Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sisters of Inversion Pt.2

I'm very proud to present the second part of my collaboration with the genius who is Brother Stevie - Sisters of Inversion. Please click to enlarge - the devil is in the details.

You can view the first part here.

I'm having an exciting time at the moment, about which, more later. In the meantime, I suggest you amuse yourself with a visit to Brother Stevie's excellent Dusty Wolf Eagle blog. Or Wal's place where I'm engaging with an ill-advised flame-war with some cunt.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


As you can see from my photograph, the launch of the Creative Circle Annual was spectacular. This is Mark Denton, holding a microphone, rather than a tiny model of himself. He really looks astonishingly like his Beano representation, so much so that it's almost as though he reverse engineered his whole look from the Beano version of himself. An array of industry luminaries were duly crammed into a tiny bar in the Saatchis car park - which, in a chilling sign of the times, contained only one M reg Porsche.

It was very much like the live version of Scamp's comment section - in fact the very first person I met, before I'd even got in the door, was RJHayter. He had to spell his name twice for the bouncer, leaving me in no doubt as to his identity. This isn't just an obscure advertising blogging conceit, it did actually happen. I asked him whether he ever did anything other than commenting on Scamp and Brand Republic and he admitted to being woefully underemployed. I saw Dave Trott's partner who looks like an old tree. And some really incredible beard-hair-sideburn combinations, not generally seen outside religious seminaries. The event was totally male and monochrome and in fact, whenever I'm around lots of advertising creatives, all these awkward men who don't know how to end conversations, I get the same sense that these people are just vicars, but with booze and black-rimmed spectacles. Whenever I reveal this insight to other people they just look at me like I'm weird (it is quite weird having someone you're just trying to pass the time with at an industry event, saying essentially, "you remind me of a vicar") - but 200 years ago, young men of precisely this demographic would have been vicars. It requires a more or less similar skill set, and involves working with the narrative of the major ideology of the time, in those days religion, in these capitalism. In fact I reckon if you could chart the rise of advertising against the decline in religion you'd definitely have a chart of some kind.

Perhaps the conflict isn't one of ideologies, but for the skills base.

As my dear Mother might say, "ok, I won't ever mention it again."

Update: Traffic particularly low today, so I've changed the title of this post from "Schmoozing with the clergy" to "Bukkake!"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Comstock Undercover

GC and the Art Director have hatched a daring plan to pose as "advertising creatives" and go along to this Creative Circle Annual launch at Saatchis tonight. If you identify me, you may approach, hailing me in a loud voice with the password "You are my advertising God, may I worship you?"

Remember, I look like a cross between The Cave and Raffles here.

Death 1 Updike 0

Just when it looked like he was going to keep going forever, breaking all records for writing the same novel over and over again, John Updike has confounded all our expectations and finally died ladies and gentlemen.

The only person ever to have claimed to have read more Updike novels than me is David Foster Wallace - now also dead by his own hand.

I'm just saying, you know, be careful.

Who, now, will describe the municipal processes by which immigrant populations build their libraries and community centres as part of incidental description? Who will bring implausible metaphors, from cooking and nature, to bear on every human process from ejaculation to micturation? Who, now, will minutely detail the psychological processes of a male literary author and generously give those thoughts to work-a-day characters from used car salesmen to carpenters and housewives?

Who, in short, will spin their pathological solipsism into a literary career spanning five decades?

Ok, but apart from Ian McEwan, who?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Erratic Usage

Wal just used the phrase, "big fun", in a post on his blog, forcing me to post this:

Wal and GC did meet and examine one another's books at some point in 2007. Sadly it wasn't to be - interesting to imagine though.

Proximity "In Which Our Hero Falls Another Rung On The Creative Ladder."

Once I'd been asked to leave the DM agency I went stalking around London with this fucking razor sharp axe to grind. Here I was being rejected by the very industry that I thought I was doing a major favour by joining in the first place. I had, however, discovered recruitment consultants, headhunters. I love advertising recruitment consultants, you can have as many of them as you like, you don't have to pay them a brass penny and they will hunt down work for you like a pack of slavering bloodhounds because they are desperate, just desperate for their cut. This is purely cultural - if you compare this system with the one actors have, where they have one agent with whom they maintain an exclusive contract, you can quickly see the advantage of a market that works in your favour. Actors, being predominantly left-wing, have never worked this out. But nice union chaps, well done on that.

I'd done a tiny, tiny amount of web work at the DM shop, but I found that this didn't stop headhunters pimping me out as Mr. Web 2.0. I did site builds, I did virals, I did banners galore. Although I got work at pure web agencies I also worked at DM agencies that had sprouted web agencies. These have to be the only kind of agency where the general level of morale is lower than in DM, with people openly self-harming at their desks, the corridors littered with derelict monitors and shattered dreams. Ok, if you work at a DM place quite often you're adapting the above-the-line concept into roll-fold or whatever, but at the DM/web shop you're adapting the roll-fold into a banner ad. The best argument I ever heard for working in ATL is that you want to be near where The Idea starts - these places are where The Idea comes to die. If I ever start taking drugs again, and need money for scag, this is where I will work, because I'm quite certain you could be spazzed off your baps and no-one one would be any the wiser. The process at these places tended to be hopelessly convolved and Kafkaesqe, so that, even if your creative director liked your scamps, they'd still get shot down because the DM Creative Director had no idea what was going on, or the ATL Creative Director above her was still having to have the concept of a web banner explained to him every two days.

Or you might spend five days waiting for photography to arrive so you could make your dismal banner, going gradually insane in the meantime, and then on finding out that it was all fucked up and the thing was never going to arrive and that they'd just wasted five precious, precious days of your life, completely flip out in a meeting with a load of people you'd never met before, giving vent to all your pent up anguish and frustration, and end up being asked to leave the building. For instance.

