I was talking to a class of about 30 students from Newcastle the
other night.
They were very quiet, as most students are nowadays.
They were waiting for me to tell them the right way to do advertising.
They’d probably seen half a dozen other creative directors on their
trip down to London.
I’m sure everyone had given them their version of the right way to do
The students thought all they had to do was listen.
So they sat there listening.
No one said a word.
Everyone was too bored or frightened to speak.
And it was dull.
Dull for them.
Dull for me.
I tried to make the point that learning isn’t passive, it’s active.
You can’t learn just by listening to someone else.
Mark McCormack, the sports agent, wrote a book about his profession:
“How To Swim With The Sharks Without Getting Eaten”.
Someone said to him, “Yeah, but you’re not going to give away any
of your real  secrets in your book are you?”
McCormack said, “Put it this way. Jack Nicklaus could tell you
everything he’s ever learned about golf.
Then he could still take you on any golf course and whip your ass.”
Making the point that you don’t get great just by listening to other people.
So having another dull class wouldn’t work.
And also, being dull isn’t a good start for their chosen career.
Dull doesn’t work in advertising.
As Bill Bernbach said:
“Hard sell may not always drive out soft sell. Noise may not always
drive out quiet.
But in advertising, as in life, the energetic does displace the passive.”
So I talked about energy, and being outrageous.
I talked about the fun and excitement of being outrageous.
The rush of doing something you’re not supposed to do, and getting away
with it.
I told them, for me, that’s what great advertising was about.
All the people I really admired: Bill Bernbach, George Lois, Charlie Saatchi,
Paul Arden, were the outrageous ones.
I asked them if they’d ever done anything outrageous.
One guy said he’d been expelled from school.
I asked what for.
He said he hated his teacher, and his teacher loved his tree.
So he’d burnt his tree down.
Well fair enough, that’s outrageous, so it’s a start point.
The problem is it doesn’t really have a purpose.
It’s undirected outrageousness.
Btter to take that rebellious energy and put it to a purpose.
Like Andy McNab.
He was growing up to be a violent criminal in South London.
He says that if he hadn’t found the army, and the SAS, he would certainly
have ended up in prison.
But the special forces gave him a direction for that energy.
He stopped being violent for no reason.
He began to control it. and it gave him two very successful careers.
One in the special forces, and one as an author.
So if we can find a natural rebelliousness within ourselves.
(And presumably that’s why we went to art school.)
If we can harness that, we have an energy that we can turn into something useful.
Something exciting and different.
We can be outrageous to a purpose.
That, for me, is great advertising.