April Fool Special

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

This is no joke. 

From the 1st to the 5th of April all three my Kindle books will be available to download, free of charge. You're welcome to help yourself to as many copies as you like - for your reading pleasure.

I have a small request though. If you do download any of these three books this week, please take a moment to add a review on the book's Amazon page. Tell me and other prospective buyers straight up what you thought - good or bad, of course.

The three stories are:

  • The Double: In a world where everyone has an exact double and where you decide to either be the hunter or the hunted, Clay Harbison stands on the eve of completing a perfect record as a double protection agent. But one day before he retires, one of his clients is killed by his double. With a blemished reputation and a descent into retirement, Clay has to make some tough choices.
  • The 144: One random night, 143 strangers board a subway train in Hong Kong. On its short journey from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, a freak power surge in the tunnel causes the lighting to flicker and induces epileptic attacks in all 143 passengers. When they wake up, their minds have all been transformed. Hopefully, forever.
  • Varkpos: [Afrikaans] One man's epic battle to destroy the internet.

Thank you for reading.

Keeping advertising out of journalism

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

As somebody who works in advertising, I fully support Andrew Sullivan's point of view in his concerns about the dangers of journalism fusing with advertising:

We are reaching a point at which there will be many fewer actual media companies, and more and more companies which learn to mimic what used to be journalism in order to sell their products. We’ve gone from advertizing supporting journalism to journalism supporting corporate propaganda. At the rate we’re going, as the line between church and state is deliberately blurred by desperate media companies, we may end up with a handful of actual independent online magazines and newspapers and a vast industry of corporate propaganda designed to look like the real thing. If we’re lucky.

Creative agencies are pushed to get as much earned media as possible. This can lead to hugely subversive tactics. 

As agencies, we have a moral role to keep journalism about editorial. Our job is to make our clients' campaigns as interesting as possible without having to revert to lies and tricks.

That one time advertising got me closer to God

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

There was a second time, but that involved a scary landing at Douala's airport and with unclear plan on how to get to a hotel. But that's a tale for another day.

This time, we are talking about getting up close and personal. And I was reminded of this encounter as I watched footage of the esteemed cardinals filing into the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pontiff. As I saw a glimpse of the magnificence of Michelangelo's handiwork, I was instantly transported back.

cardinals enter sistine chapel.jpg

As it happened, I was attending an agency meeting in Rome in 2006. After one of the early afternoon sessions, our Roman hosts told us that they had a special treat lined up. A van pulled up and drove us to the Vatican. The museum and the chapel had already closed for the day. But not for Saatchi & Saatchi. 

We were ushered in and guided by a rather elderly and extremely knowledgable guide. She took us through all the rooms of the Vatican museum until finally, we reached the Sistine Chapel.

There we were. Eight of us. And the guide. And a handful of angry looking dudes who made sure we didn't snap any pictures. Quick, badly framed, badly lit shots like this:

my sistine shot.jpg

To be virtually alone in that space, surrounded by the genius of the man, is a truly breathtaking experience. Unrushed, your eye could scan across the scale of his work. One could truly take in the time scale too, as you notice how his painting style evolved over the four years that it took him to paint all the frescoes.

One could, for a moment, fully appreciate the displacement of consciousness from the heavens into this tiny little building in downtown Rome.

And then, as we were about to leave, our guide talked to us about The Last Judgement - a painting Michelangelo completed 20 years later on the Northern wall of the Chapel. She told us that the pope's Master of Ceremonies complained about the time it took and all the nudity. To punish him, Michelangelo lent the official's likeness to Minos - a judge of the underworld. He also added donkey ears. When the outraged official complained, the pope just smiled and said his jurisdiction did not extend to hell.

We all chuckled at this tale. We've all had clients like that. And good for Michelangelo. In that moment, he wasn't just the god-like genius, he was just the hustling creative, getting his own back. In other words, a man, like the rest of us.

A slightly self-indulgent post

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

I have come home. After approximately six years, working in Asia and Europe, my journey brings me back to Cape Town. It is weird and wonderful to be back. I feel like the same person who left, as if the point of departure has been tied over to the point of arrival so that the in between years are almost a separate part of me.

