‘Welcome to Ad Land; capital: Average’ – Tony Cullingham’s final words to Watford graduates

I recently gave a speech at the Watford Advertising Course Graduation for the classes of 2016 and 2017. The graduates are all in agencies such as BBH, VCCP, Blink, AMV, BBC, Channel 4, Y&R and Wieden+Kennedy. Here is a precis of the talk.

Ad Land.

Population: Worried.

Capital: Average.

Currency: The Dull.

Welcome to Ad Land.

A complicated world of dense areas, false trails, mirages and long fruitless treks. Before setting out on any journey young creatives need a guide. And the best guide you can find is an eagle owl.

Eagle owls have the physical skills of an eagle.

They are focused, precise, powerful and energetic.

They can soar to great heights over the landscapes of Ad Land.

They see the big picture below.

They are also blessed with the sensory and intuitive skills of an owl.

In Native American culture the eagle is a symbol of truth and the owl represents wisdom and intuition. So, you need to find your eagle owl or your creative spirit will get lost and will shrivel up.

Eagle owls are often disguised.

They're likely to be experienced.

Their feathers might be greying.

They will most certainly still be ambitious, and they will have a young heart and a mischievous soul.

They could be a creative director, a strategist or a TV producer.

They might not even be in Ad Land.

They could be perched on high in other creative terrains.

Eagle owls are declining.

Their habitat is under threat.

Technology hunters, rapacious data harvesting and the open plan territories that have produced visual blight have all combined to threaten the species.

The climate is changing too. Icy winds of dull are blowing off the eastern coast of political correctness which have made many eagle owls take flight to new, more interesting lands.

But when you do find your eagle owl, let them guide you.

For they can spot a herd of charlatans grazing in the undergrowth of complex briefs.

They sense the twitch of a nervous eyebrow on the face of a client. They can smell the faint odour of bullshit on the meeting room plains.

The eagle owl hears the distant thunder of angry consumers who skip your ads.

They can spot the golden rabbits of opportunity that live in the hidden burrows.

They instinctively know where the four-legged ideas roam – those rare beasts that can run twice as fast as two legged ideas.

Your eagle owl will navigate you past the tempting watering holes like The Frog & Failed Creative and The Blank Pad.

The ground in Ad Land can be less than firm.

There are hidden quick sands everywhere where great ideas are sucked out of sight never to be seen again.

Your eagle owl will make sure every step you take is made with confidence.

And eventually you'll reach Push It Mountain.

And you will look up at Push It Mountain and you'll say to your eagle owl: “Do I have to? It's nearly 9pm and I want to get home to watch Love Island.”

You will start your climb of Push It Mountain and soon your creative spirit will be on high in a rarefied atmosphere.

And you'll say: “This is fun”

And your eagle owl will say: “It is fun. And it just happens to be advertising.”

And from the top of Push It Mountain you'll look down on at the geography of Ad Land and everything will be crystal clear.

And you'll say: “Thank you.”

And your eagle owl will say: “No worries. You're going to have to do it all again tomorrow.”

Tony Cullingham is the leader of the Watford Advertising Course at West Herts College

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