GRAHAM WARSOP (2007)
Being the most awarded creative director in the history of SA advertising (measured by Creative Circle creativity points awarded).
Being the first South African creative director to judge the big four international advertising awards – Cannes, The One Show, D&AD and Clios. For the latter, he chaired the international print jury in 2001. Uniquely, for an SA CD, he has judged D&AD on more than one occasion.
In 2001 the work Graham wrote and/or creative directed contributed to The Jupiter Drawing Room being ranked as the 5th Most Creative Agency in the World by US Trade Publication, Advertising Age’s Creativity. It is the only time in the history of South African advertising that a local agency has featured in the Global Top 5.
In 2005, at The London International Advertising Awards 20th Anniversary banquet, Graham was honoured as the most awarded creative director in the world in the twenty years of the festival. Second was Marcello Serpa of Almap BBDO (a former Cannes Lions Jury President).
Warsop celebrated 20 years in advertising in May 2007. Formerly a qualified barrister from the UK, his advertising career began in 1987 when he joined Meridian Advertising (part of the Ogilvy Group) as a junior copywriter. After a stint at Lindsay Smithers FCB, where he wrote the multi-Loerie winning SAA Costcutters ads, Warsop left in May 1989 to open the doors of The Jupiter Drawing Room with business partner Renee Silverstone.
MIKE SCHALIT (2005)
Schalit began his career by failing as a rock musician. In 1982 he tried again as apprentice copywriter through the AAPA Training Scheme, interning at Mortimer Tiley and JWT. In 1985, after a stint of backpacking through Europe and more failed music demos, he scraped in as junior writer at a 15-strong Hunt Lascaris, where he did some interesting work for City Lodge, BMW and Nando’s. 8 years later, he co-founded Net#work with Keith Shipley.
Schalit has won the highest accolades for campaigns like Castrol, Virgin Atlantic, Opel, Isuzu, Cell C, Brand SA, Investec, Metro FM ,Chicken Licken and any social issue he can lay his hands on.
He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the industry in 2003 and was voted the most influential person in SA advertising by the Financial Mail in 2004 and 2005. Mike is known for taking nothing seriously, except the work. And he hopes his real contribution will always be beyond the confines of his agency: growing or supporting others and fighting for ideals for the industry as a whole.
ALAN BUNTON (2002)
For many creative people life can resolve, as it did for Alan Bunton, around the conflict between wanting to produce their own work and needing to make money.
Twice Bunton broke a career in advertising – first for five years and then for three – to paint and to write. Each retreat ended with him being persuaded to come back into the agency pressure-cooker where he rebuilt a brilliant reputation.
In 2002 Bunton turned 60 and made the event a milestone. He sounded the retreat once more, retiring as chairman of O&M and resolving henceforth to paint in the mornings when Pretoria’s light is lambent, and write in the afternoons when his eyes got tired.
But this time Bunton, mellower perhaps, would not make a clean break. He directs commercial films of his choosing, giving himself greater control over their shape. In a sense he has turned his back on the collaboration of agency work – yet, paradoxically, it is precisely the sparking of quick collaborative minds and the wrestling with a blank sheet of paper, that he misses most. It’s just, he says, that the process carries too much baggage.
Bunton is not a man of contradictions. He was tutored in art at Pretoria Boys High by Walter Battiss and Larry Scully, free spirits who would shape his thinking, as they did another Hall of Fame inductee, Willie Sonnenberg. Bunton’s father wanted him to be an accountant. “He would say that with extra lessons even a baboon would get 10 percent,” the son recalls ruefully. “But I was averaging just seven percent, so that was that.”
He enrolled for a year at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp, Belgium, where he met his wife, Marijke, and revisited the unpromising issue of making a living through art. The notion of a bedsitter-studio, baguettes and a bicycle had scant appeal. The alternative was commercial art. He would give it a try. His first jobs in South Africa were in printing and packaging. For three tough years he freelanced to agencies before getting a break, as a designer at P N Barrett, the hot shop of the day.
Bunton was a gopher, doing anything and doing it well. His work began to be noticed and he was offered a job at another agency.
“In those days (the late 1960s) advertising was an old boys club run by suits,” he recalls. “Creatives didn’t meet directly with clients.” That was about to change. Dismayed at the prospect of losing Bunton’s skills, a client, the National Growth Fund (NGF) made a counter offer. It had clients with advertising needs. Damelin and Honeywell among them.
Bunton signed on, bringing with him the rich talents of Johan Hoekstra, Owen Mundel and Ian Blake. But the stock market crashed. Budgets tightened and the NGF’s marketing director, Darryl Phillips, touted the idea of forming an agency. The NGF waved them goodbye and Phillips, Bunton, Mundel & Blake was launched into rough waters.
Surprisingly it floated. The agency devised work systems that were brutally efficient. Jobs were costed to such tight margins that deadlines could not be missed. Jobs were given first to the most junior (and dispensable) staff. It was their chance to shine or, in Bunton’s euphemism, “evaporate.” lf they failed the work went to a senior creative with less time and more pressure to produce. It was ruthless and the camaraderie of the survivors was memorable. The agency built a reputation in retail, churning out an ad a day for clients such as Solly Kramer and Burmeisters camera shops.
“We grew rapidly and made money,” says Bunton. “We didn’t want to come across as a bunch of creative hippies so we dressed in dark suits, drove expensive cars and became very stylish. It was showmanship, but only in a way, because the work had to speak for itself. We were all in our twenties and when we rocked up in Saville Row gear and a Ferrari, clients were impressed. They saw us as problem solvers.” They were parodied by rivals: Fumble, Bumble, Mumble and Stumble, was a favourite, but Bunton & Co didn’t give a damn. People loved their wacky approach. They had arrived and everyone knew it.
Bunton then did something unheard of. He wrote, as he terms it, “begging letters” to the finest creatives in the United States seeking an audience. Every single one replied and extended an invitation.
It was a turning point and in New York’s quiet, unassuming Bill Bernbach, writer of the brand for Volkswagen, he found the single most important influence on his career.
