"The Mad Man"
"The world is sharing commonality in so many different ways and it always will, from now on. You can't go back on that."
Barry Day is the author of 38 books covering creative luminaries as diverse as Noel Coward, Johnny Mercer and Raymond Chandler.
Before he started documenting the life of other creators, he was a legendary ad man responsible for some of the most famous commercials of all time. He was also a thought leader - before anyone knew what that meant - bringing the thinking of Marshall McLuhan into mainstream marketing.
And along the way, he found time to change the face of British Politics.
Join for me this voyage through, around, and finally with my father.
"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT
Episode 5: Barry Day
Charles: Fearless is brought to you by Deloitte Digital, a creative digital consultancy for a disruptive age. Deloitte Digital combines creative and technological expertise with world-class business acumen and industry insights to accelerate their clients' digital transformation end-to-end. Deloitte Digital's fully integrated capabilities help their clients achieve their ambitions by turning business ideas into business reality. Let them show you how at DeloitteDigital.com.
Hello, you're listening to Fearless, where we explore the art and science of leading creativity, an unpredictable, amorphous, and invaluable resource critical to every modern business. Each week, we talk to leaders of the world's most disruptive companies, how they're jumping into the fire, crossing the chasm, and blowing up the status quo. Leaders who've mastered the art of turning the impossible into the profitable. So stay tuned because in the next half hour, anything could happen.
Hello and welcome to Fearless. I said when I started this podcast that I hoped it would take us to unpredictable places. This episode is a really good example of that. I hadn't planned on having this conversation. I hadn't thought about it until last week when it suddenly occurred to me that it was not only relevant, but actually important, at least to me. So, I hope you enjoy it. Creativity has been around since the dawn of time. Fire, the wheel, the printing press, all depended upon someone looking at a problem from a different perspective and coming up with a solution that changed the way the rest of us viewed the world.
Despite my father's constant reminders of his advancing years, he wasn't around for any of those particular moments of human history. But he has played a significant part in many moments of modern communication history. He doesn't talk about that part of his life very much. Over the last 25 years or so, he's become a prolific author, writing extensively about people who are created forces in their own right, Noel Coward, Raymond Chandler, Johnny Mercer, P.G. Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde, to name a few. He's written a series of Sherlock Holmes stories. And each year, he puts on a sold-out show at the Kravitz Center in West Palm Beach, featuring the work of some of the world's greatest songwriters.
In other words, he's become very good at celebrating the life and work of other creators. But for the first part of his career, the part that I grew up around, he was a legendary ad man, an original thinker, a creator of iconic advertising, and a thought leader before the world knew what that meant. He began his career in London, working for [Lintas 00:02:36], Unilever's in-house agency, and then he moved to McCann London, where he brought the [inaudible 00:02:41] back to life and made Martini the most beautiful drink in the world, a lyric that he wrote on a family holiday in Greece.
After he moved to the States in the mid- to late-70s, he traveled 250,000 miles a year as the world-wide creative head of McCann Erickson, guiding Coke among others. He was, in many ways, the first person to talk about and create truly global advertising. I say all this pretty objectively because his advertising career came at some personal cost to him and our family. Our relationship has not been a straight line. But as we both get older and more sure of who we are, and who we're not, I think we've both become better able to see the other parts of the story.
My father is not a perfect man, but he is an original, and he is, by anyone's definition, a creative leader. That part of his story is endanger of being lost. And so, I sat down with him recently to talk about his life as a real world madman, about how he ended up changing the face of British politics, and about his relationships with Marshal McLuhan, Ridley Scott, and David Ogilvy, among others.
I'm not sure I ever imagined saying these words, but Dad, welcome to the show.
Barry Day: Thank you.
Charles: Thank you for joining me. We were at dinner the other night and I was struck, as we were reminiscing about times long gone by, actually, that you've really had two careers. The more recent one, interestingly, as I was looking online, lines up actually with the development of social media. There's actually a lot about you online, in terms of your second career as an author. For instance, if I go on Goodreads.com, I discover ... I don't even have an account of this, but you've actually written 38 books, everything from everything you could possibly wish to know about Noel Coward to a series of Sherlock Holmes to the world of Raymond Chandler, P.G. Wodehouse, and Oscar Wilde. It's really an extraordinary body of work.
This podcast, however, is about creative leadership and there is a danger, I think, that part of your story is gonna get lost in time because there was no social media around when you were a creative leader. I actually have invited you here today, unbeknownst to you, because I'd actually like to talk to you about-
Barry Day: I'm cutting you out of my will.
Charles: I'll take that risk. I'd actually like to talk to you about the first part of your career. My first question for you is why and how did you get into advertising?
Barry Day: Well, when you're at University, that's the world. You don't know what you're gonna do next. I'm sure it'll be wonderful, but you haven't the faintest idea, in those days anyway. I knew I wanted to write, so my tutor said to me, "Have you considered advertising?" which, in fact, I hadn't. But the idea in my mind was, well, yes, you go into the office and you do a bit of writing and stuff, and then you get on with your life. But in fact, advertising in those days of prehistory was really quite fraught and you had no time to spare. The thought of maybe taking off and writing the great English novel, because we were in England at the time, never happened because you were too damn busy turning out the ads, very strenuous activity in those days. They were very primitive days. You did a 30 cent commercial. I got into advertising in the UK exactly at the time that commercial television began.
Charles: Which was 1956?
Barry Day: Probably '54, '55. There was a lead-in to it. But it wasn't a proper medium until about '56. You're learning how to do that with everybody around you, older than you, that had been trained in print advertising and doing layouts on huge pieces of paper, which clients would then take apart, add to, scratch around. It was a primitive kind of game in those days. And then, television, of course, changed it and after television, all the cable TV, and all things we know now came along and fragmented it even further. I'm not saying they improved advertising, but they improved communication, if by communication, you mean what are you gonna eat for dinner? What did you do last night? Oh yeah, oh wow. You know? The kids in the restaurants reading their iPads and texting and so on. It's a different world. But in those days, it was pretty simple.
