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Creativity Squared: Liam Wilson on Finding the Funny in Life

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Creative director at Snap London on why writing has always been the thingy he is bestest at

Creativity Squared: Liam Wilson on Finding the Funny in Life

Liam is an Award-winning loser and creative director at Snap London. 

He is a former male model and compulsive liar.

He decided he wanted a career in advertising after discovering somebody got paid to think of a Gorilla playing Phil Collins on the drums in order to sell a bar of chocolate.

So far, he has encountered no monkeys. But has been paid peanuts. 

And in that last sentence, conflated two entirely different species of primate.


Person

I’d say I’m a pretty, observant person. And yes that comma was deliberate.

I tend to spot things and hear stuff that others might have missed. Eavesdropping and people-watching: both hobbies that help you write scripts. I should add they’re also hobbies that can land you in jail for espionage or stalking.

I like to find the funny in life – even if it’s something sad. I think that’s the Scottish side in me. I’ve been to funerals where everybody has been belly-laughing. Even the deceased was in stitches, mainly because it was a big patch-up job following the traffic accident. Obviously there is a time to be serious, and some would argue a funeral is that time, but the world is heavy enough. Pour yourself a nice, refreshing joke. It makes the depressing stuff easier to swallow.

The older I’ve got, the more I’ve realised everybody is creative. It just manifests in different ways. An old mate of mine is a carpenter and the stuff he puts together blows my mind. He gets a brief to build a set of bespoke wardrobes with all of these intricate dimensions and a few bits of wood, then bish bash bosh - it’s done. Now, I’d be wholly useless at that.

But give me a fiddly brief, replace the wood with words, and I can build you a telly ad. 

Cash in hand. 

Lovely jubbly.

I don’t really know if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. I’m not entirely sure I’m a vert at all because my dad always says I’m so laidback, I’m horizontal. What I do know is this: I’m entirely willing to make a complete tit of myself if it means it will sell in an idea. I will dance. I will sing. I will produce a solitary tear on demand. However, afterwards I will need some time alone in a dark room to reflect on my life decisions. So perhaps I’m a bit of a both.

I’d say I’m a man of routine when it comes to feeding and nap time. 

But everything else is chaos. 

My mac’s desktop will probably make you violently ill. 

My train of thought frequently likes to stop at stations that aren’t on the route map.

My respect for authority is minimal- I can’t even follow a recipe without a small act of rebellion, usually involving paprika.

Judging an idea is tough. Somebody has spilt a bit of themselves onto that page. 

Although hopefully not too much as that becomes an HR issue.

I can’t pretend I’m an expert at it. I think it’s something you learn to get better at. Something I hope to achieve eventually. 

But the first thing the work has to do is elicit a reaction.

Make me think “Damn you. I wish I’d thought of that.”

The best work often looks so obvious when you see it.

Massive lateral leaps that join up the dots so seemingly easily.

I mean, of course giant waves look like galloping white horses to sell a pint of the black stuff. Duh.

The reality is it takes a special kind of mind to make that jump in the first place.

A gauge I like to use - and it’s one I don’t think adland uses enough - is how will normal people react to this? Or is this just something my mate in the agency down the road is going to applaud? Remember: we sell things.


Product 

When it comes to my own work, it’s strange because I have a tendency to mourn for what could have been if it wasn’t for those darn pesky clients. The graveyard of dead ideas sits on my Macbook and I leave flowers once a month.

I do really like the Commisery campaign we did for the estate agents, Purplebricks.

It had a human truth at the core of it and we brought it to life with a dose of humour.

Another fave is the “We’re allplants. You don’t have to be” work. It’s a bold but necessary stance for a vegan brand to take. It’s no good having a handful of perfect people eating a strict plant-based diet and judging everybody else. The planet needs millions more people doing it imperfectly. 

I’m also fond of my Tango work. Mainly because it makes me laugh every time I remember the clients’ faces when I presented a script involving a sex toy.

And I’m proud I got to have a few chapters in the long-running meerkat campaign for Comparethemarket. That’s the one I mention whenever I’m sat next to a stranger at a wedding.   

