Abbott’s laudable advertising habits

David Abbott, the Abbott in what was Abbott Mead Vickers and what is now AMV BBDO, once said that “words for me are the servants of the argument and on the whole I like them to be plain, simple and familiar”. He abided by that belief throughout his career, and created some of the world’s best advertising. So after he died over the weekend at the age of 75, Droga5 Sydney paid tribute to him by riffing on one of his best-known pieces of work. 

The simple but brilliant print ad for The Economist featured white text on a red background and it said: “‘I never read The Economist.’ Management trainee, Aged 42.” Now Abbott has become the subject, with the tribute reading: “I never heard of David Abbott. Advertising trainee, aged 42.” 

When he stepped down in 1998, Abbott’s leaving speech talked about how to run a great agency:

“You care about two things. You care about quality–in everything you do. From the chairs in reception, to the way you answer a phone, to a piece of typography, to the ideas you have, to the research you put your name to, to the meetings you hold, to the way you hang a picture, to the way you crop a photograph or write a line. Quality is always possible and always under threat, but if you don’t seek and defend it you won’t be satisfied and you won’t be happy. The second thing you must care about? That’s easy. It’s each other.”

Abbott’s co-founder Peter Mead sent a statement to The Drum about Abbott’s death that said: “He meant more to me than I can possibly express in words. He transformed my life from the moment I met him some 45 years ago. When he joined Adrian Vickers and me in our little agency it was like Lionel Messi joining Millwall. His talent catapulted AMV into the advertising stratosphere. I never saw him write a bad line of copy, could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I saw him lose his temper and remember countless times when the three of us were helpless with laughter. “

And Andrew Robertson, president and chief executive of BBDO Worldwide, said: “Just being around him made you better. But what really sets him apart is his work. Personally I don’t believe there has ever been a copywriter whose work has had more impact. The work he did on Sainsburys, Volvo, BT, The Economist, and so many others, had a profound effect on those businesses, and continues to inspire anyone who loves advertising. A couple of years ago he was in New York to receive a lifetime achievement award and we had lunch together. He told me that he had realized something important: you don’t just have to know who your target audience is, you have to really like them. I have been looking back at some of his work over the last 24 hours. The genuine fondness and care he had for his audience is in every word of every ad, and every internal memo, he ever wrote.” 

Here are a few highlights for Volvo, VW, Chivas Regal and Yellow Pages. 

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