Bunton returned to South Africa and built great brands, BMW among them. As the agency grew so did its ambitions. Reaching to break into the international client league, Bunton and Phillips flew to New York and did a deal with Grey Advertising.
“Why not with Bernbach? Because he was creative, we were creative where’s the advantage to either? We thought that Grey with its formidable research facilities would offer us an immediate advantage. And we as a hot, exotic agency would be a nice jewel in their crown.”
He was quickly disillusioned. Instead of going forward he was back at the start line. “It was stifling, with endless debates and research. We were a postbox. The real work was done in New York.”
In the end he did what Bernbach had previously done, he quit Grey. With their baby son the Buntons moved to a bushveld farm in remotest Limpopo (near the Moepelberge and a town named Beauty) and for five years led an idyllic existence painting, writing and savouring life without rules, deadlines or compromise, until young Stuart had to go to school.
So it was back to Johannesburg and Grey-Phillips, Bunton, Mundel & Blake, already the nation’s colossus. He wore hats as the group managing and group creative director. The reunion eventually failed and in the mid-1980s he quit, this time for good.
After three years in the wilderness (which is where he chose to be) advertising intruded in the formidable form of Robyn Putter whose strong ideas on branding coincided with his own. Bunton joined O&M as the 1980s wound down. He moved to Los Angeles for a while, returning to Johannesburg at the close of the millennium. A final spurt at O&M preceded a decision to indulge his first and truest love, fine art.
Bunton did great work on ads which remain memorable: Epol, Nedbank, John Player Special (JPS), BMW, Sun City and many others. Remember the line: Own the Night, and the extraordinary visuals of ordinary people transformed by darkness? It was for JPS a moment of inspiration as he gazed onto the freeway from his Killarney office and saw how night lent drama and purpose to the mundane.
He conceptualised it in Afrikaans: Begeer die Nag (Desire the Night) and he remembers it with affection because Rauch van Reenen, brand marketing manager of United Tobacco, was a rare bird, a suit whom Bunton calls “a patron of advertising,” someone willing to trust what he didn’t fully comprehend. He recalls trying (and failing) to explain a tricky visual concept to the UTC team round a boardroom table. Finally he stumbled, bumbled, mumbled and fumbled to a stop and Van Reenen looked up blankly and said: “Pellie, ek verstaan maar fokol, maar dit klink bedornered!” lf only all collaboration was that simple.
When Bunton was inducted into the CDF Hall of Fame Robyn Putter credited the agency Bunton founded with “starting the creative revolution in this country and proving to clients that great work works …. I know of no person anywhere in the world who has such a complete set of skills.”
Bunton, Putter said, was the man “who broke down the gate.” He should have been the first to be honoured this way.
Interviewed by Bill Krige
ROGER MAKIN (2002)
Roger Makin has a standard Ogilvy & Mather Rightford Searle-Tripp & Makin business card. Only his job description is Retired Old Fart.
He loves presenting his card, partly because he thinks it’s hilarious, partly because it’s an intellectual shorthand which explains that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, that he is no longer competing in the industry whose local credibility he was hugely instrumental in building, that he’s having a good time.
The card is a masterpiece of copywriting, an appropriate token of South Africa’s pre-eminent pioneering copywriter.
The creative team of copywriter Makin and art director Brian Searle-Tripp is legendary. Searle-Tripp was the first recipient of the CDF Hall of Fame, and in November 2002 Makin was formally inducted by none other than his former partner.
The two first became an item when Makin joined De Villiers and Schonfeldt agency in Cape Town after eight years moving round the country with PN Barrett and a year in England. Bob Rightford was MD and Allan Raaff creative director. Putting the two together was Raaff’s idea – before Brian, Roger was known as the hired gun. He’d move pretty much anywhere for money, although he did have his standards: “There were some creative graveyards to which I’d NEVER have considered moving,” he says.
After Brian, they moved together, and the advertising industry started cooking with gas.
In I976, Rightford, Searle-Tripp and Makin started their own agency.
“When we started in the advertising business we’d get briefs that were hell-of-a brief,” Makin says, sitting in the boardroom of the 0&M, RS-TM offices in Cape Town. “From that you’d have to do an ad, or maybe three if the campaign was running for a year.” He grins, a sly wink at the convoluted marketing machinery that typifies a big agency of today.
“Brian and I got to know strategy as we went, and sometimes we’d send a brief back and say ‘There’s no strategy’.”
In 1979 they got the Volkswagen account and opened in Johannesburg. With Bob Rightford at the helm, Makin and Searle-Tripp delivered the product that set South African advertising on the road to global recognition. Lion matches’ Box of Friends. The Dunlop Dog. Wilkinson Sword’s Duel. Old Mutual’s The Greatest Gift is Life. The talking, eating, drinking, laughing, singing, sharing wine. (Graca.)
Eventually the agency became part of the Ogilvy & Mather international group. It is still acknowledged as being the company which provided the impetus that put South African creativity on the world map. Makin is proud of this, and of his personal achievements, but he isn’t reverent.
“I go into the office every day rather like a Victorian gentleman used to go to his club. I’m attached to this building and my name is still on the door, even though I no longer have shares in the business,” he says of the company premises in Roeland Street, where he has been for 20 years now. “It’s also a useful place to park in town, and there is someone to wash the car,” he adds. “I work a little. lf there’s a retirement annuity campaign Old Mutual will say, ‘Let Roger do it. He should understand the brief.’
“I’m in the studio with a lot of the babies and they ask me how to spell things, or to check their grammar when they’re having an argument. Then they can say ‘Roger says it’s right and he has a degree from Oxford so it must be true’.” And Makin smiles beatifically.
Tolkien was one of his lecturers at Oxford. He likes to detour into anecdote: “Tolkien lectured Middle English. He did Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and he acted out all the parts. Everybody loved it, even the engineering students used to come to Middle English,” Makin reminisces.
He cultivates the image of an old codger but actually, he’s very shrewd. He is very conscious of what the babies are up to and fascinatingly maps the changes that have occurred during the time he has been in the industry.
