Cultural commentator Peter York takes a look at the changing fortunes of British advertising, through the story of the personalities who led it through its highs and lows.
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Could we have light, please?
Stand by, please.
And mark it.
Scene one, take one.
For decades British advertising pitched itself
to us as being the best in the world.
The story was about clever advertising
that grew out of real British culture.
Not like the snake oil, hard sell American tradition.
It marketed itself as almost a branch of the arts, an industry
with artists and craftsmen, with home-grown humour
and imagination. It was a creative world
and it even claimed to put governments in power.
But I want to tell you the real story behind that pitch,
the story of the type behind all the creative output, the ad man.
I'll show you how this very adaptable character adopted a range of fashionable business identities.
# Chunky carpets, Cyrilawn Chunky carpets, Cyrilawn... #
How he symbolised the lifestyles his work promoted to the rest of us.
You generally behaved what you weren't, which was very glamorous, fashionable and rich.
And how a combination of excess and galloping egos marked his glorious rise.
They don't make ads like that any more.
That was a million two, I think. Pounds. Then.
And a surprising fall.
The world's biggest advertising group,
Saatchi and Saatchi, has announced a drop in profits of more than £100m.
And I'll show you that there's a lesson there for us all in the changing fortunes of the ad man.
In grey 1950s Soho, before our ad man took over,
advertising was every bit as stiff and dull as everything else in post-war austerity Britain.
'On duty, off duty, in the services, in civvy street, the quickest,
'finest, brightest way to polish boots and shoes is Cherry Blossom polish.
'Be smart, use Cherry Blossom daily.'
British ads reflected the people who made them, people with no great enthusiasm for the job.
Agencies were run by former army officer types who spoke nicely and who could handle clients,
without much fun or imagination getting in the way.
If, in the unlikely event of anything going wrong
and the product required service,
immediate service could be available.
It was a very stodgy, kind of old boys' kind of business
when we started.
I believe that advertising, and by this I mean posters and press
and television, are very important.
But they are not the only weapons in a marketing man's armoury.
They were sort of ex-guards and were very smart and pumped their cuffs
a lot, as I recall, and couldn't
understand people who didn't speak with a sort of very toffee accent.
I entered this story in about 1957, '58.
I don't think it had altered very much from 1907, '08.
I used to have a dreadful time with my hair,
it was so dry and unmanageable.
It was all over the place on Monday just after it had been washed.
On Wednesday, not very good, and simply not fit to be seen by Friday.
When TV commercials started in 1956, the immediate assumption was that only Americans knew how to do it.
They would ship in American film directors and American writers and it was all pretty dull.
If you worry about dry hair use Bristow's new Lanolin Shampoo each week.
-Do try it.
-Yes, try it.
The advertising they produced had a distinctly patronising tone,
more civil service than what was later called a creative industry.
And suggest that a continuation of the breakfast campaign should aim to convey the idea
that breakfast is an essential meal of which eggs are an essential part.
This was our first main conclusion.
But by the early 60s, the other British creative industries,
particularly music and fashion, were famously having their revolution, led by absurdly young talent.
Advertisers served by polite agencies or formulaic Americanised ones felt left behind.
This new market needed new ad men.
The new 60s ad man needed to be
visibly part of this new world, cool and young.
He'd know the best, cleverest New York advertising
but he had distinctly non-establishment
British street smarts as well.
But most of all he valued this thing he called creativity.
This creative step jump in advertising
gave early jobs to people who later became hugely important in the wider British culture.
It was, you know, completely broken apart by all of us yobbos coming into it.
And I think that was part and parcel really of that whole period, you know, it was to do with the 60s,
no-one cared where you came from, where your background or anything.
We failed miserably.
-So did we.
They were poets and eccentrics
and people who used words, who could use words,
who were full of ideas who didn't in those days...
Hadn't been trammelled, as it were, by their education, particularly.
Fay Weldon, David Puttnam, Alan Parker and Charles Saatchi,
were typical of a first generation of that new breed of ad person.
All in their early 20s, outsiders, not establishment,
most were men, all of them driven by that 60s spirit.
The opportunity for a 21-year-old like me was colossal because I had
no doubts that the zeitgeist was altering, in fact,
I liked that idea that I was even part of it.
So I was able absolutely naturally to absorb what was going on and move with it.
They certainly looked to American advertising for leads but not the jingle-based US hard-sell tradition.
They were connoisseurs.
They wanted to learn from the latest, most sophisticated, Madison Avenue operators.
And one New York agency in particular. Doyle, Dane, Bernbach
combined wit and visual style.
They produced sharp, commercially successful advertising.
I mean if you think of the first ads that Bernbach did of the little black boy
and the headline, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy's rye bread.
I mean what a shock it was to put a black child and "Jewish"
in a headline for a bread.
Or the first Volkswagen that he did, Helmut Krone art-directed.
It just had a picture of the Beetle and it said lemon
because, of course, it was a ridiculous looking car
compared with Pontiac and Oldsmobile.
