This one’s about regret.

It’s starts with a phone call one Friday afternoon in early 2006. RKCR wanted us to help out on a pitch over the weekend. We took the brief Saturday morning and by Sunday evening we were reviewing our work with the second R in RKCR – Mark Roalfe. It must have gone okay because we were asked back in on Monday, beginning what became a frenzied ten month blur of freelance work. And one of the most prolific periods of my career to date.

RKCR was a good agency full of big name teams doing award-winning work across a range of clients. Pre-Adam & Eve Ben Priest was ECD. They were taking food porn to a whole new level with their Marks & Spencer work. Their Virgin Atlantic posters won everything. And their print ads for Land Rover and Range Rover were instant classics. The agency was also right in the heart of Camden, close enough to smell the rum and fags on Amy Winehouse’s breath.

It was a great time. Dave and I were refreshed from a five-year hiatus in our partnership and were enjoying working together again. RKCR kept their freelancers busy. We were soon churning through briefs at breakneck – or maybe that should be break-pencil – speed. The agency was housed in the old Black Cat Cigarette Factory and at times it really felt like we were on a production line. But it meant we made a lot of work. We were always writing, re-writing, shooting, art directing, recording, editing, making, making, making.

This is just the stuff we produced that I can remember:    

1.   Worldwide print/poster campaign for Pulsar Watches featuring 8 shots by fashion photographer Sean Ellis.

2.   Range Rover print campaign.

3.   2 x Land Rover double pages.

4.   TV spot for Danone.

5.   National poster campaign for Lloyds TSB.

6.   Print ad for Starbucks.

7.   Almost weekly radio spots for The Times/Sunday Times.

8.   3 or 4 TV spots for The Times/Sunday Times.

9.   Print/posters for Visit London with illustrator Parra.

10.   Radio/print campaign for a Government Employment training initiative.

And, finally, the campaign tinged with a little regret. E-on.

It was a good brief. E-on wanted a print campaign featuring real case studies. They had some great stories to tell. We just had to create a campaign that told them.

This is how I remember it. As usual we were busy juggling umpteen jobs and I think at our first review with the CDs, instead of showing a few ideas, we only shared one. And because we were a senior team, it answered the brief and it was good and had the potential to make nice ads. Here are a few scribbles. 

Anyway, for whatever reason – timings were tight, maybe media had been booked – our first idea was presented to the client and they bought it. Job done. We brought in Kelvin Murray to shoot the campaign and went into production. Everyone was happy. Except something kept niggling away at me. I liked the visuals we’d come up with, but the headlines felt a bit, well, hacky. They were fine, but I know I can write better. And I should have. But sometimes when everything is ticking along smoothly, it’s all too easy to go along with it. Here are the ads. 

Paul Arden said: Blame no one but yourself, if you have touched something accept total responsibility for that piece of work. If you accept responsibility you are in the position to do something about it. If you are involved don't blame others.

I didn’t take full responsibility. I didn’t put my hand up. I didn’t push to rewrite the headlines and I didn’t dare to rock the boat. That’s why this perfectly adequate E-on campaign isn’t in my portfolio.

And there’s no one to blame except me.   

Agency: RKCR

Client: E-on

Art Director: Dave Lang

Copywriter: Martin Gillan

Photographer: Kelvin Murray

Carrick (Notepads December 2001, January 2002 & March 2002)

This is a campaign for Carrick Jewellery that I wrote at The Bridge. And it’s probably the oddest set of ads I’ve ever done.

When you think of most jewellery advertising it’s all beautifully lit shots of precious metals against silky smooth skin. High glamour, low concept puffery.

But with Carrick this approach wasn’t possible. Firstly, we didn’t really have much of a budget for decent photography. And secondly, Carrick jewellery looked like shit. From what I can recall all Carrick’s stuff was inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Tiffany it wasn’t.

Before we move on to the notepads, a little background. I only work in notepads when I’m out of the office, so the stuff you see here is only a fraction of the work involved in any project. Most of my notepad scribbling was done in pubs, cafes and on the train or bus.

Back to Carrick, then. I haven’t the faintest idea what the brief was, but I think it was probably ‘do something that gets noticed’. The media was already booked – quarter pages in Hello magazine, which I think was a bit more upmarket back then

One of the ideas I had was people wearing Carrick jewellery asleep at work. The line was simply ‘Nightwear’. For some reason both my scribbles feature members of the medical profession. Trust me, I’m as confused as you are. If I saw photographs of doctors and nurses asleep on the job I’d assume it was due to an 80-hour work week, not a penchant for clubbing in Carrick jewellery.