Perhaps this need to talk to a multi-cultural market has been a primary influence in another change he observes: “l suspect the craft of writing is not as prevalent in advertising as it used to be,” he says. “A hell-of-a-lot comprises a headline and a visual.
“I don’t think the youngsters can write long copy and maybe they don’t have to. Contemporary consumers want information in bites. The creatives have ideas and if they have been to Brian Searle-Tripp’s school they know strategy.”
The most significant change in the tone of advertising in his view is that few commercials tug at the heartstrings any more. “Maybe the Telkom ad with the old man has that quality – I don’t know why Telkom has to advertise but maybe that’s splitting hairs,” he can’t resist adding.
It is relevant that the commercial he refers to won no creative awards at the Loeries. Makin’s point is confirmed in the ads that have won recently. They include the Metro FM commercial that asks what makes you black; Dulux colours; Nashua printers. These are clever concepts and they make you think, but they do not bring prickles to your eyes or raise the hair on the back of your arm.
From a personal creative perspective, Makin says the biggest change is the introduction of computers. “I wish I’d had a computer when I started. I wrote all my copy in pencil. The hardest part is to start. I’d spend hours sharpening my pencil, making coffee … With a computer you have all this start-up rigmarole and before you know it, you’ve started!
“Then you can write a whole lot of rubbish and erase it. Voila!”
He looks as pleased with the notion of erasing his rubbish as if he’d invented the delete button himself. The computer is another reason he keeps his office in town – they keep it running. For the rest, he spends his time at his house in Pringle Bay, on the Cape South Coast.
He has more than one, actually. The houses are to support his book habit. “I have three houses in Pringle Bay and I joke that one of the main reasons I have them is to house my books.”
It is not incidental that the brain that got an agency cooking is highly intellectual. Are copywriters broadening or narrowing their scope as they venture into the tumultuous waters of the emerging markets? Makin’s mind is a wonderful benchmark from which to judge the next generation of South African copywriters
KEITH ROSE (2000)
If it hadn’t been for a love of music Keith Rose’s brilliant work as a director of short films might never have seen the light of day.
This son of a gold miner grew up in Krugersdorp and after school he went into daddy’s business – underground on the West Rand, home to the deepest and, despite today’s rocky prices, some of the richest gold mines in the world.
Rose studied for a ventilation certificate, quite literally a learning curve in dealing with hot air, hanging out in Randfontein, Carletonville, Westonaria, claustrophobic dorps prone to naming roads and parks after professional wrestlers. In 1975 in Carletonville, with television still a novelty in South Africa, he found himself pressed up against the window of Bradlows furniture store gawking at the magic of a NASA space odyssey. The camerawork intrigued and he thought: “I’d really like to do that.”
It encouraged a decision, one which had been ripening for a while: he would try his luck at the SABC. Perhaps he could be a sound engineer. He had begun looking at older miners and wondering about life.
The SABC hired him for sound but it was the camera which claimed him. Rose says he “kinda drifted into the work,” thanks in part to asking questions of some English cameramen imported to teach the locals their trade. He became a camera assistant and soon began freelancing his talents in the brave new world of commercial filming.
Rose worked for five years in London on feature films – his name is among the credits for Zulu Dawn – but switched to commercials in 1980 where his technical expertise and superb gift of visualising and manipulating concepts to best cinematic effect quickly plonked him in the director’s chair. He aspired to the job only because it let him control his own work.
“All I ever wanted was to be a cameraman,” he says now. “Directors destroyed good photography (and) I needed control of my photography, design and lighting. Although I couldn’t, I started to direct to have total control. I was a filmmaker. Now I’m an adman.”
Clearly a very good one. He has worked with most major international agencies on location in North America, Europe and the Far East and has won more top awards than most men have socks in their drawer. They include five Gold Lions at Cannes. In 2000 he was admitted to South African advertising’s Hall of Fame.
Rose is not indifferent to awards but says he doesn’t “live and die by them. I am always happy if something wins and am normally pissed off when something good gets no recognition.” Where Velocity Films used to decamp en masse to Sun City for the Loeries, in 2001 the country’s best known production house chose to give it a miss. The rebellion (if that’s what it was) had been brewing a while. Rose can point to ads of his which were “beautifully crafted, creatively and technically” but which never achieved recognition. Yet “I know they shone through,” he declares. Sour grapes? Maybe, yet the worth of his view is widely acknowledged, if at times grudgingly. Inevitably there is no clear-cut division between concept and execution. Lines blur in the process from creation to commercial. Cinematographers like Rose are expected by agencies to contribute to concept, design and interpretation, but the relationship is fraught, not least with clashing egos.
If good advice is rejected and the ad fizzles how should its cinematography be judged? Can and should adjudicators be dispassionate about technical strengths and excellence, especially if the director has cherry-picked the script? Velocity for example, is deluged with 50 scripts a week on average.
It’s a tough call. As Rose says: “Concept is everything, but then so is execution. Beautiful photography is wonderful to behold, but no-one ever laughed at beautiful lighting. Technique should never cramp an idea.”
But even when technique augments a great idea both can be overlooked. An early ad of which Rose is justly proud is Elephants, shot for O&M with ISM the client. In it an adult elephant helps a struggling calf, a nice metaphor for the guidance ISM could give us mortals. At Rose’s insistence it was shot at noon in harsh light to mirror life’s realities rather than at sunset in light and shadow that would have “romanced the ad and beautified the drama.” It was rewarded with nothing except his own pleasure in it.
Four of the Top 10 on what Rose calls the A-PIus list of commercial film directors in the United States are South Africans and a great many others form a solid wedge of excellence both there and in Canada. Rose by contrast has always wanted to stay in South Africa while working internationally.
He co-founded Velocity Films in 1990 with Barry Munchick, a droll New Yorker, who says he accepted the offer to come to Johannesburg because it offered excitement. The partnership works and Velocity has prospered.