And you also had excuses. You can say, "Well of course, you know, I'd love to talk to you one-on-one, Mrs. So-and-so out there, and tell you about this wonderful detergent I've got", but unfortunately, technology won't let me do that, so we'll have a 30 cent commercial, which will cost a ton of money, and go to lots of people who have not the slightest interest in it. Primitive days. Quite happy days.
Charles: I think somebody told me, it may have been you, that the process back then was as fundamental as somebody would write the copy and they would go and stick it under the door of the art director, who would draw the pictures, and they'd stick it under the door of the producer, who then figure out how to make it, is that actually true?
Barry Day: Well, it's a little bit dramatized, I think, but it was something of that sort, yes. You'd write the words and you give it to the art director, who would turn out a layout, and he could draw very nicely, but when it came to storyboards, this is where the [inaudible 00:07:54] change already moved in because suppose you had an idea that said, "We're gonna take this bottle and look at it for 30 seconds and move in and talk over on the soundtrack about it and what it can do and its history" or whatever, your storyboard is really one frame, but a client, who'd been used to seeing printers, said, "I'm not buying that. You've only got one picture." And he said, "Well, yeah, but the storyline is developed by the words." "Oh, well I'm not buying that." So I mean, the learning on both sides was very, very, very primitive. They were very primitive days. They were a bit of fun and you were learning, but you had no vision down the line that a few years on, you'd be dealing with the Internet. You'd be dealing with all sorts of social media, different things in different areas, no idea. We did what we could do, but we weren't very good at it. We're not very good now either.
Charles: The advent of television, as you said, was obviously a game changer in terms of reaching mass audiences. It was also a game changer in terms of the craftsmanship of advertising, right? I know that you were part of, or instrumental in, Ridley Scott's first television production, as a director. Tell us a little bit about that.
Barry Day: Well, Ridley had a wonderful, and has a wonderful eye, and he could make things come to life visually. He needed the basis. He didn't write the ads. And people like Alan Parker, other people who came out of advertising into movie making and television and so on, but you needed that primitive kind of push to say, "This is what it's about. Don't get taken back too far by the images." This is one of the problems advertising had from the early part ... I'm talking about the UK now, by the way. For much of its history. It was so easy to say, "Oh, I want to make some art out of this. I want to make this look beautiful. Pity I've got this product I've gotta put into it, but we'll give it as little time as possible." And it sounds as if I'm being overly critical, but that's the way it was. If you were in advertising, "It's commercial. I'll take the money, but I want to create art." That's a little bit gone by the way, so thank God because also, it's dishonest. You should be doing something with the property.
What worries me about what's happened since is you are paid to take a brand and project it, but it's the brand's story and brands, like people, have histories and characteristics, and if you're not very careful, somebody comes along, saying, "Yeah, yeah. We know all about that. But it's different now." And that phrase "It's different now." is a very, very deluding kind of thing to say because yes, it is different, but it's also the same. I think what I see in advertising now and for quite a long time past is you've got to understand what the brand is about. The brand can be a person. The brand can be a product. It can be a service. But what is it really about? You need to know what it's about and what people out there thinks it about and want it to be about.
With a new brand, you've got a clean slate. With an existing brand, person or whatever, they have history. If you're not very careful, somebody comes along, and this has happened a lot in recent years, by my observation, they say, "Oh I can now do this with this medium. I can do this with this technology. That brand needs this uplift, this facelift. It needs me to adapt it, add to it, make it relevant." Sadly, a lot of what they consider to be relevant, is just new, and then the consumer looks at it and says, "I thought I knew that brand. I thought that was my brand. I don't get it anymore. They're obviously changing it. It's obviously not mine. They don't need me. I'll look elsewhere."
This is happening a great deal and a lot more than people, I think, really understand. And yet, it's really what it's about. I mean, as I look back at all these years, including what I see now as a consumer not a professional creator of it, I think to myself, "Well just hang on. What this business needs are brand custodians, somebody who understands the nature of the brand, its imagery, its essence as if you know a person. You know what they do and what they don't do." You really need to protect that and I think a lot of that has gone by the wayside because technology is sexy.
It comes in, somebody says, "Hey. I can now do that. I can swivel it around. I can turn it upside down, inside out. So I'll do that. The brand needs it because it's all fashion. I'm here now." "I'm here now" is the biggest concern I think the business should have because it often suggests that you are not aware of the history of the brand, which you really can't change. You can kill it, but you really can't change it dramatically. You can bring it up to date steadily, as people bring themselves up to date steadily, but you cannot scrap it and start again. Sorry, lecture.
Charles: No, no. Not the first one I've heard, but do you think the fact that the craft, the technology, is easier, that the craft back then was harder, that making a TV commercial was so difficult and such a rigorous process, did that create more discipline around what the brand message should be? I mean, for instance, when you hired Ridley Scott, even in the early blush of his career, what was it you hired him to shoot?
Barry Day: You hired him-
Charles: What was the brand?
Barry Day: I can't remember what we used him for, probably some sort of food product, but the point that he would bring to it was he would give it the look. And you had several people like him, nobody else better than Ridley, but he would give it style and class for the 30 seconds you were on air, and he took that style and class and then took it into feature films, as we know, and so did many others, Adrian Lyne and so on. Many, many in the States. But, they were expressing themselves by their visual perception.
What you had to be careful of with the lesser mortals was that the look was everything, the content was nothing. It was boring. Well then, they shouldn't have been in the business, in which they were making a ton of money. They should've been working more closely, as Ridley did, when he was talking about well, what it's about ... I see here, this one worked because ... No, no, distort an aspect of it that is fundamental to what the brand is about. You needed to have a relationship with the film director, that meant that he listened to you, you listened to him, and between you, you came up with something, which was the essence of what that brand or service or person was about.
