The CDP guide to making great ads

Peter Levelle, director and former head of TV production at the storied Collett Dickenson Pearce, shares the ad agency’s gospel – including handling difficult clients, keeping creatives happy, and adopting a punishingly scrupulous approach to ideas

In 2012, D&AD delved into its records to find out which ad agency had won the most Pencils over the last 50 years, and the answer was resounding: Collett Dickenson Pearce. Work for the likes of Fiat, Bird’s Eye, Hovis and Parker – with taglines such as ‘The attraction of some gold pens soon wears off’ and ‘This much lead in this much pencil’ – won the London agency an impressive 11 Black Pencils, many during its 1970s and 80s heyday. CDP’s work for Hamlet, its epic two-minute Fiat ad, or its ‘Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach’ series of ads have all become iconic.

Although CDP has since been absorbed into Dentsu, its creative work continues to resonate. Its adverts are held in the highest esteem, often considered shining examples of a bygone era of British advertising. The media landscape has changed dramatically in the years since CDP’s reign, and it would be impossible to replicate the agency’s philosophy in full today, but there’s still plenty for modern day creatives to take from CDP’s rigorous, ideas-first approach.

There were few rules and very little organisation. All flowers were allowed to bloom as long as they bloomed brilliantly

The agency opened its doors on April Fools Day in 1960, when Britain was “rather conservative, straight-laced, rather grey” and still recovering from WWII, according to former head of TV production Peter Levelle, who spent six years at the agency. Creatives in London looked wistfully over the Atlantic to New York, where a number of small agencies were producing clever, witty work. One of these was founder John Pearce, who left his job as an account director, got together with friend Ronnie Dickenson, and bought John Collett’s Pictorial Publicity in a bid to set up his own agency. Boring clients were shown the door, and the business was reborn as CDP.