Rose, the father to two young boys, has cut back on his hectic schedule but still does most of his work abroad. It is likely to stay that way because the local industry is tough, he says, and has lost its mid-range advertisers. At the top – typically banks and vehicle manufacturers – tight budgets and rule-books are stifling creativity. And at the bottom of the market it’s show-and-tell.
Rose is associated with many great commercials, from the superb mid-1980s VW campaigns of O&M’s Brian Searle-Tripp (“I love him. I had my best working relationship with him”) to the brilliant BMW ads of John Hunt, a ride which continues.
Diplomatic for once Rose declares that he doesn’t “have best work. The best ad I’m doing is the next.”
He shot the Chapman’s Peak ad for Willie Sonnenberg – who was aghast when he heard (in Groblersdal, of all places) that a Mercedes Benz had plunged over the cliff on the first day of shooting and the onboard camera had failed. In fact Rose, anticipating failure, had bought five cheap on-board cameras and in the days which followed three of them worked.
Included on his history reel is a Lindsay Smithers ad for Toyota, a soap box ride on a mine dump in Krugersdorp using barefoot kids cast off the street from the rough end of town. Rose has a soft spot for it.
By Bill Krige
WILLIE SONNENBERG (1998)
Willie Sonnenberg has a video tape, a valedictory from friends, foes and colleagues compiled to mark his exit from the industry in February, 2000.
It’s revealing in its way, even though valedictions inevitably lean towards the good and away from the bad and the ugly.
“Forthright, honest, a man of integrity,” said Bob Rightford in a generous tribute. “The quality of his work is wonderful stuff,” said Brian Searle-Tripp.
John Hunt salvages some awkward banter between himself and Reg Lascaris with a short summation. He would remember Sonnenberg, he said, for his “laid back integrity.”
Sonnenberg left at his creative peak, having been chairman and creative director at Sonnenberg, Murphy, Leo Burnett and its immediate predecessors for 17 years. Under his stewardship – and he pioneered a trend of creatives running the show – the agency enjoyed enormous growth. He has no urge to return.
“I don’t much think about advertising anymore. My memory of it has just about gone,” he said in an interview. “Why? I dunno. I’ve a philosophy that you don’t live in the past. It’s meaningless now.”
Here is the forthrightness noted by Rightford, and an indication too of a characteristic which helped make him such an exceptional advertising figure – an ability to focus on the moment and to give it his all.
He is best remembered for a formidable body of creative work done in collaboration with Terry Murphy, a diffident Englishman who came to South Africa in the 1960s to play soccer and who was admitted with Sonnenberg to the Hall of Fame in 1998.
Between them they won everything in sight in an extended and brilliant heyday from the early 1980s to the mid 90s. It included 22 Loerie Grand Prixs and, in 1990, gold at Cannes, the first South African work to be honoured this way. That was for their Mercedes Benz ad on the safest way to plunge off Chapman’s Peak. Looking at it a decade later it exemplifies key trademarks of their creative talents: simplicity of concept, a tight focus and delivery on brand. They took the Mercedes’ boast of product safety, found an extreme real-life example which bore it out and replicated it. The result was a winner worldwide.
The fundamentals are again evident in their ‘rooftop’ ad for Continental Tyres, a car driven at pace high above the mean streets of Johannesburg. Again safety and engineering weighted the brand.
In the torrid engine room of client relations Mercedes was a tough nut. Management had never dreamed of showing a crashed Mercedes Benz. Sonnenberg showed how to make a virtue out of just such a calamity. He phoned the Chapman’s Peak idea to Mercedes’ marketing director Peter Cleary who asked Sonnenberg what he thought. “I said it was a good ad but there was a downside danger,” Sonnenberg said straight faced. “But that if it was my money I’d go for it.” And he did. It takes a brave client to show such confidence in an agency.
Unsurprisingly Cleary tops the pops as the best client he worked with.
But Continental gave him a rough ride. Even now he bristles. “We had a helluva business getting that advert through. Eventually we reached a point where we could have parted company because I dug my heels in. They wanted schmaltzy ‘sweet-cam’ vignettes with daddy coming home safely and daughter running down the driveway. I said: “Everyone is doing it. Why the fuck do you want to be doing it? How are you going to stand out? How’s your sweet-cam going to be different from theirs?’ It took us about four months to get the idea through.”
His tenacity in defence of a good idea paid off in spades for Continental which went from obscurity to market leader in three years. And they never said thanks.
Sonnenberg went from Pretoria Boys High to art school prior to joining Adverto, a forerunner of Leo Burnett. He left for J Walter Thompson, had a spell running his own outfit and then in 1978 rejoined Adverto’s successor, Darcy MacManus Masius.
Of his collaboration with Murphy he says: “We had overlapping strengths. Terry was a copywriter and I an art director. We worked well together because we weren’t neurotic about ideas. We were fortunate in that we were able to recognise a good idea and whoever had it the other would throw his weight behind it. It never degenerated into an ego struggle in a business which has massive egos.”
Murphy is unstinting in his praise: “l have absolutely no doubt that Willie was the best creative person in advertising in this country,” he said. “In all the time that we were together he was the most outstanding creative person, quite apart from the fact that he was the chairman. He still churned out ideas. He was a terrific businessman as it turned out, much to my surprise, but he was happiest creating ads.”
They produced great work, from Honda Ballade showing up the opposition as dinosaurs, to Plascon’s sun-weathered dolly who neglected to apply Woodguard, to Middelburg Steel and a game of ice hockey with a stainless steel saucepan as a puck. Asked to recall a favourite and he opts, perhaps surprisingly, for a print ad for Interflora. It had photographs of a gift, a card and a bunch of flowers. Under the gift was the tag: ‘Make her Smile’, under the card: ‘Make her Laugh’, and under the flowers: ‘Make her Cry’. Simplicity itself and done without Murphy’s input.
Sonnenberg was the FM’s inaugural Advertising Person of the Year and, in 1988 when the country was burning, the first South African to judge at Cannes. The previous year the American chairman of the judging panel declared he would automatically give nought to any SA entry.
