Brilliant advertising copy for a brilliant client – Hewlett-Packard (HP) the company of inventors

Hewlett-Packard is a dream client to make ads for. In fact, most IT brands are great to work for, specially if you are a techie like me. I have written for HP, Compaq and Microsoft and I just can’t get enough.

There’s one ad by HP which is a part of its memorable ‘invent’ campaign that I would love to hang as a poster on my wall. It has what HP calls “Rules of the Garage“. The copy is simple, powerful and inspiring – it works for any team, in fact, not just a bunch of IT wizards.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Rules of the Garage, Invent campaign

My salute to the writer who wrote this and the agency and client team that made this ad happen.

And for the art directors who are wondering what the visual is all about – it’s the actual garage in which the HP company was born. It is now a national monument.

What do you think? Do you find the copy inspiring? Have you written an ad like this? If so, mail it to me at farrukh.copywriter(at) and I’d be happy to share it here with our readers.

Credits Update:
Special thanks to Mark Wenneker who’s emailed me the credits. So, the guys behind this amazing ad are:
Client: Hewlett Packard
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Creative Director/Writer: Steve Simpson
Art Director: Mark Wenneker

Tobacco Advertising: Will you do it? Or will you say ‘No’?

An interesting post has been put up by Richard Abbott on the Campaign Middle East blog – we’re having The great tobacco debate there. I have provided a few reasons why publications should and do refuse to publish ads that encourage the fatal habit of smoking. Some of the most reputed publications in the world like The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Business Week refuse tobacco advertising.

I am posting a few highlights here, in continuation of my blog posts on social responsibility. You are welcome to comment and share your insights.

What happens when we make and publish tobacco, cigarette and smoking ads?

Smoking kills more people than car accidents, alcohol, homicides, illegal drugs and suicides combined. The following is what we are doing when we create, design or publish ads promoting tobacco and smoking:

  • Encouraging children or young adults to experiment with tobacco and thereby slip into regular use
  • Encouraging smokers to increase consumption
  • Reducing smokers’ motivation to quit
  • Encouraging former smokers to resume
  • Discouraging full and open discussion of the hazards of smoking as a result of media dependence on advertising revenues
  • Muting opposition to controls on tobacco as a result of the dependence of organisations receiving sponsorship from tobacco companies
  • Creating through the ubiquity of advertising, sponsorship, etc. an environment in which tobacco use is seen as familiar and acceptable and the warnings about its health are undermined.

[Based on the Surgeon Genera’s report ‘Reducing the health consequences of smoking: 25 years of progress’ USDHHS, 1989 as published on ASH’s website]

Everyday, around 4,000 children try a cigarette and take their first step towards becoming nicotine addicts. They tend to start off with the most advertised brands.

Does controlling tobacco advertising help?

A study commissioned by the New Zealand government across 33 countries over 16 years from during 1970 to 1986 demonstrated that the higher the degree of governmental control on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, the larger the annual reduction of tobacco consumption.

Further on this point, UK Department of Health’s Chief Economic Adviser reported a drop in tobacco consumption of between 4% and 16% in countries that had implemented a tobacco advertising ban.

So, curbs on tobacco advertising do work and that is the reason why many countries have already put them in place and more are starting to do so. Perhaps UAE will follow suit too, knowing its passion for keeping up with the highest standards of living being followed across the world.

Useful Links:
1. CDC’s Tobacco Infomation & Prevention Source (TIPS): Home Page, Fact Sheets
2. GLOBALink’s Answers to Pro-tobacco Advertising Arguments
3. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH): Effects of Tobacco Advertising & Promotion
4. – Online Guide to Quitting Smoking and Useful Downloads
5. Office of the Surgeon General: Homepage, Toxic Substances in Smoke, Dangers of Secondhand Smoke
6.’s Tobacco Timeline: 21st Century Tobacco History 


Does age matter in advertising agencies?

Can one be too old to be in advertising? Or too young?

Advertising is a young person’s business, we are being told by some. The new age advertising agency needs to have ideators who know their ipods. Age and experience can be a disadvantage in the digital mindscape, some are saying. The need for “intellectual curiosity” is being stressed.

Matthew Creamer’s feature in AdAge few days back mentioned an agency executive seeking $30 million in damages from the advertising agency for valuing “youth instead of experience” and “terminating older persons because of their age”.

