David Abbott, one of the true greats of British advertising, passed away on Saturday, aged 75. He will be remembered for a very rare combination of creative skill, business acumen and humanity
After spells in London and New York at DDB, where he worked with the legendary Bill Bernbach, David Abbott founded Abbott Mead Vickers in 1977 with Adrian Vickers and Peter Mead in 1977, having first met Vickers at Oxford University in 1959.
The agency went public in 1985 and, as AMV BBDO, became part of the BBDO network in 1991. Since 1997, it has been the biggest UK ad agency.
But while, in advertising, ‘big’ often equates to ‘dull’, creatively AMV has been anything but. Under Abbott’s leadership, the creative department helped forge London’s reputation as the centre of advertising creativity.
This is the agency that produced JR Hartley for Yellow Pages, Guinness Surfer, Volvo Twister and Dunlop Unexpected. But, in a testament to the state Abbott left his agency in when he stepped back from his role as chairman in 1998, AMV also successfully embraced the rise of digital – a fact recognised by CR in making it our Agency of the Year for 2014.
If there is one campaign that Abbott will always be remembered for it is that for The Economist. Here, Abbott demonstrated his unsurpassed skill as a copywriter. The publication’s advertising provided him with the perfect platform to showcase his wit, intelligence and economy with words. Has there ever been a better advertising line than “I never read The Economist”. Management Trainee. Aged 42?
Over the weekend, colleagues have been paying tribute, notably AMV founding partner Peter Mead who 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. “
Andrew Robertson, president & CEO of BBDO World Wide, said: “David was a gentleman. Polite and principled, generous and witty. 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 Sainsbury’s, Volvo, BT, The Economist, and so many others, had a profound effect on those businesses, and continues to inspire anyone who loves advertising.
The genuine fondness and care he had for his audience is in every word of every ad, and every internal memo, he ever wrote.”
A line from the statement accompanying Abbott’s induction into the One Club Creative Hall of Fame in 2001 perhaps best sums up his qualities as both copywriter and man: “David’s work stands, above all, for intelligence and humanity – rare qualities in a human being, let alone a transient piece of communication.”
Read Stefano Hatfield’s obituary in The Independent here
Mike Dempsey wrote a lovely appreciation of Abbott’s copywriting here