As part of the My Creative Career series, the advertising legend remembers a dramatic moment in the Vivienne Westwood offices, picks his favorite John Lewis Christmas ad and details why the industry has an image problem.
“I grew up when ads were the things that you put on your wall,” recalls Adam&EveDDB creative chief Richard Brim. “You’d have magazines like The Face with cool Levi’s ads. It was the era of BBH and Howell Henry.”
The Tango ads of the 90s and a TV program about the Saatchi brothers inspired the young creative to think that whoever made this work must be having fun. It just never occurred to him right away that it could become a job. Something to earn money doing. Nobody mentioned that. All he knew was that being creative at school meant you would end up in a career with the word ‘designer’ at the end. Graphic designer, fashion designer, you get the jist.
Embarking on an art course at Central St Martins College of Art seemed like the logical next step. For three years he dabbled in photography, film, computing (as it was known then) and finally majored in advertising. I found my way into it, Brim says.
After studying, the creative went to Hamburg in Germany where he was hired on a six-month secondment. “It was amazing because we were treated like a fully formed team as opposed to interns,” he remembers fondly. “It made us grow up pretty quickly.” People wanted their opinions and they had to deliver, as nerve-wracking as that was for the newbie.
A stint at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R back in London followed the placement. It was an amazing time with great people, Brim says. “My formative years of advertising were a lot of fun but not that sort of, oh yeah, old school, misogynistic advertising, it was just a lot of smart people, laughing loads.”
Amid the banter, the work for clients like Virgin Atlantic, Jaguar and M&S stood out. “The two aren’t mutually exclusive. When you have both together that’s when the best work comes out.” It’s something Brim feels passionately about to this day.
A seven-year run at Leo Burnett was the next step for Brim. It was there where he and his old creative partner Dan Fisher would make one of the ads that he’s most proud of. It was for the charity Shelter and it compared the housing crisis to a house of cards that could fall at any minute.
To raise funds for the organization, Brim and his team called on creatives to make bespoke cards that would be auctioned off. Within two weeks all the artworks began flooding in from big names like David Bailey and Alexander McQueen. He remembers how exhilarating the whole thing was.
“We got someone over to the Vivienne Westwood offices because they wanted to present the card themselves,” he retells. “A guy came in and apologized that Vivienne couldn’t be there and then he went ‘ta-dah!’ and presented a picture of her head in a bell jar. It looked severed.”
It was amazing but it wasn’t a playing card. Two days later, the same dramatic scene played out in the Westwood offices. Ta-dah! This time a card was unveiled. The auction ended up raising around half a million pounds.
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Of course, it would be his next move a new shop that would come to produce the ads that Brim would become synonymous with. The spring of 2013 saw the creative join Adam&EveDDB, an agency where he has stayed put for over a decade and produced, arguably, the UK’s most-loved Christmas campaigns.
“When me and Dan wrote ‘Monty the Penguin’ for John Lewis it was the first time that anybody from up North, where I’m from, knew what I did,” he laughs. “It holds a very special place.”
His tenure as creative director, and now chief creative officer, at the London agency will forever be marked by the work that was done for the retailer during the festive period. After winning the account in March 2009, few would have known it would become one of the most lucrative partnerships in adland. Using a charming formula of emotional storytelling and recognizable soundtracks, Brim and his team created some of the brand’s most-loved and memorable ad campaigns. Now, that account is in the hands of Saatchi & Saatchi.
With two decades under his belt in an ever-changing industry, Brim has lots of advice for young creatives. He’s a big believer in teamwork and getting people together to come up with ideas, that’s apparent. As the president of D&AD, he helps to bring creative communities together, inspiring new talent and celebrating the finest in design and advertising.
What he wants people to know about this industry is the buzz you can get from making great work. “Somebody showed me an idea the other day and I felt a physical surge, it must be adrenalin,” he says. “I wanted to bounce around the agency and tell everyone about this idea. My old partner used to fucking hate this, but that’s how I form my thoughts. As I’m telling the idea, I’ll build on it.”
He explains that agencies need to get better at attracting creatives. “We need exceptionally talented people to join this industry,”
“We’re trying to make it a better, safer, more inclusive place where any idea is listened to and any point of view will be celebrated. We’re working on that but give us a chance. I don’t think we can be arrogant and say ‘Bear with it, show people your book’ like the old days. We’ve got an image problem as an industry, and we need to fix it.”