I love a good rant

This one, from my friend Gerry Farrell, Creative Director of The Leith Agency, is a cracker.

He appeared in a BBC4 TV programme charting the history of advertising and was outraged when he read this review of it in The Scotsman last week.


So annoyed was he that he was moved to write to Paul Whitelaw, the TV critic responsible for irking him so much.

I reproduce the article and letter in full for your comment, amusement, anger.

I’m totally with Gerry in defending our industry’s professional standards. Is it fair for this guy to make a sweeping generalisation that our industry is a pack of disingenious snakes who will happilly feed a pack of lies in order to sell consumers our product?

No Mr Whitelaw it is not.

Dear Paul,

I just read your TV review in Wednesday’s Scotsman and, like all good admen should, I felt like stabbing myself through the heart with a breadknife.

Let me declare an interest right away. I work at The Leith Agency and the BBC interviewed me and broadcast some of what I said on The Hard Sell on Tuesday night. I`ve only got council telly so I didn`t see the show but I`m sure I did “state the bleeding obvious” and I can quite believe that it was tame and bland, nor can I understand the public`s appetite for programmes about advertising, least of all ones like this, put together by lazy journalists who don`t look far beneath the surface.

Hope you spotted the hint of menace there. How tedious it is to have to take another knee-jerk kick to the nuts from yet another lazy journo with opinions pre-formed in the Sixth Year and unchanged since.

Bill Hicks. Yeah,yeah,yeah. Tom Lappin used the same quote a couple of months back just before he called Alan Hansen “ a money-grubbing whore” for doing TV ads for Morrison`s Supermarket. And now, from your bottomless journalistic well of investigation, research and experience (aka Google), you`ve drawn up a very similar bucket of insults.

If you`d had the energy to click more than once, you might`ve found “Advertising is the rattling of a stick in a swill bucket” (George Orwell) or – my personal favourite – the title of a French adman`s autobiography, “Don`t Tell My Mother I Work In Advertising, She Thinks I Play The Piano In A Brothel”.

And so you rummaged around your own personal swill bucket and came up with the usual lazy rubbish that “ most admen are disingenuous snakes…who.. feed consumers a multi-pack of lies”.

Whoo. How edgy and unpredictable.

Where to start.

Show me a society with no advertising and I`ll show you a government that lies to its own people. Show me a daily newspaper with no lies in it…wait a minute, that`s silly, the average daily newspaper contains more lies, half-truths and uninformed opinion than you`ll find in a month`s worth of ads. Journalist ain`t got much moral high ground to play around on; every paper or magazine I`ve ever read has been funded by the ads it carries. How much does that bother your conscience?

Thought not.

There isn`t even any logic to your position. You watch a lot of telly, apparently. If the Sony client runs a beautiful ad with coloured balls bouncing down hills to tell people the colour on a Sony Bravia is amazing and somebody goes out and buys one and the colour`s shite, they`re not going to sell many more. The best way to kill a rubbish product dead is to advertise it because people will only buy a crap thing once and once isn`t really enough for those wonderful folk who flog beer, cornflakes and Yakult. The internet makes bad word of mouth virally infectious. None of our clients can afford to publicise anything that doesn`t do what it says on the tin. (See what I did there).

It`s persuasion, not mass hypnosis.

Where`s the lie in Cadbury`s drumming gorilla ad?

Have you actually ever been so outraged by an untruthful ad that you`ve complained to the Advertising Standards Authority? Try it. My bet is you`ll struggle to find a single untruthful claim. If you do, and your complaint is valid, the ad will be pulled and the ad agency punished. That`s because we operate under a draconian code of `legal, decent, honest and truthful` that`s a hundred times stricter than your toothless Press Complaints Commission.

More to the point, the vast majority of the men and women I`ve worked with over the last 28 years ( and it`s a fifty/fifty gender split, by the way) are also nice, decent, truthful people. In fact half the people in this agency give up their free time once a fortnight to do free marketing clinics for any business that`s based in Leith for no other reason other than that we love Leith and we think we can help small businesses to market themselves more effectively.

Oh dear, I`ve ranted onto a second page. Let me finish with an invitation and a challenge. Come into The Leith Agency for a day. If you can find a single ad with a lie in it, I`ll buy you an Eighties-style advertising lunch at the posh restaurant of your choice. If you can`t, the lunch is on you.

Alternatively, if you`d prefer something more adversarial, I`ll stand up and debate the point with you anytime, any place, anywhere (see what I did there again).

Or, if you feel particularly feisty about the whole thing, I`ll fight you for it in a boxing ring, all proceeds to a cancer charity.

Any of those three would give you material for a more interesting piece of journalism than the tired old tat you bashed out for your TV review in Wednesday`s Scotsman.