True in politics, too, because politics became [inaudible 00:15:08] advertising about the '60s in the US and '70s plus in the UK. You were creating a party image and you needed to understand what that was that people would respond to. Nothing was more brutal than politics in the UK in television, you couldn't buy space, but you were given space to explain and express what the party was about to people who really weren't interested, but they could be made interested if you made it interesting.
Charles: And I want to come back to politics in a couple of minutes because obviously, I know that part of your narrator went through that lens, but I'm interested, as we track our way through the early middle part of the '60s, as your career evolves, you've got this medium of television, the power of the message and the ability to reach mass audiences becomes more and more pronounced and profound, and it was somewhere in the mid-60s, I think, you'll tell me, when you heard of and got to know Marshall McLuhan really well and brought his thinking into the world of mass communication. Talk to us about how did you meet Marshall and what was it that you learned and recognized?
Barry Day: Well, I met him through reading his early books [inaudible 00:16:27] message and his theory was very simple, although people complicated it. It was the medium does what it does in the way it does it, and that's what it does. It's not good or bad. It's only good or bad depending on what you do with it. And so, people misunderstood that as if it was a negative force that was impeding or getting in the way of things. It wasn't at all. He expressed it in rather bizarre language, but essentially that's what it was. And he made people look and think again about what communications were. He talked about hot and cold media, and so on. And the jargon got in the way.
But what Marshall saw, a very strange and rather tortured man, he felt that you had to understand the workings of media before you could really harness it for whatever it was, whether it was intellectual, political, religious, or whatever, and people kind of, as they often do, seized upon him as being a guru, that's an old-fashioned word now, too, but he had an understanding, they thought. They couldn't understand him, but yes, he was good news, wasn't he, or he was rubbish. The answer is he was somewhere in the middle, could be a bit of both. And if you challenged him on something, he said, "You're probably right, yes. That's another way of looking at it." But he was just looking at ways of looking. I think [inaudible 00:17:48] and I've kind of applied it, I suppose, to almost everything. What do I want to say? What can the medium do to help me do it?
And he had another friend in Tony Schwartz, another New Yorker, who dealt with sound and he could take something, and this really popped back into the whole scheme of things, a bottle of Coke. You look at it, you see the glass being poured. You see the bubbles. You can almost taste it. Meanwhile, on the soundtrack, people are talking about it and making jokes. You're creating the world in which Coke plays a part. These people understood the nature of media and its relationships to people rather than just using it as something [inaudible 00:18:36] Coca Cola is a wonderful beverage and if you do this, you will find that you can do that. But it goes over people, so they know that. Give them an insight. Talk about something shows something, visualize, sound or picture or both, what it's about, and you will say, "Yeah, yeah. I know. That's right. Oh, I could do with one of those now." And then you've got the result you're looking for. You've gotta get into people's minds. You've gotta make people understand that you understand, and not many people get round to doing that.
Charles: I remember, I'm not quite sure why this week has been so filled with reflection, but I remember having to do a school project, I was nine or ten years old, and chose, probably not surprisingly, to do it about advertising. I remember sitting down with you on a Sunday afternoon, I think, and having you talk to me, even at a very young age, about why advertising was actually really important in terms of providing people with emotional needs and emotional satisfaction, that advertising actually plays a really important role, not just from a commercial standpoint, but actually in terms of how we see ourselves. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Barry Day: Yeah, well it's kind of a social reassurance. The advertiser's gotta say to you, without necessarily using words, but he's gotta say to you, "Hey, you know so-and-so and so-and-so, I'll tell you what, I saw so-and-so the other day and he was saying, 'Don't we all feel that?'" So it's kind of making a relationship. You're not gonna listen to me if I lecture you, even as a kid. You're gonna listen to me if I say something that's meaningful to you or strikes a chord of either remembrance or "Oh now I get it." It's a kind of conversation, which the emphasis and the responsibility is on me as the communicator to understand your mindset and have to say, "Hey Charles, remember old so-and-so? Well, he was only saying the other day ..." You're with me because I've struck a chord. You remember what that was all about and this is on your scheme of things and you'll be responsive. Maybe not, but you could be.
If I lecture you, you're gonna say, "Who do you think you are? I don't want to know about ... I know that anyway. Why are you lecturing me? Why are you boring me?" And boredom is one of the things that advertisers often deal in in spades and spend a lot of somebody else's money doing precisely that. I've got to engage ... You don't need what I'm gonna say. But I'm gonna make you want to know. I've gotta entice you. I've gotta make a contact with you. And then I've gotta tell you something not necessarily brand new. If it's all brand new then maybe you'll say, "Well, it's got nothing to do with me. I don't want to do that." But if I can say, "Yeah, you used to do it [inaudible 00:21:22] nowadays, you can do it this way." It's not a bad idea. Think about it. That's really the essence of advertising. Think about it.
Charles: The first part of your career, this late-50s through '69, you were at Lintas, which [inaudible 00:21:36] I think, correct me if I'm wrong, as Unilever's in-house agency, is that right?
Barry Day: Yeah, yeah.
Charles: And then became a stand-alone agency, at some point, or was it always owned by Unilever while you were there?
Barry Day: While I was there, it was, yes, then I left and went to McCann Erickson, an American agency and world-wide and [inaudible 00:21:54] London branch and that eventually when we get to the States and stay with that. No, but Lintas was really a domestic subsidiary of Unilever, big corporate giant, and very limited in its thinking. I remember a client, not Unilever, when we decided to take quote it was Unilever and non-Unilever, typical of the way of people tend to think in those days. And this client came along and the Chairman of Lintas said, "We very much like your business. We're very keen to engage some non-Unilever business." And the Chairman of it was IBM or something, said, "Mr. So-and-so, I don't think of myself as non-Unilever. I think of myself as IBM." Well it simply illustrates the fact that you can get into a rut, a cliché, and if you don't get out of that, you're not gonna get anybody listening to you because it so self-centered and advertising and businesses can be.