So he debunked all that had been advertising and really took a very, very fresh approach.
Originally Doyle, Dane, Bernbach's one equivalent in London
was the Soho agency Collett, Dickenson, Pearce. They had it.
They were the first agency to actively recruit this new generation
of ideas people, "creatives", and give them real influence early on.
So it's the very first agency where creative people were, were given their heads really.
The whole premise of the place was, whatever we created,
if it was approved by John Pearce or Colin Millward, who was the creative director,
then the account men were charged with the job of selling it.
And if the clients didn't like it they were more likely to get rid of
the clients than they would be to get rid of us, the creative department.
The managers who recruited this new talent weren't just looking to update existing work.
They wanted people who'd know instinctively how to work with new,
more visual media, the telly and the new colour print technology.
The arrival of the Sunday colour supplements brought a new kind of glossy consumerism into the house.
And it was perfect for the new ad man to play with.
The Sunday Times magazine, certainly for us at Collett's,
gave us a showcase, an opportunity to strut our stuff and tell our story
and we were then encouraged, to mail out every week
The Sunday Times colour magazine to all of our clients to show what wonderful work we were doing.
I'm not sure how many products we sold but we were doing a hell of a job selling the agency.
Suddenly instead of advertising being this irritant, which was this bottom right hand corner ad that interrupted
the very interesting article, it suddenly started to be as interesting
and dominant in a newspaper as the actual journalistic materials.
This astonishing, at the time, change in print
was followed in the late 60s by an even bigger one in TV.
Colour television was becoming affordable in Britain, it hugely expanded the creative potential
of TV advertising, justified more ambitious ideas and bigger budgets.
This generation of ad men had grown up with the telly, they knew its visual language.
Television advertising changed everything and it needed, in a sense, a new generation
to understand that television because the previous generation had not been
brought up with television so they didn't know how to write for it.
And this young generation who went on to do so many marvellous things
understood cos they'd been brought up watching it as kids.
The ad man understood that the commercials actually
had to entertain viewers just as much, maybe even more,
than the programmes.
Our aim always was that, here comes the commercial break, it interrupted a really
good programme so we better make sure what we were going to say and present was as interesting as the programme.
And not only that, maybe it might be more interesting.
And so, you know, you had miniature films, suddenly as feature films, but done in 30 seconds.
You're going to go into people's living rooms that hadn't invited you,
so could you leave them a little richer for the experience
rather than poorer when you've left after 30 seconds?
That's a shame, really.
She was a fine old ship.
They didn't mention the "old" bit when I booked my passage.
Oh, come off it, Spratt, old chap. Still, pity she went down before we finished dinner.
Missed the liqueurs, what?
The ad men knew that to sell to Brits you had to win them over, make 'em laugh.
They understood the real British humour.
They knew about the delicious embarrassments of class.
I should say so, sir.
-Cockburns is it?
Cockburns. Very good.
Oh, you mean CO-burns?
Yes, Special Reserve.
The customer knows perfectly well you're trying
sell them something but if you make them feel good about it or don't bash them over the head,
they're much more likely to actually do as you suggest and respond well, if not buy your product.
The ad man knew how to get to the family audiences early telly drew.
They created memorable characters who enlivened some pretty dreary little products.
They kill them with their metal knives...
Boil them for 20 of their minutes.
Then they smash them all to bits.
They are clearly a most primitive people.
# For mash, get Smash. #
Television was in its own first golden age,
meaning huge audiences of 20 million or more.
Knowing the medium, the ad men recruited TV's biggest stars to front commercials.
-Ah, buona sera...
-Good evening, sir.
-What can I get you?
-Ah, do we have a Cinzano of some sort, per favore?
Yes, sir, there is Cinzano rosso, seco, bianco and new rose.
Oh, the complete set. Someone must have told you I was coming.
I'll have a Cinzano bianca, shaken, not stirred.
I did a whole lot of commercials with Leonard Rossiter for Cinzano where, you know,
we just, we were just improvising really.
It was Leonard who come up with this idea of spilling a drink on Joan Collins
and suddenly this was talked about all the time and in the papers and not only that and then suddenly
the comedy programmes started to ape the joke of spilling stuff.
And rather than us copy what had gone before,
which was how we started out, they started to copy us and copy commercials.
And in a funny kind of way so that the commercials themselves become that much more important
and people kind of look forward to, "Did you see that ad last night with such and such? Wasn't that funny?"
You know, and that had never happened before.
-Oh, Melissa darling,
you're early. Would you like a Cinzano?
No, thank you. I've just had one.
The most important thing of all is, we were doing all this
supposedly creative, fresh, original stuff that we were having so much fun doing,
and suddenly the clients liked it and suddenly we started to get business and suddenly the agencies
started to grow from doing interesting creative work and that had never happened up to that point.
-Ah, yes, gracias.
-No, no, no, no, mine was a Cinzano as well.
Ah, now that's better.
Oh, can't you just smell those Italian wines?
