Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 1 2014: David Abbott, a truly great advertising creative director and copywriter, has died.

Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

William Bernbach

David Abbott brought strong opinions and a way with words to the advertising industry.

Back in the late Sixties—before I came a professional writer (which I tend to date as from 1986 though my first book wasn’t published until 1991)—I worked for a time in the London office of famous advertising agency, DOYLE DANE BERNBACH (now generally known as DDB).

DDB was—and doubtless still is—regarded as the epitome of a creative agency where all that really counted was the quality of the creative work. The other tools that go into manipulating us to buy this or that (or to persuade us how and what to think)—research, public relations, below the line promotion, and so on—were given short shrift. The ads themselves were what counted—and typically they were copy-driven by a single brilliant copy line supported by The Upright Piano Playerelegant typography, lots of white space, and a beautiful graphic.

Let me stress the importance of the white space. DDB takes words very seriously and DDB copy is always framed to give each word maximum emphasis. Print was still front and center in those days—but TV ads still adhered to the same principles.

David Abbott was DDB’s chief copywriter at that time—and he epitomized the DDB philosophy, and was awesomely good at implementing it.  That apart, he was a singularly good-looking man gifted with a gravitas to match. When David talked, even the most recalcitrant clients listened. I admired him greatly. In a hype filled business, where talk was a great deal more common than talent, he was genuinely gifted—and he was also a fine human being.

David went on to co-found what is now the UK’s leading advertising agency, Abbott Mead Vickers—and a few years ago published his first novel, THE UPRIGHT PIANO PLAYER.

He died on May 17 2014.

I have mixed feelings about advertising and our consumer society in general—which I tend to think has got entirely out of hand—but I have no doubt at all that my association with David (such as it was—I was very junior then) both taught me a great deal and enriched my life.

The first ad of David’s that I can recall reading was for a British trade union—and it focused on the somewhat arbitrary nature of corporations in relation to laying off staff in the UK. It read:

“The Board and I have decided that we don’t like the color of your eyes.”

It touched a nerve and was outstandingly successful. David’s ads normally were.


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