What does he think of local advertising today? Not much, but he concedes he rarely looks anymore.
“I think by definition all advertising is supposed to do some kind of selling or influencing job, to change behaviour. I find a lot of ads don’t do anything. First of all I battle to understand them. And they don’t really sell the product or service. Maybe that’s where advertising is wrong. Or maybe it does work, but it doesn’t work for me.”
At school Sonnenberg was tutored by art masters Walter Battiss and Larry Scully. They encouraged him to paint and that is what he is doing now, mostly at his property on the Timbavati. He is also learning to play the piano. In his Johannesburg studio lined with books and memorabilia, Sonnenberg produces a couple of his watercolours, a giraffe (from the neck up) and a tortoise. Background is sparse.
Inevitably one sees the trademarks: simplicity of concept and a tight focus. Could it be he is looking to deliver on brand?
By Bill Krige
TERRY MURPHY (1998)
There probably aren’t too many advertising people who would care to put on their CV that they left the industry to become a taxi driver.
Terry Murphy did and he’s proud if it. For the record, he left Young & Rubicam to become a cabby in Eastbourne, West Sussex where he was then playing semi-pro football. In those days dreams of soccer stardom had a stronger pull than copywriting.
In one of the less reverential comments on Murphy’s outstanding capabilities as an adman his longtime colleague and onetime boss Willie Sonnenberg said: “Terry was a great copywriter and a fucking good footballer.”
He would know. Their long association began at Adverto, an agency which is part of Leo Burnett’s ancestral bloodline in South Africa. Murphy arrived in 1967 to play as a semi-pro for Berea Park in Pretoria and to copywrite part-time. But for a couple of seasons it was the smell of wintergreen and the snap of old laces that had his attention.
In Cape Town briefly to work for Lindsey Smithers he returned to England on the death of his father. Three months in the cold was enough. Adverto had been pursuing him, reckoning perhaps that abandoning them for cab driving in Pretoria wouldn’t be an option.
0nce back in South Africa he stayed – through the inevitable agency name changes and repositioning until he retired in 1998 laden with honours and with the nameplate reading Sonnenberg, Murphy, Leo Burnett.
“Creative Director? I was, yes,” he recalls. “But at the end of the day I was a copywriter. They throw titles about like crazy in the advertising industry. I was a CD in the sense that I would look over the work that younger people were turning out and try and help. But if there was a big presentation of work to be made I couldn’t stand up and do it. I just couldn’t. I’d get ill.”
Murphy was at the cutting edge of the industry for a couple of decades, but even if he agreed with that bald statement – and he’d be mildly ticked by the tiredness of the cliche – most likely he would deflect the accolade. For the record Murphy, largely in a famed association with Sonnenberg, won over a score of top awards at the Loeries, at Cannes, the Clios (he has sat on judging panels at all three) and at both the London and New York Festivals of advertising. He didn’t earn them, of course, because these days there are dozens of creative awards festivals and shows and it is “virtually impossible now for a creative person not to win an award somewhere, sometime”.
“Thus,” he says, “have I profited.”
Murphy is diffident to a fault, the quintessential team player, a man who deliberately spurned the limelight to become, as he describes himself, “a backroom boy.”
Former colleagues remember him very differently: “Terry Murphy is without doubt the greatest copywriter this country has seen,” says Trevor Delaney, a CD at Leo Burnett. “He’ll never admit it, because he is possibly the humblest man I have ever met. His written words always intrigued, from the headline right through to the final paragraph. Every word had its place: not too many; never too few. He could be a very serious writer and within seconds his words could make you smile. A very rare talent.” Mark Varder of Varder Hulsbosch had this to say: “His thinking is absolutely razor sharp and precise. He had a surgeon’s ability of cutting a way through distractions and complexity and getting to the issue. And then he would articulate it.”
Varder was talking about ideas, not copywriting, but when he mentions Murphy’s particular skill he returns to the metaphor of the knife: “He was a real craftsman. He’d work the way people used to in fashioning wood or building an instrument. He would fashion the words so beautifully and render them as simple and succinct as possible.”
In 1998 he was admitted with Sonnenberg to the Hall of Fame. Their collaboration was legendary and had at its base mutual respect for the ideas and logic of the other. Neither had a problem discarding their own ideas if candid assessment showed them to be inferior to those of the other. “He had one of the best strategic brains I ever came across,” said Sonnenberg. “Logic was Murphy’s law.”
Sonnenberg was the agency front and its face, a charmer who could be impatient with mediocrity and abrasive with difficult clients. Thinking back Murphy ponders at an occasional paradox in client-agency relations: “Some clients don’t want their advertising people to be smarter than themselves, although if I was a client I’d want to buy the best brains in the business.”
The range of Murphy’s successes both in film and print is formidable, from Mercedes Benz and Liberty Life to an evocative and moving cinema commercial for the Johannesburg Zoo called ‘Faces’. Great work for Mercedes made the agency. Mark Varder believes Murphy, the co-creator, was not only suited by temperament to the manufacturer’s requirements but found a faint, almost whimsical reflection in the end of the Chapman’s Peak ad, where the driver gets out but you don’t see him. Mercedes is about engineering, not people. “That’s Murphy,” says Varder. “Always the product, never the person.”
Like Sonnenberg he was never short of ideas, mostly darned good ones, and he took time to let down gently those juniors who had laboured for days and produced dogs, not diamonds.
“He would resolve problems in minutes and would always end off saying: ‘That’s what l would do,’ never insisting on his view,” said Raj Ranchod, Leo Burnett’s deputy executive CD.
Murphy says there’s much in today’s advertising which he doesn’t understand. “l was brought up in a time when wit and ingenuity were revered, but relevance was mandatory. l see ads today that are so ambiguous I can’t figure them out. There is a great striving to take ideas to the edge, and some go over the edge. I think that nowadays there is enormous pressure on creative people to win awards. Perhaps winning awards has become the single most important thing.” He regrets that.
