Advice to aspiring creatives: fail better.


The YCN Student Awards Annual 2010/11 is out now. The Awards present live creative challenges – from the likes of Ted Baker, SEGA and Warp Records – for all those who wish to tackle them. The Annual presents a showcase of all of those Commended as part of the previous year's programme. To pepper this year's celebrated entries a host of figures from across the creative industries have been invited to impart some advice to those following in their footsteps. Each helpful sentiment has been visualised by an emerging illustrator. Editorial contributors include industry luminaries…. and W+K's own Iain Tait and William Fowler.

Mr Fowler's words of advice to young people on the theme of 'Fail Better' are reproduced below.


Fail Better

About the only role in which I can tolerate Clive Owen is as the failed assassin at the end of the Bourne Identity. He’s only on screen for five minutes, and his best line is delivered as he lies cradled in Matt Damon’s arms, his fingers paddling in the blood from the shotgun wound in his chest: ‘look…what they make you … give,’ he gasps. Then he dies. It’s a scene I often replay in my mind as I leave the office at 10pm on a Thursday night, feeling like I’ve had my brain scooped out with an ice-cream baller. Sometimes I even repeat those words to myself as the door clicks shut behind me, and I picture the sliver of evening that’s left, the rushed dinner, the hour of listless dawdling on the internet, bed. ‘Look what they make you give.’

When we go to work in advertising the companies we work for buy, not just the majority of our time, but of our creative lives. The ongoing process of self-examination, inspiration and growth that leads artists from pencil, to oils to bronzes will take us from washing machines, to jeans to carbonated, high-calorie soft drinks. And it’s sometimes hard, in long conference calls and client meetings, not to wonder whether one’s gifts, such as they are, weren’t intended for better things. Muriel Spark, writing about a group of young poets and their subsequent lives, says ‘some … took a job in advertising … and became paradoxes’, by which I’ve always assumed she meant, successes who had failed.

But the idea that talent is meant for just one thing is a strange one. Meant by whom exactly? And are they allowed to change their minds? Why should making poetry or, say, sculpture, which is accessible to so few, be inherently better than making advertising which has the potential to bring happiness not just to those that see it, but to all those people whose livelihoods depend on its effectiveness? That’s before we get to the conviviality of agency life. The sense of purpose versus the sense of self-indulgence. Participation versus separation.

Yet the fact remains that when we take a job we do make a sort of diabolical pact. We offer the agency our skills and in return we are granted the wherewithal and distribution mechanisms that mean our ideas can be produced quickly and beautifully and spread all over the world in the blink of an eye. We pay the price with the branding, the starbursts and the logos, the single-minded message, ‘buy this’, which makes advertising advertising. If it fails as art then it’s because it has a purpose, to sell product, where as the purpose of art remains part of its mystery.

So it seems to me that once we’re in an agency we have a choice, and it is one that some people never seem to get to grips with: we can either keep trying to make art which will fail as advertising. Or we can decide to make advertising that fails as art. I chose the second option, and I make it my business to fail better with every ad I make.

There are two things that advertising has to do and failure is intrinsically linked to both of them. The first is to make brands knowable, and the second is to make them memorable.

So firstly – knowability. The playwright, Alan Bennett, has said that the features that define a writer’s individual style are the things that they’ve introduced to hide what they can’t do. A perfect style would be invisible, we would see nothing of the writer, only what they wanted to say. And when you think about it, what could be more bland, more thoroughly unknowable than perfection? When we talk about personality perhaps we’re really describing the ways in which a particular person or thing is not perfect, or the ways they compensate for their flaws; there is a reason very few male models also do stand-up comedy, and it has nothing to do with needing their beauty sleep. But to bring the demonstration back to advertising, consider a brand that has to sell a shower gel for men. The discourse of masculinity is tired and clichéd, however this is precisely the field in which the brand has to participate. So the problem is, how to work around this difficulty, how to engage in the discourse whilst remaining likeable. The best answer turns out to be through self-parody, humour that mocks the idea of manliness. Yes, it is absurd that a man should be expected to smell like a man … so let’s make it absurd. We identify with the dilemma, we recognise the workaround, and through it we know a humane personality.

Failure is also intrinsically linked to memorability. Let’s try a quiz: what was the name of the boy who flew too close to the sun? What about his father, whose flight was successful? Name the two sister ships of the Titanic (both of which were larger than her). Name one perfectly upright tower in northern Italy. You get the point. If stories ever had a purpose apart from to entertain, it was to instruct. To give the listener the opportunity to learn from the failures of others. Our jobs have a great deal to do with story-telling, so we should at least remember that failure is an option. Consider a recent meerkat-based TV campaign, website and now bestselling pseudo-celebrity biography built on a baroque exploration of a typo.

The gruelling process of getting a job in the creative industries is the ideal preparation for all this. The crits, the placements, the long hours and low pay of our early careers. Advising anyone to try to get a job in advertising is like telling them to become a cage fighter – even if they turn out to be good at it, they’re bound to have the shit kicked out of them a few times along the way. I have reason to be incredibly grateful to Paul Arden for writing that ‘if you’ve never been sacked, it’s probably because you’re not very good.’ In six years I’ve been sacked twice and made redundant once. It’s not like I haven’t been offered the opportunity to leave the industry and yet I have kept coming back. There’s no shortage of grads either, thousands of bright young things who cast themselves onto the rocks with their eyes open. Advertising may be a strange vocation, but it is a vocation nonetheless, something you want to do for reasons that you may never quite understand.