I also worked at an agency where they used the word viral as a noun, an adverb and an adjective, sometimes within the same sentence. The creative director had discovered that in order to be "viral" something either had to be really good or funny or interesting, or have tits in it. He used to brief us saying, you know, don't feel limited, don't feel like it has to have tits in it, I'm just saying, if it has tits in it, that's fine. It took me about ten minutes of wrestling with my conscience before I started producing exactly the kind of advertising I'd always promised myself I would never make. There's nothing a like a 4pm deadline and the prospect of four crisp, red fifties to make you set aside your ethical qualms and get on with the matter in hand. This was the agency where my then art director, Brother Alex, came up with the "Adverse-weather-conditions" viral, as well as the, "Are-you-a-paedophile?" viral - guaranteed cult classics, neither of which, sadly, ever saw the light of day.

There, no moral or anything. No conclusion - no neat little blogger's conclusion - didn't even end with a rhetorical question, throwing the whole thing open to the floor like Scamp does, no wonder I can't get the stats. What kind of post is that then - a fucking failed thalidomide limb of a post - see, it's not even ending, looks like it's just sort of trailing off...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Aboriginal Holocaust Day

Some time ago I got myself into an online spat with Scamp's antipodean readers. I know I have at least one Australian reader, who has an excellent sense of humour, and today is Australia Day, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to rake over a few of my prejudices.

Australia Day celebrates the moment in history when the British began unloading convicts onto the continent, unleashing alcoholism and venereal disease onto the indigenous population - these being earliest forms of Australian culture. Today it's celebrated in much the same way as it was then, with Australians gathering together to burn meat, vomit and copulate in the street.

Many Australians will tell you that they are proud to be Australian, however, despite this they are pathologically incapable of staying in that country. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that all the good Australians (Peter Carey, Nick Cave and Dave Droga) have left Australia, never to return.

Carey is one of two people to have won the Booker twice, and one of four ex-copywriters to have been nominated - let's just say, they know how to take a brief. Like the best Russian authors, he's possessed of a total world-creating imaginative power. This characteristic, engendered in the Russian psyche by the barren expanses of the steppe, is borne out of longing. The sense that somewhere, something great is happening, just not here. The Russians actually formulated this idea into a depressing saying: "Happiness is somewhere else."

Victims of a similar belief, Australian artists suffer a kind of psychic trauma - the world elsewhere exists only in their imagination, it becomes a depository for all their unfulfilled desires, their Lacanian phallus. Upon grasping their phallus*, the actual world outside, it cannot but fall short, it is a crushing disappointment. They are then doomed to look back on Australia with a mixture of melancholy and disgust, because it represents, paradoxically, a place of unbearable longing and dullard naiveté, but also innocence, before the disappointment of the actual. Carey writes predominantly about Australia at other times - this historical distance allows him to accommodate the contradictory urges to return and to reject. By rights he should have won a third Booker for Theft.

GC bears a passing resemblance to chinless rocker, Cave. I have seen him in the streets of W10 - he has surprisingly small feet - I assume he was wearing his song-writing shoes. Cave's response to his upbringing is a compensatory operatic grandeur, his best songs sound like they're designed to be sung at the top of your lungs from the top of a rock, in a dust-storm. At his worst this gets embarrassing - but more recently he's developed this wry, knowing attitude towards his own image. My girlfriend has a DVD about Shane McGowan, in which The Cave says "I was always trying to show people what a great writer I was, where as Shane could just write." This would do for me as a definition of heroism, to know that you are not a genius, to recognise its unfairness, but just to keep trying and trying.

Droga represents the opposite reaction to the Aussie cultural vacuum, a kind of ruthless,
anti-pretentious, reductionism but - and this is where I outraged the nationalistic pride of Australians last time - I don't actually believe this is a bad thing. I do believe, again, that it's a product of environment: "It's just us here, no need for all that fancy talk, why shouldn't we be straightforward mate? Can't you just call a spade a spade?"

Things are reduced to their fundamental qualities. You can sort of see how Australians would find, not just the Queen, but the idea of the the Queen absurd, in the context of a red flat landscape and an enormous burning sun. The landscape is anti-pomp. And after all, she is just a dusty old Sheila. So in Droga's advertising an abusive parent is a monster, a phone company that hides charges is evil, buying mineral water, when people are dying of thirst is stupid.

This incredible simplicity is why Dave Trott loves him - although he would characterise this tendency as working class, because he so totally prejudiced against the upper-middle classes, he can't even work out what's wrong with the Australians.

As you can tell we're not busy here, must be the recession finally coming to cleanse the land.

* I've been looking at Lacan for my next piece in Horse and Gondola Magazine. I'm enjoying his use of the word phallus - in fact, I'm trying to slip it out in meetings as much as possible.

Monday Morning Memento Mori


You have a 1 in 5 chance of dying from heart disease. A 1 in 7 chance of dying of cancer. A 1 in 24 chance of dying from a stroke. A 1 in 84 chance of dying in a car accident.

There is also a 1 in 119 chance that, before any of these things get you, you will commit suicide.

But let us be clear: whatever happens, you will certainly die.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sisters of Inversion Pt.1

I'm very proud to present, Part One of our very own "Glass and a Half Full Production", Sisters of Inversion. Click to enlarge and enjoy the story.

For more madcap japes from Brother Stevie - visit the Dusty Wolf Eagle Blog. There's a load of excellent new stuff on there and all.


I saw this last night - I'm assuming it's just a cry for help like last time. It does seem like he's really upset though. I mean, it is very disappointing, but I can't help thinking blowing yourself up is a bit of an over-reaction. Does anyone have a number for him?

If it's some kind of joke I think it's very poor taste indeed.

In other news, it looks like Brother Alex's mental health problems have overwhelmed him this week. You are in our thoughts. But we do have exciting new art from Brother Stevie this afternoon.

I'll leave gushing over the new Cadbury's ad to Scamp I think.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

All Aflutter

I have a piece in The Modern Scoutmaster this month on "The New Sadism". It references Schopenhauer, David Foster Wallace, Daniel Craig and Balzac. At least I think that's what I wrote.

It was originally entitled "Branding. No really." But apart from that it seems to have got through without cuts - which is a career first. And it's on the cover.

My thanks Mark.

Rush down to the shops and steal one right away.

Client changes

"So yeah guys, the good news is they love the "99p or less" concept, there's just one change, it's come from legal but I don't think..."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Winston Churchill, America's first black President.

