Ron Collins was a young art director at CDP.
He’d just done an ad for a bra.
It showed a beautiful young woman from the waist up, naked except for the bra.
Ron briefed the photographer that he wanted the model to have wild windblown hair, like Boticelli’s “Venus”.
The photographer said “Who’s Boticelli?”
Ron had been trained at the Royal College of Art.
In his head he had a huge bank of visual cultural references to draw on.
2,000 years of graphic art that he could use like a library.
He couldn’t believe someone earning their living in the visual mass media could ask a question like, “Who’s Boticelli?”
You’re a professional, it’s your job to know.
John Webster was the same.
But he didn’t keep it in his head.
The walls of John’s office were full of visual ideas and techniques that he was going to use one day.
When he did his gangsters’ campaign for Tic Tac mints, he wanted a ‘noir’ feel.
So he chose the visual style of an American cartoonist from the 1940s.
Milt Caniff who did the terrific strip, “Terry and the Pirates”.
And when John wanted a ‘cool’ feeling for the polar home of Cresta Bear, he chose the style of Jules Feiffer.
A satirical cartoonist from the sixties, who used lots of white space for a cool, intelligent feeling.
When John did Courage “Gercha” with me, he used a book of photos of pubs in the early1900’s.
He’d had that book lying around for ages, knowing he’d use it one day.
For his brilliant Bank of Scotland commercials he used moving sculptures inspired by Giacometti.
20 years ago John had Saul Steinberg (the New Yorker cartoonist) drawings on his wall.
I knew he’d use them one day.
A couple of years ago he used the style for Compaq computers.
Al Waldie was the same.
When he did his seminal Benson & Hedges campaign he looked beyond what was happening currently.
He got inspiration from Salvador Dali and The Surrealists.
From all these people, I learned the lesson that the worst time to look for an idea is when you need one.
So I used to leave things around to inspire the creative department.
I left a book around for months on Archimboldo, the Renaissance artist who made faces from fruit,
Eventually Dave Waters used it as the inspiration for the Nurofen commercial: a woman’s face made up of other women.
When Dave Cook and Dave Waters wrote the line, ARISTON AND ON AND ON AND ON, we decided to use the artist Red Grooms’ technique for the visuals.
I’d seen Red Grooms merging 2D and 3D in dioramas in MOMA.
The first commercial was for dishwashers.
So we used the style of the Japanese artist Hokusai’s ‘Giant Wave’.
As well as leaving things around, sometimes you have to get up and go out to see things to inspire you.
I sent the creative dept to see the film, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”.
I think everyone had a go at writing it up for Holsten Pils.
But Steve Henry was the only one who could make it work.
I think the point is that there are 2,000 years of graphic arts out there, from all over the world, that we can use.
We work in London, one of the two most culturally exciting places in the world.
Outside our doors there are more art galleries, bookshops, alternative cinemas, and cultural events, than in most entire countries.
Why do we sit in our offices, at our desks, and wait for inspiration?
We need to be constantly looking and collecting ideas and techniques.
Before we need them.
And if we can’t find it here, we can’t find it.