Category Archives: Advertising

Politics by telegram

I didn’t last long as a copywriter. About six months, in fact.

The old man who was head of the team of wordsmiths at the Downton Pulford Compton ad. agency thought my headlines and body copy were a bit long-winded. “Think telegrams”, he advised. That’s all he said. A bit short and sweet. But I kind of got what he meant: keep it simple.

Donald Trump
seems to appreciate the power of keeping it simple. His modern day telegrams – Make America Great Again, Fake News – and the others, communicate simple, telegrammatic, posterised messages that slip easily into the memory bank without raising the slightest alarm or prompting too many questions among his followers.

Who wouldn’t vote against the simple injunction to “Make America Great Again”? Or, in the case of Brexit, to “Take Back Control”? The K.I.S.S. principle is tried and tested.

Back then telegrams were still quite popular, though the UK’s main telegram service ended in 2003 (interestingly, it’s still possible to send one, via telegramsonline).

Telegrammatic communications have been a bit out of fashion for quite a while, perhaps with the exception of that most powerful of advertising media, posters. Posters have a unique ability not to divert attention away from the basic message with snazzy video and dialogue that makes you think “What the hell was that all about?” They distil, focus and cut through. Just like the telegram did. When each word cost money, people were short and sweet to save cash. But the message was concise – and therefore clear. Stop.

Never was a telegram shorter and sweeter, perhaps, than in the case of Oscar Wilde‘s legendary exchange with his publisher, enquiring about the success of his most recent book. He sent “?”, to which the publisher replied “!”

Downtons handled a large proportion of the UK advertising for cinemas – not the ads. that appear on the screen, but the ads. in the local paper that give details of what’s on at the pictures. In addition they publicised film launches – and other stuff, like sales of confectionery and ice cream.

For quite a long time I was given menial tasks – just writing body copy for leaflets. It was the era when cinemas were converting to multi-screen – so quite a significant period in the history of the UK industry. Lots of factual leaflets were needed for door-to-door distribution. No-one in the department wanted to be involved with rubbish like that. The other creatives all guarded their bits of the business like mother elephants.

I thought I’d made a breakthrough when I was given an assignment to write an ad. encouraging people to spend more money at ‘front-of-house’ (FOH, as it’s known); ie in the foyer. I believe it’s still the case that cinemas make a large proportion of their profit from FOH sales. It’s almost as though the movies themselves are the bait to lure unsuspecting customers into the foyer to shop for way-overpriced burgers, sweets, ice lollies and chocolate.

Anyway, in this instance, my task was to write an ad. for Wall’s Ice Cream. Which I did.

(Not sure why, but in the back of my mind as I write this, I hear Trump bellowing “We’re gonna build the wall!”).

Anyway, it turned out that my headline, which to this day I think was quite snappy, went down like a lead balloon. I think the old man though it was a bit too clever.


Pun on the word “lolly”? Didn’t go for it. It soon became clear that my career in Creative was going nowhere; I switched to the Media department.

It was all very political …



Image credit: By dumbfoundling a flickr user [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


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And now, for the latest forecast, we go over to The Croak Club …

Have you noticed that no-one famous has died recently?

Looks like they all got it out of their system earlier this year. It’s probably just a statistical quirk, of course, and no doubt some boffin will appear on the BBC News sooner or later to explain the sudden drop in celebrity clog-popping. Then again, maybe it’s the calm before the storm …

Typical of the media, of course, when noteworthy passings-away keep happening, they’re all over it, boring us to death (well, not literally, of course) with the latest superstar’s demise. And you do get the feeling the newscasters love all that drama; the chance to break away from Brexit or the migrants problem.

With older celebs, we all know that everything’s pre-recorded, all ready to put in the machine like a microwave meal. You can imagine the phone calls: “Hello Bryan – could you reach me down that tape on XXXX XXXXXXX – they’ve just copped it and I need it for the one o’clock. Thanks, mate”. Then out comes one of those annoying tape loops showing the newly-deceased walking out of theirfathertime home, being interviewed at a film festival, appearing on stage, walking out of their home, being interviewed at a film festival, appearing on stage again … ad infinitum.

But it’s becoming clear that to achieve real superstardom, when one shuffles off this mortal coil, is almost as dependent on the date on which you die as it is on the body of work you leave behind. Your departure really does need to hit the headlines amidst a scything-down of even more famous current goners. That way you can bathe in the reflected glory of their fame and have your memory positioned alongside those of notables who ranked somewhat higher up the pecking order of distinguished personalities.

Chances are that someone famous will die just before I post this onto my site. Obviously it’s all a bit unpredictable and, I must confess, these musings may be somewhat tasteless. And I will own up to the fact that I did feel betting on who would be the next celeb. to kick the bucket was not that gentlemanly a thing to do. The monthly meetings of The Croak Club, back in my days at ad. agencies in a rather unreputable pub in the West End, would see the distribution of winnings amongst punters who’d sometimes bet large amounts on long-odds outsiders; whilst well-known names who were apparently at death’s door would recover and within weeks be starring in some long-running TV show or embarking on a death-defying mountain climb for charity. Don’t ask me about The Queen Mother

I know what you’re thinking: what’s the betting he has a heart attack later today after writing this? Well go on then, I’ll give you 7/2 – any takers?



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