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Write What You Know: Shooting People Is Fun


Liam Wilson muses on the industry’s obsession with military lingo, on rising up the ranks to reach retirement, and why shooting people is fun for all the family

Write What You Know: Shooting People Is Fun

Liam Wilson is a Creative Director at Snap London. He was also a founding member of early noughties garage collective, So Solid Crew. Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman once said he was funny. Only two of those three previous sentences are true. In his Write What You Know series, he goes on a long ramble before reversing back into the gates of capitalism with shoddy metaphors.

My old man retired last week.
He worked for the same firm for 44 years.
He had the same boss throughout. Her Majesty, Lizzie Rascal. The Queen.
I should clarify up front; he wasn’t her butler or her personal chef. He was in the army.
He joined at 16 as a private and worked his way up to major.
Not many soldiers achieve that, and I’ve always been proud of him. I’m acutely aware I probably wang on about it, as living vicariously through my dad makes me appear slightly more interesting and/or a double ‘ard bastard. 
Reader, I am not. It’s all puns no guns over here.

However, when I was growing up, a lot of people – including family – used to ask me if I was going to be a squaddie like my dad. 

As a teenager, he sat me down over breakfast. He was wearing a black cloak and breathing asthmatically and said:

“Liam, you do not yet realise your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can bring order to the galaxy.”

“I’LL NEVER JOIN YOU!” I cried with a mouthful of Coco Pops. 

“I am your father,” he shouted. 

Alas, I would not go on to be Luke Skywalker of the Rebel Alliance. Instead, I became Liam Shitewriter of an advertising agency.

That whole Star Wars paragraph also doesn’t really work as an analogy because my dad has never watched Star Wars. He enjoys real-life war films. Which is a bit like a Ryanair pilot relaxing at home after a shift by playing Flight Simulator on the computer. I should add, he never wanted me to join the forces either.

So no. You’d never see me in that army uniform. Mainly because it’s camouflage.

The pen is my sword. And seeing as swords are rendered useless in modern warfare, I’m not sure what help a pentel N50 marker will do me on the battlefield.

It’s safe to say, I’m probably not cut out for military life. I like my underground bunkers to come in the form of grading suites with sushi for lunch. My hands are soft from where I’ve moisturised my face.

I am the Son of a Gun. Which I guess makes my old man Dad of an Ad (man).
He reached the rank of major. Whereas I became a major disappointment, ranked four stars on David Reviews. Less Lance corporal, more Lance corporate.

The vibrations of sitting in a tank throughout the mid-’80s must have done something to his bollocks to have caused me to become a fat twat paragrapher instead of a lean, mean paratrooper.

We have embarked on two very opposite careers. Or have we? 

Let’s break it down…

He has served queen and country, I have put my body on the line for Britvic.

He has seen apocalyptic warzones. I too have stayed in a Travelodge in Stoke and visited a Peterborough industrial estate for a client meeting. 

He has to stay in line with the Geneva Convention. I have to abide by Clearcast regs.

Some of the horrific injuries I’ve suffered include repetitive strain injury from photoshopping too long, headaches from being in a harshly lit office, and having scripts shot down in a blaze of rejection.

I have .psd files stored on my hard drive. He has .ptsd files saved to memory.

I get painful flashbacks when I hear a song in a bar and it reminds me of the 793 times I had to endure it in a sound session.

He is briefed on mounting a siege of an important strategic market town. I get briefed to mount a land grab of market share.

He gets shiny medals for his heroic service. I get shiny medals for my valiant efforts in the Best 30-60 second brand film category.

Military veterans are often chucked on the scrap heap of society. Advertising also spits out people when it’s finished feeding on their youthful optimism.

Obviously I am being facetious in a woeful attempt at satire. But I fear some people in the industry genuinely think they are in the SAS (he who delegates, wins).

Advertising tries to make itself sound more dangerous by flirting with the language of war. Knobheads use words like brave and bold when talking about an idea to flog bog roll. Ironically, they’re usually the first to shite themselves and surrender at any sign of conflict with a client.

