The A List 2020: We are the champions


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The first A List of the 2020s is a survival document. A record of all the plucky adland troopers who have made it into the new decade. 

Because, make no mistake, the 2010s were endured rather than enjoyed. Which is something Campaign pounced on with the opening question: what would our A Listers be most relieved to draw a line under?

Amid all the optimism that we’ll see the back of Brexit divisions, Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn come some personal revelations. David Abraham admits “defending Naked Attraction for a living is something I shall not miss one bit”. Mike Florence reflects on a musical abomination that has surely had its time: “Mumford & Sons. The music and the waistcoat combinations in equal measure.”

For Les Binet it was the decade that delivered an age-related blow: “Being middle-aged. A woman gave up her seat for me on the Tube the other day, so I am now officially old.” Elsewhere it’s desperate fashion bandwagoners of a certain age who get it in the neck. “Peaky Blinders haircuts” can return to where they came from – the 1920s – according to Chris Gallery, who regrets sporting the distinctive style back in 2016.

But we’re generally a kind-hearted bunch and would rather dwell on the positive side of life. So just what does the cream of the business identify as its biggest hope? Many, beyond those wishing for happy and healthy children, focus on the big picture. It’s all about carbon neutrality, “the Greta effect” and world peace. Anna Arnell represents a hefty chunk of A Listers when she yearns for “less anger in the world. More kindness.”

And it’s reassuring to know that arrant cynicism hasn’t yet infected every corner of the ad world. There’s Carl Johnson, who hopes for “the return of widespread excitement, energy and optimism about the power of our industry’s collective creativity”, and Rachel McDonald, who wants “to get back to more positivity. To celebrate our similarities and not focus on our differences.”

Dara Nasr is “constantly reminded how wonderful humans can be. My hope is that these reminders continue into, and well beyond, the next decade.” A worthy sentiment but it may be years before we discover the outcome. On a shorter timescale, Tammy Einav’s biggest hope – “that Top Gun: Maverick turns out to be as good as the trailer suggests” – could be realised by mid-July.

Technology’s ability to deliver both dreams and nightmares is high on the A List agenda. But which one piece of technology would our respondents most like to uninvent? Zaid Al-Zaidy isn’t happy about the emergence of alternative smoking technology – “Vapes. Nothing like the real thing and probably just as harmful.” Airpods and electric scooters are popular targets, as is email, identified by Amanda Farmer as “a virus and time waster”. Elsewhere selfie sticks and Alexa get a hard time as our tribe displays an unmistakable desire for direct human interaction. 

And just whom do they want to share this time with? The A Lister’s best friend is, more often than not, another member of this exclusive group. Take Simeon Adams and Mark Holden, for instance. Adams’ “Mark Holden is probably the oldest, and the one with the most fragile ego, so I’d better say him” is more than matched by Holden’s “Simeon Adams, because he’s as boring as me”.

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Emma de la Fosse and Mel Edwards both pick the popular Annette King but they’ve got competition here as King herself opts for her PA, Natalie. David Kolbusz, meanwhile, sits on the fence and selects “the work” to avoid leaving “somebody confused and disappointed”, which isn’t an issue for Moray “I don’t have any friends” MacLennan. Eschewing human contact is Jo Coombs, cosying up to Publicis Groupe’s algorithmic tool Marcel: “He’s so clever, creative and there when I need him.”

Let’s be clear, though, there are people – and things – that arouse enough hatred in our A Listers to qualify for Room 101, the torture chamber of 1984 that George Orwell wrote contained “the worst thing in the world”. 

Nicky Bullard’s range is varied, nominating “anyone who says ‘are you interruptible?’, low-slung jeans, people who don’t wash their hands”. Magnus Djaba rides a similar fashion wave, identifying “skinny jeans”. Lucy Banks is disgusted by the ascent of the MAMIL (middle-aged man in Lycra) in the industry: “If you glance into Rapha, it’s like Comicon got taken over by the Chris Hoy fanclub. It’s just riding a bike, lads.” There’s a place there for everyday culinary ingredients, too. Laura Jordan Bambach opts for garlic: “Utterly delicious but I’m so horribly allergic and it’s in everything.” Victoria Fox, meanwhile, selects dry sponges as her somewhat surprising and certainly original bête noire: “I hate the texture and I always feel the need to wet them when I see them.”

However, Daniel Kleinman is having none of it: “I’d put Room 101 in Room 101. Most things have merit, depending on how you look at them, and I don’t like the sneering, aloof attitude of supercilious berks who want to banish stuff others may enjoy.” That’s some strong stuff. But surely, Owen Lee, argues, we should make an exception for the word “hack” – “It used to be good to describe chopping wood, annoying coughs and dodgy tackles. Now it is used to make any lame initiative, workshop or idea sound disruptive and interesting.” 

Rob Fletcher goes for “people who refer to their partner or friends on Instagram as ‘this one’ as in ‘spending the weekend with this one’. I really don’t know why but I hate this.”

Stephanie Marks picks “young male adults wearing their kecks half way down their arse with their undies on show. For some reason it makes my blood boil and I want to go over and pull their trousers up.” That wouldn’t be a good move, which brings us to the “biggest screw-up” responses. 

‘Karen Blackett’s “lightsaber battles with my son” sounds like the way forward in a world of spin classes’

Many – including John Hegarty “failure is a pointless exercise in looking backwards” and Annette King “we don’t fail, we just learn so that we can be better next time” – decline to dish the dirt. But there’s still an admirable slice of kamikaze frankness on display from the majority of the A List. 

