Despite his photo making him look like the newest resident on Albert Square, Liam Wilson is actually a Creative Director at Snap London. In his Write WHAT YOU KNOW series, he types random musings from his life and then inexplicably shoehorns some stuff about advertising in right at the very end. He writes a lot, yet knows nothing at all.
I went to what I thought was a normal secondary school.
That was until I started working in advertising where I met people who told me they grew up on an estate.
An estate that had eight bedrooms, six gardeners, three cleaners and a live-in nanny.
Confusingly, they called their school a Public School.
Doesn’t seem very public if it costs £4,000 a term, Henry me old Chum.
Anyway, my school didn’t have a fancy motto etched into our badge.
It was more students who were Late-in, than students of Latin.
My guess is if we did have a motto, it wouldn’t have been Veni, Vidi, Vici.
It would have been: Veni, Vidi, Vicki and Michelle are having a fight behind the bikesheds ‘cos Chelle called her a Slagus Maximus.
However, we did have to learn a language.
You had to choose whether you wanted to learn French or German.
Both languages rendered entirely useless in Magaluf and Zante, the two places where all pupils graduated to once they’d left those gates for good at the tender age of 16.
In year seven, wearing a blazer I wouldn’t fit into until year 10, lugging around a rucksack so big a London estate agent would try and list it as a spacious studio apartment, my fate was chosen. I put on the sorting hat, or le chapeau de tri as I now know it as, and it bellowed out to the
Grand Hall refectory canteen “FRENCH”. And that was that. I was learning the language of love for the next few years. C’est la vie as my mates who picked German say.
Thing is, most people in my school had a bit of an Estuary twang.
And they didn’t let speaking continental get in the way of that.
Our accent was the diet version of cockney. A mild Micky Flanagan. London, but make it Lemon & Herb.
And because it was North Essex, a little bit of Suffolk crept in. Farmer talk.
Imagine the sound of Gemma Collins suddenly realising the fuel light has come on in the combine harvester.
Now, imagine that scenario but she’s trying to do it all in French.
Welcome to class 1A, circa 2002.
But the thing is, all you had to do to get a decent grade in your GCSE was perform a little.
Give it some va va voom.
There was plenty of revision material around at the time.
There were Petits Filous adverts for a start. And you could always just watch Arsenal on Match of the Day. Pires, Henry and Viera giving post-match interviews provided my inspiration for oral exams.
Now it’s pretty embarrassing standing up in front of a class at the best of times, let alone trying to speak another language.
You’re a teenager too, remember. Your voice changing pitch like bagpipes being played by an asthmatic Labrador. Hormones racing around your body like a wired Lance Armstrong. The glare from your braces blinding those in the front row like the sweeping eye of Sauron.
For some people, it’s their idea of hell on Middle-Earth.
The way I saw it was thus: battle through a minute or so of pain, collect an A.
Success tastes sweeter once you’ve swallowed le pain d'embarras.
That’s Embarrassment bread, for my mates who studied German.
Five years later and I’m on placement in a big ad agency.
I’ve just been briefed on doing the social calendar for the meerkats.
Write two months’ worth of tweets and facebook status for a fictional Russian meerkat.
Every day, Aleksandr Orlov and Sergei Vladamov would put out a joke on something topical.
And the British public loved it.
The concept of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister doesn’t seem so silly when you realise 100,000 people on social media follow an anthropomorphised rodent with links to Russia.
So I’ve written a whole spreadsheet of zingers.
Well, mainly puns. Stuff like:
Aleksandr: Today Sergei is face disciplinary action for poor hygiene. HR have already give him furball warning.
I start reading them to my creative director and the account manager in the review room in my dulcet monotone, and he stops me sharpish.
“Woah, woah. You gotta do the voice.”
“Do the accent. You have to do it in the accent”
I think they’re joking. This is the equivalent of being an apprentice on a building site and being told to go to the depot and ask for a long weight or a tin of tartan paint.
I remember when I had been on placement at BBH, I was briefed to count how many white sheep featured in the famous Levi’s Black Sheep poster. Supposedly so Sir John Hegarty could use the stat in a speech at Cannes. A fantastic prank.
“Seriously. Read your jokes out loud and you’ll be able to see if the rhythm works. Do it in the accent and it helps you write like the characters” the creative director said.
And so I did. And it worked.
It was a great bit of advice. And one I always try and encourage juniors to do.
Read your words out loud, whether it’s a poster headline, website copy, radio, a tweet or telly ad.
Don’t be afraid to lose those inhibitions and give it some jazz hands.
Bring those words to life. Act it out. Even the sound effects.
Creative presentations are often the fun part of a client’s day.
Sure, they may not always show it on their faces.
But they’ll appreciate you showing off your passion for your work and their brand.
I mean, how are they supposed to get excited if you don’t sound excited either?
Three years later.
I’m at Liverpool street. A French couple approach me and asked for directions.
“Excusez moi, parlez vous en francais?”
“Err Oui” I reply.
So far, so French.
This was my chance to show off that A grade I was so smug about.
They then pointed to a tube map and asked something else. I freeze. My face pulling an expression like I’ve realised I left the Iron on.
Thankfully, that French GCSE all came flooding back.
Je m'appelle Liam. Le week-end, j'aime jouer au football avec mes amis.
Sadly, those tourists never found their way to Big Ben. But they are safe in the knowledge that my name is Liam and I like to play football with my friends.
So, while putting on a bit of a show with a little je ne sais quoi might sell in the odd bit of work. The real lesson here is that, just like you can’t learn to be French overnight for the purposes of an exam - you can’t fake being creative. You have to surround yourself with other creative people. You have to do creative things every day, no matter how small. Always learning, always practising. You have to fail a few times, take yourself out of your comfort zone, sometimes even embarrass yourself. You don’t pick up French just from reading textbooks. You learn it from watching cartoons and films, and by chatting to French people in French.
Equally, you don’t learn how to make better ads just by watching ads and reading some bullshit Thought leader on LinkedIn.
You learn it from watching cartoons and films and by chatting to normal people using normal words.
I’m gutted I can’t speak French properly. I have the utmost respect and envy for my French mates and colleagues who not only speak English fluently, but can understand and tell a nuanced joke in English.
I do, however, have an arse shaped like the chassis of a Renault Megane. So I guess I win.
Oh and it was 142 sheep by the way. In case Mr Hegarty is reading and is curious.
Now that’s a man who really does know a thing or two about advertising, unlike me.
Vorsprung durch Technik, as I learned in Class 1A.
Liam Wilson is an award-losing Creative Director and Bullshit Thought Leader on LinkedIn.
His article has very likely boosted the appeal of Private Schools. He could’ve been a professional footballer if he had been any good at football and his creative heroes are lorry drivers in central London who have no problem holding up traffic in order to do a three-point turn.