But they are not. They are there, like the skin a snake sheds after the winter. I made mistakes. I had failures. But I also had successes. In all, I am a more experienced human being for having passed through so many airports. For meeting so many interesting people. China. India. Japan. Vietnam. Poland. Hungary. These are places I have come to know and they have enriched me. The people, so humble and kind and gentle have made me miss my people. Especially those who are less fortunate and who always get by with a big smile and warmth of heart.

I am grateful to Saatchi & Saatchi for everything that I have learned whilst associated with them. There are some wonderful people in that network and I will always feel close to the name. It was my first agency in 1995, and it has been my home since just before my daughter was born. They literally let me into this business.

But today I am very proud to join a very exciting independent group: Joe Public - the 2012 Agency of the Year in South Africa and an agency that under the leadership of Gareth Leck and Pepe Marais have just gone from strength to strength. They are admired by peers, clients and staff alike. But, above all, I love their focus on purpose.

Today we form a partnership to re-establish Joe Public in Cape Town. I will be working closely with Gareth and Pepe to bring something new to the city. There are some great agencies in this town, so being competitive here will be a huge challenge. But I know we have something very interesting to offer - not just to the local industry, but also to global clients. Joe Public Cape Town, as part of the anti-network network, will be the same but different as its parent company. Same, in the sense that what is working for the group in Johannesburg will be replicated, but different in that we take cognisance of the differences of the Cape Town market. It will be a Joe for Cape Town.

Lastly, I am so happy to be back here in South Africa. Yes, this country has many challenges, but it is through challenge and obstruction that we become stronger and more creative. And it is through the strength and creativity and warmth of South Africans that we will keep pushing to build South Africa into the world power it can be. We just need to welcome the obstruction into our lives. Not back off from it, but embrace it.

So, here's to a new chapter. A return home and a great new partnership.

The Power of Obstruction

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Creative professionals always seem to wish for total creative freedom. But the truth is: We hate it. Deep down, we know, freedom is bad for creativity.

I once worked on an account that was well-known for yielding lots of creative awards. The client was very open to having great ideas. They knew the more interesting and controversial their advertising was, the more publicity they would garner. For a marketer like themselves, operating on a very small budget, earned media was crucial. Everyone in the agency wanted to work on their brief. But starting one of their projects was always daunting. Where to start? Where to go?

In another agency, I worked for a creative director who introduced me to the adage "the freedom of a tight brief." This contradiction contains a powerful truth.

True creative freedom comes from a well-defined, clear obstacle. 

In the classic Ogilvy copy test - the set of solutions designed to test an individual's ability to become a copywriter - there is a problem which illustrates this truth beautifully.

You are to create a 15" TV commercial for a Young Scientists Award. You're only allowed three props: a ping-pong ball, a paper clip and a bath-plug.

The problem defines the desired outcome: promote a Young Scientists Award. It also clearly defines an obstruction: You're only allowed these three basic props.

When you first see this kind of problem you think: Impossible. But the obstruction contains the spark that every creative mind possesses. The challenge. The truly creative mind wants to find a new path to the desired outcome. It wants to destroy the obstruction. In the need to destroy the obstruction the idea is born.

If you want to see a brilliant example of how this can play out, get hold of the  documentary film: The Five Obstructions by Lars von Trier (2003).

The film is a cinematic duel between Von Trier and one of his old film school lecturers: Jorgen Leth. In the 60's, Leth made an important short film called "The Perfect Human." Von Trier's challenge, in 2003 to Leth was: Remake that same film five times - each time with a different set of obstructions, as defined by Von Trier.

During the film, Von Trier gives him obstructions that border on the insane. In fact, they aggravate Leth so much that he threatens to give up - many times. But every time, you can see how once the anger washes away, the obstruction lights the fire of inspiration in him. During the film he invents new editing techniques, creates mind-blowing animations and powerfully moving scenes. In each instance, he makes a better film than the original (in my opinion) - except for one - where he is "punished" with "no obstructions."

As writers; designers; film-makers; musicians and other creative professionals, we should not just embrace the obstruction. We should actively seek it out. If your brief doesn't contain enough tightness then why not invent some obstructions of your own?

- Design this corporate identity only using triangles

- Set this type using only Letraset

- Write this radio commercial using only sound effects

A tight brief, containing a daunting obstruction, does not just give us a useful roadmap of where we need to go, it also provides the fuel for getting to the idea.