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Tess Alps’ “going up to a bloke at a party and asking him whether he knew his girlfriend’s nickname was the Whore of Babylon. I wasn’t even drunk” is a prime example. While Mike Cooper’s “standing on Charles Saatchi’s dog’s foot” seems even more reckless. 

Pitch stories abound, among them Tom Knox’s. “Aer Lingus pitch, brief to compete with Ryanair,” he explains. ” We delivered a brutal riff on our cost-conscious model. Martin Jones and the client couldn’t exit the building because the agency Bollinger supply had been delivered, blocking reception and somewhat undermining our low-cost shtick.” And when it comes to the client relationship, Jonathan Emmins’ revelation that a marketer received “an unfounded but nonetheless full cavity search” when reaching security at a festival activation surely reaches new levels of intimacy.

And Moray MacLennan’s on hand to show us that shooting expensive commercials can be a minefield: “I oversaw the worst commercial ever made by British Airways. It cost £2m, involved numerous legal cases, the director called the client a f***ing fascist. I had a dustbin thrown at me in the edit suite and the film was eventually put in said bin.”

Personal mishaps are equally powerful, if less financially costly. We can feel for Vicki Maguire – “my HRT patch sliding across the floor at Cannes” – but less so, perhaps, for Fergus Hay, who “sent a box of 100 vibrating condom rings to my mother to celebrate making my first ever ad for Mates.”

Establishing a new style of experience-based air travel is Aidan McClure: “Chundering on a private jet on the way back from a wrap party in Vegas. The sick bag split over the fancy upholstery and caused all my fellow passengers to start retching. The cleaning bill cost more than chartering the plane. Not so rock ’n’ roll.” Marc Nohr’s screw-up is more of a near-miss: “My final audition for Grange Hill, aged 16, to replace Gripper Stebson with a more charismatic character. I had the part in the palm of my hand.”

Enough of the negativity. It’s time to think about some serious competition in the shape of selecting walk-on music for an imaginary A List darts tournament. But first, how to get match fit for the action. Many of our luminaries keep in shape by running, cycling and embracing a new-found enthusiasm for sobriety. Mel Edwards is an admirable exception – “drink wine and do no exercise”. While Karen Blackett’s “lightsaber battles with my son” sounds like the way forward in a world of excruciating pilates and hybrid spin classes.

Before they reach the oche, our A Listers are tasked with choosing that one tune to fire them up for the impending contest. Some resort to puns – Poison Arrow is especially popular. Lizzo’s Good as Hell is among the most selected songs, as is Survivor’s Rocky soundtrack classic, Eye of the Tiger. Here’s Nigel Vaz, describing the eternal appeal of the anthem: “Who can’t be inspired to do better and try harder by that feeling of being the underdog ‘rising up to the challenge of our rival’?”

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Some adopt a more cultured and rarefied approach to the situation. Among them is David Bain, who selects Chopin’s Etude Op 10 No 1 in C, and Lucy Jameson, who selects the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute. Despite the growing popularity of professional darts, several A Listers seem baffled by the question. Neil Christie says: “I’m not familiar with the whole concept of darts walk-on music.” Stuart Bowden asks “What are you even talking about?” and Nadine Young admits: “I don’t know what this means. I feel lame.” But others are more prepared to give it a good go. Pippa Glucklich opts for Gloria Gaynor’s I Am What I Am. “But I’m shit at darts.” Kate Stanners nominates Gaynor’s I Will Survive.

Many respondents select a song to ignite their aggression. Zaid Al-Qassab picks Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N’ Roses “Because I aim to destroy” while Steve Hatch selects Public Enemy’s (pictured, aboveHarder Than You Think “Because I am”. Trevor Beattie has an alternative take on stirring the competitive juices: Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran. His reasoning? “It is by some considerable margin the worst song ever recorded and would therefore have me snarling, swearing and fighting fit for action by the time I stepped on to the oche.”

After all that music-fuelled competition, it’s time to relax and enjoy life as adland’s finest face the prospect of working through 10 years of the new Roaring Twenties. But just what sums up that Friday feeling?

It’s clear that most members of the A List are calmer than they once were and value spending quality time with loved ones, while revelling in the absence of a weekend hangover. Trevor Robinson embodies this shift: “Back in the day it was going out and getting blasted until Monday morning… Now it’s mostly looking forward to chilling with the kids.” Anna Pancyzk also has time for family, but this involves “texting my husband at 10am on Friday to ask what he’s making for dinner tonight”.

The Friday feeling, it has to be said, increasingly involves celebrating work achievements rather than carousing the day away. Richard Huntington’s dedication to his agency is especially impressive: “I love the Fridays when I have been travelling and I get into the agency and feel the rush of pure, unadulterated Saatchis after a week away.”

Others still enjoy a slice of indulgence on the last day of the working week. Their tastes, though, are more often Dog and Duck than the American Bar at the Savoy. Over in the corner, Dave Trott’s enjoying “a Fray Bentos and a pint of Doom Bar”. And, in the snug, there’s Lynsey Atkin relaxing into “a quiet chair made of Monster Munch… That’ll do, a nice maize-based sit down.”

Beer, pies and Monster Munch. Survival was worth it, after all. Here’s to more stellar achievement in the 2020s.

See The A List 2020



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