Politics can be, but you are there, you're paying out good money, your clients, to talk to people and the closer you can get to making a personal connection, the better off you'll be. Of course nowadays it's quite possible, with so many different media and the Internet and so on, you can get very close to a one-on-one, but if you do that technically, you better damn well know that you've got to actually find a tone of voice, a way of putting your message that will actually communicate to people personally.
Charles: The mid-60s certainly I think were big influences on you in terms of global impact. You came over to New York in '64, '65 for the World's Fair, I think I remember, and spent some time here and saw the world through that lens. Obviously, you have a relationship with Marshall McLuhan was around the same time, mid-60s, right?
Barry Day: Yep.
Charles: As you said, you were at Lintas until the [inaudible 00:23:53] It's funny actually because I was thinking back about your career path and realized that large parts of my reference as a young child were through the lens of your career progression, actually, from my perspective, came through the lens of what kind of car you drove. I remember, the first time you obviously had some success, you were able to bring a minivan home for the weekend, and then we moved up to a Rover, I think, and when, as we'll get onto now, you joined McCann Erickson London January of 1970 and replaced a legendary figure in the industry at that point, who was the creative director before you, Ronnie Kirkwood. And I think you were telling me the other night that Ronnie had actually kind of curated the whole process by which he chose his own successor, which is unimaginable to think about that happening today. Tell us that.
Barry Day: The business was more of a cottage industry then than it has become. Ronnie was somebody very elegant and gay, who really never created any advertising I can recall because we had a reception for his memory, he died a few months ago, only the other day, and I said at this that couldn't remember a single ad, but what he did do was he sold advertising. He sold the idea of advertising as its importance. He was a presenter and a ... I don't know what you call them. [inaudible 00:25:22] whatever. And he did and we all thought, "Yes, that's right." We took that point seriously. It played into our own position, too. What are we doing this for if it isn't important? And of course, it isn't important in any real scheme of things. It's important only in relative terms, but he had style and advertising in those days was looking for style. I wonder whether it is anymore. I'm not close enough to it to pontificate about that, but nowadays, I think people, because there's so much choice. Choice we never even foresaw. You can say, "Oh I want to do that. This technique is interesting. I want to do something with that." And it's endless. In those days, it was not. You played with what you've got and did what you did and just joggle people accordingly.
Charles: You joined McCann, which, I think, as you described it, was kind of a mid-level agency. It was the London branch of a New York company. Clearly, again, just through my own lens, it must've been a significant job because suddenly you were driving a Jaguar, which seemed like a good thing from my perspective. But there you were, centrally involved in trying to get this agency to become much more relevant on a local basis. And you had some people who turned out to be very influential in the advertising industry. Phil Geier was involved in London.
Barry Day: He was my colleague and boss, yeah.
Charles: Tell us when you arrived at McCann, what was the challenge, what were the opportunities, what did you have to work with, what did you decide should the focus be?
Barry Day: The challenge was to get out of an agency that belonged entirely to one manufacturer, in which you learned the basics because they did food, they did detergents, they did the things that you live by day-by-day, and that's a very fundamental lesson in learning how to sell the basics of life to people.
Charles: And David Ogilvy went through something very similar.
Barry Day: Yeah, David did the same.
Charles: Selling [inaudible 00:27:18]
Barry Day: We used to sometimes lecture together in later years. He says, "Well you give them the new stuff and I'll give them the old stuff." And we get on the platform and do [inaudible 00:27:26] There's McCann. I think it was about number nine or ten in the UK, dealing in Esso and General Motors, American off-shore branch business. As I walked through the door, then the election was called and I was called by Edward Heath to come and advise him and do the communications part of it for him. I only mention that because it gave you great visibility from day one and all the clients who didn't know who the hell you were, and you came from this detergent agency or whatever, they somehow wanted to know a bit more about this agency that was dealing with the conservative party and in the end, one day hear the election.
All the chairmen of the company sort of come in and then you could deal with them and so on. By the time that it was all finished, you had a lot more converse, you had an image as an agency, and I guess I had a certain image as me for being part of it. And it went on from there. You were suddenly a hot agency and within the 10 years that I stayed in London, it went from number nine or ten to number one, very briefly. In other words, visibility, and you might add snobbery. They want to be with winners. You were clearly a winner because you said, "Well come on in and Margaret Thatcher will be joining us for lunch." "Oh yes, I'd love to do that." And so, you've got a flying star and I was very lucky from that point of view.
Charles: You told me a story once that I've recounted, actually, on a number of occasions, about the fact that McCann back then was really built on a leadership team of three people. There was you, the chief creative, there was Nigel Grandfield, who was essentially the head account guy, and then there was Anne Burdick, who was the researcher. And those were really the three major disciplines in advertising back then. And one of the things you've described to me was that you went on a run of phenomenally business success, predicated on the fact that the three of you were very, very good at reading the room in real time, that you could play to whichever one of you the client was kind of drawn to from a discipline or personality standpoint. Am I remembering that right?
Barry Day: Yeah, that's true because I mean, Anne was a very charismatic woman. In fact, she became a kind of Margaret Thatcher of advertising and was chairman later on. Nigel was a typical English cigarette smoking, through a holder, looking superior, and with a name like Grandfield, you needed to be. Although, he wasn't the brightest bulb, but he was shrewd and I was meant to be the creative person. I'm sure you could pick one or other, or both, or all of us and I think we teamed up quite well because if you think you're winning, you can win. If you think you can't win, you know you never will. We were pretty confident after a while and [inaudible 00:30:25] game in turn. It's such a fashioned thing, and still is, I'm sure.
We're gonna go there because everybody's going there. And how competitive it is. You just have to try and find a strategy that said they've got so much business, they're not gonna take you seriously. You've had to be the enemy agency for them to get into the game. It was a heady time, I must say. I don't think it works that way anymore because at least you could focus. You had a brand, an advertiser service, and you could put all your resource against that because you had limited tools, you could use them fairly [inaudible 00:31:05], like a chamber quartet, except we were a trio. What is it now? I'm sure it's much more diverse and diffuse and it probably doesn't work that way anymore. You've got different departments.
