Sparrow Asks: Where Have All Of Adland’s Characters Gone?

Sparrow Asks: Where Have All Of Adland’s Characters Gone?

B&T’s newly arrived editor-at-large, Greg ‘Sparrow’ Graham (lead image), muses that as adland homogenises and obsesses over programmatic and data, it could be losing the very thing that made it great – it’s brilliant, oddball characters…

Recently I was reading an overseas trade mag and they asked exactly that question. They rationalised some of it as a result of COVID-19, the rise of AdTech, the need for data specialists, etc. However, I think there is more to it, for start economic headwinds often put pressure on costs and salaries. This has a dramatic impact on senior management across all disciplines, particularly the “mad men.” Also, our industry is obsessed with youth and I know the average age from the recent MFA census is 32 years, so ageism comes into play and the older characters are notalways valued or appreciated.

Our industry as it should is more business-focused around effectiveness, ROI and this demands different skill sets around science and business metrics versus showman and memorable characters. I am not saying we do not need to evolve and become more business partners with a focus on data and science. However, some of the characters of the past added fun, vibrant office culture and excitement. On the flip side of that, some social behaviour of mad men era is not acceptable or relevant in today’s workplaces.

During my career, so many characters were on the media sales side in all sorts of roles from Sales Directors to Magazine publishers. Plus, I think in Australia we love a genuine personality and some of our most famous campaigns have been driven by creative characters. These characters were incredible storytellers, gifted musicians and unique individuals who were always memorable and larger than life.

On the media side, you obviously have the legends such as Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch, I had more to do with James Packer, Michael Whiting, Vance Lothinger, and Ray Bomford. On the magazine publisher front, I worked with both Dulcie Boling from New Idea and Nene King from Woman’s Day, Nene was a genius and crazy at the same time. Also at ACP while Ita was running the Australian Women’s Weekly a young Lisa Wilkinson was editing Dolly magazine.

In the ad agency world, we had John Singleton, Mo & Jo, there was also a very talented copywriter at George Patts ( Bryce Courtney). The first time I worked for my favourite agency JWT I was lucky enough to visit the New York office and meet a real character their creative director who was taking a sabbatical to finish his new book, he went on to do ok, it was James Patterson. On the media agency scene, we have legends and pioneers such as Harold Mitchell, Dennis Merchant, etc. I worked closely with Alan Scash at Burnetts and as well as a brilliant media mind he was a bloody laugh. Using an alias when he was starting out, Ray Cash did stand-up in pubs to gain confidence and improve his presentation skills.

I was very fortunate to work in Melbourne and at that time John and Peter Clemenger (now BBDO) were legendary characters along with Teddy Horton, Michel Lawrence, Mike Brady, and Lionel Hunt from The Campaign Palace.

In my Pitch Doctor role, I often encourage presenters to be themselves and let their personalities shine through. Be memorable and not beige, have a strong point of view. In an era of cancel culture and being safe, I am all for adding more characters back into our businesses. I am definitely not suggesting Don Draper returns as we need more diversity of thought and creativity. However, our business thrives on imagination and magic so having more characters that think differently and are more red, purple, or green versus vanilla is a good thing.

 

 




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Greg 'Sparrow' Graham

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