Next up ‘A Carrick’s been let out its box’. I think I was probably going for an attitude here. This was back in 2001, so 90’s ladettes were still on the prowl. A very dull and embarrassing attempt at edgy. I wonder if that’s my old mobile number?

Now, prepare for the notebook equivalent of Kubrick’s 4 million year jump cut.

Welcome to the glamorous, high fashion world of stick men.

At the time I was working with The Bridge’s Head of Art, Liz O’Connor. One day Liz showed me a picture of two stick men with speech bubbles above their heads. One stick man asked, “How much did that ring cost?” And the other replied, “500 fake orgasms or so."

Liz thought it was the funniest thing ever. I thought there was something missing. So I gave the stick men breasts. Liz laughed even harder. And from that point on that was our campaign and I was our illustrator.

Over the next weeks I filled an entire desk drawer with stick women drawings. It was the closest I’ve ever been to fulfilling my childhood dream of being a cartoonist. I created an entire stick world populated by weird and often disturbing stick people. I even had a little Charlie Hebdo moment, with my burqa-wearing Muslim stick women.

Below is the final campaign featuring my illustrations. Reviewing them in Campaign’s Private View, BMP DDB’s Larry Barker suggested that they might not have run. To prove they did I promptly posted him copies of Hello magazine. These ads ran, not just once, but weekly for a couple of months. Quite simply the weirdest campaign I ever did.  

And below is Larry Barker's review from Campaign.

Agency: The Bridge

Client: Carrick Jewellery

Art Director: Liz O'Connor

Copywriter/illustrator: Martin Gillan

Vodafone (Notepad January 2001)

I’ve worked on mobile phone accounts for almost as long as mobile phones have been around. (Yes, I am that old. Or as I prefer to call it, experienced.)

The problem with mobile phone ads is they tend to date as quickly as the technology itself. Like this campaign I wrote for Vodafone at WCRS.

In February 2001 WCRS won the Vodafone account from BMP DDB and our first task was to promote their pre-pay roaming capacity, which meant for the first time ever customers could phone and text from abroad. Sounds about as innovative as a wind up gramophone now, but back then it was the cutting edge of mobile communication.

Below is the brief. In the top right corner you can see it was given to three teams, so it must have been a big deal. The proposition was: Stay connected to friends and family while on holiday with Vodafone Pay-as-you-talk. Pretty straightforward. But what really excited us about the brief was the opportunity it gave us to write lots of scripts that began We open on a tropical beach... 

Looking back our first idea seems oddly Europhobic. It basically suggests if you’re missing home while you’re on holiday, Vodafone can give you a quick fix of Blighty. Like anyone has ever sat on a Mediterranean beach, ice-cold cocktail in hand and thought, “You know what, I really miss Coventry, I think I'll call home.” Fortunately this route was quickly killed.

Then we hit upon a much more truthful idea. Our insight was Vodafone now allowed you to call your friends and gloat that while you’re having fun in the sun, they’re stuck in the same old daily routine back home.

It just seemed like a fresher, funnier, more irreverent approach to take. It felt like something we would actually do ourselves: drunkenly phoning home in the middle of the night to wind up our mates. 

The endline we started working with was You’re on holiday. They’re not. Rub it in. It’s long, but I still like it.

At this point the scripts featured Vodafone customers in holiday locations accompanied by a sort of devilish voice-in-the-head urging them to phone their friends back home.  

These were researched and you can read the feedback document below. Rub it in came out well. And my art director and I were one step closer to a nice foreign shoot somewhere warm and exotic.

We then started meeting directors. Jon Greenhalgh suggested removing the voice-in-the-head monologues. He argued that they were unnecessary and the story should be told visually. Sometimes as a writer it’s easy to fall in love with all those words you’ve lovingly crafted and polished, but Jon had a good point. It made sense and made the scripts stronger. We gave Jon the job and our account team had the slightly awkward task of telling Vodafone we wanted to change the scripts. Scripts they'd approved. Scripts that had sailed through research. Luckily the WRCS account team was as good at unselling ads as they were at selling them. We got the thumbs up and Dave and I were on our way to Ibiza. 