I was delighted with Barak Obama’s inauguration speech, which everyone in the agency seemed to watch, either on live feeds at their desks, or on the TV in the lobby, so that the sound of his voice echoed through the building and the whole thing was like the final moments of a Jerry Bruckheimer film but without all the fire and broken glass. I don’t doubt that it will have smashed all records for online viewing, even viewing generally. There’s something compelling about watching Obama, which is not wholly unconnected to a desire to be there, watching, when he gets shot - not to be confused with a desire for him to be shot btw. That he hasn’t been so far is either a testament to the efficacy of the American secret services (or their inefficiency, depending which side of the knoll you're on), or the fact that the media is lying to us nearly all the time, and that there are far, far fewer sociopaths out there than we are taught to think.

His speech-writer is 27 and writes in Starbucks, jacked up on a triple shot lattes. Interestingly he is an avid reader of Obama, carrying his autobiography around with him, internalising his speech patterns, mastering his voice. I believe this is necessary in order to establish the felt meaning of words, the extraordinary impression that Obama gives of "really meaning it", is also the reason that Bob Dylan’s songs sound good, even though he can’t, by any normal criteria, actually sing. The speech was low on soundbites, almost self-consciously low on them, but then if you’re competing with “we have nothing to fear except fear itself”, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” you probably don’t want to go with the lines you’ve got that are only ok. It was still a writer’s speech though, Obama is one too remember, and it’s perhaps because of this that he's such a good politician. Cynicism breeds in the gap between what politicians do and what they say, the misuse of language degrades its working parts. Non-writers think that words hide the truth, and what you end up with a jumble of nu-speak that, like Orwell says, is designed not to communicate but to obscure what is really going on. It doesn't really fool anyone, they just feel increasingly patronized and powerless. So when Obama says:

But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true.

He’s trying to nail the meaning back onto these words.

Churchill obviously is still better (he not only ate the Germans, he also won the Nobel Prize for Literature), but Obama does make David Cameron look like he’s made from luncheon meat and PR.

Most of adland's creatives missed the inauguration, because they were too busy arguing on Scamp about the T-Mobile ad, and whether it matters or not that it is both stolen and, according to its own terms, fake. Even formulating an opinion on that one makes me want to kill myself. What I find more interesting is that it’s yet another instance of the “people doing something together/spontaneously passing an action on” meme that’s been so blatantly dominant in media for the past couple of years that even Campaign wrote a feature on it (no link, it was properly boring). I’ve had these ideas, the Art Director has them (the whole fucking time), but they’re not really an idea for your brand at all. What they are is the fantasy of your advert working really well, and everyone talking about it and passing it on and making you famous. This subconscious wish fulfillment is why it feels good having that particular idea, as though it really is an idea, and why it’s confusing for creative directors and why so many of them get through.

To those of you that took part in the COPYWRITING CONTEST. The winner is…all of you. You were all equally good - please don't take that the wrong way. Enjoy your prize, a cut-out-and-keep copy of the photograph of “Death by 1000 cuts”, as kept on the desk of George "pervy George" Bataille, for you to attach to your workstation.

(Click to enlarge - but remember, I'll know if you do)

I'm not sure if I'll be running that particular feature again. I might prefer looking for another 132 relational art installations.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Mannequins of W12 - COPYWRITING CONTEST


1. Think of a headline or dialogue to go with this picture.
2. Write headline or dialogue in comments.
3. Winner gets prize (email).

My ones are:

"But Mrs. Thermadopolos, you're Jonny's Mum, and EVERYONE IS LOOKING."


"GENITALS - don't leave home without them."

If this works I'll make it a feature.

The Pervert's Pervert

If there is one person I'd like to be, even more than the inimitable "Barney Roundtree", then it has to be Slavoj Žižek. Not least because his name is an insanely high Scrabble score (when augmenting the word SLAV, on an English Scrabble set, with someone so drunk or lax about the rules or such a big Žižek fan that they'd let you have a proper name. Perhaps Slavoj himself, late at night, in some Ljubljana shebeen), and contains two symbols I don't even know the word for.

Here he is talking about toilets

That particular ideological exegesis also crops up, more or less verbatim in David Foster Wallace's short story "The Suffering Channel" - you know when DFW is looting your ideas that you're onto something. For the full effect though you really need to hear him speaking in English, which he speaks beautifully, but with a Slovenian accent that is nothing short of sociopathic.

He's been described as the "Elvis of Psychoanalysis" - and I reckon he does have a peculiar energy about him which justifies the comparison.

Žižek specialises in unpacking Lacanian symbolism from within popular culture. You can watch him doing this in "The Pervert's Guide to Cinema" - in which he undertakes to introduce the principles of Lacanian psychoanalysis to the American movie-going public. This is a mad thing to want to do, madder still is that it seems to have worked, and he is all over YouTube.

Every single page of his writing is stocked with mind-bending ideas, it's just good for you to be forced to think like this, it's like doing yoga with someone who comes round and gently pulls your leg through your own armpit.

A standard trope of Žižekian thinking is perversion or paradox - so for instance, when Hanif Kureshi told him that his new novel was a complete departure, dealing with totally new areas of experience, Žižek said, yes, but the protagonist's father is still a failed Pakistani writer. Kureshi's reply was "But don't we all have fathers who are failed Pakistani writers?"

Žižek's genius is to agree with him.

Don't we all have fathers who are alienated by fatherhood, he says, and doomed to fall short of an impossible ideal? Is this not, in fact, the norm, and therefore the universal truth? Isn't the ideal really a universal untruth?

Neat huh?

Plus, trying to take Hanif Kureshi down a peg or two is just an admirable thing to do.

He gets a lot flack for his inconsistency, which some academics see as a lack of rigour, but is really just a flamboyant disrespect for his own gifts. He is also a communist who writes copy for Abercrombie and Fitch.

From Wikipedia:

Questioned as to the seemliness of a major intellectual writing ad copy, Žižek told the Boston Globe: "If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing ass to get a tenured post, I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!"


Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Morning Memento Mori

Remember, death can come at any time.

Feckless Chutzpah

As a kind of subset of the general question, “why do I write this blog?” is the secondary question, “why do I write these long posts about humiliating episodes from early in my career?”

