As if we at Lürzer’s Archive needed to be told! For the past five years, adam&eveDDB has held the number one spot in our Agency Ranking internationally, and there has barely been an issue in recent years that did not feature work by them. (In this very issue, in fact, they occupy the coveted cover spot with an image taken from a campaign for Harvey Nichols.) About time, therefore, for Michael Weinzettl to catch up with Richard to find out more about his views of adland, his experiences there as well as his take on the 2017 Cannes Lions.
Hi Richard, you have been in advertising for 18 years now, starting off as an art director at Rainey Kelly Campbell Rolfe in 1999. The first of your campaigns to have featured in Archive magazine was for Beck’s in 2006, and then, of course, there was the Shelter campaign, which made it onto the cover of Vol. 2-2009. Can you tell us a bit about the differences between the various agencies you spent time at in terms of agency culture and creative approach?
I remember walking into Rainey Kelly in Middlesex House on Margaret Street and thinking it was one of the coolest places I had ever been into, bested only by the then agency of the moment, Howell Henry. Yes, they had the trendy chairs in every rainbow color imaginable, yes, they had the reclaimed wood reception desk … but it was much more than that. It felt scrappy, it felt like shit was going down, like stuff was happening – and it was. They were helping the young punk that was Virgin Atlantic square off against BA, writing six-minute TV talk shows for Miller and having a laugh doing it. Three months later, I was back but this time as a fulltime employee – and they were newly merged with Y&R – and it was then that I saw the power that culture can have in shaping an agency. You still walked in and felt like stuff was happening. No department sat together – we were all mixed up and we were busy, very busy. We hung out together and you felt part of something, and that cannot be underestimated. They were the best four years of my career – and a masterclass in how an agency should “feel.” Next up for me was Leo Burnett, and that was a different vibe altogether. It was the agency that everyone thought was rubbish and yet every year it produced some brilliant work for clients such as McDonald’s, DFT, Shelter, and Heinz. We were in an office on the outskirts of Kensington on the way to Heathrow and we had something to prove, which I loved, and everybody felt it. It was from there – via a detour to CHI – that I ended up at adam&eveDDB. I feel it has the best of both worlds: it feels scrappy like a small agency that has just got big, and it most definitely has something to prove and, as we grow, I desperately don’t want these two things to change. The office isn’t slick but it has a soul. A client was in last week and described the office as a hostel but a really, really fun one and – you know what? – I’ll take that.
You were born and raised in Manchester? What were you interested in or drawn to as a kid and a teenager?
I grew up in a suburb of Manchester where you either went to university and became a lawyer or an accountant, or you left school and started grafting, or you went into recruitment, so being “arty” didn’t really fit any of these paths. I had a teacher who saw something in me – I know it’s a bit clichéd but it’s true – and went above and beyond to help me out. He introduced me (pre-internet) to the work of great graphic designers like Tibor Kalman and Milton Glaser, to amazing album design and photographers, as well as to the classic artists. He showed me that you could make a future out of doing what you really enjoy. His name is Tim Burns and I really do owe him rather a lot.
Were your parents an influence to you in terms of creativity, the arts, etc., or who or what was?
My parents are the most amazing people on the planet and supported me at every step of the way, even if they didn’t really understand what they were actually supporting. They didn’t really know that this, what I do, is an actual job, and If I’m honest I don’t think they really knew what I did until the John Lewis “Monty the Penguin” ad came out, and my mum heard people talking about it in the hairdresser’s. All they knew was that I enjoyed what I did and that I was relatively okay at it and I was happy – and that, surely, is every parent’s wish. But, saying all of this, they are like groupies and I bet you my second child that this will end up framed in the best room.
You’re a graduate of Central St Martin’s in London. Did you originally go there with the firm intent to get into the ad business, or what were your aspirations at the time?
No, I went there because I’d heard of it; it had been in songs and stuff so therefore must have been good, and I wanted to go to the best place I could. I didn’t get in at first so I went to Leeds Collage of Art for a year with the sole aim of reapplying the next year – and I got in. It was a wonderful time and I met some great people. The college was bang-smack in the center of Covent Garden and Paul Smith would set us briefs. I think we all felt that we were at the center of the universe and anything was possible, which at that age is exactly how you should feel.
What made you finally choose the ad industry?
Fear. I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to make a living being a photographer or designer, and I’d seen a program about the Saatchi brothers in the 80s and it looked like a laugh … Also, at college you could try out different disciplines and I tried the advertising module and quite liked it and was doing okay. I also had a great tutor who viewed the industry with a healthy suspicion, and that gave me quite a rounded opinion. He basically thought it had disappeared a little up its own bum and we all had to remember we only sell stuff and have a lot of fun doing so. This has stayed with me massively. It is all too easy to believe the hype, to behave like a rock star in an industry that really, really likes to pat itself on the back. Humility is one of the key traits I look for in new hirings. It’s so important.
Any advertising or design you remember being fascinated with when you were growing up?
Boddingtons’ “The Cream of Manchester.” Every single ad was a belter. Also, the classic Levi’s ads – basically anything BBH did. I loved the fact that every new Levi’s ad was a happening, a moment that people waited for and talked about. The track would chart at Number 1, the cast would become celebrities overnight, it felt truly part of what was going on at the time. And now, with a bit of hindsight, I know how hard that is to do, especially to keep on doing it consistently. When I was interested in this as a career, I dug deeper and I discovered the Economist ads, the wonderfully witty and smart Economist ads. The fact you could make a living out of being a smart arse really appealed.