Yours Wearily,

Gerry Farrell
Creative Director, The Leith Agency

44 thoughts on “I love a good rant

  1. He’ll be out of a job soon. The Scotsman’s ads are crap. They have nothing to go on. Doesn’t Billy Smarts do them?

    oh dear, not this tedious old thread. please chaps…


  2. Nothing better than what indra sinha called ‘cool rage’ to get a copywriter going. Gerry, when you get into the ring with this piece of lazythoughtigorantpettyfoggingarsewipe (to parody Pepsi) can I hold your coat? Better still, can I be your tag partner?.


  3. I too can testify to the honest, decent and truthful characteristics adfolk can display.

    See how I not only got an old advertising copyline in there. But also a reference to the 80’s too. Bonus points I think. But I digress.)

    When I was a trainee writer, (many lunches ago now sadly), a somewhat unscrupulous, not long for the advertising world account man, bullied another, young and keen trainee writer at our agency to produce an ad that lead with a blatantly untrue claim.

    The young writer, under duress, dutifully and job-savingly created the ad, which the client bought and ran in a that venerable old organ The Yorkshire Post.

    Come publication day, my fledgling copywriter pal could hardly wait to get to the newsagents and buy a pristine copy of the YP containing his ad.

    Which he immediately cut out and sent off, under a pseudonym of course, to the Advertising Standards Authority, accompanied by the stiffest letter of complaint imaginable.

    The first copywriter in history to complain about one of his own ads.

    Perhaps that fearless investigative journalist Paul Whitelaw might follow that earnest young copywriting buck’s lead, and complain about his own article to the Press Complaint’s Council?

    Pip, pip.


  4. Remarkably naive and superficial nonsense from a journalist. There’s a first…

    We work in a highly regulated industry, and on top of that, consumers are rather the wiser these days.

    Anyone who understands what we do, knows that we are in the business of finding out brand truths, not brand untruths.

    I blame people like Garnier and their pseudo-science: inventing things like ‘avocado micro-granules’, ‘Boswelox’ (meant to sound like Botox.) Hell there’s even a toothpaste with ‘intelligent micro-foam’. Define intelligent.


  5. Poor chap. Classic signs of guilt at working in a job which exists not because of his own “talent”, but because it is kept afloat by, er, advertising.

    When the Scotsman went tabloid a few years ago, I seem to recall the editor said that this would lift circulation from (then) 60,000 to the paper’s ‘natural’ level of 85,000. Actually, I’d forgotten that, but I can use Google too.

    Latest circulation is just over 55,000. Perhaps they need a good ad agency. Anyone know one?


  6. Hey I’ve met that cockend! It was a couple of years ago at some god awful industry awards thing.

    We shouldn’t be so hard on him because he is medically a half-wit.

    He was sitting at our table and I had been crapping on at great length about some book I liked and he honestly uttered the following words to me:
    “It is very enjoyable to hear someone be so passionate and CONDUCIVE about literature.”
    I think he meant effusive…….poor daft fucker!


  7. Carlsberg don’t do writers but if they did, they’d be Gerry. Absolutely superb. I’ve given a copy to everyone in the agency.


  8. Well said!

    You may be ineterested in this however. I attended an event in London last night, organised by the IPA,previewing a show which will run next Sunday on BBC 4. It is narrated by Peter York and is titled The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man.
    Last night’s event featured Mr York interviewing Martin Sorrell, Tim Bell and Frank Lowe live on stage. It was truely exellent and the combination of amusing stories from the glory years and insight on where the business is going was inspiring.
    I’m hoping the Drum will allow me to write an article on the evening, although as the show will have already run it may be too late.
    I urge you to catch it.

    Well done again Gerry.


  9. Ok – so you advertising folk got short shrift. Boo hoo. You’re still loaded, you cheeky dream peddlers… I’m sure that most adpeople are nice folks makin’ their way in the world today in the best way they can. But. Is it not true that one of our best, young and creative agencies in Edinburgh have the Tenants account, while, at at the same time, also having the account for Safer Scotland? In effect saying, “Men of Scotland, don’t be getting all drunk and that and beating up your missus. Not on any inferior lager. No, drink Tenants, for that pure, clean hit.” Don’t be beating up on a journo for going for the easy, lame insults that appeal to the less cognitively abled. It’s your job too, dimwit! I mean; Irn Bru: great advertainment – vile substance. Your job is to push shite at people so they’ll buy it. End of. By the way, the term, ‘Lazy journalism’ is a really lazy, lazy journalism, criticism… 5/10


  10. It’s very interesting (Mr Name Withheld) that you choose to side with the Journos but not check your punctuation. Perhaps you should write (or is that right) for the Gruniad.

    Anyway, your defence of journalistic integrity is lame and your point of view is as cliched as The Daily Mail.

    Come back when you

    a) have a point of view
    b) have the balls to reveal your identity.


    I’m all shy. Whatever.


  11. No Vic, you’re wrong. I never confused the word “conducive” with “effusive”, because I never made that quote, because you never met me at that event, because I wasn’t there. I have never attended a single industry awards ceremony in my life.

    Can you guess why?

    Anyway, while I enjoyed reading Gerry’s riposte, it’s still a massive overreaction to what was, essentially, a tongue-in-cheek piece. I was, in time-honoured fashion, exaggerating my point for comic effect. Whether it was funny or not is neither here nor indeed there – the fact remains that I wasn’t being entirely serious.


