Monday, 1 March 2021


I’ve been staring at a blank page for half an hour or so with that Queen song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ drifting in and out of my mind. I don’t know the answer. We’re living in limbo and it’s very strange.

Will I ever wear a tie again? Will I ever wear a suit again or will I, in rebellion against dress-down-coronavirus, start to dress like a dandy – velvet suits, jazzy waistcoats and cravat? Perhaps a monocle. And certainly a cigarette holder? Dare I take up smoking again? Balkan Sobranie, naturally, if I do. Somehow or another I feel the rustling desire to make a dramatic, rebellious statement.

Watching television has been depressing. Terrestrial TV has run out of ideas. Has run out of ideas. Repeat that. And again. My splendid 98 year old mother in law laments the omnipresent Poirot and his blasted little grey cells and Midsomer murders…”I saw them all the first time and I didn’t much like them then.”

But it’s the tragic low budget, low-idea ads that are the worst of all. I spent twenty, happy years in advertising alongside or in competition with legends who created glorious advertising like that for Sainsburys, the Economist, Heineken, Carling, Araldite, Nike and Heinz. 

There is so little I like now. Back then clever people wrote great jokes or sumptuous ideas and film makers like Alan Parker, Ridley Scott and others then turned them into magic.

There was an exception recently for Brut. It’s amazing that this strong smelling lotion is still around. It was something we, at our agency, once advertised. The male perfume – “the great smell of Brut” – was launched with advertising featuring Henry Cooper. So we proposed creating new advertising to bridge the gap since it had been on TV with the theme: “Henry’s back with the great smell of Brut” featuring Lenny Henry. The client abruptly rejected it. Only now do I think it was because Lenny is black. 

That was 30 years ago. Brut is back on TV with hard man Vinnie Jones saying with a scowl in effect “stop poncing around with this glitzy ad you idiots it just smells good”. At this point a voice says “here’s the horse” and on walks a white horse to Vinnie’s disgust. There are advertising men through the ages who’ve wanted to get an irrelevant horse into a TV commercial and in lockdown it’s happened.

What will the high street look like when the shackles are removed? Well, expect an instant horror show of Poundland’s and Charity Shops but then a reinvention, balancing functional online with theatre and romance. In the rather tragic story of Mr Selfridge we saw a retail magician at work. What we shall need are magicians, impresarios and jugglers who create appetite appeal to seduce people who then buy online. Mere boring online will lose out as Apple brilliantly showed in their sexy Apple stores.

The hunger for fantasy and excitement is pent up and huge. The opportunity is for showmanship and pzaz. Curiously the desire to go out and shop “using real money” is acute. Restaurants that manage to charm and create that “let’s have another drink" ambiance will thrive.  Hurry back Corbyn & King. 

Real life we have learnt is rather dull. We are mostly sensible and rule abiding but at the back of our minds is the urge from time to time to be a bit naughty, to do something impulsive and delicious. Deliveroo and Amazon are the least naughty, geekiest operations I know.

Time soon to let our hair down.


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