When I was a teenager, people were judged by their accent.
It seemed the only way out of east London was to change your accent.
To say: ‘think’ instead of ‘fink’, ‘hello’ instead of ‘allo’, ‘nothing’ instead of ‘nuffink’, ‘pounds’ instead of ‘pahnds’, ‘who?’ instead of ‘oo?’, you get the idea.
(Also using different expressions: ‘you get the idea’ instead of ‘catch my drift?’.)
It virtually meant learning a new language, so that’s what I tried to do.
To carefully enunciate every vowel and syllable.
The most difficult part was the glottal stop.
In cockney the consonant is often held back, swallowed, not pronounced crisply.
So ‘bottle’ would be ‘bo(t)aw’, the ‘t’ has a glottal stop and the ‘l’ sounds like a ‘w’.
I found that remembering all the rules of elocution took all my concentration.
I not only had to speak more slowly, I had to think more slowly.
Then, when I was 19, I went to art school in Brooklyn and a strange thing happened.
New York was the first time in my life that people listened to what I was saying instead of the accent I said it in.
New Yorkers didn’t have time for that crap: “C’mon, spit it out will ya”.
So I began dropping back into my old accent, which meant I could speak, and think, much faster, it was like taking a corset off my brain.
I loved being able to use my mind 100% for thinking instead of having to use 50% of it to enunciate correctly.
And I thought, this is how I’m going to do it from now on, the thinking will be much more important than how I express it.
It was one of the smartest decisions I ever made.
Of course I realised that it would mean a lot of people, especially in the UK, would still judge me by my accent: “He’s cockney, he can’t be very intelligent”.
But I thought: “Screw them, they’re not the sort of people I’m interested in anyway. The people I care about will be listening to the thinking not the accent”.
And so it proved, my accent did turn some people off but they were only the sort of people I wasn’t interested in anyway.
It was self-selecting, I didn’t waste time with silly pretentious people like that.
It’s similar to writing a brief.
People who prefer complicated words and trendy jargon above plain language won’t be capable of any original thought.
They’ll be too busy worrying about what people think of their delivery to care about what they’re actually saying.
Mind you, it still creates problems, the CEO of one of our clients liked my thinking and asked me to pass it on to her brand managers.
I did a presentation to all of them and she was happy.
But one of them came up to me afterwards and quietly said: “We like you Dave, but why do you have to do the whole cockney barrow-boy bit?”
Which meant all he’d been listening to was the accent not the actual thoughts.
So (as they say where I’m from) I marked his card, I never worked with him again because it would have been a waste of time.
When it comes to advertising, I was always taught, “You can’t improve a bad idea with a great execution, and you can’t spoil a great idea with a bad execution.”
It’s either there in the idea or it isn’t.
But we now have a lot of people who think execution is more important than thinking.
Which is why our commercial breaks are full of rubbish ideas nicely executed.