As I said earlier, I think the focus of advertising is a key thing, which involves the people you bring in to service you, like a director like Ridley, like a media buyer or whatever. You had to focus your attention. In those days, you could. Now, I have no idea.
Charles: Well, I'm seeing essentially, because I work across a lot of agencies, and I think the ones that I observe being most successful are still predicated on very similar characteristics as the ones you've described, which is yes, you have to have a certain set of capabilities based on what the client's needs are. Some clients need complex, global organizations to support them because the nature of the business is that. But assuming you are competing against like-for-like, the thing [inaudible 00:32:00] is just human nature. The thing that at the end of the day makes the decision, one way or the other, is the personal human connection you feel in the room with those people. Do you believe in them? Do you believe they have your best interests at heart? Do you believe they can solve your problems? I think that too often agencies get caught up in process and presentation and forget about the fact that says if I get to know that person and remove my ego from the equation and focus on what they need, I'm gonna increase dramatically the chances that I can convince them that I'm interested in helping them.
Barry Day: It's a scary business in many, many ways. If you're a client, you're the marketing manager or marketing director of a company, I'm talking back then, but I guess it's still the same. You've gotta take responsibility. You've got a budget and you're spending a ton of their money. You need to work with somebody who you feel knows enough about it, can advise you properly, and you make a team with them. Your teams are you and Mr. So-and-so from Company A, you and Mr. So-and-so from Company B. And that relationship is key, trust. And that was always something we could play very well. If you're the hot agency, then those people, powerful as they may be, want to play it safe. They want to know that they're in good hands and if you get it wrong in some way or other, [crosstalk 00:33:20], then they can say, "Well, we went to McCann and they've got this great reputation, and they didn't deliver. But don't blame me. I went with the best." All of that, I'm sure, still exists because the stakes are even higher now. The money is huge. The competition is extreme. You cannot afford to lose your job by getting it wrong. You maximize your chance of getting it right by going to people who get it right, you know?
Charles: Actually, [inaudible 00:33:54] and I, as you know, we built a film editing company that we consciously wanted to develop into a premium brand who'd brought that kind of emotional reassurance to our clients on the basis that we knew, because we, the we being [inaudible 00:34:08], my wife and I, had been producers and we understood that there was an inclination to say, "I hired [inaudible 00:34:15]. I edited at the White House. I did visual effects at [inaudible 00:34:20]. It's not my fault it didn't work."
Barry Day: I did all I could do.
Barry Day: It was just unfortunate that a bomb went off that day and blew the studio apart, but you can't have everything. The other element of course leads out of this, is this is all true of any particular piece of communication. While I was in this business, then the world went global. Technology allowed it. Business practice encouraged it. You're not only selling a brand. You're probably selling a brand in 20 different markets, like Coca Cola. Every market there is or would be. And then you've got to then find a commonality in your message that appeals across the board, but is not just bland and it can be adapted when necessary. That, of course, Coke was a prime example that we worked on, but we had many others, Martini and so on. Esso, Exxon as it was called elsewhere.
All of that was a new learning process that began with local and then the lessons you learned from that, you adapted. And you had to be sensitive to know where you can't say, "You'll do that. You'll change the language and you'll do it that way and that's it." The company you work for couldn't make that happen, but having tried it once or twice, most of them realize well, hold on. There are subtle differences, which are important. The color white doesn't mean the same in every culture. Certain things are vulgar in some markets. Well, you gotta be very sensitive to that and rather than trying to insist, "No, no, this is the brand. This is what we're gonna do world-wide. You will do it this way." You then have to learn the subtle differences of things like costume and certain phraseology. But the world is now global in many, many ways.
One of the problems we have now, politically as well as anything else, even as we're sitting here right now, is you want to be global, but you've gotta be careful of local. You can't say, "Well, we tried global. That didn't work out. Unravel it." Country after country has tried that, but it doesn't work either because the world is sharing commonality in so many different ways and it always will, from now on. You can't go back on that.
Charles: It's a perfect segway to let's talk about Coca Cola for a few minutes because Coke was obviously a very big part of your career, by association it was a big part of my life growing up, and there were three tab stops that I look at your Coke career and my experience of it. The first is picking at what you were just talking about, global, "Mean" Joe Greene, classic iconic commercial, often slated as the first true piece of global advertising, or at least inspiring the first true piece of global advertising. Talk to us about your involvement with that, what you saw in that American commercial that you realized we can take this internationally, we can take this globally.
Barry Day: Well it was created with the thought that it would be used globally because we were warming to it by that time, and I personally didn't make that commercial, but I was involved around it in projecting it elsewhere. On the surface, you say, "Well, that's not global. It's this big black player and this small kid and this is kind of a ... because he's so big is kind of a threatening thing at the beginning of it all," and then he turns charming and international because it's about two people who get on and Coke is the link between them. That was very cleverly thought up by a group of people at McCann New York because it was a personal experience that people could relate to. All of these things are to do with, "Oh I get it, yeah. That's charming. He's giving this boy Coke, the reversal."
We've got to find things like that. It's no good doing something so bland and so generic that it doesn't mean anything to anybody specifically. They found a thing, which through movies and so on, let's ignore the fact that so much advertising is based on our experience globally of a medium called the cinema and things from that, do you remember, you must remember this as time goes by. We've all got those sort of things in our mind and if you can touch into that, you're touching into something, which is more than just money. You're touching into something that people have in their minds and believe in and say, "Oh you understand. I agree with you about that. Now what was it you wanted to say? Oh well, let's give it a try."
All you can ever do in advertising is to get people to say, "Hmm okay. Well yes, you're playing my song." And you've got to find a way to play the song. Coke have done that many, many times. Got it wrong many times, too. Everybody does. But you're looking for the commonalities of experience and the one you say, "Yeah, I know, I know. Happens all the time now. It will always happen." It's what it's about.