By Bill Krige
ROBYN PUTTER (1997)
Robyn Putter was polite but in a rush. He could spare a few minutes but then he was off to Cannes. Thereafter he would be in Turkey for a break, in New York for some serious head-butting in Madison Avenue, in Scandinavia for an appointment before returning to Johannesburg where he chairs O&M Rightford Searle-Tripp and Makin.
The agency itself stands as a brilliant monument to the original Cape Town partners whose names tag those of 0gilvy & Mather, but it is also a tribute to Putter whose contribution (which he downplays) may be unsurpassed.
Putter is variously described by people who know him as a personality shading to dark or to light. He is earnest and businesslike rather than flamboyant – yet he has been known to ride a bicycle into the studio when excited by a great idea. It is precisely his sober and thoughtful attributes in combination with a sharp creative flair which have made him a dominant presence in the industry.
He is a “great driver and believer in brands and building brands. He’s a visionary in that respect,” said Mark Fisher, award-winning creative director at O&M in Cape Town.
Former Putter partner Brian Searle-Tripp unhesitatingly calls him a “genius.” He goes further: “A giant. Probably the most all-round talented ad man I have ever worked with. He is brilliant – great copywriting skills, great artwork and his ideas are always insightful.”
In 1997 Putter became the third person elected to that exclusive fraternity, the Hall of Fame.
The criteria are worth noting. The honour is bestowed “only in the most exceptional cases” in recognition of the person who, in the opinion of the members of the Creative Directors Forum, has “most consistently contributed towards advancing and elevating the standards of advertising in South Africa.”
So what did Putter, primarily a copywriter, do to advance and elevate industry standards?
Prior to taking over as CEO on Bob Rightford’s retirement in 1994 Putter had become a driver of O&M’s business development. He did it virtually from a zero base. At his own suggestion he had moved to Johannesburg in I979 to open an office with Mike Welsford (a client) as managing partner. It grew rapidly, piggybacking on the outstanding cape operation and on RSTM’s acquisition in 1984 of Van Zijl & Schultze, Lund & Tredoux in which O&M had a majority stake. The deal brought a number of big brands into the fold and Putter, by now running the bigger office, was made creative boss of a brilliant combined effort. Within three years O&M was the country’s largest agency, a position it held for 13 years until 2001 when FCB SA (the metamorphosed Lindsay Smithers) tipped it off the top. Just.
It remains a very formidable outfit indeed, a heavy hitter. In 1996 it was adjudged International Agency of the Year by Advertising Age and two years later it was the first to achieve annual billings of a billion rand.
But size has little to do with “advancing and elevating” standards of excellence. Although, of course, it may reflect the presence within the agency of consistent excellence.
Referring to work which gave him greatest brand ad satisfaction, “stuff I was involved in and of which l am most proud,” he names Sales House, Radio 702, Castle Lager, M-Net, Jet Stores, ENO and South African Tourism, an account which O&M recently lost on government tender.
All were big campaigns. Sales House involved perhaps 30 television ads over a period, Jet Stores maybe less, Castle Lager maybe more. Putter’s direct contribution varied from guidance to creative direction to doing the ad himself. There are a clutch of major awards to show for it, including Cannes Gold for having persuaded Adrian Steed, urbane TV anchorman of yore, to drink hydrochloric acid into which he mixed a teaspoon of ENO. He lived to read the news.
Importantly these campaigns came close to what he believes advertising can and should be doing – understanding and reinforcing that fragile thing, the relationship a consumer has with a brand.
Take the Radio 702 campaign. In its pomp, 702 had a tough, in-your-face attitude to news, views and interviews. Listeners were a supermarket mix of Houghton and Bez Valley boykies. Gauteng motorists had 702’s uncompromising brand thrust into their faces via pithy, starkly witty billboards glimpsed in peak hour traffic. There was even one on the death penalty posted outside Pretoria Central Prison. It worked: the right medium, right message delivered at the right time, It’s as good an example as any of “brand stewardship” in advertising, an angled approach which Putter pioneered and which is now a cornerstone of the way O&M conducts its business worldwide.
“It’s about managing brands,” he says. “Quite often market research identifies product differences, etc, and doesn’t investigate the relationship the consumer has with the brand in tangible and emotional attachment. That is where agencies can add lots of value, particularly in parity situations. What we try and do is understand the relationship the consumer has with the brand. If it’s healthy we build on it; if not we develop it. As with any relationship there’s more to it than simply a person you see or what that person does for you. It’s about the intangible stuff. That’s kind of the way it works.”
Brand stewardship led to a new tool in the O&M arsenal, the brand audit, essentially consumer research which carefully examines the relationship a consumer has with a brand. It’s in sync with David Ogilvy’s adage that the advertising that sells is the advertising that builds brands.
Brand stewardship is credited with being the foundation for O&M landing the entire $500 million worldwide account of IBM in 1994, at the time the largest account switch in history.
Putter was made Advertising Achiever of the Year in South Africa as a result of developing thinking on brand stewardship. Recently he was asked to chair O&M’s international creative council. He is on the board of O&M Worldwide and on the exco as well.
Putter had a tough upbringing in Johannesburg, attending St Mary’s orphanage and shifting at the age of eight or nine to St George’s Home for Boys, but he doesn’t dwell on it. “It was great,” he says. “I enjoyed it very much but, ja. I grew up in a boy’s home.”
He tinkered with the idea of becoming an architect and landed up in advertising via a circuitous route which included a spell as apprentice stereo engraver at a packaging firm. His break came from Hands Advertising (MD one Reg Lascaris) who were looking for an artist and copywriter at R50 a month. “I think Reg was looking for two skills for the price of one,” Putter says.
He worked at BBDO for a while before being phoned by Roger Makin of RSTM and decamping to Cape Town.
The rest may be history. But Putter has never looked back.
By Bill Krige
JOHN HUNT – 1996
John Hunt collects African art and the reception area at TBWA Hunt Lascaris in Sandton – a concourse of immaculate blondes and dread-locked Nike’d youth – features a wooden drum big enough to boil a missionary.
