Where’s Dave Morris now we need him?

Last week I spent four days at D&AD, judging TV and Cinema advertising. Over the whole four days there was one amazing piece of original, creative, thinking that totally blew me away. But it wasn’t any of the adverts.

It was something one of the judges told me. Chris Birch, from Leo Burnett, was telling me about his first day at art school. He’d been taught advertising at Bucks, by Dave Morris.

On the first day, everyone walked into the classroom and sat down. They waited for the advertising lesson to start. Dave Morris walked in and sat at the front of the class. He didn’t mention advertising. He opened up “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. And he just started reading it aloud.

After about an hour he stopped reading. He said, “Your homework is to think about what you just heard.” How great is that? “The Art of War” was written in China, over two thousand years ago. It was written by a great general, and is still studied at Sandhurst, West Point, and Harvard Business School.

It’s about how to out think an opponent. How to out-manoeuvre them and mainly, at all times, how to take unfair advantage and turn the situation to your benefit. So that you win.

Dave Morris has just demonstrated that, before we start to learn anything about advertising, we’ve got to learn the purpose of advertising. Why we do what we do. Why does anyone pay us to put words next to pictures in the first place?

I’d just spent four days looking at hundreds of films that thought advertising was the end in itself. As if the sole purpose of advertising was to make nice little films. Without ever asking why. Why do we do TV and Cinema commercials? Is the sole purpose to make people laugh?

Or to put lyrical images against charming music tracks for people’s pleasure? Almost everyone who did these films thought the films were the end in themselves.

That’s why I was knocked out to hear how Dave Morris taught advertising. He didn’t start from advertising. He started from the object of advertising. And the object is to win something. To take something from someone else.

To out think someone else. Years before ‘new media’ Dave Morris was telling people to open up their minds. To get upstream of the problem. Instead of kneejerking into the same old traditional solutions. Or kneejerking into new versions of the same old solutions, in ‘new’ media.

Dave Morris taught that we shouldn’t just go on auto pilot. However, uncomfortable it was, we had to use our brain.
We had to come up with a different solution for each problem.

To reinvent the wheel every time, instead of just defaulting to whatever we think advertising should be. Advertising doesn’t start with visuals and headlines. Advertising doesn’t start with digital or online, or TV, or press, or posters, or radio, or ambient, or direct mail, or any of our other disciplines.

Advertising doesn’t even start with advertising. Advertising starts with out-thinking other people. Advertising starts with finding a way to get a result. Against often superior competition. And sometimes the answer may not be advertising at all. Isn’t that a great lesson? To approach the problem out of a question. Not out of an answer.

They should teach Dave Morris’s lesson every year, before each D&AD jury starts to vote.

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    Hi Dave,

    To me, advertising is about selling a product or service. If it sits on the shelf, then so does the client budget because he or she has no faith in what they are doing.

    Dave Morris’s lesson is very apt.

    I was brought up by a generation of warmongers. Every Sunday afternoon there would be a World War 2 film on TV. Sink the Bismarck, Reach for the sky, All quiet in Alex. We were all hard-wired to win at all cost. Defeat was unthinkable.

    My son’s generation were brought up with computer games. Many have little grasp of reality in our land of cotton wool people-pleasing and nonsense rules.

    Then he went to India, and saw how 99% of people on this planet exist.

    A few years ago, a group of top advertising executives were dumped by their chiefs in the middle of the desert and had to make their own way out.

    Many were upset. Good. It was a good lesson for them.

    I guess Sun Tzu’s Art of War does a similar thing. It tips people out of their comfort zone and because it’s a fight or flight situation, it forces them to act.
    This is the terrible situation a manufacturer or merchant has every day.

    I was often accused by some ‘creative tarts’ (who will remain nameless) of acting like a P&G client in my creative thinking. The truth of the matter is, no client is going to buy an idea he cannot see him or herself in.

    Everything has to be client focussed to win their business. However, that should not prevent creativity, yet it often does, because too many people find it impossible to think beyond their own idea. Ego and politics gets in the way of evaluation of an idea, and with great ideas it gets even worse until someone slaps the ‘luvvies’ in the face with a bucket of cold water and wakes them up to what simple, powerful, and effective advertising is all about:


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    Now some of you have had the cold water, here’s the link that works:


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  • If officers
    Are prone to anger
    The men become weary

    Sun Tzu
    The Art of War

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    the first video shown by dave i think is so powerful as it shows how we react differentely to the same situation with different characters.
    reminds me of

  • Most advertising is so poor nowadays that it is wasted. These adverts are powerful and deserve to win awards. However I bet most of the films/ads that are viewed by the judges are dull. The reason, I think, is that the real creative people of today don’t want to work for advertising agencies as they see it as a dying creative industry. Can anyone dispute this?

