Creative Creative Works My Creative Career

My Creative Career: Andy Jex, chief creative officer at TBWA\London


By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

February 26, 2024 | 13 min read

As we profile the industry’s top talents, Andy Jex tells of the origins of ‘Potsy and Jexy,’ explains why clever and humorous ads reign supreme and confesses that he doesn’t miss writing.

Andy Jex

Andy Jex, chief creative officer at TBWA\London

Andy Jex has lived and worked in London all his days. He was even born at the same hospital as football legend David Beckham.

Since his school days, he’s always had a knack for the arts. Subjects like technical drawing and geography brought great joy, although he admits he isn’t amazing at them (although adds his mum would say otherwise).

Growing up in the 80s, and during what he calls the “golden age“ of TV advertising, he muses that it did make an impact. Those ads were as much playground fodder as bands like Wham and football teams were to the kids of the era. It was something that always stuck with the youngster. “I’ve always been fascinated as to why something so commercial or functional seemed to resonate and be memorable and loved by so many people,” he says. “Even when I was doing projects at school, I would somehow end up writing about adverts.”

He recalls that cigarette advertising was becoming a lot more restricted, and the campaigns of that time became almost “cryptic” and “more creative” because of the boundaries. There’s a very fine line between being clever and simple – a motto he always stands by.

“It was just the use of humor. I think it was the thing that got me,” he adds. “Remember, in those days, they’d run an ad for five years. It’d be on telly all the time. But people didn’t seem to get bored of them.”

During his school years, Jex discovered a photography dark room that had been unused for at least 10 years. He cajoled his art teacher to open it up and teach him some of the basics. A fascination began.

It spurred him on to go to Manchester School of Art and do a photography degree. The trouble was, this was around the time when digital photography was becoming popular and being on the film course at that time felt a bit like being left behind. He ended up leaving and pursued another course at the University of Gloucestershire that encompassed lots of different creative subjects.

In 1994, during his second year, one of the learning blocks was advertising. “It sounds naive and foolish to say, but I think I thought the person who put the poster up was the person who designed it and made it,” he remembers. “I don’t think I ever thought about that there was a whole industry behind it all.”

Immediately regretting not studying advertising in the first place, he signed up for the post-graduate course at Watford Ad School when he was around 23 years old. Tony Cullingham, who founded the school, would infamously ask students cryptic questions to gain a place at the college. It’s a method that suited Jex; he’s never been one that pushed for a “correct answer,” anyway.

Getting on to that course felt terrifying, intimidating and hugely exciting, he recalls, but a huge joy.

Jex says that Cullingham, who passed away last year, gave so much to the ad industry and has left an incredible legacy. “All of our work is his work,” he adds.

While at Watford, Jex met his creative partner, Rob Potts. They became known as Potsy and Jexy. “With surnames like that, you’ve got to,” he laughs. At first, they were terrible together, admits Jex, but rather than breaking up, they stuck it out until something good came of it. Which, spoiler alert, eventually happened.

A year after finishing at Watford, the duo was one of the last teams to get a job. They went on a two-week placement at Mother, which had only been around for something like 18 months at that time. “It was a dream,” says Jex. “It was very early days for them, but they were clearly doing something very different.”

During those first seven days, the young creatives were given a brief for Super Noodles. They wrote a script based on something that had happened to Potsy and presented it at 7pm on a Friday. Robert Saville, co-founder of the agency, was impressed by the pitch and said: “Who are you two then?” It was his way of saying it was a good idea, and he ended up keeping the duo for another week to work on it before heading to rival agency DDB.

While there, they were offered a full-time position, but Saville had also made an offer for them to come back to Mother. “We took the DDB one. Our logic was, we wanted to learn the traditional way of doing it before we break the rules,” Jex explains. “Mother was ‘Les Enfants Terribles,’ they were breaking the rules, they were doing it differently. We were like, we don’t even know how to do it properly, let alone do it differently.”

While at the creative shop, they made work very quickly and learned a lot. But the people that had hired them, Richard Flintham, and Andy McLeod, had moved on to set up Fallon in London. It was a huge deal.

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“We didn’t know anything about them [Fallon]. We quickly got schooling in who they were and what they’ve done,” he says. “Rich and Andy were our creative idols. This is an agency that was, like, eight or nine people at the start, so we were the first creative team there. You learn and grow so much just sitting next and working with people like that every day.”