BOTH: Suffused with herbs and spices from four continents.
Oh, I'm being boring! Oh, sorry.
Getting your head down, sweetie? Jolly good idea.
When commercial television came along it was unbelievably powerful.
They used to say you could hit the entire population
with an ad in Coronation Street and then an ad in News At Ten,
so you'd hit everybody, there'd be no other television messages.
Television was by far the most powerful medium and so your ads
would appear today and there would be queues in your shops tomorrow morning.
It was that kind of powerful.
When are we going to order?
In a few short years the new ad men had changed British advertising
from a dull marketing tool that nobody liked to being a central part of popular British culture.
Viewers actually wanted more.
The only drawback is, I don't think there's enough advertising.
I think there should be... especially on BBC TV.
And all this ad boom in the 1970s too, when the British economy was in a very bad way.
But by then the ad man wasn't worrying, he was getting his rewards.
The more effectively we did it, the more we were encouraged.
And we were all earning very good money.
I mean, to their credit, the ad agencies, certainly Collett's, realised that...
I remember John Pearce saying, "You pay peanuts, you get monkeys."
We were not treated like monkeys.
A lot of night clubs were opening and a lot of restaurants were opening
and we did go to Tramp and these kind of places.
These people slept around a lot and they had a lot of money and
they lived very well and knew what was going on.
Because of the nature of advertising at that time you felt that you were at the heart of things.
You could say the 70s ad man was a sort of lucky chancer.
Right generation, right time, right media climate.
But to outsiders it was starting to look like
very powerful business voodoo, the ability to change hearts and minds.
And since perception is everything, the ad men started to exploit it,
to market themselves as key movers and shakers in 1970s Britain.
MUSIC: "Suffragette City" by David Bowie
What Britain needed in the grim 70s, so he thought,
was escapism and what they called aspiration.
He could shape public opinion.
The ad man was starting to brand himself
as a sort of smart shaman, a social engineer.
# Don't lean on me, man Cos you can't afford the ticket
# Back from suffragette city Suffragette! #
Any minute now you're going to see...
Advertising started to move outside FMCG - fast moving consumer goods - into more ambitious projects,
like changing attitudes and behaviour towards struggling nationalised industries.
Spend a day with someone you care for.
It's much cheaper than you think because...
-# This is the age... #
-Of the train.
The ad man behind the planned "fix it" for British Rail was a showman and ex-actor and shaman
called Peter Marsh.
Marsh aimed for a high profile.
He wanted to be the industry's first celebrity.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to meet Peter Marsh.
# Friday night, Saturday morning... #
'Well, advertising is essentially a personality business.'
I used to describe myself as an actor-manager
in the theatre of commerce.
So you use your self-publicity
as part of the publicity for your clients?
-It's part of the business.
'First of all, everybody likes to be identified with and committed to'
and involved with success and my job was to say, "We are very successful", and demonstrate it.
Peter Marsh was always on the telly in the 1970s as the unelected spokesman for his peers.
Oh, I think there's a lot of egotism, there must be, because the advertising business
is one of the last few truly remaining entrepreneurial businesses
where you live or fall by the power of your decision.
So he really began to become the spokesman for our industry
and we were all truly appalled by it
because he represented everything that we loathed.
Absolutely everything that we loathed.
You know, terrible jingles and stuff like that, and of course you know, they do actually work.
# It's the big - boom! - thick - boom!
# Chunky carpets, Cyrilawn Chunky carpets, Cyrilawn... #
Marsh came along and he basically sang the brief
and found out what the client wanted to hear and then sang it to them.
# And it's the biggest bargain ever so I say it again
# Cyrilawn Chunky Carpets Cyrilawn - Get off me barrow! -
# Cyrilawn Chunky Carpets Cyrilawn, boom-boom! #
Marsh knew his audience, he sussed that his personality
and his profile, just as much as the work he produced, could be the selling proposition.
So he made himself into a brand.
Branding - reputation - was becoming central to the competition for advertising clients.
But ad men didn't all go after personal publicity, some made their companies the brand.
In 1970, Charles Saatchi, who'd been an advertising copywriter at Collett's,
set up Saatchi and Saatchi with his younger brother Morris.
They had an early hit with a campaign to promote contraception for the Department of Health.
Well, the pregnant man probably, to my mind,
is the greatest advertisement ever written
because it is everything that a great advertisement should be.
An utterly stunning photograph,
seems silly now, but at the time the sight of a man
who was apparently pregnant was absolutely extraordinary.
And what a line,
"Wouldn't you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?"
I mean it's just so provocative.
Saatchi and Saatchi consciously aimed from the start to be the world's biggest advertising agency
and they knew that a great creative reputation wasn't enough,
they had to be really commercial.
What the Saatchis did, they just brought in this kind of much more ruthless, much more focused,
much more businesslike, much more aggressive, acquisitive, we want it, because they saw right from...
I don't know their own psychological reasons, they seemed to be obsessed with size.