How do you rate UK ad creativity at the moment? Is there, despite the push toward global concepts and a certain homogeneity in today’s ads, something that still sets it apart, that makes advertising “Made in the UK” special?
I do think the globalization of the industry has taken down the borders of UK vs USA vs Europe vs Australasia vs Latin. We are doing work for H&M that runs in 65 countries, and John Lewis will notch up 48 million views that I can guarantee aren’t all from people in the UK. I don’t consider us a UK agency. Yes, of course, we are based in London but the agencies we come up against in pitches are 50% British and 50% global and I love that. If you push against the best in the world, it is only going to raise your bar.
What is some of the work you’ve created in the course of your career that you’re proudest of?
It really is funny when you get asked a question like this because I’m proud of work for such silly personal reasons. We did a project for housing charity Shelter in the midst of the housing crisis, and it was around the notion of the housing market being as fragile as a house of cards.
Of course! One of the images from that campaign graced the cover of Vol. 2-2009 of the magazine. Would you say that advertising has changed a lot since you started?
Massively, and not at all. Massively, in the sense that you can now reach people in a million different ways, and not at all in the sense that it’s all about wonderful ideas and stories told in a human and engaging way.
You were the only Brit among Adweek’s 10 Global Creative Leaders Who Are Reinventing Advertising, and the Ad Industry for 2017 and in an accompanying interview you said: “A brilliant two-minute or 30-second ad – or even a poster – can have an impact …“ Apart from work created by adam&eveDDB, London, what to you would be good examples to illustrate this?
I think some of the Apple outdoor work is as good as it gets. “Shot on iPhone” was so simple and so impactful, as was their work for Apple TV. But this doesn’t come easily. Apple have built a brand based around simplicity and aesthetics for years – and have done a bloody good job of it. The fact that you can just whack an Apple logo on the TV color bars and plaster it 17 stories high for a major launch doesn’t take balls – they have earned that right by constantly stripping things back to their simplest, most impactful form.
I do think, however, that simplicity can often get lost in the pursuit of the new. New is only good if it means something, touches you, makes you think. The Twitter work that just cleaned up in Cannes is a brilliant example of this. I saw it in real life, up all around New York, and it stopped me in my tracks – and I’m a cynical old bastard when it comes to this. But it worked. It made me want to tweet and, as a creative, it made me want to write my own executions. It is wonderfully limitless.
I also think the press work that David Miami did for Burger King – “Flamegrilled” – that got the Grand Prix is near-on perfect. It took what could have been a real problem in this connected social world in which we live and turned it into a positive. It’s clever, it’s witty and – most importantly – it feels very Burger King.
I hold these pieces of work in the same regard as I hold Nike’s “Two Minute Marathon,” “Fearless Girl,” “Meet the Superhumans,” and “Graham.” It’s just great thinking, simply told but in all different shapes and sizes. That’s what makes what we do so interesting.
I’ve read that you see digital as just another tool to play with when it comes to the different media. But are young creatives today generally more interested in working with the new media and the latest technology than applying themselves to print?
I think it’s really important to frame what we do as an industry and really question it when looking to future talent. The young creatives that I know seem to gravitate towards “think and then do.” By that I mean they sweat the thinking behind an idea or a concept and then execute in the best way they think relevant. It’s obvious that they are better versed in all things new, but the best ones have a respect for all ways of talking to people. It sounds obvious but in a world where there is glut of “stuff,” the thinking part can often be forgotten.
You were quoted as saying: “All teams should hate advertising. That breed of people who love a 30-second TV ad, I never meet people like that anymore.“ Could you elaborate?
I’m not sure anyone is born loving advertising or, if they are, I don’t trust them. I think people are born creative and then certain people like to use their creativity to solve problems. The industry is changing in terms of the lines are becoming blurred about what our exact role is. The days where you hear, “Oh, you do our 30-second TV ad and this company over here – completely unrelated to you – are going to do our PR/design/in-store,” are gone.
What can you tell us about the agency’s new office in Lower Manhattan? Are you a&e/DDB there or just adam&eve since there is, of course, the original DDB office in New York?
Continuing on the whole scrappy theme, it is yet to get furniture other than desks and chairs. I love going there as it feels really raw, like anything could happen. The States has always fascinated me, but actually being on the ground there you realize that it is a slightly different industry from the one in the UK. It’s much more of a business. Creatives think like businessmen, which I find weird and wonderful in equal measure… it’s really testing that side of me, which is good.
Who knows what the future holds over there. We are just dipping our toes in at the moment. One thing I do know is that we don’t want a big fanfare of arrival. We would much rather let the work lead.
Can you give us your impression of the Cannes Lions Festival this year and what did you think of the work awarded?
Cannes this year was weird. I think the very dramatic announcement by Publicis that It would not be entering Cannes and other awards, strategically placed on the very day that you make big announcements in Cannes, put a bit of a damper on things. It’s become about the bluster and hype, to the detriment of celebrating brave and exceptional work. But brave and exceptional work there was in bucketloads. If I’m honest, David Miami is pissing me off no end – they just keep on dropping the mic. Their work for Burger King is constantly exceptional, as was Pass the Heinz, as was “Graham” – a brilliant piece of work.
“Meet the Superhumans” is as near to perfect as you get. The list goes on and it’s annoying.
Kenzo’s “Mutant Brain,” though, is my favorite as it scares me – and by that I mean it scares me in the sense that, with most pieces of work you see, you think, that’s ace but we could have done it, but with that piece I’m not sure we could have. It’s so out there and so leftfield that you can’t work back from the end result to the creation – and it’s those ads that you need to drive the industry forward.