 A few days ago I went to see a friend. She is at that stage in life where you live in a shared flat, in a drizzly portion of north London and work double shifts in a pub whilst you try to work out, once and for all, what to do. I sat drinking tea in her too-low Ikea armchair, nodding, but feeling like Ben Stiller in Reality Bites, a film which, being 24, she had never heard of. I have a job at an agency I like, doing work for clients that I like. I have a bit of money and column in a magazine. Verily, it seems, I have arrived on advertising’s sunny uplands. And yet, in a sense, I have failed; failed catastrophically to achieve the things that I wanted for myself when I was 24. How does that make me feel? Well, you know, all right actually.

 What I seem to have discovered is that you can fail and still be happy. In fact, you have to. And the good news is that once you realise this, there is nothing left to fear.

‘Have you considered advertising?’ I asked her. ‘It’s not as bad you might think.’

William Fowler

For more words of wisdom and to see the commended work, buy the annual.

Jennifer Joins Planning

Here is the newest member of the planning department, Jenny Lewis, who joins us from Leo Burnett where she was an account manager.  She interviewed for a similar role here but we thought she'd be a rather wonderful planner so have convinced her to come over to the dark side.

She didn't moan when Planning Directors Kevin and Paul took her to a 'gentleman's club' a fortnight before she joined us – so we're sure she'll fit in brilliantly.


Culture Hack Day

Together with the Royal Opera House, W+K are helping put on a Culture Hack Day this weekend.

Cultural hack day
This Culture Hack Day weekend is for the arts, software and hardware hackers to get together and create exciting things.  It's about taking all the interesting things that are hiding in some of our great arts organisations, and mixing them up in new and interesting ways – making new cultural products and sparking new relationships and ways of thinking. It's about wondering what might happen if some clever and interesting people thought about new ways of navigating arts. But it's also about having fun and making new stuff and collaborating in different ways.

We will let you know how it goes.


our latest Lurpak work: bon appetit, fridge foragers

Our new work in the 'Good food deserves Lurpak' campaign continues the theme of celebrating good, simple ingredients and what they can bring to the enjoyment of food and quality of life.

Post-work. 'Tis the hungry man's witching hour, and a dinner-in-a-box is calling. Think: what would the French do?

Bon appetit, fridge foragers.

The Hungry One. A force for good, reaching out to the peckish masses at their moment of dinner-in-a-box or crisp / sandwich weakness.

You can follow him on Facebook.

Screen shot 2011-01-06 at 22.16.15

And Twitter.

Screen shot 2011-01-06 at 22.17.09

There are posters:

Salvation 48 Sheet
Empires 48 Sheet

And things that go on the foils on top of the butter inside the tubs:
Inner foil 1 Innerfoil 3

The Hungry One cometh

The Hungry One. A force for good, reaching out to the peckish masses at their moment of dinner-in-a-box or crisp / sandwich weakness.

The Hungry One. A force for good, reaching out to the peckish masses at their moment of dinner-in-a-box or crisp / sandwich weakness.

The Hungry One. A force for good, reaching out to the peckish masses at their moment of dinner-in-a-box or crisp / sandwich weakness.

You can follow him on Facebook.

And Twitter.
Screen shot 2011-01-05 at 17.34.45

W+K Named Adweek Agency of the Year 2010

US trade publication Adweek has named Wieden + Kennedy its agency of the year for 2010.

The magazine said:

‘Thanks to its breakout campaign for Old Spice’s Red Zone Body Wash—which broke with a Super Bowl weekend TV spot—Wieden is the agency your agency could smell like.

The work, a slightly twisted, tongue-in-cheek production starring a towel-wearing Isaiah Mustafa, was part of a concerted effort by the agency to strengthen its digital offerings. The results have landed the shop in its own version of Bizzarro World, a place where other marketers are looking to “The man your man could smell like” for ideas on how to run their own campaigns. The creative has garnered the brand a 2,700 percent increase in Twitter followers, 800 percent increase in Facebook fan page visits and a 300 percent increase in traffic to the Old Spice Web site. It’s also generated an estimated 140 million YouTube views.

According to Marc Pritchard, global marketing and brand-building officer of Old Spice at parent company Procter & Gamble, it has helped the brand lead market share and is “growing sales in double digits.”

Indeed, the Portland-Ore.-headquartered indie has had one of its best performing years in its 28-year history. It saw client growth in both Portland and New York, and increased its U.S. revenue and billings nearly 22 percent (billings to $1.5 billion, revenue $145 million).

For the most part, it mined existing client relationships. Chrysler added Jeep, Target gave Wieden lead agency status, P&G added a corporate branding assignment as well as Ivory North America, Nokia added North America, and Coca-Cola digital assignments for Diet Coke and Coca-Cola targeting teens.