Taking stock

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

With every change of the Gregorian calendar we seem compelled to take stock, reflect and resolve important decisions for the future.

Even though the planet is spinning through a point in space that it has never been and will never be at again and even though I know the time we assign to days, months and years are purely human fantasies - I would like to reflect on where I am at.

Personally, the last few years have been very tough. I also spent most of the festive season on my own. This has given me a brilliant opportunity to reflect and to cement my sense of what is important to understand about existence as I move towards a happier future.

There's only now

Every major spiritual leader has taught this same lesson. The future and the past can only make us unhappy. It is only in the now that we find nirvana. It seems so simple but to master this truth could take a lifetime.

Life is not fair

The sooner we accept this very basic truth about existence, that fairness is only an ideal, then life becomes a lot easier to bear. The concept of fairness and justice is just something we strive for or wish existed, but it doesn't really. As somebody said recently, the universe doesn't give a shit about you. And it doesn't care for fairness either.

Letting go

Once you understand this you can begin to let go a little. Letting go is really important. Anger. Control. Fear. These are the jailers of the human existence.

It's just money

Don't chase it. Don't be chained by it. And don't be intimidated by it. Yes, we all need buckaroos to survive but once you understand that money will flow in and out of your life like tides in the ocean you can make peace with it. Enjoy it as a byproduct of what you do.


Like Simon Sinek says: “people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it”

This is true for companies and individuals alike. Purpose is the propellant that gets us to greatness. It provides framework and spine to our existence.

Embrace obstruction

The thing that makes us stronger is resistance. The creative mind needs something to push against to give birth to ideas. Embrace obstruction. Welcome your obstacles. If you don't have enough push back, seek out more.

Speaking of creativity

All of us, every human on this planet is born with every tool required for survival. Creativity. The genius of man. It is inside all of us. Don't deny it in yourself. Encourage it in others. If we all apply our little bit of genius to the acre of land in front of us the world will be transformed and be a happier and more interesting place.

Happy 2013 to one and all.


Old fashioned TV

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

An ex-colleague from TBWA days tweeted a link

There is something about the old fashioned advertising that I love and to me says far more than the flashy clever over engineered ads of today. I know that we all look at things with a nostalgia, and view history as quaint but it is actually more than that, I feel I can trust old advert. It was almost impossible to try and dazzle you with technology and to turn a simple message into a something that bedazzles you into not seeing the product but just the work of the ad agency, clearly you still have to have at the end of it remember what the product was, otherwise it would be a total failure as an ad, but without reading small print and understanding jargon, the truth is hard to find. The message of above is simple, beautiful people drink Coca-cola that cost 5cents a glass, simple. To make the same point think of all the ads that Coca-cola has made in your lifetime, each getting bigger, more sparkled and more glittered by the ad.
Ads are no longer about selling a product, they have become a platform for advertising the entire, company, the ad agency and the geniuses of the writers, producers, the camera crew and so on and so on. Somewhere over the years the point of ads has become lost. Somewhere over the years the challenge has become to be funny, or shocking, or to dazzle. That somewhere to me seems to have been when they invented awards for all these things, rather an awards for simply selling more product than the one before. Millions each year a spent on beguiling people and tricking them into transferring the love for the ad to the love of the product, products should be loved because they are good, they do what they say they will and they are affordable. I can say with total honesty I have never bought anything just because of an ad, I have never had an urge to try something, or change from what I normally buy, mind you I don't know when I last actually looked at an ad, I just cut off when they start and tune back in when they end. My ad watching these days is limited to when an ad is brought my attention, when years ago I did watch, I did think about what they said and I might have been swayed. Maybe advertisers should take a step back and look at what they are doing and why.

I have re-read these words five times.

They feel so raw and honest.

People learned to hate advertising because it was boring, stupid, repetitive and annoying. In the 90s, at TBWA, we had a simple rule: The advertising should be more entertaining than the programming it interrupts.

We did alright.

But 99.99% of agencies don't have rules like these. Especially now. They just focus on making rubbish that can survive rounds of excruciating research and tick boxes and eventually they just annoy people.