For a start they ignored the older, gentlemanly rules of Adland
by ruthlessly pursuing their competitors' clients.
It tends to be...
"We've got something that we think you might be interested in seeing.
"We've got some talent, you ought to look at them because you're in the business of buying
"advertising services and you ought to have a look
"at all the services available."
In some cases it would be very specific,
"We don't think your advertising is working in the marketplace,
"why don't you come and talk to us
"and we might be able to form an effective partnership."
Sometimes it might be as simple as saying, "I understand you're not happy with your relationship,
"why don't you come and talk to us and we'll see if we can make you happy?"
We weren't evil, we weren't wicked, we weren't illegal
but we were subtle and we were clever and we were sophisticated and we did mad things.
And Saatchi and Saatchi front man Tim Bell knew what clients expected from their ad man.
They wanted him to embody the lifestyle they'd heard about.
This lifestyle became a 24-hour commitment.
# Golden years, gold... #
They've got to look smart, always be handsome and funny,
they're supposed to be good at lunch, they've got to have a fantastic repertoire of good restaurants,
know a good wine, a good lobster,
go to rugby matches, cricket matches, spend a weekend with a client,
be absolutely courteous and charming, know the wife.
The show is very important.
When the client comes in he expects to see beautiful girls,
handsome men, he expects to be uplifted.
I mean the famous line about Tim was, dogs would be cross the road to be patted by him.
And he was remarkable at talking to people and I think he was
a PR person extraordinary and I think that's how he succeeded with the brothers, you know,
in the sense that Morris was the businessman,
Charlie was an outstanding creative man and I think
Tim just made the whole thing work together with the clients and things like that,
so it was a good triumvirate.
I used to get up in the morning and imagine that somebody said, "Turn over, action."
Rather than getting up and behaving normally.
And most of the people in the business who were successful
actually wanted to be larger than life,
people pretended to be eccentric even if they weren't, some were.
And people like to live in that sort of visible milieu.
You went to restaurants that famous people went to, drove around in large cars,
you wore smart suits made by Doug Haywood,
and I mean you generally behaved as though you were what you weren't,
which is very glamorous and very fashionable and very rich.
It's very odd, I don't even know your name but after this one Campari and soda I feel I almost know you.
May I freshen your glass?
-Soda, of course?
-COCKNEY ACCENT: No. Lemonade.
Campari and lemonade.
Yeah, nice colour, innit?
Campari. With soda, with lemonade, with tonic, but always with pleasure.
Were you truly wafted here from paradise?
No, Luton airport.
While Tim Bell was the charming frontman for Saatchi and Saatchi,
the famously reclusive Charles was the company's business spin doctor.
He made the company seriously famous in its world by feeding good news stories to Campaign,
advertising's leading trade magazine.
Whenever he had a story he would wait until - whenever it was - just before the campaign was going to press,
and he would phone up the editor personally
and he would give them not only a story about what they had done
but how probably some of their rivals had failed to do this and lost that and,
and so he would become, he would become Campaign's kind of leading throat.
And yeah, by doing that there would be, week after week,
stories about Saatchi does this, Saatchi wins that, Saatchi new billing, Saatchi new ad,
and they used Campaign as a springboard into the rest of the national media.
And it's so effective and so deeply effective, that to this day if you stop and ask a man in the street
to name an advertising agency, nine times out of ten they would say, Saatchi and Saatchi.
As Saatchi and Saatchi built their brand, creativity, lifestyle, business success,
British advertising began to rival, even threaten the New York agencies that had inspired it in the 1960s.
There are those who would argue that the best ads now
are being produced from London, I'd love your reaction to that.
I agree. I give it to you.
London does produce some of the best advertising around
and perhaps some of it is better than we do here on Madison Avenue.
I saw some advertising from England just recently and I was so amazed.
I saw a commercial for Hovis bread, was it? I don't know.
And beautifully shot.
Didn't make any sense to me at all.
'Last stop on t'road will be Old Ma Peggerty's place.
''Twas like taking bread to the top of the world.
''Twas a grand ride back though.
'I knew baker'd have kettle on and doorsteps of 'ot Hovis ready.'
British ad men were raising the bar internationally with the scale and ambition of their work.
Commercials were becoming increasingly epic.
We went to Arizona in order to get perfect hot weather
because it was a film set in the desert
and as soon as we got there
it started to rain for the first time in many years.
And it rained and it rained and it rained.
And Frank Lowe, who was there, luckily, he was there
with his toy tiger, he had it under his arm all the time, quite an eccentric character, this Frank.
Stuffed tiger, it was called Tiger... Tigger.
He always talked to Tigger, "Is it going to rain today, Tigger?
"No, I think it will be all right today."
But it wasn't all right.
Every day it rained and flash floods, we were locked into the hotel because of floods,
and he had to ring his client every evening and say,
"We didn't shoot today, Mr Client, we need more money."
And after about a week, the client just said, "Frank, don't ring us again,
"just come back with a film."
