Liam Wilson is a Creative Director at Snap London. He once man-marked former England striker Teddy Sheringham in a football match where Mr Sheringham said Liam was “proper shit”, to which Liam replied, “I know”. Verbatim conversations have followed Liam into his advertising career. In his ‘Write What You Know’ series, he chats absolute rubbish in a desperate bid for attention and validation.
“DO YOU TAKE IT UP THE ARSE?”
That was the question shouted at me recently by a gentleman on a bicycle.
“YOU LOOK LIKE YOU TAKE IT UP THE ARSE,” he snarled a little closer. He seemed very angry. Probably because he had no teeth.
I can’t be certain if the child’s bike he was pedalling belonged to him, but I’m fairly sure he had been peddled some meth. His eyeballs were rattling around his sockets like the last two pickled onions in a jar.
“He seems nice,” said my wife when we were safe in the knowledge we hadn’t been mugged, shrugging it off to continue our stroll through our little part of East London.
A few days later, we were strolling through a slightly nicer area in leafy green Greenwich on a glorious, sunny Sunday. We were in a jovial mood - the type that blossoms on the first real day of proper summer - when a posh elderly couple moved to the side to let us pesky tourists pass on the pavement.
“Thank you,” I smiled as we quickly slipped past.
“No need to say thank you,” the woman tutted, angrily.
“Sorry, what was that?” I replied, turning around.
“I said …NO. NEED. TO. SAY. THANK YOU” she snapped sarcastically.
I looked at my wife, confused. And then back to the woman.
“Umm… I literally just said thank you, and then you’ve shouted at me for not saying thank you. You must’ve not heard me”.
“YOU’RE JUST RUDE!” she barked.
I looked around. Blue skies. Flowers in full bloom. The gentle chime of ice cream vans in the distance. So I decided to be nice. Or at least kill her with kindness in a very passive-aggressive British way.
“This is a very silly confrontation for such a lovely day. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon”.
And we walked off. Only for my new-found nemesis Nan to get one last kick in.
“Do they not teach manners where you’re from?”
“How’s this for manners?” I retort, flicking two Vs with a whoopie cushion sound effect.
I then performed the Rock Bottom on her and she tapped out during my chokehold pin.
I call it nan-handling or man-to-gran combat.
Obviously, for the purpose of any future investigation, I should stress that was what I fantasised about doing. The reality was I just shook my head, tutted, and proceeded to spend all afternoon stewing on witty comebacks I could have said at the time. In the end, I decided the best way to get back at the elderly pensioner would be to write a diss article on a website about advertising. That’ll teach her.
So, two very different altercations. One where I had someone shouting incoherent obscenities and the other where someone was offended for no real reason.
I’ve discovered pretty much the same thing happens every time an ad is released into the wild. People love shouting opinions at brands. Granted, it’s not usually couriered via smackhead on a bike. Typically it’s done with caps lock on and spell check off with a Twitter username that has a lot of numbers and a flag for a display pic.
Usually because we’ve made the grave mistake of putting someone who isn’t white in our ad. How very dare we?
I like to read comments on the world wide web about my ads because I find them equal parts amusing, disturbing, and completely baffling.
Opinions on the internet are like arseholes. You only have to look down to find one that stinks, shitting out turds into the toilet we call the YouTube comment section.
The problems start when clients read them and begin getting nervous. They want edits changed. Or a change of direction for the next ad.
Here’s the thing though: listening to one random tweet or Facebook comment is a bit like listening to that guy on the bike, or the local drunk in the pub who staggers from the fruit machine to the bar, declaring some nonsense about 5G masts. You might smile and nod as he walks past you to avoid being bottled, but that’s where the interaction ends. You wouldn’t take financial advice from him if he started telling you about ISAs or fixed rate mortgages.
So why do we listen to the nutters on social media when they say they don’t like a joke in our ad?
Considering the fact that the most compelling call to action on YouTube is ‘Skip Ad’, I’m just flattered they’ve taken the time to watch and write in.
Also: how many of you have ever actually written a YouTube comment before?
It’s normally reserved for lonely men who have never had sex before.
Me? I write comments all the time.
My favourite musing from someone on an ad I wrote is: “I bet whoever wrote this ad is a fat, black, feminist, disabled lesbian woke Jewess.” Close… but no full house at Bingo for you this week, amigo.
Those are just the opinions when an ad has actually made it out alive into the world.
But it got me thinking about just how many opinions you must overcome to even get to that utopia.
- First, your idea has to get past your creative partner.
- Then you find out your idea was done in 1997 by an agency in the Faroe Islands. You start again.
- Then you show the creative director. They tell you to “go have a play” and “have some fun with it”.
- You’ve dodged that hurdle and now it’s time for the executive creative director or chief creative officer or Lord Vader.