And here I am, someone who grew up feeding on the advertising knowledge and insights from the wizened ones like Ogilvy and Bernbach and Claude Hopkins. Contrasting that reverence for advertising legends had been my secret wish to become the youngest creative director around. I did rise up to lead a team of 8-10 creatives, help start the company’s web division, and work with the creative team to win some of the most coveted accounts in the market that made other bigger agencies see green. Clients were asking for me at the agency briefings, and expecting me at the creative presentations. I have always found it fun to be presenting our agency’s creative concepts to a room full of marketing managers from the client side, many of whom are my father’s age, and managing to make sense to them and win the account. But this was in a country that had the guts to let talent mow down the conventions.

So what is the reality in the market? Who is advertising fortune favouring today here in the Middle East? The GCC? The UAE? Young or old?

If this thing about agencies valuing youth over experience is true, show me a creative director in his teens in this region. Ok, show me one in his early twenties. And I am not talking of associate, assistant, almost creative director. I am talking regional, national, group creative director. Where are these virgin saviors of the digital era?

From my personal opinion, the scales are still in favour of the wizened viziers when it comes to the top positions – not the young Turks. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Because knowing new technologies is not the same as being firmly grounded in the intricacies of human behaviour. And making it dance to your tune.

Yet, I say, if young Turks can, with their work, prove the ability to lead the agency’s teams and take the advertising agency places – give them the toys to play – the corner office, the fancy designation, the reserved car park. And don’t just pack the old geezers off because they have more candles on their birthday cake than the bubbly intern. Not age, but work that works should be the criteria in deciding who stays, and where.

I was once refused an interview for a creative position in Dubai because the minimum requirement was TEN years of experience, and I had just two. I applied anyway. Showed my portfolio anyway. Tried to convince the agency that it’s the work, not the age, anyway. They were amused at my guts. But persistent about the 10 year experience minimum qualification. Much water has flowed under the Garhoud bridge but things haven’t changed much.

At least I can speak for Dubai, for this region. Agencies aren’t going to launch a firing frenzy throwing off their grey-haired VPs to substitute them for the tattooed kid on the skateboard, any time soon. We’re not in London or New York, habibi. Maybe I can aim to be the youngest VP in the meanwhile. No, no… more like the “chief conceptual officer” (CCO) of a creative hotshop in Media City. In a pair of bermudas. Is it allowed?

The life of a freelance writer

Freelancing is the grass that looks green to the full-timed corporate drones. The dream to one day be one’s own boss seems hard to resist. But it can also be a nightmare.

A freshly discovered blog by Ratna Rajaiah, an ex-advertising suit now a freelance writer, tells it like it is about freelancing:

So you are your own master – big deal. The only thing that means is that when you crack the whip, it smacks your own butt and ow, does it hurt… you need to be a pretty decent runner – to run after people who’ve promised you money (yours that they owe you)/assignments/contacts/anything and how exhausting it can be to do all of this while wearing patient, polite not to mention a blazingly charming smile, when all you want to do is kick the person’s teeth in. (You know, that guy who said tomorrow never comes? He must have been a guy who makes out cheques to freelancers.)

My good friend and Arabic copywriter, translator, author and poet, Hanna Farha recently had a tough time getting paid by one advertising agency here in Dubai. They owed him around US$ 10,000. Yes – that’s more than 30,000 dirhams in dues!

Now, Hanna is a very soft-spoken and gentle person, most writers are. So what did he do? He spilled his heart out and wrote a poem to the agency’s client.

And guess what? The agency paid up. Now that’s what I call the power of poetry.

God forbid, should you be at your wit’s end dealing with an agency that treats its freelancers like beggars without bowls, take inspiration from this:

Let’s pray – a poem by Hanna FarhaLet’s pray… let’s pray
Hoping that (ad agency name)
Will pay
Its debts, our bills
Without delay
Debts to those who’ve been waiting
Night after night,
Day after day
A number of days now exceeding
One thousand days and one day
Waiting for (brand owner name) the great
To think about others’ fate
And put an end to a nasty game
That will only bring (ad agency name) shame…
Let’s pray… let’s pray
Hoping that (ad agency name) will soon pay…
Its debts, our bills, without delay
To those she owes, quite a lot
Standing in big lines, on the way
Suffering from strong winds and dust
And a lousy weather
Wet and hot
But remember Mr (brand owner name)
My ads made you our “King Kong”
No one can claim you were wrong
No one can claim you are wrong
They all think, you’re always right
Please excuse me Mr (brand owner name)…
Ask your (ad agency name) to pay us now
What she owes
No ‘why’ and ‘how’
Please make sure, Mr (brand owner name)
That (ad agency name) pays us all, in peace
Or else we’ll go to the police
We don’t like wars
We don’t like fights
We only want you
To pay our rights.