So Frank had the ability to go on and on until we finished and we did, we came back
with a film, vastly over budget, but we produced the film that now is the sort of legendary film.
Ad men were creating work that looked like the movies, made by people like Puttnam,
Parker, Hudson, and Ridley Scott, who went on to have Hollywood careers.
But the biggest symbolic coup for New Adland's reputation
as a power in Britain came when the Conservative Party bought into it.
Saatchi and Saatchi won the Tories' 1979 general election count.
For the first time a British advertising agency
was central to a real power push, selling a would-be new government.
# I wanna be elected... #
Had you asked me here to speak to you a year hence,
I should have been able to tell you whether it does pay to advertise.
For many people's sake, I hope it does.
The Saatchi's self-promotion had paid off.
The top Tories really believed advertising mattered and that they were the best agency in Britain.
I think that Charles Saatchi had a reputation
for the very best
creative innovation and ideas.
Morris Saatchi was a brilliant salesman.
They happened to be a formidable combination and built an incredible business.
It was Tim Bell, Saatchi and Saatchi's front man, who got the job of selling to Margaret Thatcher.
-She loved it.
-It was one of those wonderful moments when you show somebody something
and you know you don't need to do any sell because they've looked at it and it's absolutely what they wanted.
One of the wonderful things about Mrs T is that she absolutely believes in expertise.
If she hires somebody as an expert she doesn't double-guess them, she doesn't ignore them, she lets them
be the expert and she's always said this to me and it's still true,
if you hire a plumber you let the plumber do the plumbing,
you don't tell the plumber how to do the plumbing, you just get on with it.
And so to some extent, if we said to her,
"This is a great advertisement",
she accepted that it was.
'In a word, Britain is going backwards.
SOUND OF CLOCK RUNNING DOWN
'How have we got into this state?'
What Charles and Morris achieved was going to happen, it's just that
they happened to be at the right moment with the right client.
'Which means a dole queue that would stretch from London to Edinburgh.'
I remember conversations with the Labour Party.
It just was not prepared to take that chance.
I got on very well with Harold Wilson who was a lovely man,
but Harold Wilson's idea was that advertising people were not only below the salt,
you didn't really associate with them.
It was Thatcher and her people around her had the courage
to not only bring them the other side of the salt but actually embrace them.
Excuse me, is this the queue to the 50p stores?
Oh, no, this is the queue for serious operations.
Is this the queue for the 50p stores?
50p? Haven't you heard of inflation?
Tell you what I don't want to see.
-Labour in power again.
Labour In Power... Was that the Marx Brothers?
No. Another bunch of comedians.
Up to that point political advertising was complete rubbish
and Saatchi and Saatchi's wasn't that great,
it was just a lot better than political people had done before.
The difference is the Tories took the chance
on using a creative approach to certain things.
'Do you remember what it was like at the beginning of '79?'
This mixture of advertising and politics was new and controversial.
The brothers, as ever, stayed low-profile, but Adland's public mouth,
Peter Marsh, was always there to comment.
You come from this puritanical school which says, "I must decide what people have."
-No, they have decided.
-"They mustn't have their freedom of choice."
-"Let us tell them."
-THEY must decide, not you.
If they want to buy cat meat, let them buy it!
The old Labour Party was fiercely critical, but just two years
and two election defeats later, the ad man had won over the sceptics.
Leading director Hugh Hudson was hired to reposition
Labour's Neil Kinnock as a dynamic, strong leader.
SLOW FLOWING VERSION OF "Ode To Joy" by Beethoven
'I think that the real privilege of being strong
'is the power that it gives you to help people who are not strong.
'I think the real privilege of being fit and bright and young,'
strong, is the ability that that gives you
to give others a helping hand when they're not strong, when they're old,
or disabled, or poor, or in need.
And it isn't a sentimental attitude, I think it's a way of proving
just what your strength amounts to.
It didn't work that time.
They needed to change the product first.
MUSIC: "Save A Prayer" by Duran Duran
Advertising alone couldn't stop Thatcherism in its tracks.
In fact, it was already at the heart of the government's policy making.
The Conservative plan for American-style popular capitalism,
for instance, turning Britain into a nation of shareholders.
The ad man was called in to make it happen.
What was your feeling about privatisation campaigns?
I think that it was immensely sensible.
After all, you were trying to create awareness
of a revolution in attitudes.
Here you were taking giant state-owned industries
and persuading, you hoped, millions of one's citizens to think of buying
the shares, to join the share-owning democracy,
and to put their savings into that sort of activity.
So using all the commercial abilities of the marketing world
was self-evidently desirable.
One would have been crazy not to do it.
-Tell you what, Duncan...
All the risks and complexities and small print of private shareholding
were bypassed in campaigns that used memorable catch phrases to whip up interest in the big privatisations.
These British Gas shares, did you know they'll be publishing their prospectus on November 25th?
-If you want to apply you can reserve one over the phone.
If you see Sid, tell him, will you?
The great line is scarcity and value,
the purpose of all communication on privatisations
was to communicate scarcity and value.
