What you write is who you mix with
Lucky is my middle name. Before Patrick Collister took me on at Ogilvy like a bereaved puppy, I’d already had two careers.
I was an organ builder first, in a workshop full of mouthy cockneys in London’s Bethnal Green. Every word had four letters and the rest was rhyme. Plates of meat were feet, dry gin n’ rum meant petroleum and you’ll guess what grumble and grunt stood for. The 90-year-old old tea-boy had one bloodshot eye, half a tooth and Superman slippers while our shop foreman boasted the East End’s finest porno stash. Evenings were industrial ale, meat pies and four-letter limericks. I loved it.
Next, I put on firework shows for all kinds from Bill Gates to libel lawyers to MP’s to working men’s clubs, apple farmers, May balls, the nauseatingly nouveau riche, YMCA’s, Caribbean sun parks, ad agencies (who then had cash to burn) and bloodshot dipsomaniacs who pawned family silver for life’s final fling. I hired a roadie who smoked Camels loading live shells and a guy, alas no more, who drove the wrong way up a motorway after a pint of Stolichnaya.
Many are still mates (apologies to the dead and nauseating). My life isn’t a social set. God Forbid. And besides, by knowing and loving a thousand disparate characters, I arm myself with their attitudes, stances, quips, phrases and tones of voice.
Egregious, innocent, thrilled, inebriated, volatile, teenage, devious, sallow, ambitious, meek, twisted, agonised, erotic, shuddery, coquettish, crabby, cuddly, maternal. Infinite.
In fact, I’d be dead without them. In my third career, I’ve met just as many brands. As we know, despite its magnitude, each equates to a person with a voice. Give one tone to more than one, and you swiftly starve both of their rightful status for which we’re well-paid to nurture and guard.
Here’s a story of a campaign within a brand. I know a young artist whose hobby is drinking and worrying. His key phrases are “What if?” and “Are you sure, sure, sure?” I wondered. Did every sentence he uttered come with a question mark? I thought he’d suffer an ulcerous death, but he’s about and once saw me in Paris.
Shortly after I was on a poster campaign for Duracell. A portable USB charger that made sure your phone never died. When they die, so do confidences. As a brand, Duracell’s tonality erred on cheek. But I had to find it within the negativity of a dead phone.
Apologies to him, but one man’s worry was another’s salvation.
Yet there are still writers who only mix with writers. Or professionals who just, out of prowess maybe, socialise only with others. They talk a thousand subjects from a solitary perspective. They thank the bin man, tip waiters, ask butchers for chops, leave builders to get on with it, say “great” thirty times a day and applaud at concerts.
Hello there. To everyone in this game worth paying, swallow your pre-programmed pride. Ignore the constraints of profession, age, accent, physique, class, background and the insular, bubbled unsociability of social media. And talk.
Tomorrow, don’t salute the CEO, have a laugh with the cleaner. See a play, hit the stage door and chat to the lead. Feed the homeless. Share a pen with a zookeeper. Shake hands with a rock star. Even for a second. Go out with a farmer. Or someone half your age and twice as gorgeous. Swap jobs with your partner. Buy a rose for a stranger. Spend a week in prison. Sweep the streets for a week. See what the gent on the bus did in the War.
You will find ways of saying that’ll help your brands, swiftly and surely, change the ways of others.