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    Can anyone dispute this? You bet. The mistake you make is to assume that real (As you call them) creative people ever worked in advertising. They never have.

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    I remember Dave (Morris)’s lessons at Bucks – they were always the most interesting. But I also remember the massive admiration he had for his teacher – you, Dave (Trott) – glad to see the respect is mutual.

    As for creative people working in advertising – you realise, of course, we creatives are the only people arrogant enough to classify ourselves as ‘creatives’. Though I think it’s a little naiive to think that no “real” creative people ever worked in advertising – many of the most creative people out there were in advertising – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Terry Gilliam, Ridley Scott, Hugh fucking Hefner, Salman Rushdie and Rick Moranis to name but a few – then there were those who stayed in advertising – Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, Helmet Krone, and Dave Abbott, John Hegarty, Steve Harrison, Neil French (controversial), Rory Sutherland, the above mentioned Mr Trott… is there any need for me to go on? Really?

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    Advertising today has lost its core simplicty.
    All the ads Dave posted have as Jeremy Sinclair puts it;
    A simple universally recognised truth, or SURT.
    Look at the SURT here.
    It’s an ad that’s not an ad, it has no people, just two words and great music,
    but of course as you haver all pointed out, it has TONS OF SPIRIT.

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  • I think you do need to go on Johnny. The problem is in identifying what we mean by creative. If you consider a film of a boy dressed up in old clothes pushing a bike up a hill with an ill-schooled, unemployed, ex miner, droning on in phony dialect about bread in the background to be creative I’m afraid I must disagree. You’ll be saying that the photo of cucumber on the plastic they wrap it in now is creative next. Saying, Vorsprung dork technic, about a car isn’t creative, it’s German. Showing an old junkie surfing and turning the waves into horses isn’t creative, it’s nicking a very bad image from a victorian painting. As for the words, the fat drummer etcetera, would be embarrassing in a twelve year old girls diary. You name me one truly creative act produced by any of the people you mention and I will eat my Hovis. You are simply deifying the mundane to give meaning to otherwise rather vacuous attempts at recreating already existing cultural tokens. The glass bead game. Advertising cannot be creative, if it were it wouldn’t work. But that’s an altogether different argument.

  • Or as Charles Saatchi said when confronted by supposed ‘creativity.’, ‘Who do you think you are Ron, Michael fucking Angelo?’

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    I think it depends on what each of us think creativity is.
    Take Hovis, for me the soundtrack was creative: playing Dvorjak’s New World Symphony by a colliery brass band was unusual, surprising and inspired, which is why it’s still etched in my memory 30 years later.
    Audi recognised that people thought the car was vaguely Scandinavian and therefore boring.
    Just by using a German phrase no one understood they made it German, with the same engineering values as Mercedes or Porsche.
    For me both of those were creative and I wish I’d done them.
    You obviously feel different about what’s creative, that’s okay.
    As Damon Runyon said, “Differences of opinion is what makes horse races.”

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    Somewhat unsurprisingly, I’m with Dave on this. We disagree on what’s creative. Fair enough. Each to their own. Though by your argument, “Michael fucking Angelo” wasn’t that creative either – he was simply recreating already existing cultural tokens, albeit in marble.

    Personally, I think an ad campaign can convince a big-car-obsessed 1950s America to buy a small, Nazi-designed car is not only an act of pure creativity, but also pure genius. Writing a long copy ad about Prontaprint that knows which bits you’re going to read first is incredibly creative – especially when you hide the product about two thirds of the way through the copy. Then there’s stuff like the bloody gorilla ad, which I personally hate. but will always admit is creative. And I thought Spaceballs was really very funny.

    So I must admit to being a little confused Jack. Why do you read Campaign Live and Dave’s blog in particular if you think advertising is all “rather vacuous attempts at recreating already existing cultural tokens”?

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    Picking up on your para ‘I’d just spent four days looking at hundreds of films that thought advertising was the end in itself. As if the sole purpose of advertising was to make nice little films. Without ever asking why. Why do we do TV and Cinema commercials? Is the sole purpose to make people laugh?’

    Is that the difference between direct marketing and advertising. Direct always knows why its doing something because the results will be out next week (or in an hour online) and that’s when the account is reviewed.

