Agency Leadership Advertising Marketing

My ad diary: Dept’s creative director on a random day’s best marketing

By Jeff Bowerman, Executive creative director



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December 12, 2023 | 8 min read

In a special miniseries, we’ve tasked ad execs to note and ponder on the ads they see in a single day. Today: Dept’s Jeff Bowerman clocks a surprise favorite.

A pair of glasses, held up and reflecting a city street

What was this creative director's favorite ad he saw on a random autumn Monday? / Matthew Fassnacht via Unsplash

I often wonder: if I didn’t work in the marketing industry, would I really be aware of advertising?

IRL-me doesn’t have linear TV, tends to turn up late to the cinema, faffs about whether to buy popcorn and misses the ads. He doesn’t visit websites with banner ads. And, apart from a guilty addiction to TikTok rabbit holes, he doesn't have any active social accounts.

Work-me is slightly different, with a daily pre-9am LinkedIn and industry press scroll. But that’s the nearest I get to actively consuming advertising.

Then again, spotting the actual ads isn’t always easy, between self-inflating PR, awards, and fake out-of-home. At a recent awards ceremony where 300 awards were dished out [ed: this was filed before this year’s The Drum Awards festival], I hadn’t seen a single one.

When I do find myself face-to-face with an ad in the wild (perhaps an actual out-of-home placement in Old Street station, en route to the office, or an enforced video-on-demand ad on C4 while binging Married at First Sight Australia), I still can’t adopt the intended audience POV.

Instead, I always play a little game called ‘Imagine pitching this ad’.

This game involves guessing the strategy, insight and selling the creative idea, how audiences will love it and find it hilarious/moving/thought-provoking. I’ll even go into those deal-breaking little bits of attention to detail they will definitely appreciate when they see.

For a bonus round: the budget conversation, where the original idea gets chipped away and the compromises are made.

I really must get out more.

Getting out more: My ad diary

One Monday not long ago, I did get out – if just for one day. I put on my audience hat, turned my cynicism down to medium-low and tried my hardest not to unpick the strategies behind all the ads I saw (I failed on the latter front).

8:45: A quick swipe through TikTok while I await the tube; I soon realize that either I get served very few ads or they are so similar to creator content now that I don’t spot them. I very much subscribe to the ‘native is best’ philosophy, but now, 5 hours later, I can’t list a single example I saw.

9:15: A lot of London Underground tube cards, all with the same tube puns; ‘Next stop Hemorrhoid cream’, ‘Mind the gap in your pension contributions’, etc. Why did I remember those two? Let’s not delve.

10:00: A perplexed/concerned look from the creative team as I try to remember an ad I saw recently that had a similar structure to the idea they were presenting. Long story short: I couldn’t, failing miserably as creative director.

11:34: A bus trundles past with the new LG ‘Life is Good’ plastered on the side. That’s nice and positive, I thought. Not sure the meaning of Samsung (‘Three stars’) has the same positive ring to it.

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1:30: Lunchtime. I spot Uncommon’s Hiscox campaign on a few OOH screens. Fun headlines. But here’s the difference between ad truth and ad legend: I only ‘got the big idea’ and saw the clever OOH executions after I read about it in the industry press that day.

3:30: Some VOD – a Mortal Kombat PlayStation ad. Dave Bautista and some super high-budget cinematic film-making. Can’t remember the idea, but I do remember thinking it looked like a film. Games have advanced a lot, but game advertising seems to think it still needs to use other forms of entertainment to trick us into buying.

6:45: A bus stop 6-sheet for Lucozade; big bold type ‘Taste The Next Big Zing’ with a huge product shot. Nice pun, super easy to read as you drive past, single-minded. Great. Made me yearn for a nice simple product proposition brief.

8:30: An Ebay ad on VOD for car and motorbike parts and accessories. Obviously brilliant. (Disclaimer: we made it at Dept).

10:30: Another TikTok scroll. Some actual ads this time: Hugo Boss and Walkers. I take a little nose at the comments – no one is commenting on the actual ads, just about the brand and the products. This highlights the need to really stand out, or you might just as well post a big logo.

The tally

All in all, I tallied 154 ads – a long way from the mythic 10,000. Nonetheless, that’s 154 ads that had to be ideated, pitched, and made by our beloved industry against the odds.

The most memorable ad I saw that day? A big, disruptive poster outside a North London gym. This is a ULEZ Zone* *Unlimited Life Enhancing Zumba. Love it. Topical and timely. No advertising agency involved.

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DEPT® is a pioneering technology and marketing services company that creates end-to-end digital experiences for brands such as Google, KFC, Philips, Audi, Twitch,...

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