And obviously I have to shamelessly plug my short film ‘This is English’. No better feeling than seeing your film get a reaction in the cinema and pick up a few shiny awards along the way.

There has been recent work I really like. Most of them aren’t traditional campaigns. The FIFA 21 ‘Kiyan Prince’ Knife Crime awareness campaign was powerful, so too is the new Arsenal ‘No more red’ project. I am a sucker for a lovely piece of film though and the Macmillan ‘Whatever it takes’ ad is sublime. Proper tear-jerking stuff.

That said, it would be nice if we could all make more funny stuff. It’s arguably the hardest thing to do, and often deemed the biggest risk. You can finesse and refine jokes to make them razor sharp, but equally you can also tinker them to death by committee. A little more trust in allowing people to go forth and be funny would be greatly appreciated.


Process

I start a project by trying to learn as much about the brand and their product as the client would know, but leave enough room for the ignorance a punter might possess. 

Then I usually go away and don’t think about it. I do another project or activity entirely. That’s when my brain likes to have a séance with the subconscious.

Then the ideas come knocking, often at a really inconvenient time. 

Like when I’ve just put my head down to sleep.

I write every bit down as scraps and scribbles.

Go away again. Chat to people. 

Then come back and see if it any of it makes an ounce of sense.

It usually doesn’t. Now it’s 3am and I’ve royally pissed off my sleeping girlfriend.

Sometimes writing to music helps. Other times it distracts. Especially for her as she’s only just managed to nod off again. It’s now 4am. 

At least two of my best ideas have come from being in a pub. So that might be the winning formula.

Believe me, I wish I knew the magic process to coming up with ideas because it would mean I didn’t shit myself every time I’m staring at a blank page a few hours before a review.

Anybody who tells you they know that magic answer is lying.

I think more ad people should spend time hanging around with ordinary folk. 

You’ll quickly realise you’re not the creative genius you think you are.


Press

I grew up in Colchester in North Essex. Britain’s oldest recorded town.

You only realise what a strange place it is after you leave and try and describe it to someone who has never been. There are Essex Geezers. Country bumpkins. Army squaddies. Uni students. Ex-Londoners. All living within the crumbling walls of a former Roman capital. There’s certainly no shortage of characters to base creative work on.

Writing has always been the thingy I am bestest at. 

My mate the carpenter, well, he has friends asking him for favours around their house, fashioning kitchen units and the like.

Whereas I have people asking me to write their best man speech or to think of something witty to put in a birthday card.

I know who I’d rather be if I was stuck on a remote island with only a Swiss Army Knife.

Hint: definitely him. Mainly because he’s not stuck on a remote island with only a Swiss Army Knife.

I find I need the stress of a deadline in order to deliver the goods. 

A little bit of time-induced panic can make your brain do some wonderful things.

It can also make you poo your pants.

My plea to clients would be to let creatives get on with the bit you’re paying them to do.

I realise it’s a modern phenomenon in which patients tell their doctors what the answer to their health problem is, but sometimes it’s best to leave it up to the ones armed with the scalpel and the medical degree. Or the carpenter with the Swiss Army Knife from a previous metaphor.

Relax a little and have some fun with us.

I think some clients are sceptical of creatives, thinking we want to just take their money and run off to the amusements and spend it all on the dodgems.

When actually most of us just want to help you out and solve your problem in an interesting way. We get a kick out of a pat on the back.

That’s all most creatives are at the end of the day.

An enthusiastic little puppy seeking affection.

Probably wearing Nikes and some edgy glasses.

In summary, I suppose this whole article has been a long- winded way of me admitting I haven’t the foggiest what creativity is or how you find it. All I know is I think I may be in the pocket of the Carpentry Industry.


Liam Wilson is definitely NOT sponsored by Lloyd’s Bespoke Carpentry Solutions Ltd, Colchester’s Premier Joinery specialists.

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Snap London, Mon, 17 Jan 2022 15:49:00 GMT