If you don't buy it now you might miss out, and there's going to be a fantastic benefit coming from it.
That was the strategy and it's the natural strategy for all share sales of any kind.
It was also a political strategy behind it which was to make it
popular amongst the people so they would like the idea of privatisation.
And I think there was also an argument that this was popular capitalism,
as opposed to corporate capitalism, if you like,
therefore it had to be expressed in very ordinary language.
The famous Sid campaign is a classic example of it.
How long are you staying?
-About a week.
-Well, I hope you've a prospectus if you want to apply for British Gas shares.
What? Oh, it'll wait.
Oh, it canny.
Your application form has to be in by 10am on 1st December.
-I'll best be off then, love.
-If you see Sid, will you tell him?
Nobody selling shares in a large corporation to institutions would do a Sid campaign
but if you were selling shares to ordinary people, you would.
And I think advertising had a fantastically important role to play.
The campaigns paid off and, awash with cash, newly floated companies
like British Airways offered themselves up to the ad man for ever more lavish treatment.
The face commercial I made for Saatchi's for British Airways
was a six-week campaign of strategising how you get
all these people together to do what they had to do.
A thousand extras at the end and each element of the face was made up of about 150.
The world's favourite airline
brings 24 million people...
And a very expensive ad. They don't make ads like that any more.
That was a million two, I think.
Commanding huge budgets and attributed with real political power too,
ad men were getting very confident.
Frank Lowe even felt he could diva-ishly resign the Ford account
if they didn't like his ideas.
If you don't like our ads, don't come to our house.
So they left. Ford's left.
You know, he fired them, he fired the Ford Motor Company.
But immediately, within about three months, he'd got Fiat.
And Fiat were prepared to go the journey with Frank and take the risk.
# Rush rush to the yeyo
# Buzz buzz, gimme yeyo
# Rush rush, got the yeyo
# Yo, yo, no, no, yeyo... #
With typical ad man bravado, Lowe persuaded Fiat
to buy the whole News At Ten advertising break.
That was the top slot then and it meant a guaranteed national talking point the next day.
# He's a real speed demon
# He's one of a kind... #
The ad man was now wielding vast budgets and this began to be reflected in client entertainment.
There was one man in the 80s who spent £600,000
on business expenses and entertaining in one year.
That was one man. And his rationale was, "We fly the clients to Ascot in helicopters,
"we give them champagne and chauffeurs wherever we go", and it was a kind of business-winning tour.
In lots of ways it worked, I mean it did win them business.
And so those things were legitimate.
But you know nowadays it would be called bribery.
In the 60s and 70s, the new ad men were ahead of the game,
but in the 80s they seemed caught up in the loadsamoney world,
not distanced enough, bound in to everything that was riding for a fall.
The ad industry by the 80s had become far more excessive,
interestingly, than the film industry.
The film industry maintained a very, very tight grip of finances and professionalism.
The advertising agency guy - I'm sure I'm going to get criticised for this! -
became pretty sloppy and pretty indulgent and pretty inward looking.
The growth targets for New Adland meant not just serving
the global new money corporate world but being a master of the universe too.
The seriously ambitious Saatchis led the way with their aggressive policy of mergers and acquisitions.
# I've got the brains You've got the looks
# Let's make lots of money
# You've got the brawn I've got the brains
# Let's make lots of... #
Having dominated this country the next obvious step would be to dominate the world.
How do you do that?
Well, you can't go and grow your businesses from scratch in every 180 countries, you buy them.
So in a way their feeling was, it doesn't matter if you pay a bit over the odds
because it will grow and it will look all right in ten years because of all this growth.
And so people used to laugh at the amounts that the Saatchis paid.
I spoke to one man, he said "We couldn't believe our luck,
"when they came along, we were a fat, lazy, complacent old agency.
"We were quite big, Saatchis came along, paid way over the odds
"and you know, we just sort of laughed into the sunset."
MUSIC: "Hungry Like The Wolf" by Duran Duran
The excess reflected the huge financial value the City placed on British advertising.
Adland appeared to have reached the top but it thought it could go even further.
If advertising men saw themselves as part architects of Thatcherism, now
they wanted some of the real power and the real rewards, the big stuff.
Instead of just pitching services to the corporate world,
they started to see themselves as its peers.
Couldn't they run corporate Britain better?
The City was awash with money then
and Adland seemed like a very bankable sector.
But it was actually a bridge too far.
# And I'm hungry like the wolf... #
In September 1987, only months after helping secure the Thatcher government a third election victory,
the Saatchis arranged a meeting at the Midland bank
that would mark a watershed in perceptions of the ad man.
They weren't pitching to advertise for the Midland, they wanted to bid for the bank itself.
And what made them think that they could possibly run
a serious financial institution like the Midland bank which had something like
75 billion dollars in assets?
What made them think that they could run that properly?
Well, hubris has to be the world.
Frankly the thought that an advertising agency could buy
a major clearing bank, you know, delusions of grandeur.
