The Drum's New Year Honours: People we'll miss – David Abbott, Julian Koenig, Wally Olins, Rodney Fitch, Felix Dennis
Over the past few days The Drum has taken stock of the agencies, brands and campaigns that made an impact in 2014, as part of our annual New Year Honours.
New Year is an opportunity to reflect on what has been, and as such we wanted to pay tribute to some greats of the advertising, design and media worlds who sadly passed away in 2014.
Here are the people we'll miss.
Quite simply one of the finest writers advertising has ever known. Though he had left the business some years before his death last May, Abbott’s timeless ads for the Economist, Sainsbury’s and Volvo remained the high watermark to which contemporary copywriters aspired.
As his friend Tony Brignull, one of the few copywriters to rival Abbott’s talent, wrote: “At its worst our business can be gimcrack. David proved it can be decent, have integrity, be of real help to commerce. He showed that a state of friendliness is best between seller and buyer, and that with infinite care it can grow into a state of mutual affection. He always told the truth but made it interesting and vibrant and witty.”
It is perhaps apt that the copywriter behind Volkswagen’s seminal ‘Think Small’ advert was himself so modest. “I just wrote some ads,” was how he summed up his involvement in the ground-breaking work of DDB in the late 50s and early 60s. As classy and understated as his copy, Koenig was often overlooked for the acclaim showered on showier contemporaries such as his partner-turned-rival George Lois. But let there be no doubt – Koenig was one of the genuine giants of advertising and his work was special.
For Harvey Probber, who produced meticulously-made furniture, Lois photographed one of its chairs standing uneasily on gleaming parquet, one leg supported by cardboard. Koenig’s copy read: “If your Harvey Probber chair wobbles, straighten your floor.” Faultless.
As he wrote on his own website, “I am ‘the world’s leading practitioner of branding and identity’. It must be true because the Financial Times says so.” Olins was assured in all he did, and it was the conviction he brought to his work that played a large role in establishing branding as a discipline distinct from marketing and advertising.
Co-founder of Britain’s first brand consultancy Wolff Olins, and active chair of Saffron Brand Consultants until his death, Olins enjoyed a long and illustrious career. He persuaded British Telecom to rebrand as BT, played a key role in the launch of Orange and convinced a great many other brands to take care in how they presented themselves to the world. His wisdom will be missed.
Rodney Fitch believed design was for everyone, and that was borne out in the work his eponymous multi-disciplinary design agency produced upon its founding in 1972. From designing fashion stores for Topshop to seating at Heathrow Airport and shavers for Boots, his unashamedly populist design ethos touched many of our lives.
As Tim Greenhalgh, chairman of Fitch today, remembered: “Rodney was someone who believed strongly in the principles of customer-centric design (a phrase he would, of course, never use) and hated it when clients referred to them as ‘punters’ – he believed they deserved much more respect than that and importantly great design.” We should all ensure that legacy lives on.
One of Britain’s most outrageous, entertaining and brilliant publishers, Felix Dennis first gained notoriety as one of three editors in the 1971 Oz obscenity trial. He struck gold with a bargain deal for Europe’s first home computer magazine PC World (buying it for less than £100,000 in 1979 and selling for £3m three years later) and later founded Maxim and The Week.
In an interview with the Guardian in 2013, after being diagnosed with throat cancer, he reflected on spending his fortune on cocaine, wine and women. “$100m on sex and drugs and rock’n’roll! I literally pissed it away. Do you know how much hard work that is?” Ever the maverick, in his final years Dennis spent his money on The Heart of England Forest, a charity dedicated to planting trees. They don’t make them like that anymore.