But first we had to stop off in a pre-hipster Hackney Road to shoot the launderette and pub scenes.  

So these are the two commercials. Not too bad, funny enough, but technology moves so fast, they were already badly dated six months after we'd shot them. Still, they're an interesting snapshot in the evolution of mobile phones circa 2001.    

Agency: WCRS

Client: Vodafone

Director: Jon Greenhalgh

Art Director: Dave Lang

Copywriter: Martin Gillan

Game On Exhibition (Notepad April 2002)

With some briefs it takes a while to get your head into the world of the brand. Some products are just a bit more difficult to relate to. Like sanitary towels, financial services or anything owned by Rupert Murdoch.

But during my time at The Bridge in Glasgow I got a brief for something I was very familiar with. In fact, I’d already done all the research as a teenager.  

The brief was to create a campaign for an upcoming exhibition at The National Museum of Scotland called Game On: the history, culture and future of computer games.

Like most kids of the 70’s and 80’s I’d grown up with the first home computers. I’d played Pong on my cousin’s Atari, Asteroids on my best friend’s ZX Spectrum, far too many eye-watering hours competing in the Summer Games on my brother’s Commodore 64 and spent a bit too much time helping Sonic the Hedgehog collect rings on a girlfriend’s SEGA.

So, great brief, very open and fun. You can see from the email below they wanted a range of ideas in different media.

It was an art director’s dream. I immediately imagined retro looking 16 bit graphics and typography. And if I’m honest, I was already thinking D&AD silvers for art direction, press and posters. It just felt like one of those kinds of briefs. The sort of thing Paul Belford and Nigel Roberts would do.

Here’s what happened.

I got stuck into writing some nostalgia-heavy, Nigel Roberts-esque headlines. These are just a few that I found in my notebook.

I was going to stencil Space Invaders in the middle of the road so it looked like they were firing the white lines. D&AD ambient, in book, thank you.

Around this time the building next to the agency was being renovated (see below), which gave me the idea to turn the scaffolding into a giant Donkey Kong game with barrels being thrown at Mario. D&AD ambient silver, sorted.

We presented some stuff to the client and they got very excited.

Awards, pay rises, job offers and advertising immortality beckoned. Then we got a call from the client. One of those calls that brings you crashing back down to Earth. They had decided to go with the poster they’d used in London. I think it was a picture of Lara Croft and in big letters Game On.

Game over, then. 

first direct (notepad june 1999)

Our first brief after joining WCRS was to continue a successful TV campaign for First Direct featuring the British comedian Bob Mortimer. First Direct was the first 24-hour telephone and online bank in the UK, which meant their customers could bank wherever and whenever they wanted. This was brought to life in the ads by filming Bob Mortimer with hidden cameras doing things wherever and whenever he wanted. It was a simple idea elevated by Bob’s surreal one-liners and huge likability.

So it wasn’t exactly a tough brief for us. The hard work had been done. And Bob would improvise all the dialogue in front of the cameras. There was just one problem. To get sign off from the client we needed to write scripts, which meant we had to try to write Bob’s lines. To channel our inner Bob Mortimers Dave and I spent a long Sunday in the pub spouting nonsense. We soon discovered there’s a fine line between surreal genius à la Vic and Bob and inane gibberish à la Martin and Dave. By closing time we still weren’t convinced we’d reached the required level of surrealness and went back to Dave’s flat to polish off a bottle of vodka. Not exactly professional, but it was the 90’s and we were in our 20’s. Whatever we lacked in sense we made up for in stamina.

So first thing Monday morning we were at our desks early to type up the scripts. Once we’d handed them in we both crawled home to bed. (I repeat, it was the 90’s.) Now we had scripts a meeting was set up with Bob Mortimer. This led to an extremely awkward encounter in a fancy hotel suite with a very nervy Bob. As he read our scripts I noticed his fingernails were chewed to the quick. He was polite, but I don’t recall him laughing. I think we all knew this would be the last time any of us would read the scripts.

The only thing that did survive was the location, which was to be a motorway service station. For no other reason than it’s a public place and there were enough to spots to hide our cameras.

