Tuesday, 24 April 2018


Back in the 1970s and 80s it was the message and not the medium that mattered in advertising. Endless hours were spent by creatives trying to do something original, different and something that got talked about.

And then it all changed because it was money that talked louder than creativity and the procurement people, the accountants, the media men and a businessman called Martin took charge.

Sentimentality in part has clouded our judgement. Great icons of advertising like JWT and O&M were swallowed up, their lustre gone,  in an empire with turnover of £15 billion and profits of £2 billion. Sorrell was a brilliant businessman – a legend , a ruthless, piratical wheeler dealer but somehow seemingly a man devoid of magic, soul or joy.

As Ian Potter the creative director at FCO once said of an errant account executive:
He wouldn’t know a good ad if it bit him on the arse

I rather think this was true of Martin Sorrell too.

Not that it mattered to many. It was the share price and the growth that drove him. One somehow felt he  would kill creativity with a few well aimed swipes of his spreadsheet. And good luck to him the many said because he was a towering success. But the signs of cracks in the business were already self-confessedly showing. And this wasn’t helped by the size of his earnings – his net worth is about £ ½ billion and last year alone he “earned” £70 million and that irked many out to get him.

He was a genius no doubt, but a genius like James Pattinson, the richest best-selling author in the world rather than Ian MacEwan. In the end just a business man.

So why am I so vexed by his legacy? Because like the founders of the digital revolution, they’ve taken away as much as they’ve given. The senatorial hearings suggest Mark Zuckerberg is still uncertain as to quite what this monster is that he’s created.

It’s not just privacy that’s been stolen so much as quality of life. All of the heroes of digital and marketing services are mere businessmen in vast, introspective, rapacious empires.  They do not laugh much in Silicon Valley or in WPP.

The medium is everything currently. It’s the likes, the hits, the quantity of what is said not the quality that matters. Sorrell’s demise is a turning point, already signalled by P&G, Heinz-Kraft, Unilever and others loudly saying that it’s real creativity that counts now. They have bean-counters enough in-house but what they lack are the kind of idiots like George Lois the American art director who once stood on a window sill threatening to jump unless a client bought his ad.

Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Caravaggio and others were not necessarily going to be congenial dinner companions but boy could they paint and touch our hearts.

Persuasion is currently on a lot of agendas. It may sound out of step with the times but I think creative advertising is on its way back.

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