So I think probably that was over the top.
The bid was rejected immediately.
But more importantly, in the eyes of the City, the ad man was seen to have overstepped the mark.
They reached too far
and people decided they weren't going to do that so it was stopped.
-It was stopped?
I mean there are times when people look at things and say, they're great
and I love them but they're getting a bit too powerful,
or, they're getting a bit too involved in too many things
and I think the Establishment decided it was time their reach narrowed.
This setback for the Saatchis was perhaps the first true reversal
the baby-boomer ad man had ever experienced.
The modern shaman was now being put back in his box.
He was being told to mind his own business,
and when he did, he saw that his business was in big trouble.
When he'd worked for privately owned agencies
the ad man had never really been required to keep to the bottom line.
Instead, increasing amounts of money had been thrown at marketing with comparatively little accountability.
Now he was trying to be a corporate player
but he failed to recognise that the rules of the game were different.
The newly expanded and merged, publicly quoted advertising companies were starting to look
over-valued and financially unsustainable.
The ad man was seen as a bit bloated.
When recession hit something had to give.
The world's biggest advertising group, Saatchi and Saatchi,
has announced a drop in profits of more than £100m.
The fall comes at the end of a bad year for the company,
but the size of it still shocked the City.
It's going to take all their advertising and PR skills to convince people they can bounce back
after a week that has seen Saatchi and Saatchi looking vulnerable and all too fallible.
Anxious investors were putting a price on everything and the ad man's big talk suddenly looked like puff.
He was only as valuable as the price people were prepared to pay for his business,
which in a recession was not a great deal.
'After 19 years of phenomenal profits growth,
'the chickens finally came home to roost.
'This week profits dropped to only £22m
'and after tax and other costs, the company actually lost £58m.'
When the downturn came, all found it extremely difficult to readjust.
There are exceptions, John Hegarty did a brilliant job, particularly John,
but many of them found it very, very difficult to readjust to tougher times.
The ad man was now on the back foot.
By the early 90s the Saatchis had been ousted from their own company,
with Charles Saatchi taking solace in his growing art collection.
The flamboyant Peter Marsh, struggling to win new business in this stricter age,
was forced out of his company too.
Frank Lowe, who produced many of the most expensive campaigns,
found clients less prepared to trust his ambitious ideas.
And Tim Bell discovered that with the Thatcher revolution over
he too could no longer exert the same influence.
From thinking he'd joined the new masters of the universe,
Mr Ad Man now looked as if he'd fatally overreached himself,
lost the plot, and that gave the opportunity for a new kind
of advertising man, one who was a real global,
big corporation bottom line manager.
The City had decided that you didn't make a creative industry profitable by putting the creatives in charge.
What advertising needed now was managers and accountants, safe pairs of hands.
It was almost as though the industry had gone full circle back to the 1950s.
I suppose I got out before it started to revert back
to how it was before we started it.
Because I think whatever that period of time might have been,
it probably never was more than like a decade or 15 years maybe
where the creative work actually was paramount and the creative department
and the writers and the art directors and the commercials directors were the most important people.
I think then it reverted back to the guys in suits who then took back
their world and they've kept it ever since.
Enter Sir Martin Sorrell, the Saatchis' one time finance director
and now by far Britain's most successful advertising boss.
With his company, WPP, worth 8.6 billion, he's vastly more successful commercially
than his former employers ever were.
Today's a golden era.
I mean, the fact that you know that we have
a turnover of 60 billion, that we have revenues of 12 billion,
that, you know, we're reasonably profitable
but I'd like to have even better margins, sure I would.
I'd love to have 40% Google margins.
But that's not to be and we have 15% and we make a very decent and honourable living.
He worked for the Saatchis, he saw what they were trying to do.
Saw that actually they had a great opportunity
but they weren't doing it very well and that if somebody came along
and did the same thing, only properly, they'd clean up. And how right he was.
If you were having a go at me you would say I was a bean counter or a chartered accountant.
I like counting beans.
Sorrell knows the last thing his clients want to see is a flash, high-living, high-spending showman.
The fact that he is the most famous person in the business is really
what I've been trying to say about the move from being famous for the work you do,
for being famous for the business success that you have.
He is a businessman and he is rightly admired by everybody as a very, very successful businessman.
He's not the front face of the advertising industry in the way
that Frank Lowe and Charlie Saatchi and to some extent
me others were, in that golden age.
I'm not saying any of that as a criticism of what Martin's done,
but it is maybe the point that the advertising industry's now regarded as a business,
which is jolly good and very important, whereas it used to be regarded as a piece of fun.
I think this is much overworked, you know, that 25, 30 years ago
there were a bunch of personalities, today they're all gone.
I mean that's an easy shot, right? And that's probably the shot of somebody, you know,
who's thinking, "I'm over the hill, I'm past it
"and I wish we could return, you know, to the good old days."
I think it's nonsense.
The rise of the ad man was built on the cultivation of a myth,
that he was privy to secret knowledge and he was the master of the voodoo arts.