Charles: And that commercial is such an interesting, powerful example there because it would be easy to look at that commercial superficially and say, "Iconic American sport, the NFL, football, iconic American player, at that time, "Mean" Joe Greene, and iconic American brand, Coca Cola. This is a classically American story." But the insider recognized, no actually, it's about a human moment, right? It's about hero worship. It's about-
Barry Day: It's about a kid who is a fan and his hero, and he wants to meet the hero and wow, he gets to meet him, and wow, the hero is even more heroic and even more human than you would imagine. And the kid goes away and he'll talk about that to his kids and for as long as he lives. That moment will be in his mind. And that's what it's about. If you can hit that, if you can sense it, visualize it, express it, that is great advertising because advertising is all about connections. It's not about just talking about a product. If I talk about a product and you say, "Yeah it sounds interesting, but it doesn't have to do with me." It's gotta be to do with you or I failed. When advertising was in its earliest stages, and I had to talk to a lot of people who had no interest in it at all, in that product, that service, you knew you were wasting time and effort, a lot of it, but what else could you do? Well now, you can get it much closer to home and be more specific through your use of media. But you still need that, "I get it, yeah. He's right. Sure."
Charles: I do think that the industry, the marketing communications, the marcom industry, as its known these days, has become so incredibly complex and I find myself often saying to clients, "Let's not forget that all of this is designed to do one thing, which is to create a relationship between a brand and a consumer, right? That's what the brands are paying for. That's what consumers want. They want relationships with the brand. Brands want relationships with the consumers." All of us who are involved in this in any way, directly or indirectly, are here to help facilitate that and when we put ourselves in the middle of that relationship, we do a disserve and reduce the impact of actually creating those kinds of relationships.
Barry Day: Yeah, that's why I say you need to understand the nature of the brand and its heart and its soul and its communication entity. If you don't get that, you've got nothing. You can spend a ton of money. You can bombard the airwaves and the ads and so on, but if you don't get that message right, the tonality right, you're wasting that money, to a great degree, I believe. And of course nowadays, with so much going on, I happily admit that it's much more complicated now, whether I could do anything more, who knows? I won't be trying. You need to really understand people more. In those days, we talked over them. We talked to them. We talked down to them. We got it right sometimes and we got it horribly wrong because of our own ego or the client's ego, which we were expressing.
Nowadays, with the confusion there is, every message all the time, round the clock, but you cut through it and get it right is what it's always been about and it's probably harder now. I look at some of the ads today, I think what the hell was all that about? You know? They were just being clever. They were just showing off. They were talking to each other. But the simple ones get through and you think, "Yeah, they've got it. I'm sure that's right."
Charles: The second tab stop I have in looking at your Coke career and Coca Cola's evolution is through the lens of teach the world to sing.
Barry Day: Let me go back on one thing, Charles.
Barry Day: On Coke. The thing I worked on, which was an absolutely disaster, was the launch of New Coke. Now here's a trusty example of a manufacturer saying, "Oh well, we're gotta update. We're gonna change the formula and we're gonna bring it in as New Coke. We can do that. We're Coca Cola. We can do that." But for all the knowledge they had, they missed a basic trick.
Charles: They were doing taste tests, right? They were doing taste tests against Pepsi, weren't they?
Barry Day: Pepsi. And they thought they should change the formula and make it slightly sweeter or whatever they were gonna do, but that's what they were gonna do. And our agency said we would implement that. But the thing they missed was they didn't understand the consumer. The consumer had never quite thought about it this way, but he would say, "Oh by the way, from tomorrow you'll be drinking New Coke. It's much better. You'll like it a lot better." And they said, "Well, what about ... I like it the way it is." "Yeah, well, maybe you do, but you won't have it anymore." And they said, "Who says?" It got to the ludicrous point where people were importing Coca Cola from other countries because they liked the way it was. New Coke went on for some time, but its history stopped in its tracks when the consumer said, "I like it the way it is. Please don't screw around with it. You may make it, but I'm Coke." The consumer was the product. The manufacturer was kind of irrelevant because he was putting himself into the act when he wasn't part of it. "This is my Coca Cola. I want it the way it is. How dare you, even though you own it, how dare you change it without asking me?"
Charles: I think you're too modest to tell this story, but I heard from somebody else who was in the room, years later, that when ... He was Roberto Goizueta, right, who was the Chairman of Coke at that point, said to you and whoever else was in the room, "We're gonna change the formulation of Coke." You said to him, "You can't do that. You don't own Coke. The American people own Coke." And he didn't listen.
Barry Day: He didn't listen because he was the Chairman of Coca Cola and who the hell was I? But he didn't fire me. This was the case. It was, in retrospect, very simple to understand. I like this brand. It's my brand. And that's what you've gotta get. You put this out. I like it. It's mine. You have no right to screw around with it unless you ask me and I tell you, "Yeah, you could improve it in the taste a bit. You could package it differently. You could bring out a smaller one. Yeah, ask me and I want to be helpful. It's my Coke. I'll advise you, but don't override me." And so they had to bring it back in record time and apologize publicly. And that's the classic example, I think, of how marketing can get it wrong.
Charles: There's a great story you told me at one point about the dear departed Marcio Moreira, who was running Coke globally, I think, at the time, who was responsible for bringing the new Coke cans to a shoot under massive secrecy and left them in a suitcase in the hotel room. Do you remember that story?
Barry Day: Yes. He survived it, but barely I think, yeah. He was a bit like that. It's either radioactive or [inaudible 00:46:41] No, the whole thing was high drama. Ridiculous when you think about it. But except for the fact, a lot of money was involved on a world-wide basis. So then you had to backtrack and present New Coke as being an alternative. And then you take the brand and you do variants of it, Diet Coke and so on and so on. In the end, that kind of worked very well. But that wasn't the way it was intended to begin with. We take that, we put value by an ignorance and an insult to the consumer, and I think a lot of companies learned from that, be careful. You can spend a lot of money and waste it, but not only waste the money, waste the good will. Do I trust you when you tell me you've got another version, a flavor version? Well, hang on. You weren't so smart last time, were you? You know? I'm a bit wary of you. I thought I knew you. I thought we were all in the game together, but we weren't, were we? You be careful.
