Ring the Bell

Last week I had the pleasure of having lunch with Bob Hoffman, aka the AdContrarian. Bob has decided to stop his weekly blog posts (although he will continue writing and speaking) – which is a loss for the industry as a whole and something of a disaster for me given the number of times the Cog Blog has been inspired by his work.

In a world of holding company blandness we need more contrarians.

Bob and I are of a similar vintage; we grew up (on different sides of the Atlantic) during an era when advertising was driven by original ideas, generated by ad agencies run by people who believed, who knew that their ideas contributed to their clients’ successes.

The ads ruled, agency principals would resign business rather than pass through poor work. In my case the legendary Norman Berry once fired a client for daring to question his judgement on a professional trade magazine ad.

Yes, they sometimes went to extremes, but the reputation of their agencies mattered and what made those reputations were the ads.

Back then clients hired agencies because they (the client) couldn’t do what the agencies did. These clients didn’t want a nodding dog, nor did they want a glorified note taker nor a numerate technocrat.

They wanted ideas, great ideas beautifully executed by people who knew how to deliver.

They were right to want these things and to believe in their agency’s ability.

It’s often forgotten that there were brave clients behind those great ads. Imagine selling the Sony Board on spending tens of millions throwing hundreds of thousands of coloured balls down a San Francisco hill in order to sell your TVs. All the time knowing it was one take or bust.

Today’s marketing geniuses would be cutting that ad into pieces, personalising each one.

Bob was a writer and creative director; I was a media planner and geek. One of my bosses once described me as being a media guy who ‘cared about the creative work’. I took that as a compliment, and a sign that he’d been mixing with the wrong type of media person; I wasn’t that unusual. Some of us preferred ads to deals.

I knew full well that I couldn’t do what the creatives did, but then again, they were hopeless at audience measurement.

We worked together to deliver something that worked.


It would be quite wrong to look back on some sort of golden age where everything we did was genius. Of course, it wasn’t.

Bob’s valedictory blog makes the point that: “During my many years in the business, advertising was overwhelmingly crap. There were, however, instances of excellence among the dross … there were moments when video, audio, print, and poster advertising strived to provide new and stimulating ideas to the world. I don’t think any serious person today considers advertising anything much more than a constant annoyance”.

And it was fun. Today it really isn’t. And that shows in the work.

Bob has stopped his blog because, in his own words: “(… in 2022) the big news in the advertising world was not about anything remotely interesting. It was about some of the world’s biggest assholes — Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Writing about advertising is one thing. Writing about creeps like that is quite another”.

As an antidote, Bob told a David Ogilvy tale, which he was then kind enough to send me in the original from ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’:

“I was once invited to a corporate meeting, to compete for a major account. When I entered the board room, the chairman said this:

“Mr Ogilvy, we are interviewing several agencies. You have exactly fifteen minutes to plead your case. Then I will ring this bell and the next agency waiting outside will follow you.

“I asked: How many people will be involved in the decision?

“The chairman replied: The twelve members of the Committee here today”.

“I responded: Ring the bell. And rose from my chair”.

Ring the bell; or to bastardise another line from Ogilvy, this time from an ad that certainly did run: ‘You can hear the clock ticking’.

To be continued..


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *