John Webster, the creative mind behind classic advertising campaigns from the 70s and 80s for Cadbury’s Smash, Kia-Ora, John Smith’s and Walkers Crisps, has been honoured in a special poster created for the latest edition of The Drum.
Photographer and artist Julian Hanford worked with model makers Mandy Smith and Russel Lane to reimagine Webster's most famous creation, the Smash Martian. Here he explains the thinking behind his portrait.
I set out two and a half years ago, with Assorted Nuts, to celebrate visually the personalities and thinking of some of the great British advertising creatives of our time. But just how do you go about immortalising a genius who sadly is no longer with us? I never had the privilege of meeting John, although I dearly would have liked to. But luckily he left a rich legacy of his work over the years, which despite being commercial in origin, is indelibly stamped with his disarming personality and approach.
The unique characters he created for his campaigns are epitomised by the completely zany and charming Smash Martians, so fondly remembered by most audiences of a certain age, so it was really a no-brainer to feature one of them in his portrait. The trouble was, the last remaining original model from the commercials is currently in a glass case at the offices of Premier Foods in St. Albans, and is untouchable now as it is so fragile. So I got on board two of the best model makers I know to faithfully re-create one of the greatest icons in British advertising history.
Mandy Smith has been making models for advertising, film and TV for nearly 30 years, for people like Damien Hirst and Storm Thorgersen, while Russel Lane is an expert architectural and railway modeller.
When I conceived John’s portrait I wanted to convey the human warmth and charm of his way of communicating, so the idea was to have the Martian relaxing in that most British of institutions, your granny’s lounge, complete with wing armchair and flowery wallpaper. Outside is a Yorkshire village reminiscent of that other legendary Webster campaign, Arkwright for John Smith’s. It is that cosy time of late afternoon, when the sun is low and when any Martian worth their salt would be relaxing with a cup of tea – Tetley, of course. As I’ve been working on this image it has dawned on me that we might never see advertising of the like of John’s again.
The world has changed so much, and the mediascape in which his characters came to life and spoke to us was quite unique. John’s work got under your skin, and cuddled you like a well-loved family pet – how much advertising really achieves that these days? Of course, by modern agency hipster standards his work is just not self-referencing, ironic, hip or post-modern enough, is it? Which is exactly what made it so damn effective in the first place – Wallace and Gromit, anyone? John Webster, I salute you. May the intent of your creativity be long remembered, and new generations of ad folk learn by your extraordinary and disarming example.
The free A1 pullout poster is available within the current issue of The Drum.
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