- The producer should probably see it now. Better take out the helicopter shot and that expensive music track.
- Then the account team. Someone in the room will play the role of devil’s advocate, but they really seem to be going full method on the devil part.
- Buckle up. Someone is going to throw a planner in the works.
- If you’re still here and haven’t landed on a snake, you might now be in front of a client. So close, yet so far.
- Ah. The client’s boss. Her favourite films are Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Grease 2 so I’m sure she’ll appreciate your creative endeavours.
- You’ve reached the client’s boss’s boss. It starts becoming like a Series of Line of Duty or a game of Crash Bandicoot, where you wonder if you’ll ever find out who the final boss is.
- Oh and your script will have to glide past the big boss’s step-kids too, just to make sure they like it. Heads up: they hate it.
- Hey! I know what will be fun! Let’s stick it in research for a laugh so we can find out why Graham from Basingstoke doesn’t like the colour yellow, even though he’s only really in this focus group because he was lured in by a £25 WH Smith voucher and a bowl of Thai Sweet Chilli Walkers Sensations.
- Let’s get a director to take a look, completely change the idea, and then shoot this thing. Surely that’s all done now. Right? RIGHT!?
- May I interest Sir in some more research now we have the edit?
- ClearCast will want to have a butcher’s. They’re a notoriously fun bunch. I’m sure they won’t have anything to say. They’d never suggest that the fictional animated meerkats should be wearing seatbelts in the golf buggy they’re driving, or that a ceramic garden gnome shouldn’t be drinking a cocktail, or anything remotely stupid like that, would they?
- Hope this email finds you well. Release the 60” ad but before you do, make it 10” instead. And if you could take out the idea and the funny line and just show the product shot please. If you could do that by EOP yesterday. Best.
So, as you can see, a straight-forward experience.
It’s death by a thousand cuts (the n is silent).
If you can get through that ordeal with your single-minded idea and sanity intact, it’s a job well done. Until Barry6483 savages it on Twitter.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why brands are scared of being cancelled in the social media age. That’s why they test and endlessly research things and ask for more opinions so they have safety in numbers. No single person gets the blame that way. It’s safer to lead by committee rather than the committed. But sometimes it all gets a bit silly.
I once had to get rid of a gag that had a voice over declaring “Stay back evil swan” because evil was deemed offensive. To whom, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe the swan community? Possibly the queen? I hear she likes to eat swans. Barry6483 would have approved as it was going to be a white swan and he believes Britain belongs to white things. Something about taking back control. Not entirely sure what he means as his spelling is all over the gaff.
I realised while writing this that OPINIONSS is an anagram of PISS ONION, which is quite fitting for advertising as you have to keep peeling through layers and layers pissing you off, until you end up crying.
Now, you may be reading my article thinking this insufferable tit rates his own opinion very highly. And to that I have no rebuttal. But I should make it clear I really do enjoy collaborating. That’s the best bit about advertising. You get to meet and work with clever, interesting, funny, eccentric, talented people. And I salute the clients working under extreme pressure, facing a constant barrage of challenges – macro and micro – from one week to another.
But that doesn’t take away from my point that it often feels like advertising shares the same dealer as the crackhead on the bicycle. We’re all paranoid of failing so we become paralysed by fear and opinions. Advertising is pretty simple, really. It could be a walk in the park on a sunny day in Greenwich if we just took a chill pill, instead of the opinion opioids.
Incidentally, I saw the man on meth on a mountain bike again yesterday.
I went up to him and said, “I’ve been thinking about the question you posed to me the other week. I’d never use the phrase ‘take it up the arse’ as it’s a phrase loaded with homophobia. However, I’m assuming you meant figuratively; in which case, I guess when it comes to certain client demands, I do indeed. I received a four-page debrief document compiled by 22 clients for a 6” YouTube bumper in which they want to say nine proof points. I can show you the accompanying TTL deck if you want? Deck is a wanky way of saying presentation by the way. And TTL means through the line, although I’ve never really understood what the line is. Would you like to see my latest ad?”
He was cycling away at this point. He was scared. Client nervousness is contagious it seems. But I chased after him with my laptop open, screaming “DO YOU WANT TO SEE MY AD?!
YOU LOOK LIKE YOU WANT TO SEE MY AD!”
And on hearing that, he raced off on his bike like a wired Lance Armstrong leading the Tour de Frazzled, before taking off into the sky like E.T, if E.T found heroin instead of phoning home. All the while muttering ‘SKIP AD SKIP AD SKIP AD’ like a man possessed.
I’ve not seen him since. Maybe he’ll pop up in the comments section with an opinion on my opinion piece about opinions.
My guess is it will say: “You can stick it up your arse.”