On the day of the shoot Bob ran around wearing thick-rimmed glasses containing a small camera while the film crew did their best not to look like a film crew. Dave and I had nothing to do other than try to appear like we knew what was happening and stay out of shot. At some point we tired of drinking motorway service station coffee and decided to take a look round for things for Bob to interact with. Here’s what I scribbled down.           

"...I've got a new conker string in the post..." Obviously still attempting to write surreal lines. Sigh.

Good to see a bit of toilet humour wasn't beneath us. Or Bob. We thought having him coming out of the ladies loo might be kind of funny. It went on to became a 10 second commercial and incredibly won a couple of awards. You can see the ad below. And the rest of the campaign here.

Agency: WCRS

Client: First Direct

Director: Mark Mylod

Art Director: Dave Lang

Copywriter: Martin Gillan

Inverness Airport (Notepad January 2003)

The two pages from this notepad show the origins of one of my favourite ads. 

Highlands and Islands Airports was the first client my partner Doug and I pitched for as newly appointed creative directors at Frame in Glasgow. It was actually my first pitch as a CD. Not exactly the most prestigious, hotly contested pitch in the world, but you've got to start somewhere.  

Highlands and Islands Airports, as their name suggests, are responsible for Scotland’s regional airports. Well, they’re called airports, but on a wet foggy day (which is most days up there) you could be forgiven for mistaking some of the smaller ones for bus stops. In fact, on some of the remote islands the airport runway is actually a beach.

But the pitch brief was to advertise Inverness Airport. Incredibly this smallish airport just north of Loch Ness had recently started to offer flights to international destinations. Big news and they wanted a TV ad to announce it.

Doug and I started work and quickly arrived at a wordplay combining Inverness and international – Invernational. It was dumb and cheesy and a bit naff and kind of 80’s and it made people groan when they heard it. But it was also bang on brief and like it or not it stuck in the mind. And no matter what else Doug and I came up with we kept coming back to Invernational. I’d been taught at Saatchis that straplines win pitches. We started to think our silly made up word might actually be a pitch winner – if we could find a way to use it that wasn’t cheesy.

You can see below that I was thinking about two people lying on a car bonnet watching planes take off from Inverness Airport. Clearly influenced by this scene from Wayne’s World. But if they had a car it meant they were adults and grown ups saying Invernational didn’t feel right.

So I tried it with two kids hanging upside down from a washing line, which is something I remember my brother and I doing. I originally called them Ronnie and Gavin, but changed it to Iain and Angus – so their names began with I and A like Inverness Airport. Here are my first attempts at the script. 

That script is more or less what Doug and I acted out in the pitch. I’m pretty sure I didn’t attempt a Scottish accent. The clients loved Iain and Angus and didn’t groan at Invernational. We had won our first pitch.

Below is the final ad. 

So why is it my favourite commercial? In Scotland advertising budgets are small, or to use the local term, wee. And the money we had to make our script was properly wee. It wasn’t as glamorous as some of the shoots I’d been used to as a creative in London, but it was the most fun production I’ve ever been involved in. We chose Adrian McDowell to direct because he'd shot a lot of films with children and we'd worked with him before. We held a noisy and chaotic open audition in Inverness to cast Iain and Angus, where half the town’s kids turned up. When you work with children somehow their excitement rubs off. Those kids didn’t see what we were doing as a small, low budget TV commercial. As far as they were concerned Hollywood had come to Inverness. And that’s why this ad has always been special to me. It wasn’t an award winner. I’ve never included it on my reel or on my website. Very few people outside of the Scottish Highlands have seen it. But it means a lot to me.

Agency: Frame

Client: HIAL

Director: Adrian McDowell

Art Director/CD: Doug Cook

Copywriter/CD: Martin Gillan

Eric Sykes (Notepad July 2012)

Eric Sykes is one of my comedy heroes. And when he died in 2012 I doodled a sort of memorial inspired by The Plank, one of his most famous films.

I thought it was a nice simple idea, so I drew a slightly neater version, scanned it and using my seriously limited computer skills, just about managed to add some colour. I printed it out and stuck it in a cheap A4 picture frame and plonked it on my desk.