Well, like all terminal procrastinators I have a paralysing fear, not so much of failure itself, as the contemplation of failure from some point in the future when it is all too late.

These posts then, serve to remind me that I needn’t have worried.

Not that I wasn’t destined to fail, merely that, the contemplation of my failure from some future point (i.e. now) is only bleakly amusing, not adding all that much to my already apocalyptic sense of self-pity.

Sometimes I picture my younger self, cruising the streets of London, skinny, amoral and full of cunning. I was working for a night club, I slept all day, gradually I lost touch with my friends, and my complexion turned a fetching blue/green. My sister said I looked like Zammo – it was a proud moment. With my near-fluent English I quickly rose to the level of assistant manager. That meant I had to make sure we had enough ashtrays and that there was toilet roll in the ladies toilets. I was assiduous in all my duties, as I’m sure you’ll believe.

I also wrote press for the club and I quickly worked out that all DJs needed a “biog”, a CV in long copy, and that, with very few exceptions, they weren’t capable of writing such a thing themselves. In fact, there seemed to be some kind of inverse proportion at work, between probability of becoming a professional DJ and one’s ability to recount one’s own career using words. I also discovered that if you wrote one of these puff pieces and then offered it to a DJ, he would pay virtually any amount of money to get his preening little hands on it.

I started getting a few clients (two clients), and took to hustling for business in the record shops of Soho. No one else was doing it – which I interpreted as a sign that I had “cornered the market”. I got a mate to do me some cards – I’d wanted to have a business card from the age of 8.

(This is the one surviving card that I have – in mitigation please remember that Paul Smith’s first company was called “Vêtements pour hommes”. The words on the pen/stylus hybrid are dentate, plangent, plexor, allipsis and synodinal – for years afterwards they served as bookmarks, from the absurdly obscurantist vocabulary I reckon up until at least 2004 when David Foster Wallace released Oblivion. Five years on I score 2/5 on those words)

On one of these trips I met an aging house DJ called Tiny. He told me about the National DJs Union. The NDJU was a start-up, begun by this bloke Tiny and his friend Dane. Tiny drove a tiny black VW Polo, but was huge. Dane had been a successful child actor, and as an unsuccessful adult carried about him a whiny air of aggrieved entitlement. They were borrowing a minute office space off a mate who ran a web design company in the Truman Brewery (web design company? That feels like period vocabulary). There were usually several people borrowing the same space, including a man who supplied weapons for films. This basically meant there was an insane man in the office, with a large cache of weapons. It was something of a world centre of weirdness of all kinds.

They had this idea that people would sign up to join the DJ Union via its website, and that every DJ would be given his own page, which he could then use to promote himself and his music in whatever way he felt best suited him. I thought this was stupid idea. That the resulting cornucopia of styles and layouts would make the whole thing so ugly and confusing that no one would ever go there.

They had this other idea, which I thought was just as stupid, of a kind of streaming video channel, where people could just post whatever they wanted – a kind of online talent show they said. Who would watch a load of amateurs doing a lot of unscheduled beatboxing and low-production-value party-tricks? I thought.

I did several hundred pounds worth of work for Dane and Tiny, I hung around for days, writing their business plan, buying the coffee, before I realised that Dane was a pathological liar, a fantasist and serial bankrupt and that Tiny had some really spectacular anger management issues. Predictably the two of them fell out, threatened to have one another killed, squabbled over the single share in the company, the domain name of which had been deliberately and unhelpfully bought by the web designer, also unhelpfully called Dane. I was just one victim of the company's ineluctable collapse.

Dane (see) was able to offer me expert advice on the procedure for filing a small claims case against him as well as its evident futility.

I kept travelling back and forth between W12 and Brick Lane, until eventually the girl who answered the phones took me aside and explained that she was only employed on a Prince of Wales Trust subsidy, and that her job was to stall creditors.

Obviously I couldn’t get a penny out of Dane or Tiny, but it gives me some satisfaction to think that they had actually invented both MySpace and YouTube in 2002 but were too busy bickering about selling insurance to DJs to recognise the two multimillion pound ideas floating around amongst all the shit ideas they had.

Maybe one way of viewing these posts would be as the opposite of Scamp’s helpful Tuesday tips. Not as a series of tips, but a single tip, the meaning of which becomes more and more luminously evident, the more of them you read. Less helpful hints, more disheartening warnings.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Brother Stevie's Sexual Education

Hey Kids, if you want to learn more about sex, visit Brother Stevie in his weblog cabin. But shhhh, it's just our secret remember.

Brother Alex is depressed

He says he's not. You be the judge.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fuck you

I'm sorry but this man has an eating disorder.

Don't get me wrong ladies, GC is buff, but this fellow looks like he lives on rice cakes and sperm.

Feminists love this kind of advertising, because they get to rub their hands together and say, "Well how do you like it?" I don't like it one bit miss, but you'll never get a husband with kind of attitude.

Last year my girlfriend became so enraged with the miserable advertising for The Harley Medical Group's plastic surgery diet ("Here's Sarah without tits - look, she's depressed and friendless. Here's Sarah with plastic funbags stuck on - look, she's happy and people like her for who she is.") that she actually formed a terrorist organisation, mobilising thousands of women on Facebook to stick stickers on poster sites around London. She recieved, for her efforts, a "Cease and Desist" notice from CBS Outdoor as well as coverage on the Today programme and in Campaign. She doesn't even work in advertising. Imagine my delight.

One rather fun pastime I discovered was googling the slogans that she'd written, and then seeing where they'd popped up in the blogosphere - like ripples in a pond. The majority of people were supportive, in fact the only blogger I found who was hostile was this man, who mainly blogs about working out, the state of his six pack, waxing his body hair and his obssessive compulsive disorder. No issues there then. He gets more than 400 readers a day - enough to run advertising on his site, and there is something compelling about his writing. He's an oxymoron, he's frankly in denial. And you could write a dissertation on his Bret Easton Ellis fixation.

If you're just talking about stuff, that's fine, buy more stuff, fill your house with it, build an extension to house the stuff, get a shed, hire space from The Big Yellow Storage company to keep the excess stuff in so you can buy more, just don't, on any account, stop buying stuff.

