When my mum and dad were children, Christmas was just about food.

They didn’t have Christmas presents in those days.

The concept didn’t exist, at least for the working class.

It was simply the one day of the year you could eat until you were full.

You wouldn’t feel hungry.

And they got stockings by their bed with oranges, tangerines, walnuts and brazil nuts.

Things they wouldn’t even see the rest of the year.

But by the time I was born, Christmas presents had become a thing.

My dad was very logical.

He always bought something I wanted.

For him surprises made no sense, they were just a chance to get it wrong and waste money.

So Dad would buy me what I wanted and I’d open it Christmas morning.

Always wrapped in brown paper, just the way it came from the shop.

The best present ever was an electric train set.

Wrapped in brown paper, just like all Dad’s presents.

But, looking back, I remember an unusual thing happening.

My Uncle Harry was younger, and a bit more modern, than Dad.

When Uncle Harry would give me a present it wouldn’t be wrapped in brown paper.

It’d be wrapped in ‘wrapping paper’ with a Christmas pattern on.

I’d never seen wrapping paper before, none of us had.

The whole experience was the other way round to Dad’s present.

With Dad’s present, it was dull until you opened it, then it was great.

With Uncle Harry’s present it was fantastic until you opened it, then it wasn’t quite so exciting.

I don’t remember any of Uncle Harry’s actual presents, but I do remember the wrapping.

At the time, Dad thought what Uncle Harry was doing was a waste.

Why spend that money on the wrapping, which you tore open and threw away in a couple of minutes, when you could spend it on the present?

And logically Dad was right.

But, as I say, Uncle Harry was younger and more modern.

He’d been in the army in North Africa and Italy, he’d met lots of different sorts of people.

He’d experienced the world outside east London.

For him life wasn’t all about logic.

Logic was dull and boring, wrapping paper was attractive and exciting.

It was all about the build-up, the anticipation.

It didn’t cost a fortune, but it made more of what you had.

And the truth, of course, is they’re both right.

Even a great present without wrapping looks dull.

But wrapping without a present is empty and disappointing.

When I look at current advertising I see a lot of wrapping without a present.

This is the belief that the execution is the brand, so nothing else matters.

Not whether people know what’s good about it, not why they should want it, not even that they should remember the name.

Which of course is ridiculous.

It’s like saying the wrapping paper IS the present.

No, it isn’t.

The wrapping paper is what makes you want to open the present.

The wrapping paper isn’t the present.

Currently we have entire departments devoted to wrapping paper, and absolutely no one even mildly interested in what goes in it.

Which is why most advertising is beautifully executed and forgettable.


Advertising agencies have become the gift-wrapping department.