This column is being written at a ridiculously late hour because I got completely distracted at my screen. No, it wasn't the usual suspects: Google Maps, LUFC.co.uk, YouTube.com or Emmanuelle Béart fan sites and Alan Partridge re-runs on telly. Instead I was watching ads: the reel of brilliant commercials that we were all given as we left the late, great John Webster's classy and moving memorial lunch at Lord's Cricket Ground.
I promise to stop banging on about the man and his genius after this, but anyone who can attract an A-list crowd like he did - united in admiration and affection - is special. So is any adman who can have 84 wonderful spots on a reel spanning 37 years.
Here's a tiny sample of the list of luminaries present at Lord's - Sir Alan Parker, Sir Frank Lowe, Martin Boase, Chris Powell, Tim Delaney, Jeremy Bullmore, Adrian Holmes, Dave Trott, Frank Budgen, Leslie Butterfield - and so many more, clients, colleagues and rivals alike. I can guarantee you that all of them will have happily inserted the DVD into their player at home, and sat and enjoyed it as I did.
As much as an equivalent compilation of television programmes or movies, and - arguably - even more so than books - Webster's work formed the backdrop to all our lives, during the 1970s and Eighties in particular. As he himself would never brag, one of the many attributes that made his oeuvre special - probably more than in anyone else's body of work - was the ability to bring to brands physical properties that took them beyond the confines of the film frame.
By now you will be familiar with what I mean: the Cresta and Hofmeister bears, the Smash Martians, Sugar Puffs' honey monster, the St Ivel "prize guys", Benny Hill's Ernie the milkman for Unigate, John Smith's Arkwright and his dog, and later the dancing penguins, Kia Ora's berries, Walker's evil Gary Lineker. The property didn't even have to physically exist - as in the case of Unigate Milk's Humphreys, particularly as delivered by Muhammad Ali.
Just as impactful to me were the songs, whether specially written - for Courage Best, Colt 45, Dulux, Kia Ora, Texas "Tom", John Smith's; or simply bought in, like the wonderful Miller Lite ad's "He's My Brother" or Walker's "Welcome Home".
John Webster mastered engagement with the consumer decades before we knew it existed. He was a writer who could make poetry of advertising. An entire room of big cheeses was to be seen mouthing the opening lines to 1973's Courage BB, set on a village cricket green: "An evening in September, summer's main force is spent...". But poetry could be visual too. Look at the 1997 Beef film starring an old couple having a laugh on the beach and a dance at home, or the Lineker-Ulrika Swedish Walker's commercial, that same brand's "Romario" ad, or most of all The Guardian's 1987 "Points of View" ad. I can't imagine anyone not being able to sit and enjoy Webster's reel. I actually think DDB London could charge people for it. Now there's an idea to fund a bursary in his name.
John Webster was also the author of the most elegant self-obituary I have ever heard, and the only adman whose body of work could impress a taxi driver. "He did all that? I loves all them especially that Smash one," said mine. Didn't we all, mate.
IN THE following paragraph I was planning to analyse the proposed merger between InterPublic Group's FCB and Draft networks, which I guess has replaced the previous IPG big idea that was to merge Lowe with Draft. I write "was", because I have decided against doing so on the grounds that no one outside the two agencies involved really gives a.... This doesn't preclude me from giving a friendly shout-out to one of my favourite advertising big cheeses on the other side of the Atlantic: FCB's worldwide chairman, Brendan Ryan, a real adman - and that is meant as a compliment!
SOMETIMES YOU wonder how much some of the trade press really understands the business about which it writes. Last week a headline screamed, "Beleaguered agency United London loses managing director McGrath". It concerned the departure of the barely known (albeit very nice) Sid McGrath, who had only just been promoted from planning director of the agency in March last year. Further down the story the piece reminds us that earlier this year WPP brought in Jim Kelly and Robert Campbell to revitalise an agency that never really did anything as HHCL/Red Cell while owned by Chime Communications.
It is a shadow of its former self, trading off its long-distant glorious past as the once-radical Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, and overly dependent on its Sky account. Of course, radical surgery is needed to lick it into shape. In this context anyone surprised by McGrath's exit really is naïve. The surprise is he stayed this long. Expect more surgery soon. Why else would you hire heavyweight talents like Kelly and Campbell? Come on everyone, keep up at the back.
IS IT just me or is the quality of celebrity endorser getting better? Hot on the heels of all the headlines based on AdWeek's story that Catherine Zeta Jones (T-Mobile) was the best-paid celebrity advertising endorser, came news that Keira Knightley, the hottest female babe in Hollywood, is to be the new face of Chanel Coco Mademoiselle. Keira follows the likes of Kate Moss and Nicole Kidman.
Meanwhile, Gorgeous George Clooney, the biggest heart-throb on the A-list, is back in his second film for Martini (this time, he prefers to part with his girlfriend, not his drink). Then there's Brad Pitt for Heineken in the US and Eva Longoria for L'Oreal. The list is long. It includes the sublime and the ridiculous: you've just gotta love the way in which at the beginning of the latest Kellogg's All-Bran ad, the man in the street exclaims "William Shatner!" thereby ensuring that the Kellogg's client has not wasted his money on a celebrity no-one recognises. They even shelled out on a "WS" for the former Star Trek (and now Boston Legal) star's tracksuit, just to make sure no-one could have any doubt.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the script for an ad in which I turn to Emmanuelle Beart and ask, "Do you speak l'Aimant?"
HATFIELD'S BEST IN SHOW: CAMELOT
There's been talk of a rival lottery scheme focusing more on charitable causes. This probably had little bearing on the timing of a new masterbrand campaign for Camelot, but the coincidence highlights Camelot's current approach. I guess you could sum it up in one word: greed. The strategists at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO would likely prefer "aspiration" to describe what lies behind a creative execution that sees bricks flying en masse, like birds migrating towards sunnier climes. These bricks represent an elderly lottery winner being able to abandon his ordinary home for a house on a foreign hill overlooking the sea. Either way, it is a more selfish lottery than the one mooted in the press last week. Still, this is an intriguing execution from director Danny Kleinman, who this week launched his new production company with Ringan Ledwidge. Good luck to them.Reuse content