The other way round it becomes a recurring minus, lose fat, burn it off, strip the fat away until you're just a grinning sinew, don't eat food, eat half a teaspoon full of this powder, inject yourself with steroids, become a human Twiglet, grow white hairs all over your body and shit BBs.

I did. You can.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Beauty is exuberance

I had dinner with my mother last night - as I sat down she thrust into my a hand a post-it note with the name "Barney Roundtree" written on it, and provided an incoherent account of a programme she'd heard on Radio 4 about advertising, something to do with Y-fronts and brain imaging. The restaurant was showing Al-Jazeera's coverage of the war in Gaza on a huge flat-screen TV, so the conversation was punctuated by the sound of explosions and screaming. After some confused discussion it became clear she was talking about the second part of the series "The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On". It was of special interest to my mother as she is a world-renowned lobotomist (some of my earliest memories involve having metal pads attached to my body, which grew intensely hot or intensely cold, whereupon I had to report the sensation registered to a group of scientists) and it is a continual source of disappointment to her I didn't follow her into the family profession. And here was "Barney Roundtree" talking about selling Y-fronts and brain imaging, like the two things were more or less two sides of the same biscuit. Hence her excitement. Though it may have been the war.

I dutifully listened to the program on the BBC. And first, can I just say, who doesn't want to be "Barney Roundtree", doyen of Campaign, The Sartorialist and Radio 4? What a dude.

The other thing that caused me to prick up my ears was his description of the Peacock's Tail theory of advertising - being that consumers trust brands that appear to waste money beautifully and plentifully, and that this, in evolutionary terms, suggests that the brand has excellent genes. This sounds to me rather like someone has picked up the wrong end of Bataille's Accursed Share - why attach the idea of genetic utility, just 'cause you're mates with Richard Dawkins? What does it mean, afford to waste? That you have an excess, that more than enough is an indicator of just enough? And if it does mean you have good genes, good genes so you can do what? Breed away the waste?

Waste is attractive in itself and that's where it stops. You're only trapped in brain-loop otherwise.

I'm training myself not to say things like this in meetings.

It also included an extremely interesting analysis of Sony "Balls". I know I'm occasionally disparaging about things Argentine, but I must admit a grudging respect for Juan Cabral - not that my good-opinion of him counts for fuck all. There is something so centrally weird about all his scripts, I reckon they are all about inevitability. So "Gorilla" is about a gorilla playing the drums - only it's not, it's about a gorilla not playing the drums for most of the spot. Or "Trucks" is about a race - only it's not about a race, we never see the end of the race, only the start. Or "Balls" is about balls bouncing down a hill - but they never reach the bottom - they just must go down. It's in the closing of the circuit that we register pleasure I think. It's very hard to write scripts like these, I have tried based on this principle, but it requires an arrangement of very few elements that I imagine is something like what certain abstract artists do.

In fact the thing in "Balls" that "Barney Roundtree" said really lights up peoples' brains is the frog in the pipe, which is wonderful.

In a Q&A I once asked Tony Davidson about the moustache in the "Impossible Dream" spot. To me the moustache seemed so key, it makes the whole thing. He looked slightly bemused and just said, "Oh the guy just had a moustache, so we told him to keep it."


I keep at least one beady eye more or less permanently fixed on my sitemeter. In fact, I've recently upgraded it so I now tells me what you're wearing. Scamp's puff in December obviously gave me a major spike in readership, which for the two days I was on his front page peaked at 250 readers a day. Surprisingly, some might say, not all those people added me immediately to their RSS feeds. In the intervening period I expect the heady mix of prejudice, pretentiousness and pessimism may have put some people off - but I've noticed a new trend in referrals, and reckon I now have a core readership of about 60 people who come regular like, referring from their feedburners or bookmarks. This readership is mainly drawn from London agencies, including, in no order at all: W+K, BBH, Fallon, DDB, Publicis, JWT, VCCP, O&M, Iris, McCann's and Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw. Hello there.

Overseas readers hail from Australia, Spain, India, South Africa and Germany. In fact I get loads of referrals from someone called Textergesucht in Germany. Sorry about the Nazi thing - but I suspect working for Leagas Delaney you can't afford to be that offended by them.

I also have one Romanian reader, it can't be...could it...?

My sitemeter also tells me exactly what people have searched for to get here. One search this morning from Brighton was for "trevor beattie wanker" - I hope you found what you were after. Another unusually frequent search, frequent enough to form its own percentile on my referral readout, seems to be "nick tasker advertising", which pulls the first post I ever wrote, about his Westfield advert. I assume this must be his Mum, I mean, no-one would Google themselves 09.35 on a Monday morning would they?

Not many people comment, and those that do often have their own blogs - and have found their own online voice, you might say, if you were a cunt. Scamp, ITIABTWC and Dave Trott all like to get their oar in, although I haven't seen Dave round here since I published his post the other day. Please do comment, most visitors read them and it makes it all seem less pointless than it, no doubt, is.

Keep reading 'cause I have big plans afoot. Including, hopefully, my article for Which Speculum? (though I haven't heard a peep from them since last year) and more from Brother Stevie and Brother Alex. If you'd like to get involved, and you know Flash, and don't mind taking orders, please get in touch on the electronical mail.

Sorry if this is all terribly boring for you, it's a feature of my autism you see.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Autistics with mad skills

Quite often I have cause to ask myself, "What is actually wrong with you?"

My favourite explanation is autism. My least favourite is narcissism. With autism you have trouble empathising with others, stunted emotional development, obsessional behaviour, an air of abstraction and perhaps, mad skills in maths, drawing or even, I'm quite sure, copywriting. Narcissism is obviously much less sympathetic - you have the same trouble empathising with others, stunted emotional development, obsessional behaviour and air of abstraction, but its source is an incessant self-regard, basically finding yourself so fucking interesting that people have to beat you about the temples with an inflated pig's bladder to wrench your attention away from your own navel for two seconds at a time. There's also no promise of any mad skills whatsoever, only the unfounded suspicion that if anyone round here has mad skills, it's probably you. Like autism it's technically not your fault, but no one else sees it that way - they just think you're not trying, and that you're a self-absorbed little shit. No-one would accuse an autistic, sitting there with a stub of charcoal, drawing detailed maps of non-existent cities including demographic statistics and bus timetables of just not trying. Or being a self-absorbed little shit.