    Paul Hindenburg Whitelaw


  12. Good on you for raising your head above the parapet Paul and I hope you enjoyed all the ranting.

    However, tongue in cheek or otherwise I think you need to give us a clue about your tone of voice. It read entirely seriously to us mere mortals.


  13. *cough*p out!

    An excuse as old as time, I feel, and it took weeks to come up with.

    To me, as well, the article read (and I re read it for clarity looking for the humour) as a review that came more from a personal place than anything else. Unless it was an inside joke with your best mate who’s an ad man?


  14. some people in the advertising industry have ethics and integrity; some journalists have ethics and integrity

    some people write ads…some people write articles/programme scripts…some people take offence at either one or the other…a fe people probably take offence at both…

    personally, I think there are more important things to get het up about – you are who you are and you do what you do and you should be secure in whoever you are and whatever you do to accept crticism, warranted, founded or otherwise…life is too short


  15. good bloody grief – are you so used to having people pander to your ego that you behave like a five year old when you don’t get the coverage you want, Gerry!? the article was indeed very tongue-in-cheek (do you need that explained? seeing as you claim that no-one would ever find a single lie in your ads, perhaps anything non-literal requires a janet and john explaination)…JUST GET OVER IT


  16. Och Mac. That’s pure harsh that is. Gerry’s got the moral high ground on this one and I think you will find he has justified the need to tell the truth in quite some detail. Who are you? Paul under a pseudonym?


  17. neither industry/occupation has much to boast about in my considerable experience and considered opinion – both try to tell the general public what to think/what to buy…what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’…what is ‘acceptable’ and what is not; both industries thrive on consumerism and debating the rights and wrongs of a given standpoint is as pointless as two fleas on a dogs back arguing about the rights to feed on the dog

    Do you have a Cassandra complex?


  18. er…I think the term ‘moral high-ground’ in relation to this arguement might require my imagination to be stretched somewhat Mark!
    LOL. just doing my job as questionmaster!


  19. Firstly thank you for the kind words about Newhaven. The agency who brought you those amusing TENNENT’S ads. spelling please.

    We also work for the Government tackling social issues. The sign of a good agency me thinks.
    Blowing my own trumpet!


  20. Paul,
    Sorry for the mistake. It must have been another journalist called Paul Whitelaw, who wrote for the Scotsman. You can see how I made that error.


  21. “Sorry for the mistake. It must have been another journalist called Paul Whitelaw, who wrote for the Scotsman. You can see how I made that error.”

    It’s frightening to think that there are people out there with such tragically low self-esteem, they would actually pretend to be me. You’ve got to pity the guy, really.

    “And why wouldn’t a journalist who writes about the media attend a function?”

    Indeed. It’s just that I never go to events like that, unless it’s absolutely necessary. I spend most of my time in a darkened tent watching television for money, far, far away from the glitzy world of press dinners and junkets.

    “And who would actually sign off with their middle name on a blog for god sake? Especially if it was Hindenburg!”

    Once again, an obvious joke has been misunderstood. I can only assume that you haven’t read the whole thread.

    Yes Mark, I have enjoyed the ranting. As I said earlier, I thought Gerry’s response to my column was articulate, passionate, and amusing. I really have no repsonse other than “fair do’s”, because ultimately the whole argument, such as it is, is based around an irreverent introduction to a TV review about two documentaries on advertising.

    I obviously wasn’t trying to make a serious point about the entire advertising industry. It was just a joke, and shouldn’t be taken seriously. If you care to read any of my other TV columns, you’ll realise that I adopt that tone all the time. It just comes naturally to me, and I certainly don’t mean to cause any offence. Well, actually I do sometimes, but certainly not in this case.


  22. Ah, no, sorry, in reference to Vic’s post, I was taking pity on the guy at the media bash who – presumably, but I’ve got no idea why – said he was me. I wasn’t trying to insult Vic. I’m nothing if not chivalrous.

    But it DEFINITELY wasn’t me, Vic. I know both my brain and tongue quite well, and neither of them would ever dream of coming out with such a garbled spew of pseudo-intellectual toss.

    And even with a couple of glasses of plonk inside me, I would never dream of saying something like that to a complete stranger. Sorry!

    And as I say, on the rare occasions that I have attended such events, I spend most of the time loitering quietly in the corner until I can make as quick an exit as possible.

    Anyway, I hope I’ve made myself clear overall.


  23. All clear – can I just summarise quickly…

    I am sorry for mistakenly accusing you/unknown interloper of a malapropism at a rubbish awards do

    Gerry wrote a brilliant riposte to your well-disguised tongue in cheek review

    Stephen Tate really did think your middle name was Hindenburg (that’s funny)

    All in all I think we’ve exhausted this thread.

    How about we change the subject?

    So Paul, what about Ricky and Bianca’s return to Albert square……


  24. Pingback: Talking crap « Think Hard

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