But today we think we've seen behind the magician's curtains,
we feel we know how the tricks are done.
With companies' own in-house marketing operations
now more sophisticated than in the ad man's heyday
it's more a buyers' market.
The client's back in the driving seat.
Before it used to be all we lived for is the ads.
Now, it's make the profits and if you can do some nice ads along the way
but whatever you do, do not lose the client.
And so it turned into, when the client said,
"What time is it?" you said, "What time would you like it to be?"
And that is a huge difference and you wouldn't stand up for what you believed.
You would kind of stand up but in the end you would see the client's point of view
and so the client was kept but the ads weren't necessarily as good.
The defining characteristic of the ad man's golden age,
the reason we remember the work so fondly
is that he sold to us in a particularly British way.
He used our national culture and our sense of humour
to turn advertising into popular entertainment.
But this could only work in the unique media environment of the time.
With just one commercial TV channel until the 1980s,
Britain was essentially a single national audience with shared cultural references.
Viewers would be charmed rather than baffled by a Yorkshire accent.
My name's Dan.
This here's me brother, Ben. Thou're a bit shy, ain't thou, Ben?
Oh, he's a shy lad, but he's great at inventing things
with Birds Eye beef burgers, ain't thou, Ben?
-I mean to say...
-That strategy looks borderline quaint now.
Today we all play in a much wider market place.
I'll tell you summat...
'Many more of our briefs now are global briefs'
and that's the big change.
If people say to me, "What's the big change in the last 20 years",
I would have said, you know, in the mid-80s, 10% of what I did
had an international element to it, whereas today almost 90% of what I do has an international element to it.
MUSIC: "She's a Rainbow" by The Rolling Stones
Big idea advertising today has to cross nations,
cultures, even languages.
The brand message has to be simple and immediate without too much cultural baggage.
# Coming, colours everywhere
# She combs her hair
# She's like a rainbow... #
You know, I look at the Sony Bravia work and I use that
as an example of how somebody's created a fantastic piece
of global advertising that's really genuinely fresh, genuinely different,
and captured all the awards going.
So it can be done.
It just requires a different way of thinking.
# She's like a rainbow Coming, colours in the air
# Oh, everywhere
# She comes in colours... #
Not surprisingly, some of our distinguished ad men
have mixed feelings about where British advertising has ended up.
-What's it like today? What's the milieu like?
I think...the lifestyle has become dull.
I don't think they enjoy themselves in the way that we did.
I don't think they laugh at themselves, we roared with laughter all day long
about what we'd got away with and things we sold people, these famous stories.
Like people like Pat Dolan who when he was giving a pitch when the client fell asleep
he got up and walked to the middle of the table,
held his tie in the air and cut it in half,
so that the client would wake up, and then went back and sat down and carried on with the presentation.
Those sort of things were daily occurrences when I was a kid in the business.
Now you never hear any of those stories.
I couldn't turn around and say, "Where is the next Frank Lowe,
"where is the next Tim Bell, where is the next Peter Marsh?"
I really couldn't.
I don't think they're being born at the moment
and history will look back on this era and have a reason for it.
As you get older you suddenly, "Oh, wasn't it so great when we were doing these things?"
I don't know if that's so actually.
I think that nothing had gone before when we were doing it and so
it wasn't difficult to stand out actually.
And then suddenly I think that the whole of the standards got better and better
and I think that overall the standards are very high at the moment,
particularly from a technological point of view,
and so I think that if you saw some of our old commercials
you'd probably go, "Oh, God, how did that win an award?"
Some of the others stand out, would still be at the best on TV at this moment in time.
MUSIC: "Make Me Smile" by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel
Cut, print, super.
Bloody good take. The cow was perfect, everything was right.
There's more money spent on advertising than ever now but the business has changed.
The kind of ad man we've been talking about -
flamboyant, overreaching, mostly not very corporate, has gone.
He was never as important again to his clients and to our culture after the 90s.
So the conditions that created this 30-year opportunity
for a uniquely British kind of ad man really don't exist any more.
It's a different world.
MUSIC: "Sympathy For The Devil" by Guns N' Roses
Subtitles by Red Bee Media
Email [email protected]
Cultural commentator Peter York takes a characteristically insightful and witty look at the changing fortunes of British advertising through the story of the personalities who led it through its highs and lows.
Inspired by the maverick US advertisers of Madison Avenue, a new generation of British ad men created a unique style of advertising based on authentic British culture. It tapped into home-grown humour and marketed itself as almost a branch of the arts. During the 1970s, British ads came to be regarded as the best in the world.
But as York shows, the same combination of ambition, big spending and oversized egos which fed British advertising's glorious rise also led to a disastrous fall when the business climate changed in the 1980s. Now the British ad man has had to reinvent himself for a new, global market.
York gets the extraordinary inside story from top British advertising figures past and present including Alan Parker, David Puttnam, Tim Bell, Frank Lowe and the most successful ad man in the world today, Martin Sorrell.