Then I had the idea to get the plank made for real. A quick google led me to a master wood carver called Charles Oldham. Eric Sykes was born in Oldham, so I took this coincidence as a good sign and contacted Charles. Normally he does restoration work for churches and historic buildings like Hampton Court and Windsor Castle, so I wasn’t sure if he’d be interested in carving an old plank of wood. Luckily he was also an Eric Sykes fan and he liked my idea. So, what was once a quick scribble in my notepad, is now a beautifully engraved tribute to one my writing heroes, which hangs on my office wall.

centrepoint (notepad august 2000)

Centrepoint is a charity that helps young homeless people in London to get off the streets and was one of our clients at WCRS. It’s interesting to see on the brief that my art director Dave and I were the only team working on the job. Back then it was pretty much normal for briefs to be given to just one team. Looking at the timings we had around 3 or 4 weeks to work on it, which today seems a luxury, but in 2000 I suspect we probably complained that it wasn’t enough time. Ungrateful upstarts that we were.    

The train destinations idea below eventually became a radio commercial, which went on to win bronze at the American One Show Awards.

This headline is okay: Spike was the first adult who ever had any time for Emma. Unfortunately he was a known sex offender. 

Quite like this one, too: Great. You're in and out of homes all your life. You turn 16 and you can't find one.

I still think there's a nice thought in this underground cross track poster idea.

From the bunch of ads presented, the client bought two print ads, a one off poster stunt, a postcard mailer and the radio spot. Around this time we bumped into Graham Fink who we’d worked with a couple of times before. This was in his directing days and ever the zeitgeist he was babbling excitedly about something he’d just bought called a digital camera. By the time we’d finished chatting Graham had offered to shoot our Centrepoint campaign with his new toy. 

You can see the campaign here. To create the gritty look Graham shot the pictures on his digital camera, loaded them onto his computer and then took close up shots of the images and copy on the screen. For the final artwork he stuck all the pieces together with tape. We just let him get on with it, he seemed to be having fun.     

The campaign launched with a PR event at the site of our poster with a homeless girl camped beneath it. Shovell from M People turned up to say a few words. You can tell from the look on my face just how thrilled I was. And yes, I even had a beard back then.    

Agency: WCRS

Client: Centrepoint

Art Director: Dave Lang/Graham Fink

Copywriter: Martin Gillan

buchanan galleries (notepad JUNE 2004)

During my time at Frame in Glasgow, one of our clients was a shopping centre called Buchanan Galleries. For years they had been spending their annual marketing budget on a win a car competition. So any advertising they did promoted the competition. That meant a picture of a car and a dazzlingly creative headline, such as ‘Win a car at Buchanan Galleries’. As an incoming creative director tasked with winning awards, I knew the car competition was a creative non-starter. Fortunately my boss, Alan Frame agreed, and he set about convincing the Buchanan Galleries clients to drop it and do a brand campaign instead. The clients were nervous, but never one to take no for an answer, the tenacious Mr. Frame, returned to the agency with a brief and a very small budget. I don’t remember the details of the brief, only that it included the insight that Glaswegians love shopping. It’s probably their third favourite pastime after drinking and football. So it wasn’t a huge leap to get to the idea of people putting shopping before anything else in life. Below you can see some of my early scribbles and how the campaign took shape.   

At some point I think there were concerns about photography being too expensive, so I made a half-hearted attempt at writing a more budget-friendly typographic campaign. Bit long for posters. 

The idea of a father missing the birth of his child because he was shopping seemed funny, so this was the first attempt.

And this was the second attempt and the one we used.

The teacher taking her class on a shopping trip was later recycled to became a TV commercial directed by Rory Rooney.

Kelvin Murray shot the campaign and you can see the final posters here. ‘Pushchair’ was shot in Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow, ‘Birth’ was shot in London using a fake baby in a fake hospital used to film medical dramas for TV and ‘Funeral’ was shot in a real cemetery in Chiswick, West London.

So, was the campaign a success? Hmmm. Well, after football, drinking and shopping, the other thing Glaswegians are really into is religion. The city is famously divided between Catholics and Protestants and the two share an uneasy side-by-side existence. But I’m proud to say that our little Buchanan Galleries campaign managed to unite these two fractious sides. For a brief period in 2004, both Catholics and Protestants came together to complain vehemently about our funeral poster, which they claimed was sacrilegious. In the end the God-fearing people of Glasgow’s prayers were answered and our campaign was banned and taken down, making them ineligible for awards. Maybe we should have stuck to the car competition, after all.  

Agency: Frame

Client: Buchanan Galleries

Art Director/CD: Doug Cook

Copywriter/CD: Martin Gillan



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