(c) 2006 Hanna H. Farha


Advertising account executives I fall in love with: 5 rare qualities I just can’t resist

What happened to my good taste, you ask. Read on.

It’s hard to fall in love with an account executive. But as the slogan says, “Impossible is nothing”.

During my adventures and stints at various agencies, I have come across a few traits that can endear me to an account executive, even though many times creatives are usually at loggerheads with the suits.

If you are an account executive and can see the wisdom of having a good friend in the creative department, these are a few things you could ponder over.

Qualities my favourite account executives have:

1. An unfaltering faith in the agency’s creative ability:
When I was working at a creative boutique, one of our account executives claimed to a top client that no matter what their top agency was doing, we could do better work for any given job. The client was game.

It started with a little leaflet as a test of our ability. “I have said big things about you guys – now don’t you let me down” he said back at the agency. Now that was motivating – and our work that started with a little leaflet snatched us the account, right from the jaws of the big shark.

2. Guts to question the client’s motivations:
“But why would you like a red carpet in your ad, Sir?” “What do you mean your ketchup is more ketchupy than others, Sir?” “Why would you want three options when you can have one powerful and hard-hitting one?” “Why don’t you want us to use any word starting with a, z, or k, Sir – did your astrologer tell you that?”

So many times, as a copywriter who could not digest illogical client requests, I have spoken directly to the client and found out that he is not the dumb bloke he is made out to be. It’s just that the account executive does not have the guts or motivation to ask the client any questions.

The good ones know the client, his consumers, his market, because they don’t just take orders but also argue and debate with the client if need be for what they believe is in the brand’s best interests.

3. Loyalty to the agency
Account executives who defend their creative work rather than help the client pick faults in it get my respect. These are the suits who would sell a campaign with selling points even the creative team didn’t think of. To them, the goal is to get the best work of the agency approved by the client.

Some account executives become the client’s voice in the agency, sometimes even insisting on the dullest ideas to be executed just because the client likes it. I am not surprised when such people ultimately jump ship and hop over to the client’s side to bark orders at their agency counterparts. You can smell their shifty loyalties early in their career. Not my type.

4. Bonding with the creative team:
My best days in advertising have not been days, but nights – late nights. While clients and agency bosses slept in their cosy beds, we the copywriters, art directors, finalisers were huddled over our PCs and Macs working on that big, crucial campaign.

During times like these, the account executives I love are by our side, helping, cheering us up, even arranging for pizza and coffee for the team that hasn’t had time to even grab a sandwich for lunch. Not that they must, but they still choose to be with us. “How can I leave my team working on my account in the middle of the night and go home?” they feel. Don’t you just love this team spirit.

Agencies that have such account executives are the agencies that win the pitches. Because people are working as teams and thinking as teams, and selling the work as teams – not individuals.

5. Complete, absolute, obsessive knowledge about the brand they handle
Nothing turns me on to a brand more than an executive who knows all about it. When I ask him or her what does the brand do, what its versions are, who buys it, what its competing brands are – instantly come forth the figures and the facts. Nothing turns me off than the phrase “But why do you want to know that?”. This is usually heard when the servicing executive just copied and pasted the client’s email into the brief format and mailed it to the creative department. The next phrase by the shameless (and clueless) executive is “Why don’t you look it up on their website… which is at… err…”

I remember working on a European brand of wooden floor panels. The account executive gave me a live sales presentation using the sales kit used by their showroom staff, in addition to the brief. I was able to touch, feel and browse the entire collection of panels with her help. That really got the creative juices flowing.

And this is the most important point – if an account executive loves the brand and knows all about it, they would be more likely to inspire the creative members of their team to catch on to the brand affinity.

Next post, maybe I could write about account executives I want to send to Guantanamo. Would you like to read that?