My heroes have always been people who broke the rules.
Not in a bad way.
Just people who were a bit rebellious.
People who thought for themselves instead of blindly going along with conventional wisdom.
In advertising terms that meant Bill Bernbach, Helmut Krone, George Lois, Ed McCabe in America.
In England, John Webster, Charlie Saatchi, Frank Lowe.
In business, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs.
Even my mates, Ian Dury, Peter Cook, Paul Arden, Artie Kane (from The New York Dolls) were rebels.
I always thought breaking the rules was fun, as long as no one got hurt.
Of course it’s risky.
But hey, that’s the fun.
So in my own small way, I’ve tried to break rules where possible.
As long as no one gets hurt, and the benefit outweighs the risk.
For instance, I was always told you should never use turds in any ads, ever.
So we did an ad against Third World Debt which featured Ken Livingston leaning on a turd from a Gilbert and George painting.
It’s illegal to disfigure currency.
So we print on bank notes in order to get the Third World Debt message inside banks.
You’re not allowed to swear in ads.
So we took dictionaries to the censors, to prove the line, “You can break a brolley, but you can’t k-nacker a K-nirps” wasn’t swearing.
Everyone was terrified of Ayatollah Khomeni.
So we put him on poster and got death threats.
We compared the Third World Debt Crisis to concentration camps.
And the German section of the Cannes jury booed and walked out.
D&AD said lots of students weren’t good enough to get onto their course.
We set up a “Rejects’ course and helped those people get jobs.
I thought I didn’t have quite enough ads in my book to get my first job at BMP.
So I ‘borrowed’ a couple from a guy in New York.
And I got the job.
I was having a hard time getting an out of work copywriter hired, so I lied about it.
He went on to win 4 D&AD Silver Awards.
I see these things as creative.
Because no one got hurt, and the benefit outweighed the risk.
Until last week.
I wrote about the last two of these and some people were horrified.
Scamp is an influential advertising blog.
He compared pinching some ads for my book with robbing a bank and killing a guard.
He also compared it with raping a receptionist.
Are we in the same business?
Are we on the same planet?
Just like The Daily Mail or The Sun, some people will deliberately choose to misinterpret what’s been said in order to get a story.
So let’s be clear what we’re actually talking about.
I was a junior at an agency in New York.
One of my bosses was a famous writer called Neil Drossman.
He later left to open his own agency.
He threw a couple of roughs in the bin.
I said, “Aren’t you going to use them?”
He said, “Nah kid” and laughed “Have ‘em if you want.”
I came back to London and got an interview with John Webster.
I had 4 or 5 rough campaigns in my book.
I was worried it wasn’t enough.
So I drew Neil’s roughs up and put them in.
John hired me.
6 months later he doubled my salary and I told him about the roughs.
He was angry, but laughed and said they were the worst thing in my book anyway.
John and I worked together 10 years.
We won some D&AD Silvers and even a Gold together.
Tell me, did anyone get hurt?
Did the benefit outweigh the risk?
The problem with this recent episode for me is it exemplifies what’s happening in advertising.
Everything is taken so seriously, as if it’s a religion.
The fun has been suffocated.
Following rules has taken precedence over getting a result.
That’s why all anyone cares about are awards.
Not what the people in the street think, awards.
That’s the only stamp of approval you need.
Everyone is so terrified of doing something wrong in case they get pilloried.
The rules for me are it ought to be fun, and it ought to be a force for good in helping make advertising better.
And, of course, you shouldn’t set out to deliberately hurt anyone in the process.
What I saw last week was the exact opposite of all three of those.