatic illustration of the strength of creativity that an agency can offer a client was the success of Haagen-Dazs. It was a luxury product, launched in a recession, and it's been a huge success. Good creativity is the thing that makes a difference in an age of parity products. And it's become an economic necessity to do good advertising."
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)