Charles: And don't leave the shoot product under the hotel bed.
Barry Day: No, don't. And the consumer is king.
Charles: Tell us about, "Teach the World to Sing," because I know you were around and part of that. It was a powerful and important message and obviously it's become a piece of iconic advertising. What was the derivation of that? How did that come about?
Barry Day: Well, that was part of saying this is a world of Coke and you. Whoever you are, you're part of this whole entity and we want to thank you and remind you of it, not that you need reminding. But all the world is one [inaudible 00:48:24]. This is all of us saying and singing the same kind of thing. At a point in time when the world thought never [been anything lesser 00:48:34] but worrying. It's reassurance. It's saying, "You can't trust many things. You don't know what you can trust. But there are a few things. Coke's one of them, isn't it?" It's the "isn't it?" you agree, don't you? "Oh yeah, yeah. Teach the world to sing in perfect harmony." It's a thing we wish could happen now more than ever, might I add.
There are things like that, which can claim it because it's not world changing, it's world reassuring. That has become probably one of the greatest and best-known commercials ever made, by Bill Backer, who's no longer with us, but Bill understood music and he understood that you can teach the world to sing and many people have found the same thing since, not to that degree, but we all feel the same when it's pointed out. We haven't thought about it much lately, but boy do we need it now. I think you'll see more of that patting on the back, reassuring, fundamental values as time goes by, you know?
Charles: Let's circle back to, you touched on this earlier, but there's a little bit more to this, I think, that your involvement with politics in the '70s, with the conservative party, with Edward Heath. I think I'm right in saying that your involvement and the team that you were part of, Jim Garrett, among others, were really the first time professional communication people who had been brought in by a political party to help guide them through and help message an election process. And it was the election of 1970.
Barry Day: Well, see, what was happening, the UK is the UK, as we know all too well. And what happens anywhere else is irrelevant, especially then, especially in politics. In Britain, you couldn't buy a TV commercial, you were given a 15 minute-
Barry Day: Politically. You were given a program of 10 or 15 minutes, during the election campaign, so you were actually being given a program, if you chose to look at it that way. Nothing ran against it. [inaudible 00:50:47] When they came on, everything stopped. You ran the commercial. Now, the commercials ... They weren't called commercials. A politician would come on and say, "Good evening. As you know, we are having an election. I want to tell you my policy as ..." Sets would turn off or turn the sound down. It's probably finished by now, we'll turn it back.
Charles: Put the kettle on. Go and get a cup of tea.
Barry Day: The thing is I've been coming to the States for some time on and off, and I see what happened here. And although it was pretty crude in many, many ways, the point was you could do something and make a point, make a commercial, and so I thought, "Well you can't do a commercial in the UK, but you've got a commercial, 15 minute long commercial. You could do a program. You could make it into a show. In that show, you could put your own commercial." With Heath running for election against Harold Wilson, we called the show A Better Tomorrow. It was his slogan for the campaign. And you had two lead politicians who were the hosts of the show and then you had commercials-
Charles: One of whom was Chris Chataway.
Barry Day: Chris Chataway and Geoffrey Johnson Smith, two very attractive guys, well-known in the public. And then you can do [inaudible 00:52:09] street interviews on the topic, suppose it was the price of food. The ordinary consumer out there was, "It's terrible the way it's gone up. My husband's money is no better." "Oh that's terrible." "And I blame the Labour party," or whatever, the government. So you could hear, and then you would do that, build up the problem, build up the approach to it, and then say, "Well, the man who will be attempting this, after the election, is Ian McLaren", or so-and-so, and he would come up and say, "Yep, they really screwed up." I mean, I'm paraphrasing. "They really made a mess of it, but when we're in, we shall do the following," and it was a short pitch, maybe no more than five minutes out of 15.
You had a program and then you signed off and you had a slogan and you had a graphic and we did enough of those that you could actually simplify it because the commercials would say, "Mr. Wilson says the pound in your pocket is worth exactly the same as it was," and then you'd see a pound note and a hand with a pair of scissors, "But on the other hand, this has happened, and this has happened," and you cut off a bit of the pound note. "If we put Mr. Wilson back in, this is what you're gonna finish up with, the ten bob pound." A simple graphic to the point and it had an impact because it was a commercial. And that kind of thing changed the face of British political advertising because it got through. Mr. So-and-so says this, so-and-so says that. We say, be careful. They're out to get you. They've got you, say, "Well whatever." It really was because you were doing research and you were showing that you were getting and you could tune the next one from the results of the first one. All of that is primitive for those days, and it's what we do all the time now. But it was new then. And it's changed things.
Charles: And for the audience, translation, unaware of what the ten bob pound is, that would be the 50 cent dollar.
Barry Day: That's right, yeah, yeah. That's right, yeah. You break it up and you take a bit there, and that's right.
Charles: I remember actually being there when you shot that and at 10 years old, I understood the message and I didn't have a point of view about how it was until I saw that. In fact, I thought your hand cutting up the pound and thought oh yeah, so we must be better off electing this guy.
Barry Day: Then, also use the advertising approaches and the marketing approaches ... The English election was a male thing. Working class man would take his wife ... my father [inaudible 00:54:42], exactly that. Go to the poll and she'd say, "What do I do now, Sam?" "You put your X by that [inaudible 00:54:49]"
Charles: Vote for that one.
Barry Day: Yeah, vote for that. And we said well hang on, there are more women than men, as there always seems to be. They've got a mind of their own. We did the commercial that said, "You've got a vote of your own. You've got a mind of your own. Don't waste it. This is the shopping basket election. Your husband gets an increase in salary, you don't get it. But things are more expensive." You hit them where they live and women was, "That's right." They say to their husband, "I'm not telling you what I'm gonna ..." but they'll go and vote for the Tories, many of them, made a difference. What I'm trying to say is you were using the techniques you were using in consumer advertising in politics, and why not? You're talking to people. Talk to people as people. What are you concerned about? What can we do or promise to try and do? And then, you'll respond. No different.