Because they are trying, just at the wrong thing.

I always seem to be trying at the wrong thing, and usually at the wrong time too. This blog is only one instance of this behaviour.

I think I'm almost certainly autistic.

This being so I thought I'd do my bit for the autistic brothers out there. I don't know whether Paul Laffoley really has a diagnosis of autism, he certainly claims to, but he also claims that his dentist told him he had a kind of probe implanted in his brain. He lived and worked, for something like 30 years, in a small room in an office building in downtown Boston, which he named, with characteristic grandiosity "The Boston Visonary Cell". Early in his career he was employed by Andy Warhol to watch TV late at night, he was sacked by Emery Roth & Sons for suggesting they build walkways between the Twin Towers, for safety. His work has this strange sci-fi tenor, which is also weirdly retro - you can watch videos of him applying type decals to his paintings with a scalpel. His writing is really interesting, if you're interested in what writing by totally mad people is like, that is, meaning dislocated from sign. I remember when I was learning to speak thinking, wow this is easy, you just make these noises with your mouth and then everyone is pleased with you and smiles and you get a biscuit.

"As a felt and lived sensibility, Utopic space has a generic religious base because the concept of “Utopia” as Saint Thomas (1478-1535) said in his book of 1516, (who coined the term) Utopia means “Heaven on Earth”. This is an ontic state distinct from both heaven and earth, a situation that states that which has not history connects directly with that which has only history. What Saint Thomas Moore is describing is a reference to the major portal between eternity and time that the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428-347 BC) immortalized in one of his last dialogues, the pythagoreau cosmology of Timaeus."

You have to admit the man has an inpenetrable written style - it's almost like certain kinds of rap.

There's also Gilles Trehin, who is more your standard Aspergic diagnosis. He started off building a model airport out of Lego, in meticulous detail, and quickly moved on to writing a departure timetable for the said Lego airport. Having constructed this airport, it was only natural that it should be attached to a major city, and so Urville was born. In the intervening years he's produced hundreds of pictures of this city, devised its economy and a history and culture that goes back several hundred years. This is a tremendous, freakish feat of creativity - and one that I believe could only have been achieved with a total disregard for others. Even with the necessary polymath abilities to link all one's creative ideas up into a single unified system, most people lack the single mindedness to see something like this through.

This is actually the opposite of advertising, where things are only judged to be useful based on their impact on the consumer. Here all the energy goes in the other direction and to hell with everyone else.

Installation 3/135 - Camera phone, blog, scrolling billboard

Ok, this is the third in my series of 135 relational art pieces, created using this blog, my camera phone and existing advertising media.

This one is called, "Once I thought I understood."

It's based on a scrolling poster which is visible to one side of the tube tracks if you gawp upwards outside Ladbroke Grove station in west London. As you can see, the first poster features the gnomic headline "You can't smell a city from a coach" - while you stand there, trying to work out what that could mean, perhaps contemplating the fin de siècle obscurity of modern advertising, the roller rolls over and you get the other poster, this totally incoherent ideogram advertising McCain's oven chips - the result, no doubt, of Trevor Beattie's hiring a creative department entirely from the JLS fanbase.

As it rolls back and forth over your mind, like a subnormal groundsman trying to flatten a tortoise into a cricket square, you may find your stream of consciousness assuming a strange pitch of bewilderment.

so the sunflower, shines on a a potato, which falls like but surely from a plane you can't falls like rain? But why is that because generally I go on a smell holiday I assume it's suggesting a natural process and yet actually a grey hound bus holiday in the US potato, but damp like chips

So the installation is now open - go along, stand there outside Ladbroke Grove station feeling hopeless, maybe even have your fancy multimedia PDA phone nicked by someone who, let's face it, needs it even less than you do.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fun with Nazis

Being a defiant capitalist and an elitist it goes without saying that I am also a man of the right. I tend to place myself more on the libertarian Proudhon-Popper-Friedman axis, rather than the jackbooted Mussolini-Hitler-Franco Axis. On the Facebook political compass, which uses a succession of anodyne political quandaries to shine a light into the recesses of your very soul and then compare its dingy hue with your friends, I was relieved to discover that I was slightly less right-wing than Rory Sutherland.

While I recognise that this is barely permissible even in this country, my South American friends are baffled as to why anyone would admit to not being a socialist. But for them the right has less to do with ending trade protectionism and narcotics legislation (both, incidentally, would benefit their continent immensely) and more to do with unmarked police cars turning up outside your house at night and disappearing you for a two month torture-holiday followed by parachuteless sky dive into the Rio del Plata. In fact, the only things that the Argentines can realistically claim to have invented, besides the biro and the art of nicking ideas from YouTube, are several peculiarly unpleasant kinds of torture. One of them “el submarino” has been recently reincarnated as “waterboarding” – credit where credit is due. (Although thinking about it last night, I realised perhaps this merely showed the latex-gloved hand of the CIA at work in both instances).

If you find torture interesting you’re basically sick and I pity you, but I can recommend Elaine Scarry’s “The Body in Pain” – it makes the perfect bedside companion.

The other thing on my bedside table, besides a selection of pliers, is Roberto Bolaño’s “Nazi Literature in the Americas.” Bolaño was a Chilean who died of Hep C in 2003. I admit, he partly rings my cherries because he spent a great deal of his life as a destitute heroin addict only achieving recognition just as he was about to die. He was also a socialist, a poet and a novelist who wrote mysterious books about Chilean poets and novelists. “Nazi Literature in the Americas” is written as series of short biographies, like encyclopaedia entries, of fictional authors of variously fascistic tendencies, from simple bigotry to all-out death-worship and sadism. He writes sympathetically about their lives, which are by-and-large failures, producing unknown books for tiny audiences in unseen right-wing South American imprints. The glossary form treats all equally, if modern fame magnifies then this is the opposite, and it makes you wonder about the point of any ideology, right or left, when time is all-effacing. Reading about the obscure lives of forgotten people becomes a kind of proof of the doctrine of equality – it did not convert me, but it is a beautiful thing.

