Rod Allen

Advertising 'jingle king'


Roderick Howard Allen, advertising executive: born Consett, Co Durham 16 May 1929; Partner, Allen, Brady and Marsh 1967-87; twice married, secondly 1963 Hilary Wisdom (one son, one daughter, one stepson, one stepdaughter); died Woodbridge, Suffolk 22 August 2007.

During the Seventies and Eighties, Rod Allen was a talented and prolific advertising creative director, writing some of the most memorable campaigns ever run. A founding partner in 1966 – with Mike Brady and the ebullient Peter Marsh – of the advertising agency Allen, Brady and Marsh, he created "The wonder of Woolies" (convincing the cautious Woolworth management to use the popular version of their name), "The listening bank," "This is the age of the train," "Milk has gotta lotta bottle" and "The secret lemonade drinker" – an idea so potent that his 1973 commercial was re-shot by a hot London agency several years later. The same script, the same art direction, the same musical jingle. There is probably no other case like this in the whole of advertising.

Even Allen's earlier work exemplified his particular genius: "The pint that thinks it's a quart" for Trophy bitter, "Triangular honey from triangular bees" for Toblerone chocolate, "1001 cleans a big, big carpet for less than half a crown", "This is luxury you can afford by Cyril Lord". All were based on Allen's personal advertising philosophy that there was an essential truth in the product which must form the core of an effective advertising idea.

Rod Allen not only wrote the words, he also composed the music and sang the lyrics. At a time when the fashion in British advertising favoured understatement, Allen and Marsh, wearing white suits and straw boaters, would startle potential clients by invading their boardrooms and bursting into song. Company CEOs, weary of advertising so constricted by good taste that it was almost invisible, delighted in Allen's intrusive (some said brash) advertising jingles which drilled into consumers' brains, sold huge quantities of goods and infuriated competitors. It was this kind of work that enabled ABM to double its billings in a single year: by 1975 it was the fifth largest agency in Britain. Unlike some of its rivals which had grown by acquisition, ABM achieved its success wholly by winning new business in competitive pitches.

This success was celebrated in true ABM style on Allen's 50th birthday when, totally unknown to him, the agency arranged for the brass band of the Royal Artillery wearing full dress uniform – and playing at full volume – to perform his jingles directly outside his office. This was reported in the London Evening Standard under the headline "Jingle king, we're playing your tune!" As Allen himself said, "I do believe the sheer enthusiasm of ABM's work comes through. It's unique . . . possibly even infectious."

Rod Allen was born in Consett, Co Durham in 1929. His copywriting career started in Newcastle when he was 17, and was followed by a stint in the Royal Signal Corps in Salonika. His special talents had already begun to emerge when his fellow soldiers eagerly polished his kit in exchange for his writing their love letters home. He gained television experience in Canada before returning to England where he joined the Osborne Peacock agency. It was there he met Peter Marsh and later founded ABM.

With his domed bald head, heavy glasses and somewhat theatrical sideburns, Rod Allen was almost Pickwickian in appearance. He smoked large cigars and enjoyed a glass of Macallan Scotch over a game of bridge with his colleagues. In contrast to his advertising persona, in person he was gentle, witty and cultivated, inspiring loyalty and affection throughout the agency. He had an impressive knowledge of history, biography and politics.

Married to Hilary Wisdom – herself a leading copywriter and author of the iconic slogan "You're never alone with a Strand" – he was a committed conservationist well before it became fashionable. In the Seventies, when an entrenched south London Labour council had resolved to raze some historic local buildings and replace them with concrete horrors, Rod and Hilary mounted a campaign to save them. Enlisting the support of local residents and retailers, Rod Allen made a presentation so effective that the council, who were about to rubber-stamp a decision already taken, actually changed their minds. This resulted in the creation of a conservation area that in the late Nineties was launched as the Bellenden Renewal Area.

Rod retired in the late Eighties and moved with Hilary to a Suffolk village where they enjoyed restoring their gardens and a historic water-mill. Rod was active in the church and community and raised a great deal of money for the St Elizabeth Hospice.

Tony Wake

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