So most people dislike TV as a whole. In the past, normal people would pay to queue up and sit down in a cinema and watch the winners of that year's Cannes Festival of advertising. Imagine that. People paying to watch advertising. Yeah. Read that again.

I recently saw a reel of new director's work here in Europe. Of the reel, there were two thirty second spots. Funny, charming and lovely. And the crowd I was in cheered and clapped. But most of it was experimental, music videos, rubbish. The crowd was dumbfounded.

I know I am starting to sound like an old fart. But I miss the days of a great 30 second spot. The art of crafting a simple story that would be entertaining enough that people would pay to watch it.

If we still did that, this person's blog post wouldn't exist.

The end of bullshit

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Advertising's obituary has been written many times. In fact, if The Google is to be believed, more than 1 billion times.

And who can blame the gloom sayers? Advertising is a business in serious trouble. Like other middle-men, the internet has made the gap between supply and demand so short the man in the street can get the best deals on anything from travel to property with a simple hop, skip and a click. No mess, no fuss and certainly no agents required.

For decades, the advertising business got away with murder. A lot of work it produced was based on instinct and gut feel. And lucky for the great agencies of the 70s, 80s and 90s, they were driven by great maverick thinkers who could create magic work based on their gut instinct. I am thinking of the great creative directors of the ilk of Arden, Hegarty, Clow, French, Saatchi and Sinclair. To name just a few. But really, the greats were only a few. Many, many more impersonators have been seated at layout pads and fed absolute schlock to unsuspecting clients.

And these clients have been growing restless. The adage "half my advertising budget is wasted, problem is I don't know which half" is said in jest. But in the tail of satire there is always the sting of truth. 

Now, let's just cut to another parallel industry for a moment. Journalism. 

Every four years, the US media machine goes completely bonkers in following the pursuit of those who wish to become the leader of the free world. And again, this year, some wild claims have been made. So much so that most Americans (and the world) went to bed on November 6 thinking the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would be "too close to call." One or two "data nerds", notably FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, steadfastly predicted an Obama landslide and their final prediction tipped the incumbent to a 90% chance of winning.

Mr. Silver was not even close. He was dead on. On the money. 100% strike rate. So much so, that Jon Stewart crowned him "Lord and god of the algorithm."

Nobody can ever underestimate the earth quake that hit political punditry. All those countless hours of talking heads on TV, banging on for hours, speculating, flattened by a solid 9 on the data Silver Scale of finely tuned spreadsheets and math. 

Now, let's cut back to Madison Avenue. What can agencies learn from what happened to journalism, what clients want from a creative partner and the rise of the numbers?

This: That the three remaining forces in advertising is

  • Data - see above
  • Design - the outward shape of insight
  • Delivery - design made real

An agency that has tight control over these three Dees and know how to chain them together will be able to use the power of the numbers to create unbelievably good work. Lots of Nate Silvers, feeding real insight from real numbers of real consumer behaviour and needs to creative professionals who are geared to deliver their designs in what format the data suggests.

In the same way that FiveThirtyEight destroyed the pundits, this approach will bring an end to the bullshit in our industry.

The age of data, metrics and the internet does not hail the death of this business, but the resurrection thereof.


Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Fo' mahala!

A promotion in every language sounds sweet.

Following Black Saturday, and to celebrate the publication of my new short "The Double", I am making all three my kindle publications available as free downloads for a limited time only, this weekend.

So if you're cheap, you better be fast too.

Please remember. You give indie writers a big-up if you write a review. So, please do. Even if you gonna hate.

Announcing a new short: The Double

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

I am pleased to announce the availability of my latest short story on the Amazon Kindle platform.

The story has been with me since the  day I asked myself: What if we were all born with an identical twin, somewhere else in the world? And in order for you to fully live your life, you would have the hunt your twin and kill him? Or her?

The story is told from the point of view of an agent who operates in such a world. He works as somebody who protects those who choose to hide from their doubles. Clay Harbison, our hero, turns out to be quite good at it and in 30 years never loses a client. But then, one day before his career concludes in retirement, one of his clients is killed by his double. This sets in motion a series of events that leads Clay to make some choices about his own life too - with some surprising results.

I hope you choose to read it and if you like it, please write a review or let me know what you thought of it.

Click here to view it on Amazon