The agency has also produced some of its best work for Nike, a client Wieden calls “the soul” of his agency. (Its running business returned to the shop in
2008.) “We were born in that cauldron of the early ’80s, when [Nike] wanted to be the Saturday Night Live of the Fortune 500,” he says.

Wieden’s best Nike work this year was the stop-motion spot “Human Chain” and its “Write the Future” commercial directed by Babel’s Alejandro G. Iñarritu. The latter spot, which starred more than a dozen pro-soccer stars and debuted on Facebook, was also in play during the World Cup as a digital installation on a Johannesburg skyscraper. It received so much positive buzz that World Cup sponsor and rival Adidas ended up looking as battered as England after being drubbed by Germany.

The creatives that led the effort, Mark Bernath and Eric Quennoy, were promoted to ecds of the Amsterdam office, which had produced the work with assistance from Portland and London.

And this month, Wieden opened a new office in Sao Paulo, Brazil, headed by Icaro Doria, ecd, and Andre Gustavo Soares, managing director.

Improving the shop’s digital output took four years. To start on that path, in 2006 the agency hired Renny Gleeson, former managing director at Aegis Group’s Carat Fusion, as global director of digital strategies. He built up the shop’s digital production capabilities, adding digital creatives, developers, designers, coders—”folks who help iterate,” says Gleeson. He also worked on communications planning—what he describes as “changing the way the media team approaches what it does, how ideas evolve”—and community management.

“It’s not like we flipped the switch,” Gleeson adds. “It was a build. And we needed the spark to set it off. That’s where Iain comes in.”

Iain Tait, recruited last April from Poke London, which he co-founded, joined Wieden as global interactive ecd. Within months of  his arrival, the Old Spice team let loose its “response” campaign. For three days in July, the agency created nearly 200 customized videos starring Mustafa that responded to mentions of the Old Spice TV spots on blogs and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. These videos spread virally and, in some cases, became ongoing two-way conversations, engaging participation from celebrities like Alyssa Milano and Ellen DeGeneres, not to mention a  random consumer who wrote in seeking help from Mustafa in proposing to his girlfriend.

This social marketing component generated 1.8 billion PR impressions for the brand.

Even before the Old Spice response campaign, Wieden was being recognized for its new digital expertise at Cannes. It won the Cyber Grand Prix for its 2009 Nike “Chalkbot” campaign—a collaboration with Deeplocal for Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong charity—and the Integrated Grand Prix for the Livestrong campaign of which it was a part. (Wieden also won the top prize in film, and a Best Commercial Emmy from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for its Old Spice work.)

With its global growth looking strong as well—it had a 10% jump in billings and revenue this year (billings to $2.3 billion, revenue $230 million)—the agency is especially optimistic about the future.'

This accolade comes in addition to W+K being named ‘Network of the Year’ by Campaign magazine, Agency of the Year by Shoot Magazine and being named the UK’s number 1 Digital Agency 2010 in a survey conducted by YouGov for Pitch/Marketing Week magazine.

happy new year, happy new faces


Happy new year, all. First day back at work after the break.

Please welcome Charlene Lau, new to our finance department.

Charlene joins us on the management accounts side and, more importantly, paying our expenses and processing our pay!


And a warm welcome to Julien Buckley who joins us today as Programme Manager on Nokia – think of this as an über Producer. Julien has heaps of experience on large scale multimedia projects with clients ranging from the British Army to Bacardi, Ford, Government Quangos and, you guessed it, Nokia. 

This is Amy Passmore, who  joins the team today as an Interactive Production Assistant. Amy just finished up a contract at Imagination where she worked on interactive augmented reality and touch screen experientials. She’s also done interactive installation work for the Natural History Museum, has a BA in Film Studies and is a super keen cyclist.

Tobias Horrocks

This is Toby Horrocks who joined Creative Services today (ex of Leo Burnett) as Project Manager on Nestea.


And this is the multi-talented Emma Simmons who joins account handling on Nestea. She'll mainly looking after their interactive work.

Emma joins us from Brothers and Sisters where she worked on the Museum of London App that went down such a storm last year. Add to this her own business in customised vintage clothes under the pseudonym ‘Mary had a Canary’ and her CV is mightily impressive all round. 
One more: this is the most excellent Oscar Powell to our ranks in the planning department. He’ll be working with us on Nike Football.

Oscar joins from Erasmus and has also worked at Mother in recent years. There is also a rumour going around that he has a brother in the agency who once worked on a football ad, but this is as yet unconfirmed.

Start Happy


Today sees the start of the Guardian and Observer's Start Happy season which we've helped create. Rather than the hectoring tone some health regimes adopt at this time of the year, we've chosen a more optimistic approach to help you eat well, sleep well, exercise and even find inner calm.

Throughout the entire month of January there will be brilliant articles, blogs, videos, giveaways and more to help you start the new year in as positive a state of mind as possible.

We'll be running press ads, digital and two TV ads. We've worked with the illustrator and designer Anthony Burrill to create the artwork for the press ads. In today's paper there's a wrap around the Family section and on the reverse of the wrap there's the lovely poster shown above.

Happy New Year readers. Welcome to optimism.