My favourite David Abbott story is about the Economist campaign.
Actually, the Economist campaign we all remember was the third one Abbott Mead Vickers did. The first was a TV ad featuring an animated head that opened up and things went into it. Nice animation, nothing memorable.
The second campaign won lots of awards, but you have to remind people what it was. It featured a man on a plane and Henry Kissinger sat next to him.
The VO said: "What if Henry Kissinger sat next to you, would you know what to talk to him about?"
It won lots of advertising awards because no one could believe they got Henry Kissinger. But people remembered it as "the Henry Kissinger ad" not "the Economist ad".
This worried David, he was an advertising purist not an awards junkie. He had higher standards than the rest of us.
One evening after work, he was chatting to Ken New, AMV’s media director. The Economist campaign was nagging away at David. He had a pad on his lap and he was doodling a poster.
He said to Ken New: "It’s a pity we have to do TV for The Economist. It’s a pity we can’t do posters. The proportions of a 48-sheet poster are exactly the same as the masthead on The Economist.
"If we did posters we could use the exact same typeface with witty headlines, nothing else. Just white type out of a red background. We’d have massively powerful branding all over town and every poster would look exactly like the product.
"Pity we can’t do posters."
Ken New said: "Of course we can do posters David, if you’ve got a great idea I can make the numbers work."
Now at most agencies, they wouldn’t do the poster campaign because it wasn’t on brief, the brief was for TV. But at the agency David Abbott built, the idea came first.
And the idea was always about selling the product in the most intelligent, effective way. Not fitting the idea to the brief, not keeping the client happy, not winning awards. Doing the best, most effective advertising.
And that discussion is where the Economist campaign hinged.
Ken New made the numbers fit and David wrote the posters. And it became the greatest poster campaign for the next two decades. The one everyone else is jealous of.
As soon as it started, Stevie Spring called me from her car phone.
She said: "I’ve just seen a great poster, it said, 'If you’re an Economist reader ask your chauffeur to honk as you pass'."
And she laughed her head off over the phone.
Imagine people phoning each other to talk about your ads. That’s the sort of response we’d all die for.
My wife is an art director, she worked for David at both his agencies: French Gold Abbott, and Abbott Mead Vickers.
I asked her what he was like to work for. She said he wasn’t just a great writer; he was also a great art director, a great account man, and a great planner. In fact, he was a one-man agency.
The last time I saw David, he told me something I never knew.
As a junior, he was trained by both David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach. I don’t know anyone else who can say that. He was a giant trained by two giants.
No wonder it feels like the end of an era.
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