Mark Wnek on Advertising

Contrary to public opinion, creativity doesn't stop at 40
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The Independent Online

When 56-year-old chairman and creative director of Bates Dorland, Andrew Cracknell, retired shortly before the dissolution of that agency two years ago, there was an ill-judged valedictory piece in one of the trades in which the writer remarked how still writing ads at the ripe old age of 56 was an achievement. Now, if we'd been talking about playing in midfield for Manchester United one might have had a bit of sympathy with that journo's point of view, but writing is one of the very few things you can go on doing until your dying breath.

When 56-year-old chairman and creative director of Bates Dorland, Andrew Cracknell, retired shortly before the dissolution of that agency two years ago, there was an ill-judged valedictory piece in one of the trades in which the writer remarked how still writing ads at the ripe old age of 56 was an achievement. Now, if we'd been talking about playing in midfield for Manchester United one might have had a bit of sympathy with that journo's point of view, but writing is one of the very few things you can go on doing until your dying breath.

The reason for nonsense points of view like the above is that the idea of people hanging on in the ad business until their 60s and the accompanying lack of "churn" in new newsworthy people is nightmarish for trade magazines already so slim that they are often mistaken for After Eight Mints.

Happily, ageism in advertising received another resounding kick in the goolies last Friday when WCRS won the £22m Abbey pitch against incumbent TBWA and the agency I thought would walk it, the resurgent Lowe London. We all reckoned without the "W" of WCRS: veteran copywriter, strategist and adman extraordinaire Robin Wight. There is nobody more switched on, more cutting edge in his thinking, more energetic and more terrifying to pitch against than Mr Wight. And nobody less likely to lose sleep over ad industry observers' obsession with what the writer Patrick Marber calls "the moronic beauty of youth".

* While it's hats off to Robin Wight and team, all pitches contain a large dose of luck. There are so many variables which come into play in a pitch that getting picked can be as arbitrary as pulling at an ill-lit, packed disco. When we won the new business league at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper in the late 1990s, I was always secretly convinced that our amazing conversion rate was down to my business partner, Australian Brett Gosper. Not only was Gosper so attractive that dogs would cross the road to be stroked by him, but he was also famously lucky. Even as a "baby" at French agency BBDP, boss Jean-Marie Dru (now Brett's boss again at TBWA) would demand that Brett sit in on important meetings, so convinced was he that Brett brought luck. Dru would even try to get Brett to go with him to important football matches.

* Warming to the age theme, I'm reminded of a book by Jim Conway called Men in Mid-Life Crisis (Mark, too late, the horse has bolted - Ed). In it Conway talks about how some men eventually come to feel a weakening of the need to be great in favour of a desire just to get through things as best they can. Where I do agree with the adland ageists is that there is absolutely no room for the latter in our business - nor, perhaps, in any business. They do survive in ad agencies, however, often in a pivotal place on a piece of business where, while the clients regard them as "their person at the ad agency", the agency output is lacklustre. Such clients would do well to take a look at their ad agency contact and work out whether he or she falls within the scope of William Wrigley Jr's brilliant quote "When two people in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary". For my part, I seem to have spookily missed out on middle age altogether (although I am having a go at golf), being inclined to rant and stamp my feet about anything and everything in a manner unchanged since I was eight.

* Different people age differently. For instance, the amazingly youthful 75-year-old Des O'Connor looks younger than, say, 48-year-old soccer manager and BBC football pundit Peter Reid. Tories' and British Airways' ad agency M&C Saatchi has more than its fair share of oldies in high places. Moray McLennan is a youthful and still (so they tell me) heart-throbbish early 40s. A razor-sharp and able man, Moray is one the best two or three CEOs in the UK ad business. But at M&C Saatchi he's only about number six in the pecking order, something that would frustrate the hell out of most people. One of those above him, group CEO David Kershaw, is a spookily youthful and bouncy 50-year old and could probably keep going until he's 80. Another youthful "oldie" is Bill Muirhead, possessor of the Des O'Connor gene. The only one of them who doesn't seem to have his portrait locked away in his attic is ageing creative supremo Jeremy Sinclair, who's like a slightly less animated Rigsby off Rising Damp.

Manners maketh the man

Many leading commentators believe that with the publication of several major books on the subject, manners are about to make a big comeback in the UK. While not quite the same as the former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani's astonishingly effective establishment of "zero tolerance" - the idea that small misdemeanours lead to big ones and thus no vagrancy, vandalism and peeing in doorways will be tolerated - re-opening a discussion about the importance/lack of manners is a nicely British move in that direction.

I've been reflecting deeply on this kind of thing as we await the birth of our second child. In my determination to be a good father, I am shocked at the phenomenon of the "under-fathered" boy. These are the boys whose fathers don't stick around, leaving them to guess at what being a man entails. Invariably and erroneously they fix upon overtly macho and violent behaviour as their template. We see these ill-mannered, fearsome man-children every day, strutting baseball-capped toward their own truncated futures while displaying not an ounce of selflessness or warmth.

There are countless contributors to this sad state of affairs, and somewhere in there is the quietly insistent behaviour-influencer that is advertising. Despite being a tireless champion of our industry, I am troubled by Carling's advertising with its crowds of people rampaging through city streets with a football or men mindlessly hurtling home for beer. Levis, for instance, talks to a similar target market but never with anything but artistry, humanity and love.

mark@adguru.co.uk

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