The walls, those not clad to the ceiling in undulating neo-shack zinc, are crowded with statuettes and rows of framed certificates, as sombre and regular as a military cemetery. They commemorate global ad-pageant success Just three years worth.
The rest – and Hunt says there are six or seven large crates nailed up somewhere – was cleaned out on his instruction in 1998 when this most innovative of agencies reached the ripe old age of 15 years.
“It had got so bad people battled to get into the boardroom,” he says.
Hunt, and founding partner Reg Lascaris have had an extraordinary run, from presenting to clients from the boot of a Toyota in a hotel parking lot to Advertising Age’s choice as Best International Agency of the Year and to its list of the world’s 10 best agencies in 2000. The accolades are extravagant: South African Agency of the Century, parent of the best local TV ad ever; ditto two of the Top Three; three of the Top 10 and 25 of the Top 100. For years it has led the annual creativity rankings of the creative Directors’ Forum. In 1996 Hunt was admitted to the Hall of Fame. All of this is merely the twist of lemon peel in the Martini. There are literally crates of kudos.
Tall, faintly theatrical and patrician, Hunt seems mildly offended by the glory hype. Ten Cannes Gold Lion statuettes escaped the big clean-out. They make an untidy pride on a shelf next to the VCR in his office, just below snapshots of his kids.
“These are agency awards,” says the man referred to as ‘the guru’ by cinematographer Keith Rose. “Some were mine, but with different degrees of me, as creative director or copywriter. Early in this business I realised it’s not my job to have my name on awards. My job as CD is to make other peop|e great. It’s not about ego.”
Born in Zambia in 1954 and named (his father claimed) for the leader of the first expedition to summit Everest, Hunt was schooled in England and at Parktown Boys High where he received his military callup.
He went to the army. It was a “deep and moving experience,” he says. “I arrived as a candidate officer. Within three months l was a corporal and three months after that a lance corporal. I ended as a rif|eman. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for it, but one never can be sure.”
Next stop, Wits University. He registered one morning and never returned deciding, rightly, that “sowing wild oats rather than Psychology was my proper field of study.”
He freelanced articles, so impressing the sister of a girlfriend that she gave him introductions to people in advertising. He paid for lessons from Dave Said, a doyen of the trade, and eventually got a job at Hands – and fell into the clutches of Reg Lascaris.
Theirs was a long courtship but Lascaris was patient. “In those days l would work for a year and then take off to work on my own,” Hunt recalls. “Doing what? Oh, TV scripts, writing plays, that sort of thing.”
A novel Joker in the Pack, was published, a satire on advertising. It bombed. “l remember my first royalty cheque – for $92 in the days when the rand had parity with the dollar.”
After each creative spurt he would go backpacking, a rough introduction to places in Europe, North America and the Far East. He later knew Business Class.
Finally, Hunt took the plunge. In 1983 Hunt Lascaris opened for business. “That tale of the Toyota? Yeah, it sounds kinda cool. The truth is that we cocked up badly. So much for all our big planning. We did it all, but we didn’t have offices, didn’t think people would want to check our credit or our client base before letting us sign a lease.”
They went virtual, paying a woman at the Carlton Centre to reserve a phone line for Hunt Lascaris and to act as booking agent. The car became their office so when a client insisted on seeing them at their workplace they busked it from the boot.
Their second client was Nashua and they knew they were safe. A bearded Orson Welles mumbled Hunt’s payline about ‘saving you time, saving you money,’ except it wasn’t the Hollywood heavyweight but a South African voiceover. “The perfect Orson Welles ripoff,” recalls Hunt. “We’d use him at Nashua sales conferences, playing pre-recorded stuff like: ‘And now the time has come to announce the sales manager of the year. Will Frikkie de Swardt, of Nelspruit……’ to cries of: ‘Orson, Orson!’ under a huge picture of the man. We were really shameless in those days – and Nashua had one helluva motivated sales force.”
The agency prospered and when it hooked BMW people took notice. The work was brilliant – a mouse turning the steering wheel to show the lightness of power steering; a blob of mercury showing off lines men would love to find on their car – first and sixth respectively on the industry’s list of all-time TV ad greats. The mouse, incidentally, studied at Wits, spending longer there learning life skills than Hunt ever did.
Accounts rolled in: Standard Bank, Cardies, Nandos, which brings out Hunt’s wild and wacky side: “At last some real breasts in Sandton.”
But it was their BMW work which “began to codify more and more what the agency stood for – that if you stand in the middle of the road you get run over both ways. I don’t think the problem is doing ‘bad’ advertising because then you embarrass yourself and vow never to repeat it. lf you do ‘good’ advertising you can always bullshit yourself that it’s not that bad, and you end up mediocre.
“So we have tried – not always succeeded – to deliver in the top echelon of everything we produce: client service, strategy, the works. We make sure that everyone is creative.”
Hunt likes to deal in magic, but does magic make money for clients?
“It’s complete bullshit that a great ad doesn’t support the bottom line,” he responds with asperity. “Would a client really stay if it didn’t work for them? There’d be an obvious disconnect.”
On the way out the corridor is awash with youth. Hunt loves the vitality and energy they bring and sees the agency as a university of sorts. His business card simply says: Chief Coach. A galaxy of classy talent including Gerry Human, Claire Harrison, Mike Schalit and Matthew Bull, owe something to the ethic and drive of, in the words of retired founding partner Jenny Groenewald, “a man of real integrity.”
He banters easily with Reg Lascaris. “From day one we’ve been Yin and Yang,” he said earlier. “Very different, which is maybe why it works. We wander over each others territory – I do client stuff and Reg tries to be creative. And then I smack him. But we’ve been a good team.”
In 1989 Hunt was named South African Playwright of the Year for Vid Alex, a comment on censorship, and he writes now, usually early in the morning before dropping the children at school, and also at weekends.
“Some people play golf,” he says. “Writing gives me a centre. I go to my study, sit quietly and meditate. A novel? I don’t know yet. It’s between categories.”