There was a start-up, us-against-the-world mentality to Fallon’s London arm at that time which was exciting. One of the first projects they worked on was for Nando’s, a brand that had only recently appeared in the UK. The campaign work is one that Jex still remembers fondly. It was an out-of-home ad that read: ’Don’t eat eggs, wait until they are chickens, they taste better.’ It was an “odd concept,” but one that was also funny, even if it did ruffle a few feathers.

“We ended up getting a letter of complaint from the egg and dairy marketing board saying that our facts were incorrect and that’s not what happens to chickens and eggs,” says Jex. “We knew that, of course. It was just a bit of fun, and to me, that was my first example of trying to do something that felt clever, yet daft and stupid, but it was inherently very simple.”

Nandos ad

It was a proud moment for the two, one that people noticed and gave them confidence in themselves as a team.

The agency then won the Skoda account, and Jex remembers seeing Flintham and McLeod make ‘It’s a Skoda, honest,’ which was hugely inspiring. The brand was “dead,” and that campaign turned things around for the car manufacturer.

Work for the BBC followed, with an ad for radio station One Extra as one of Jex’s favorites. They filmed people on the streets but overlayed it with sounds from tracks that people would recognize. The sounds of the streets were replaced by songs. It was simple but came to life amazingly. “It was another step up because it was suddenly like a thing that was so big and mainstream and on BBC television after EastEnders every night,” he says. “It won a D&AD, and it was like, oh my goodness, we won a pencil.”

After five years at Fallon, there was “unfinished business” at Mother, so they headed back there to work. “We felt like they’d done a lot for us, and we had turned them down. I think it was a thing we were always going to go back to if they would have us. Luckily, they did want us,” he adds. “They welcomed us like, ‘Oh, you’ve come back,’ but the agency was five times bigger by this point.”

They came into a department that was filled with their peers and began working on another dehydrated noodle brand, this time, it was Pot Noodle. There’s a theme here, for sure. The brand wanted to convey that its product was “healthy,” but Jex knew this was a bit of a stretch. With the help of Saville, they found a fun solution.

There’s an ex-mining town in Wales called Crumlin. Many people there were out of work, and others worked in the factory. The creatives began to think about the concept of food being fuel when an old April Fool’s Day joke was put on their radar. Back in the 60s, there was a news article that said that spaghetti grew on trees. Basing their concept on this, they came up with a “ridiculous conceit” that had the Welsh minors digging up noodles from the ground as if they were fuel.

“I always think that humor is the thing that stays with people longer, is the thing that’s repeatable,” he explains. “Those things that stick in culture are really, really important to me. Being populist, but also not giving people what they think they want. I think it’s giving people something slightly lateral or odd or daft. Being populist and not esoteric, not just for the few, but for the masses, has always been important to me.”

He’s now chief creative officer at TBWA\London, which he joined in 2017 after spending five years at Saatchi & Saatchi as executive creative director. The best part of his job now? The creative review. He says people always ask him if he misses writing the work himself. “My answer is always no, I don’t, because I don’t have to physically be writing it all the time. I’m in reviews 10 times a day on eight different brands with different teams, and that’s what I love.”

He says it goes back to being at school when he had so many interests and was a bit of an all-rounder. When he sits in a creative review now, he feels inspired by people who are coming up with ideas that he might not have and loves helping them make sense of it all. He says it’s important not to kill things off too early, his job now is about being decisive and nurturing the talent coming through.

A spot for McVities starring the legendary news broadcaster Trevor McDonald and work for Nissan called ‘Electrified Art’ is work that he highlights as key moments for the agency in recent times.

For people looking to get into this industry, he says: “Don’t believe the people that say it’s dead.” He goes on to stress that, yes, the industry has changed a lot, but the world is much more open now, so the opportunities to reach people and be creative are so thrilling.

“We have to remember that it’s only advertising, people don’t give a shit about it. Our job is to make people give a shit about it and think or care or feel something. And it’s hard,” he concludes. “You’ve got to give people something, a surprising gift that they never knew they wanted. It’s an exciting world, more than it’s ever been. It’s harder than it’s ever been. But it’s full of opportunity.”

Read our interview with Nathalie Gordon, creative partner at Havas London.

Creative Creative Works My Creative Career

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