I used to love those long copy Leagas Delaney ads.
True, I never read the copy, but the theory at the time was that if you write a thousand words on, say, how a boot was made, you’d appear like a very well made boot.
Showing a thousand words of copy was like a bit like a quality mark.
But I liked them because they looked nice.
Well, sophisticated, to be more precise.
In a sea of price flashes, exclamation marks and big, black, condensed type, these ads reeked of class, which obviously rubbed off on the brands and products they were representing.
When I got to Leagas Delaney I was always looking for an opportunity to create a campaign rammed with words.
It would seem impolite not to, a like going to Blackpool and not bringing back a stick of rock or going to going to Pisa and not getting a picture pretending you’re holding up the tower.
The first opportunity was for the Waterstone’s pitch, what could be a more appropriate client for a campaign heavy on wordage than a store that sold words?
(As arty and cool as those random sepia patterns look, they aren’t deliberate, they are the result of ageing photographic paper.)
The man from Waterstone, he say ‘No!’.
Bushmills? On the face of it you may think users of the product may prefer slurring words to reading them, but you get a pretty sophisticated drinker buying Bushmills and maybe they’d appreciate a bit of a history lesson.
Too many words too little colour?
Ok, we hear you.
Bushmills didn’t want a history lesson.
They wanted to see young, happy people drinking it, preferably young, happy people with large breasts.
Surely people interested in England’s Heritage will be up for a bit of reading?
Our first endline was ‘You own it, visit it’, it was rejected on a technicality, the public didn’t actually own it.
It became ‘It’s yours, why not visit it?‘
We set out to connect the sites to the readers.
The previous campaigns tended to big everything up so much that they felt distant and inhuman.
We wanted to do the opposite.
For example, rather than trying to impress people with the scale or numbers of relating to Hadrian’s Wall, we’d pick a smaller, more human aspect, like a bit of thousand-year old graffiti.
Each ad could contain about half a dozen or so these details, and instead of stringing them together in one long piece of copy, we thought they’d be more readable if we broke them into separate, bite-size chunks.
Tonally, if are going to tell the English public that this is theirs, perhaps we should talk like them rather than plummy accented types who ran it.
But first we needed headlines to lead on.
Note that wavy line thing at the bottom, it was a kind of place holder for a bit of nice looking typographic ornamentation, to make the ads look sophisticated.
English Heritage bought the campaign.
The client had the word heritage in their name, surely a good enough reason for traditional hot metal type?
Who could work in hot metal, and turn that squiggly line into a sophisticated bit of graphics?
Tony and Kim, who sat a few doors down suggested their old mate from BMP; Dave Wakefield.
Dave agreed, but had one concern “It’d be nice if that squiggly line meant something?”
ME: “Err, yes it would, but aaanyway…”
DAVE: “You know, if it had a real meaning.”
ME: “Yeeeeah… anyway, what about this type then?’
DAVE: “I can’t really think about the type without resolving this issue of what the wavy lines mean?”
ME: “Here’s the truth Dave, they don’t really mean anything…they are just there to make it look nice…decoration.”
DAVE: “I don’t really like decoration for decoration sake, I think it should have a sound reason for its use.”
ME: “Couldn’t that reason be that it looks really nice?”
ME: “Give me an example of what it could be?”
DAVE: “Er, I don’t know”
ME: “Brilliant! Has anyone seen Tony or Kim?”
Dave disappeared to think some more.
He came back with a plan;
a) Base the typography on the period of the site we were talking
b) Base the ‘wiggly lines’ on shapes, objects or patterns relating to each site.
c) Link the ‘wiggly lines’ to the typography by using typographic elements from the same typographic family.
I had no idea how he’d do it, but the theory sounded good.
(My view on commissioning people is the same as Alfred Hitchcock’s view on casting people; “If you cast actors well you don’t need to direct them”.)
He read everything there was to read on each of the sites we were using in our ads, doodling ideas along the way.
Then, bizarrely, he made the theory into brilliant bits of design and typography.
He used the floor plan of Walmer Castle.
Henry VIII had three castles on the site built in the shape of the Tudor Rose.
This was then cast in metal. It contains over a thousand elements.
He used a combination of morse code, dazzle camouflage and ranking stripes as the inspiration for the base for the Winston Churchill ad.
(The morse code is an Admiral Ramsey quote from the period “BEF evacuated”.)
For the Hadrian’s Wall ad, Dave read “the whole of Breeze and Dobson’s ‘Hadrian’s Wall”, whatever that is?
Out of it he understood the Roman obsession with exact mathematics, he translated the thirteen primary forts from South Shields to Bowness, each showing a black, twin-portal gateway.
He worked it out by scratching away on this piece of paper.
Three ads into the campaign, the head client, Jocelyn Stevens fired the agency.
We had referred to Her Majesty as her Royal Highness, or vice versa.
Bang! Instant dismissal, all the other ads were binned.
Doing an ad in hot metal sounds all very cool and trendy, but beware.
The letters are literally made out of metal, so there’s no cheating, you can’t squeeze the words by 7% to make them fit.
You have to rewrite it.
If you look closely at some of the lines on the ads above, you’ll see they are one or two lines long, it meant when Sean’s copy was traced to check if it fitted, Dave Wakefield would phone to ask Sean if he could lose two here add five there and so on.
It doesn’t sound terrible until you try and write ‘Experiences of the” with two less characters, or ‘authentic detail’ with three extra characters.
It’s like an evil MENSA test.
Sean would politely agree to take on Dave’s request, put the phone down, light up a cigarette and start mouthing phrases that containing words like ‘Dwarf’, Wakefield’, ‘Idiot’, ‘Elf” and ‘Pillock’.
But he’d do it.