Daring to change a typeface that isn’t in the brand guidelines is not the same as risking life and limb. Yet our industry vocabulary includes: campaigns, guns for hire, arms race. We zero in, we target, we’re in the field. We get chucked grenades and have meetings in the war room and go to battle over an edit. We get briefed on blowing things up and then our routes die.

I reckon the only actual similarity between the British armed forces and advertising is its class system. A load of posh blokes with fancy titles who rely on the grunts to do all the dirty work. They then stick their name on the campaign and get a shiny medal.

When my dad got promoted to officer class, it meant we no longer went to the sergeant’s mess. I always liked the sergeant’s mess. It was full of (what I consider) normal folk and their families. Feral kids ran wild. We played football. There were pool tables. And Walkers crisps. A dart could normally be found sticking out of the side of a ten-year old’s head. 

But then dad got promoted. Fuck’s sake, dad. 

It was like being allowed upstairs in Downton Abbey. Here it was all dark wood and cigars and port and kids with surnames that had at least four hyphens in. They also played croquet unironically. 

My sister and I knew we had arrived in a place we didn’t belong when a kid tried to make me salute him because his dad was the colonel. He was probably only 11 but already had a firm grasp of nepotism. But the only colonel I salute is the one with a large fried chicken franchise, so I punched him in the balls. He looked down at his privates and screamed at them. Just like his father.

As I got a little bit older, I managed to swindle an A* in my English GCSE because I wrote a poem called ‘Daddy’s gone’ after he got posted to a desert. This was an early education in exploiting my emotions in pursuit of personal gain and the push for perpetual growth under the banner of late-stage capitalism. 

And now I find myself even older, digging up some of those buried feelings in order to write an article for an industry website, because as you can probably tell, I’m shit out of ideas and running out of tenuous links between my life and the advertising business.

But not as old as my dad. He’s officially a pensioner. He’s off to spend his days paddle boarding, cycling up mountains, skiing down mountains, and redecorating rooms under the orders of his ranking officer, my mum.
It’s made me start thinking when or indeed if I will ever retire.

The way this country is currently going, I’ll be freelancing at 75, chasing invoices so I can pay the care home I’m in. Or to pay off the loan I took out to cover my energy bills way back in 2022. By the way, it’s 2067 and Boris still hasn’t resigned, and the job of a creative is simply to input prompts into an AI Bot which pumps out scripts. My role in the creative department is basically like the Tesco Express worker who hovers near the self-service tills, verifying you have three avocados and a bottle of malbec with just one swift look at your haggard face, hitting ‘Confirm customer over 18’ with the same synapse reactions as Lewis Hamilton careering around a bend in Monaco. 

We cut from the flash forward scene back to August 2022, where I'm having a moment on a shoot abroad. It suddenly dawned on me, as much as I moan about how fucking annoying the job can be, it is a brilliantly silly way to live a life and a stupid thing to call a job.
I was with a lovely bunch of nice, talented people, experiencing things most people could never get on a holiday. And yet I was getting paid for it. I would probably pay to do that in retirement if I could. 

As an added bonus, I was not getting shot at. I was doing the shooting. 
Shooting pretty film in a pretty place which my dad thought was pretty cool. I sent him a photo while we were filming of me on a Norwegian glacier. He replied on WhatsApp with “The last time I was in Norway I was sat in the turret of a Scimitar armoured recon vehicle” accompanied by a thumbs up emoji. 

I’ve found that most people think what we do is rather exciting. 
My dad certainly does.
Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t condone all of my campaigns. But then again, I’m not a fan of all his.
Don’t throw grenades if you live in glasshouses, as they say.

My problem is not that I have DADDY Issues. I have D&AD issues. I crave the love and affection of an awards jury. So 12 old white men, not just one. It’s a never-ending battle. WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME, D&AD?

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Snap London, Wed, 24 Aug 2022 09:17:33 GMT