The LRB ran an excellent essay about Bolaño last year, which you can read here.

Nazism is around in the world-hum in a big way at the moment. As a brand it's still so powerful that even the tube posters for Tom Cruise's film Valekyrie have to have the Swastikas on the SS uniforms obscured. The otherwise mild-mannered Scamp habitually calls Dave Trott one (for the right wing nutjob stats no doubt) and whenever there's renewal in the fighting in the Middle East the term gets thrown around with gay abandon by every luvvy with a conscience to rent. It's all obscene and unhelpful and it strikes me that what we are in need of here is a kind of brand management - in fact, an independent and board of voluntary Nazi brand managers, who would fiercely protect their brand from infringement using every legal device available. They wouldn't have to be card-carrying Nazis, in fact it might be better if they weren't - they could just be ordinary brand managers who'd volunteer their time at weekends for the sake of semantic clarity and the good of society. That way at least, we could try and work out what's actually going on.

In the past there were two career options for failed artists, fascism or advertising, but I'm quite sure some people could manage both.

DM from above

I noticed this in The Gazan, sorry, The Guardian on Saturday.

I wonder whether the creative team got the whole brief ("warning as threat") or whether the planner just went on and on about its being a "warning", creating an increasingly queasy atmosphere around himself, until eventually the art director asked him straight out whether it was a "threat" or a "warning", whereupon the planner said "well, it's sort of an admonition".

Fucking planners hey?

Monday Morning Memento Mori

The average life expectancy for men currently stands at 77.2 years and has been rising steadily, at a rate of a quarter of a year every year, since 1980. Unfortunately for you that's still three quarters of year slower than you're getting old.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A conspiracy of Art Directors to make me look shit

Now this is just unfair. You ask some mates to do some "cartoons" for your blog, and instead you get a series of high-quality illustrations that make your writing look like just so much narcissistic dithering. Brother Stevie sends these, you can see more of his mind-bending illustration at his fancy new blog here.

Stevie is the kind of man who draws wolves being eaten by snakes, to relax.

Cruelty and boredom

Brother Alex sends these. Our thanks.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

DM - The Medium's medium

It's become kitsch to refer to advertising to a "black art". Occasionally people still say "web optimisation is a dark art", but I assume they do this because it feels good saying it, like saying the phrase "black ops" almost makes you feel like you yourself are capable of abseiling through someone's window and silently garroting them in the night.

So it's reassuring to know that Professor Alhaje Nasr here, despite being highly skilled in the actual black arts, still prefers a regular old maildrop of the W12 postcode to guarantee credulous footfall.

I myself have some experience with the medium (DM not the Professor) having spent an unhappy year, early in my illustrious career, working for one of the country's largest distributors of direct marketing. I didn't mind the work so much, it mainly involved assuming the voice of an over-friendly middle-aged man and writing to customers of a large telecommunications company, begging them not to leave to leaner, cheaper telecommunications companies - which I can tell you did wonders for my self-esteem. The main problem was that the people working there, with exactly two exceptions, were all some combination of old, alcoholic, embittered and clinically depressed. Let's face it, if you have the necessary verbal and analytical skills to construct a reasonable piece of direct mail, you won't be able to conceal from your secret heart the demeaning nature of the task at hand or gainsay the, no doubt compensatory, scorn of the rest of the industry; an industry regarded by most of society of something of a pariah anyway.

Objectively there is no difference between posting someone a letter in the hope it will cause them to buy something, and pasting the same message in a shorter form on billboard on their way to work. But, when it comes to the creative hierarchy, there's something really basic going on with the size of the message you get to write. The fact that in DM you actually have to write too, which implies you learnt to write and hence some degree of application, belies the money-for-old-rope feeling that makes ATL so thrilling for people with shit A-levels.

During my time there I developed several alarming habits of mind. Sometimes I would be writing a letter on the new range of low, low call rates and look down and see that a sentence that began with the words "what's more" ended with the words "life is a sublime torture, and you will die in the easing of the pain." I discovered that an obsession with suicide is called "autophonomania". The agency had toilets with stalls arranged in endless rows and sometimes, in contemplative moments at certain regular times of the day, I would wonder if this was not the real reason for our being there, that the agency had some special purpose designed for the corporate copreffluvia, and whether the whole letter-writing business was just a ruse to keep us there for the course of a day's digestion. I was once asked to write a "movers pack", consisting of a thick brochure of "helpful hints" and several interleaved coupons, for customers who'd just moved house. The insight we'd been given was that people who've just moved are really busy, that it was the most stressful thing next to death and divorce. I suggested to the creative director that if we really wanted to help, we could perhaps do them a favour by not sending them a bulky "movers pack". Not long after that I was asked to leave the building.

Freelancing in DM is fine, but every time you take a brief, even if they don't say it immediately, you know they're going to ask you for the Innocent tone of voice. "It's so natural," they say, "it's just like someone is talking to you." Yes, just like a paedophile is talking to you. And you are eight.

I have had at least one good experience with DM. I met my girlfriend whilst stranded in South East Asia having exhausted all my funds on opiates, gambling and ladyboys. She was a tender nineteen and on her way to university. Over the next three years I conducted a determined campaign, gradually wearing down her resistance with demoralising propaganda, in the form of letters and mixtapes. I believe the American military call this "psyops".

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Dave writes

Bit tired this morning. I was up late last night trying to post a childhood sexual experience into the comments section of Dave Trott's excellent blog. Dave usually replies in person, reminding me of the ASBO, but he must have hit the wrong button because what should I find in my inbox this morning but the next post intended for his own blog! Never one to miss out on a scoop, I post it here. No need to thank me Dave.


John Webster would often say to me, "Dave, could you please just stop talking."

Of course, he didn't mean that I should actually stop speaking.

He was being creative.

What he meant was I needed communicate differently from other people.

That was the only way to stand out.

All the other blokes in the department, if they wanted to get an idea out of their heads, they'd just use the communication centres in their brains, in combination with their lungs and vocal chords.

They'd call this "speaking".

