Inside Story: Tim Delaney's masterclass in writing great ads

British advertising maestro Tim Delaney is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame by New York's One Club. He describes the creative process behind his best work


Nationwide

It is rare to write a high street ad that is also a campaign for simple justice. In this case, it was for the introduction by Nationwide Building Society of a current account that paid interest on the balance in the account and didn't levy "unexplained" charges.

This was an entirely new concept. The banks had always kept the interest, denying millions of ordinary people with current accounts what was rightfully theirs. Remember, this was in the days before the web, so advertising was the only way we could make our point. So we set about the banks. We attacked them as a collective. We never mentioned names. They were all as "guilty" as one another, anyway.

This ad is one of my favourites. It came from a real letter. We asked all our friends and people in the agency to bring them in from their banks. We did TV, radio and print. Somehow, the print seemed harder-edged, boldly haranguing the banks. They didn't utter a word in response.

Harrods Sale

We had been working on Harvey Nichols when Mohammed al Fayed bought Harrods. And our entire HN team ended up down the road. We had quit working on Harvey Nicks and one day we got a call asking whether we would pitch for Harrods. We did and didn't hear a thing. Then another call: Could we help them out with the sale campaign? Just a project. Meg Gilmore of House of Fraser, a great client, knew what she wanted and so did Mohammed: something that didn't make Harrods look like it was flogging, like all the other department stores did. We believed we could do something that would announce a sale yet enhance the brand, not denigrate it. Our campaign ran almost untouched for 11 years. And they still use the line to this day. Daniel Journeau was the extraordinary photographer who made ordinary 'sale' objects look so spectacularly desirable.

Harrods 'Beatles'

The agency produced what is called a "look" for all Harrods advertising and leaflets. It was an immaculate conception : classical, like the store, but adaptable to look classy no matter what it had to do. For ads that ran as whole pages in the national press, like this one, we would first write the headline thought. Then I would go down to the store to pick among the objects that might feature in the store for their St Valentine's Day push.

Mostly, I was allowed to recommend what would make good copy. I often picked the most extravagant and the most inexpensive, always trying to push the width and depth of the store's amazing range of merchandise. The copy was full of retail detail, but hopefully with an intelligence that respected people with money enough to shop at Harrods. We must have written 50 or so of this style of ad. And I can't remember Mohammed turning one of them down.

BBC

I have always been a huge fan of the BBC. Why do we keep discussing its right to exist? Can you imagine this country without it? No. So let's all pay to let it continue to be a world leader, and concentrate on the health service. So anyway, when we heard the Beeb wanted a corporate film (just one, mind – can't misspend the licence fee on things like communications) we jumped at it. We created a strategy based on a concept that is as appropriate today as then: you only get the BBC's unique programming because of the unique way it is paid for.

"Perfect Day" was the summit of our agency's achievement for the BBC. It was four minutes long, had huge stars, and they all sang along to the same song in order to tell us that the BBC can cater for all our tastes because of how it's funded. But the message was more profound. It was that the BBC was finally prepared to come out of its shell, to slug it out in the message department, to be proud, to be emotional about itself, for God's sake. And to win.

"Perfect Day" went straight to No 1. The film was lauded all over the world. The writer, art director and film director were feted. They say the best ads do not merely reflect popular culture, they create it. This one did both.

Adidas

Everyone in advertising wants to work on sports brands: you get to write about things you talk about with your mates; you meet heroes.

Adidas, however, was the poisoned chalice of sports brands when we met them in 1992. They were on the verge of bankruptcy, had had four CEOs in six months, and everyone's fat uncle wore one of those red three-stripe shell suits that are so irredeemably naff they're now worth a fortune.

But hard times humble a soul, and Adidas was ready to listen to strong opinions about almost everything. It was the most exhilarating ride of my life. One of my favourite spots was for a new cross-trainer. We were intrigued by the actual trainers, the people behind the great sportsmen and -women. We knew Muhammad Ali had worn Adidas. So I bought one of his biographies, and didn't have to read more than a few pages to find the ad: Ali's younger brother used to throw stones at him to make him duck and dive.

I didn't go on the shoot, but apparently the crew cried when he appeared: at the majesty of the man and at the terrible effects of Parkinson's disease.

Patek Philippe

If you know anything about watches, you no doubt join the congregation of worshippers at the altar of Patek Philippe. The brand is rare in today's world of luxury watches: it's independent, does not mass produce, and finishes most parts by hand. Yet, 10 years ago, only the cognoscenti knew about it.

We were approached, along with other agencies, to present ideas for a new campaign. One thing was sure: we would not be following the watch ad rules – namely, sign up a celeb, show a really huge watch, and slap a logo in the right hand corner.

We knew instinctively that men were emotional about their watches. In the end, the blinding idea came from San Francisco; one of the smartest things I have ever done is grab the research as I ran from our office there. "Why", asked American potential luxury watch owners, "can you watch-makers only talk about famous owners in the past? Why don't you talk about us, the new owners?" Good point.

Out of that comment came the "Begin Your Own Tradition" campaign, with the father and son shots and the line, "You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation." Justification enough for grown men to cry as they hand over the black Amex and finally get their hands on what is now one of the most sought-after watches in the world.

Timberland

This campaign has a great story. The brand had a history of doing great stuff in the US. We wanted it, chased it. And eventually the two ski bums who had bought the European franchise agreed to meet in their flat in Notting Hill. It was effectively their warehouse, with boot and shoeboxes piled everywhere.

We enlisted John Claridge to take the product shots, and off we went. We never ran an ad more than once – a heresy in adland. Every ad was a story about the mythology of boots and their role in the development of America. I wore my fingers to the bone writing copy, usually at home on Sundays. This headline for this ad first emerged in a piece of copy. We lifted it and it became the campaign's most famous and provocative piece. We even had Americans calling the office to say how offended they were. The Indians got my vote.

Barclays

"Does my bum look big in this?" This phrase, uttered by Anthony Hopkins in the "Big" campaign for Barclays, seems to have entered the national lexicon. It pops up in sitcoms and in other ads. Strange – because the ad itself, a tour de force of writing and directing, was pulled after one half of Barclays forgot to tell the other half that it was going to close around 170 branches in the week that the campaign broke. Pity.

The thought behind the campaign was that Barclays, rather than joining the other high street banks in vying to be the customer's best friend, should come out and state their actual strengths: that they were big, and powerful, and that this could enable customers to improve their lot a damned sight faster than if the bank snuggled up to them. In the ensuing politics at Barclays, the agency was fired, despite the fact that every piece of consumer research was overwhelmingly in favour of the campaign. Barclays' TV ads now have a spotty intern with an exploding laptop. Have you ever known a laptop to explode?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A full-service agency based in ...

Recruitment Genius: Subscriptions and Marketing Assistant

£12500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A subscriptions and marketing a...

Recruitment Genius: Advertising / Media Sales Executive

£15000 - £22200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious candidate is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Sub-editor - Editorial - Publishing

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A sub-editor is required to joi...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high