By Bill Krige
BRIAN SEARLE-TRIPP – 1995
One of the biggest movie commercials Brian Searle-Tripp did in the 1980s was for Old Mutual, a 90-second wildlife blockbuster, a visual metaphor of life and death in violent Africa.
He was at his imperious best, orchestrating a taut integration of vivid images and sound. At the end came the message: ‘Life is the greatest gift of all, but every person on this planet gets just one life. We’d like to help you make the most of your life, every step of the way.’
People jammed the lines to their brokers; the brokers cried all the way to the bank.
The voluptuousness seems a little overcooked now, a bit like reading Steinbeck, but it was great for Old Mutual, giving the dry business of life assurance a warm and beating heart. It is vintage Searle-Tripp, but there is an irony. He has had not one life but two, both in advertising, first as creator, then as a teacher.
When Searle-Tripp quit in 1993 it was because of burnout. His doctor said if he wanted to continue he should attend diligently to his insurance portfolio. “l was a workaholic,” he confesses. “I’d been flat out for 20 years.”
When his partners at 0gilvy & Mather Rightford Searle-Tripp and Makin asked his plans he told them he intended to pass on the creative torch. He would teach.
“Someone said: ‘Why don’t we start a school? So Allan Raaff said: ‘You can’t do that on your own Brian, I’m coming with you’.”
With that the curtain rang down on one career and rose on another. Cape Town’s Red & Yellow School of Logic & Magic opened in 1994 with Messers, Searle-Tripp and Raaff the passionate pedagogues in jeans.
Passionate? Many people say so. “Brian has this beautiful voice,” recalls Velocity’s Keith Rose who directed some of the great VW ads. “He could pick up a dirty ashtray and in speaking about it make you believe it was something special.”
Searle-Tripp says that within a year he was “whole again. I felt liberated, rejuvenated.”
His speech is cluttered with phrases like that, the Rhema language of that rare creature, the reborn advertising man.
It finds an echo in a tribute paid by O&M’s chairman Robyn Putter. “Brian was always the spiritual leader of our company,” he said. “He has such amazing values as a man, as a person, that when you work under him you are not only going to know more about advertising but about life. He’s got a work ethic, is inspirational and understands how to touch and move people – how to take advertising beyond itself so that it becomes part of the fabric of society.”
Bob Rightford is more prosaic: “Brian as a person? Why, he drinks, bonks and swears a lot.” But the man jests. “He’s probably the most dedicated and honest creative that I ever worked with,” says Rightford. “His responsibility was to the brand. He was never in it for an ego massage. There is very, little ego with Brian. He was totally dedicated to moving the brand along and to designing advertising of which the agency, the client and he himself could be very proud.”
Searle-Tripp was schooled at Kingswood in Grahamstown and studied graphic design in Johannesburg and London where he began his career. He spent years shuttling between London and Cape Town where he met Rightford and copywriter Roger Makin. They teamed up in 1975. When they sold a 40 percent stake to 0&M a decade later they had a reputation as the most brilliant and dynamic of the maverick agencies based, for reasons obscure to Vaalies, in the Cape. Memorable campaigns Searle-Tripp helped drive included All Gold, Fattis & Monis, Carling Black Label and Lion Match, the agency’s first piece of new business, a flame-clear image of a match as a friend.
He is ambivalent about it now: “When you look back it was completely misdirected. lt was a fantastic campaign, but it was a white campaign, something to look back on with shame really. Why? Because we were all such arseholes. lt was a black product, this friendly little chap.” A pause: “We did wonderful print ads.”
Searle Tripp’s defining work was for Volkswagen. The agency landed the account in 1979 when the motor manufacturer was in the doldrums. Within a few years its market share had more than doubled to 21 percent. There was, he says, “great chemistry” with VW s executives who even got the agency to gee-up workers on the factory floor. Memorable ads like The Right Stuff, a spoof of the gung-ho Chuck Yeager spirit, fitted the Golf like a condom.
“Brian did amazing work for VW,” says Rightford. “He actually wrote the spirit of the brand, just as Bill Bernbach did in New York in building the ‘Spirit of the Beetle’. Brian took it to a new level, the VW family, in which everybody – manufacturers, workers, dealers and owners – was involved. Everybody contributed to the maintenance of the brand. Brian I think (did) more than anyone outside of Bernbach in building the brand.”
Bernbach is one of Searle-Tripp’s heroes, the others being Horatio Nelson and Nelson Mandela. He volunteered lists about himself. His interests include: people, dogs (but not Yorkies), lighthouses, the Royal Navy, most things nautical (he lives at Simonstown but doesn’t sail), non-fiction and classic Jaguar cars (he owns a 1965 E-Type). He dislikes: smutty advertising, corruption, toadies, politicians, political correctness, hypocrisy and American pop culture. He respects: people with courage, a strong work ethic, women, good writers and submariners. His biggest disillusionments include John F Kennedy, South Africa’s new democracy and the decline in western moral values.
Sound familiar? The reincarnation of that curmudgeonly Tory, your old school headmaster? But that’s not him at all, says Keith Rose. lt’s just that he’s passionate and committed, sees things in black and white. “He loves Elvis Pressley, hates hip-hop or rap – and I love that. He’s not conventional but rather an unusual guy with some interesting likes and dislikes.” A famously direct man Rose, hesitates before uttering treason: “I shouldn’t say this. Creatively he wouldn’t crack it in advertising now. Brian never wanted to change with the times. lf l look at his stuff it still looks okay but it feels old. In advertising you’ve got to shed old skin like a snake.”
Searle-Tripp maintains he’s still shedding skin.
Here’s Rightford on smutty advertising: “David Ogilvy always said: ‘Never produce or run an ad that you would be ashamed to show your family’.” Long before David said that l think Brian accepted those principles.
“He’s a brilliant man and a very nice one, as all the youngsters who trained under him will attest. He has produced some of the most amazing people in the industry and many have carried his ethics and commitment with them.”
Not content with two lives in advertising it seems Searle-Tripp has surrogates for several more.
By Bill Krige