But I quickly realised that if everyone was "speaking", there was no way of being heard.

It's like in football - you only have one ball on the pitch at time, not loads of balls with everyone running about chasing a different one.

That would be chaos.

And it would end in violence.

So I noticed a lot of people in the department drank tea.

Nice cuppa at the beginning of a meeting?

Yes thanks Dave.

Milk and two sugars is it?

Yes thanks Dave.

Well, a lot of people got sick and died that year.

It's like Fred and Rose West. When they went out looking for hitchers they always took the kids with them.

That way, lone females would just assume they were a nice family.

Sometimes, to get what you want, you have to be prepared to do what no one else will.

Some people call that criminal insanity.

I call it innovative everyday brainthinking.

In other words, being a creative.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Just another slimy bore

Horrible isn't it?

I don't mean Iggy Pop doing an ad, he can do whatever he wants - he did a really nice print execution for Levis in the 90s, before he was fashionable again, that just had him and Ice T and said something like "501 - True Originals" on it - it's just this is a terribly badly written spot that wastes an amazing opportunity - the fact that Iggy is now 60 and is living proof that you can take huge risks and not just live to tell the tale but revel in it, live an enviable life, surely might have yielded something better than this?

This is the man that said, "if I'm sitting at the table, I want to be playing for the highest stakes possible" - clearly someone who's aware of the uniqueness of his existence, the probabilities involved and the importance of risk. For an insurance company? They could have written such a good ad about him. It makes me want to cry. What a fucking waste.

Obviously it's better than the John Lydon butter ads - that is its own kind of awful.

After that you may need to remind yourself of his greatness...


Jeezus - irony of ironies, Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton was found dead at his home in Ann Arbor today. What is the probability of that? In fact, this whole post, with the ad, and with my analysis of it, followed by this subsequent revelation about Ron Asheton's death would be a much better ad about the total, downright perverse unpredictably of existence and hence the necessity of life insurance than the one the creative team wrote.

(Man) Butter Chicken or When Packaging Goes Wrong Pt. 2

Installation 2/135 - Camera phone, blog, antique poster.

So this is the second in my series of 135 relational art works, carried out using just my mobile phone camera, this blog and existing advertising media.

This one is called "I just didn't know how to trust."

It's ancient advert for Abbey National, revealed during the renovation of one of CBS Outdoor's advertising sites on the tube. I'd date this poster as coming from around 1960, or even the late 50s, I'm not even sure it is a poster - it might be painted - there is nothing digital out there that gives this colour scheme for the brand. It's not 80s cause they had the umbrella-house logo by then, and it's not 70s because it's not brown and orange.

Even if the ad has only been there 40 years, had you taken its advice at the time, your savings of £10,000, with compound interest, would now be worth in the order of hundreds of thousands of pounds. In real terms, with inflation, more or less what you'd invested. Like it says "safety first".

(These calculations may be flawed, so if you know better, please let me know.)

The installation is open now, at the bottom of the escalators leading to the Piccadilly Line at Kings Cross Station. I haven't actually come to any kind of arrangement with the curators of my art works, CBS Outdoor, so they'll probably put one of those clever Lycatel ads with the bloke whose head is also the globe over it any second now. It's all about transience darling.

Now I just have to find another 133 of these.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Eschaton Sale

People from outside advertising like to make out that it's an industry founded on deceit, but anyone who's tried to work on a brief that is actually just all the lies the client wants to hear written on a piece of paper with the word "Creative Brief" at the top, will know that it's impossible to write ads that don't contain some germ of truth. Even if the planners come and hang around outside your office, offering you fruit and things they've made from twigs, it's still impossible.

Ok, from time to time I might balk a the value of this or that pointless gizmo that I have to hawk, but I believe, like Bernbach, that if you advertise a shit product well all that happens is more people find out that it's shit. Your ad is firmly attached to a piece of reality which consumers can experience for themselves, unlike news media where the media itself is also the product and the reality is gone gone gone. And frankly, if consumers want to surround themselves with a load of winking baubles and trinkets to help them forget the inevitability of their own death, well, so be it.

Part of my job, as I understand it, is to convince other people that the products that they're buying are worth the price they pay for them. Some people, not all of them planners sorry, I meant wankers, call this "adding value". But this current round of apocalyptic sales have just the opposite effect, sweeping everything off the table and saying, "look we've known it's worthless all along, but because we're desperate to sell anything, we're giving it to you for its actual value. Which is 8p". I find this dispiriting, because it makes it seem like the whole thing is just a kind of deeply un-fun game that I spend my life playing, just to while away the time.

Retreating from the sales on Saturday, I sought comfort in my vast collection of pornography, and what should I come across (woops) but George Bataille's book, The Accursed Share? Bataille (or "Pervy George" as I believe he was known to his friends) was a surrealist chiefly notorious for his porno rhapsody The Story of The Eye - hair-raising reading, but sadly for all you thrill-seekers, unless your proclivities involve tauromachy, eye-gouging, priest rape and optosexual intercourse, highly unlikely to give you a boner.

The Accursed Share definitely won't, I'm afraid, because its an essay about economics. What Bataille does is to say that the real business of economy is waste. That is, of dissipating the energy that is received, without reciprocation, from the sun. It's a mad idea, but no more mad than, for instance, the government buying the entire banking system. He details various instances of civilisation creating things that are well beyond utility - cathedrals, human sacrifices, shopping malls, all these things only make sense so long as the point of them is to waste. Advertising is, no doubt, also one of these things.

If you look at it this way the value of products you're selling starts to seem totally arbitrary and immaterial, and you'll either be overcome by a terrible sense of hopelessness, or just think meh, well, may as well get on with it then.

I won't be sharing this insight with my creative director, but it made me feel better about the whole grim business of coming back into work.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Monday Morning Memento Mori

As you sit down at your desk at the beginning of a new year it's worth considering that there were 228 workplace deaths in the UK in 2008. Of course, none of those people worked in advertising. But you will still definitely die.

Israeli tanks crush Gazza

This is like one of those left-brain right-brain puzzles to test whether you're just pretending to be working class.

Hello, by the way. Blogging resumes, hard and heavy, tomorrow.