A lifetime of advertising & marketing wisdom in just 651 words

By Ben McGrath


I studied for a Higher National Diploma in Advertising & Graphic Design (Copywriting Option) at Hounslow Borough College, UK. It was a rough place. The sports curriculum consisted of running from local gangs. I am also eligible for a doctorate in triage and improvised weaponry after surviving two years there.

But there was joy amongst the genocide. Hounslow turned out some of the best creative teams in Britain. The whole advertising and graphic design course was based on the teachings of Dave Trott, the legendary creative director of GGT in London. He preached a gospel of hard hitting ads that were based on a sound strategy but got right in your face. It was said that you could tell a piece of his work because it reached out and head butted you.

I was fortunate enough to intern at GGT and learned a lot from Trotty, as I called him. He looked me directly in the eye during a creative review in Soho one afternoon and said something that I remember clearly over three decades later:

“I’ll smash your face in if you keep calling me Trotty, you little shit.”

As well as manners, Mr Trott also taught me the foundations of creative communications. Here are a few of my learnings from the great from that day to this.

Dave Trott: Most people think our job is to make the consumer like the brand. What’s actually much more important is what makes the brand different. To have an identity you need a point of difference.

Mickey Smith: You can gold plate a turd but it’s still a turd.

David Ogilvy: The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.

Paul Richardson: It won’t be easy. But it will be fun.

Ron, office cleaner & advertising savant


Luke Sullivan: Creativity is like washing a pig. It’s messy. It has no rules. No clear beginning, middle or end. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and when you’re done, you’re not sure if the pig is really clean or even why you were washing a pig in the first place.

Leo Burnett: I’ve learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.

Jacques Seguela: Don’t tell my mother I’m in advertising – she thinks I play the piano in a brothel.

Andrew from Oz: There are two ways to get fired in advertising. One is to not do what the client wants. The other is to do what the client wants.

Bill Bernbach: An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.

Ron the Office Cleaner: I ain’t gonna buy it if I don’t understand the ad am I?

And here are a few things I worked out on my own about running an advertising and branding consultancy:

– It’s useless to have the latest technology and a fabulous office unless you have the right people. And then it’s essential to have the latest technology and a fabulous office.

– They are called ‘deadlines’ because if you miss them you’re dead.

– You know you’ve done great work when the whole team is sharing the ad with their mums.

– Persuasion is the art of entertainment. You’ve got to lull your audience into a state of enraptured bliss and then sell them something.

– I advise clients to spend their whole year’s advertising budget on a night out at a bar with me instead of doing boring work. It will have the same effect on their sales as their ads would have done – plus we will both have wonderful memories and the ensuing court cases will be free PR.

Anyway, I promised to finish this in exactly 651 words. Do you know what it takes to write with this kind of precision?



Ben McGrath is Managing Director of Yangon Creative Solutions and a world-renowned expert on triage and improvised weaponry

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