In 1995, David Abbott published an article in D&AD's The Copy Book. It's superb. He begins: "I write with an Artline 200 Fine 0.4 Pentel - blue ink, never black. I generally work on A3 layout pads but will sometimes switch to an A4. Definitely low-tech stuff. I write with my office door open - more often than not, I keep my jacket on and, in defiance of my mother's instructions, my feet are usually on the table."
It’s a wonderfully simple evocation of the craft of one of the world’s true advertising greats. This being Abbott, the words are enough; you don’t need the photograph on our front page to build the image of the man at work. But it’s a beautiful picture.
Abbott’s words capture a style that – despite today’s requirement for 24/7 rapid-fire teched-up creativity – has shaped and inspired the best of what has come after. Yet Abbott’s relationship with words was remarkably straightforward: "I am a fast writer and, in a sense, I am not interested in words. I don’t own a thesaurus, I don’t do crosswords and my dictionary has pictures in it. Words, for me, are the servants of the argument and, on the whole, I like them to be plain, simple and familiar."
In an industry that seems so often to revel in the use of obfuscating language to bedazzle, even bully (clients and consumers alike), the plain and simple and honest approach is a joyful relief.
Abbott’s writing was created to sell, but to sell with an integrity and a humanity that truly respected the consumer
But what’s perhaps most exhilarating of all in Abbott’s essay is his clear focus on why he does what he does. His writing endures as the highest form of the craft, but he never fancied it as art: "I believe that I’m paid to be an advocate and, though I get pleasure from the bon mot, the bon motivator thrills me more." Abbott’s writing was created to sell, but to sell with an integrity and a humanity that truly respected the consumer. Not to flatter his ego (if he had one, I never saw it) or to win an award (though he did a lot of that). But to win over a discerning consumer in order to help his clients build their business. And that was to be achieved not just by creative brilliance but also through the way he treated the people around him and led his company.
Perhaps that’s why Abbott’s outstanding contribution embraces co-founding what is now the biggest agency in London – Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO – as well as setting the bar for creative excellence. Ask anyone who has met him and they will talk of his creativity, yes, but also his integrity and humanity, his dignity, vision and clarity of purpose. As touchstones around which to build both a personal professional style and a business, there are none better. Abbott’s legacy to our industry is far from being simply a creative one. It’s also a benchmark for how to be.
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