Charles: Well, and we were talking about this the other night as well, and the fact that this was the shopping basket election, you identified women as a core constituency and targeted them and messaged towards them, one of the challenges of that was that there were very, very few women politicians of any significance or any note, back then. In fact, one of the people beginning nascently to emerge as a [inaudible 00:56:06] in her own right was in fact Margaret Thatcher. And I vividly remember this, one of the party political broadcasts shows that you created, you had a piece with her. I think she was [inaudible 00:56:18] minister of education. You had a piece of her walking through Holland Park, I think it was, surrounded by children, talking about the school system and how the conservative party would improve them.
My vivid memory was a few days later, in the production company that the team was based out of, looking at the footage of her and realizing how bad she was on camera in 1970. And her arriving outside in her car, her driver pulling up and getting out, and everybody looking out the window and saying, "She's here. We can't use this footage. It's terrible. It's damaging for her. It's not good for the party. What should we do?" And the story suddenly being decided, we're gonna tell her the negative is scratched and again, even at 10 years old, I remember her walking upstairs, walking in the room, and somebody, I think it even might have been you, having to deliver the news to her, "Sorry, we can't use the footage we shot because the negative is scratched" and looking at her and thinking, "You know that that's a lie. He knows you know that's a lie. There's nothing she can do about it."
I've always believed that her determination to become a media savvy presenter, to dramatically improve how she showed up in the media was directly the result of that experience, when she said, "I'm never gonna be put in the position again where something I do is so bad they can't use it."
Barry Day: Well that's true, see, because most politicians, at that time, were scared of television. They would go on and read from the autocue, but they were nervous for anything that was unrehearsed. And one particular politician, Sir Keith Joseph, refused to let people like me in the studio. He read what he brought to read and that was it. But she said, "This is a part of what we're gonna be doing from now on. I can see that. I don't know how to do it, but I know I need to. From now on, boys, when we do it, we'll rehearse it. You tell me when I'm getting it wrong. Tell me what I should do. I'm open to it." And indeed she was and, becoming Prime Minister, she became one of the most conscientious and improved performance because she knew it was important as a political tool and it sounds silly saying it now, but we're now talking about 1970 plus. It wasn't obvious at the time.
Charles: And she really turned herself into a brand, didn't she? I mean, she was very-
Barry Day: She was a very smart woman, very smart, and a very attractive woman, at that, too, by the way. But in later years, when she had other advisors and I wasn't around, they said, "Margaret, your voice is too shrill, dear. You must talk a little lower." So she changed her voice. She changed her hair. And it became like a lacquer. She took too much advice and it changed her and she became much less sympathetic. She's thought of now as the Iron Maiden, the Iron Lady. In those days, she was anything but.
Charles: Fascinating. I'm conscious that we're running out of time. The last area I was interested to get your insight about was you spent the first half of your advertising career, roughly, in the UK and then you moved to the States and spent, essentially, the rest of your advertising career in the States. How do you compare the two from an advertising perspective? What do you see the differences being?
Barry Day: Well, you're talking about then. I can't really comment on today, but I suspect it's not that different. It's much more direct here. There's much less subtlety and I think that's true now as it was then. It's not surprising when you think about it. I mean, England is England. There will always be an England, well that's arguable. But America is based on multiple cultures, multiple languages. Most people, at that point in time, maybe English was their second language. A lot of people I've spoken to, rather simply or even basically, and this is true of any kind of communication, I think you've gotta keep it pretty simple.
I'll ask you an outright question, how are you? I'm terrific. That's a word everybody understands. You don't say, "Oh well I'm not too bad really, I mean, could be worse." The subtlety can't be there because you're dealing with what made the country great again, or great in the first place, was multiple cultures. And they had to have common language that they could all sign onto and express. And that cuts out a lot of subtlety, cuts out a lot of idiom. And then percolates into avatars. If I make my avatar seem too fancy, you won't understand it, so you'll say "No, he doesn't get it." I'll talk with somebody who says, "This is a great product and I think you're gonna like it." Sincere. I mean I'm oversimplifying when I say that, but you've got a country that is very different in its makeup and its history, its texture, from any other country singly in the world.
Now that's changing. All the immigration. England isn't the England it was when I lived there. And America isn't probably the same country it was when I first came. Other countries, the same. And it won't go unchanging. That's what we're all arguing about. That's what all the politics is really about. Having more of the kind of thing that made you what it was. But beyond the point, it changes erratically and it's worrying to people.
So I think America is a country of, let me tell you. Let me level with you and say this much, this is great. I'm English and I'm afraid I'm a little overly subtle perhaps.
Charles: And England is more about implication and inference.
Barry Day: It is, yeah. Well I'm not gonna insult you. You know that. I'm just saying to you, when you're thinking about it, you might want to consider this. This is pretty good. It's something rather like what you used to have in the old days. I'm leaving it to you. You make your mind up, but I've given you the options and hopefully I've given it to you in a way that says, "Oh I hadn't thought of that. Yeah, he's right. Yes, he could be quicker [inaudible 01:02:23] or whatever." You see difference of culture.
Charles: And if you had one piece of advice to give a creative leader today, somebody running an ad agency, what would it be?
Barry Day: It would be study the consumer. It's always been about that. Don't get smart ass. Don't get clever except to express something that they will appreciate. Don't just tell them how smart you are. Listen to what they say and tell them what they would like to know that would help them. It's never been any different. We've got it wrong time and time again and we undoubtedly will again, but the consumer is what you're there for.
Charles: Great. Thank you so much for joining me and I'll see you for dinner on Saturday.
Barry Day: Yeah. Thank you.
Charles: That wraps up this episode of Fearless. Join us next time as we delve further into the art and science of leading some of the world's most disruptive businesses and unlocking the power of creativity to change ourselves and the world. Thanks for joining us.