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    Hi Ian,
    DM always seems to have one definite job, which is response.
    And I guess response can be measured pretty accurately with DM.
    The problem with ATL is that it can produce lots of different responses amongst lots of different groups, it’s not as straightforward as DM.
    This can make it sloppy and subjective.
    My problem is when no one defines what the response is before they start.
    Is it sales, is it perceived value, is it distribution, is it awareness, what?
    Most assume that people liking the ad is the be-all and end-all of the job.
    So function follows form.

  • I only mentioned Michael fucking Angelo as an example of Charles Saachi’s opinion of creativity and nothing to do with the fact that he was gay. As for your confusion, I can allay that painlessly. I started contributing to the blog to shamelessly promote my books, Words are not things and I wish I was the person I’m pretending to be and my mugs and cards website, http://www.scramitsthefuzz.com. However having done that I sensed that my contributions are rather appreciated for their often insightful observations. I know people can be quite intimidated by my comments to the point where they find it hard to know how to respond. And why shouldn’t they be from an acknowledged leading aphorist of our time. As to your question concerning my opinion “rather vacuous attempts at recreating already existing cultural tokens” Sadly, even given this state of affairs all other cultural activity in what’s left of our society is utterly useless. Andrew Motion, Mama Mia, Newsnight Review, The Boat that Rocks, are so devoid of cultural worth as to make advertising appear almost intelligent. No, I shall continue to contribute my modest opinions until I am told I am no longer wanted.

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    Try NOT having the Awards for once and see how these Award-Winning “Creatives” do.

    Like banks in this financial crisis… Fake advertising (for “creativity” sakes) should be allowed to fail.

    Results (the stuff that budgets were for in the first place) will surface as the true measure of advertising.

    Like gold and silver… true value will shine forth.

    Or are we too blind to ever see?

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    Hi AY,

    Steven Woodford, CEO, DDB BBDO, recently mentioned om Thinkbox TV how there is a very close correlation between creativity in ads and their
    effectiveness. It’s been known for some time since the Cadbury’s Smash Ads appeared from BMP. The client and the research was all against running the proposed ads because there was no logical explanation as to why the ads should work. No empirical evidence. The trouble with empirical evidence is it is like a skyscraper, the more ‘proof’ peopple have that they are right, the higher they will build until some bright spark proves them all wrong by doing something unbelievably different. That’s what happened with 911.

    I was working in Saudi Arabia at the time when the media director phoned me and told me a plane had just flown into one of the twin towers. I put the phone down thinking he was nuts, then I saw it all on TV that night, and for the next 3 months. I’m not suggesting for one moment we all go and get a pilot’s license, all I’m saying is the unexpected takes you way beyond your current thinking.

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    I don’t think the awards themselves are the problem.
    I think things like The Gunn Report are the problem.
    Trying to make awards mean things they were never meant to mean.

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    “Sadly, even given this state of affairs all other cultural activity in what’s left of our society is utterly useless. Andrew Motion, Mama Mia, Newsnight Review, The Boat that Rocks, are so devoid of cultural worth as to make advertising appear almost intelligent.” – couldn’t agree more. And you didn’t even mention Jade Goody and the media’s over-hyping of the pandemic. (Though who said anything about being gay?)

    I wasn’t trying to suggest you shouldn’t comment Jack. And I commend your honesty about shamelessley plugging your books. Each to their own, as I said. And of course, I always enjoy a good… er… discussion. Though using the word “fucking” as many times as we have on Dave’s blog makes me feel a little naughty. Sorry Dave.

    Oh, and Dave, it’s funny how Sun Tzu has an appropriate quote for most situations – with regards to defining the response before you start:
    “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

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    I guess The Gunn Report would have the industry ending up like this:


  • Johnny. What’s the pandemic got to do with our gay friends?

  • Jack. Not so much a twelve year old girl’s diary as prose from a nineteenth century novel by Herman Melville…

  • I don’t care who you are, here’s to your dream. And I’ll have another Baily’s and Coke please Sharon. Ooh and did you see that fat drummer hit the beat with all his heart? I did Tracy, I did. Hell of a Mobby on him as well Shar. I know Trace, I know.

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    Jack Gardner you are a genius, after all your comments about cultural and creative vacuity you try and sell mugs that say MORE FUCKING TEA VICAR on them. It’s too good to be true.

  • Thank you Dave. Well spotted, VICAR, as we call it, is one of our best sellers. Clearly you have an eye.

  • Forgot to say Dave, although you live in the provinces, you might like to track down a mug on your next visit to the capital. American retro in Old Compton Street for mugs. Urban Outfitters in Covent Garden for cards. Hope you enjoy.

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    Here’s something that may inspire students to think more outside the box: