To the gurus and wizards

Innovation is not the sole preserve of digital tech, as this forward-thinking ad from 1963 continues to prove


I’ve been censored. And to add insult to injury, I’ve even been accused of being anti-innovation.

It all kicked off when I had to modify a paragraph I wrote for Creative Review in an article that poked fun at people with stupid, yet real, job titles. Things like ‘SEO Ninja’, ‘Social Media Visionary’, ‘Pay-per-click Prophet’, ‘Conversation Manager’ and anything with ‘Guru’, ‘Rock Star’ or ‘Wizard’ at the end of it… or ‘Awesome’ at the front of it… you get the drift. Admittedly, I did use a very rude word in the offending paragraph, but I’m angry about all this nonsense goddammit. And I think a few more agency people should be too.

Time and time again, I have watched these useless chumps turn up in agencies to disastrous effect. Their often short-lived contribution invariably consists of a) smugly accusing everyone that they ‘just don’t get it’, b) regurgitating a few TED Talks, c) blagging an all-expenses paid piss-up to SXSW and d) suggesting that the agency phones up someone in Sweden who can code crassly personalised videos into bloody banner ads or some such ignorable, gimmicky crap.

My reply to CR’s editor via a terse SMS message (on reflection I should have used a carrier pigeon) was that I’m not ‘anti-innovation’, just ‘anti-bullshit’.

And I intend to prove the point by writing about a 53 year-old print ad. It was innovative then and it would be innovative today. No hashtag necessary.

No planner necessary either. They hadn’t been invented back then. So all that salary budget went to the creative team — now there’s a thought. And with a strategy like ‘Avis. We’re number two so we try harder’, copywriter Paula Green earned every penny.

This campaign did something astoundingly innovative in terms of strategy, idea and execution with nothing more than an arrangement of black ink on a sheet of white paper

Speaking of areas of responsibility, when exactly did the notion of being innovative become the sole domain of the tech geeks? The campaign represented here did something astoundingly innovative in terms of strategy, idea and execution with nothing more than an arrangement of black ink on a sheet of white paper. So innovative in fact, that it transformed not just the client’s profitability but also the ethos of the entire company. Everyone actually did start to try harder.

It’s also worth noting that this strategy informed countless wonderful creative executions. The strategy did not lazily become the creative execution, nor was it plastered across every ad. There wasn’t even a logo. And that’s what stopped the ad looking like an ad. It immediately made the page more interesting to readers, argued Helmut Krone, the great art director behind this work. And of course he was right. The only thing that’s dated here is the phone dial. That’s how good the layout is. And brilliant copywriting never goes out of fashion.

Maybe, just maybe, if today’s ad agencies directed more energy towards this kind of innovation, in whatever medium, we wouldn’t be in such a depressing mess.

If you’re a Brand Evangelist, Ambassador of Buzz or a Chief Amazement Officer and you have a complaint about this article, call me. My number is +44 (0)7973 153 801.

Paul Belford is the founder of multi-award-winning advertising, branding and graphic design agency Paul Belford Ltd, based in London. He tweets from @belford_paul
and more of his work can be found at

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