Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A tale of two Hartleys

It was L.P.Hartley who wrote 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' When I first saw the classic TV ad for Yellow Pages, which told the story of an elderly man tracking down his long-lost book, Fly Fishing, I think I got my Hartleys muddled up and they merged into one.

The gentleman in the ad is J.R.Hartley and his creator, David Abbott, who founded the advertising agency AWV BBDO, passed away on May 17th. Although I never had the experience of working in his agency, his work was a huge influence on me in my choice of a career. Just one example is the series of posters for The Economist.

Why do I love the Yellow Pages ad? Well, it is classic storytelling at its best, and I bet David Abbott didn't need to go on an academic seminar on story arcs and heroes' journeys to learn his craft. And the brand is integral to the ad - not tacked on, not plonked in. Everyone remembers it's for Yellow Pages. And then the way it's put together - the music, the actor Norman Lumsden's performance, the Joss Ackland voiceover - wonderful! The ad was even recreated in 2011 in an updated version, with a middle-aged DJ searching for his 90s vinyl hit, aide by his young daughter and the Yell app.

Claire Beale, the editor of Campaign, wrote of David Abbott: 'Abbott's writing was created to sell, but to sell with an integrity and a humanity that truly respected the consumer.' And that's where the other Hartley quote comes in. Is this a thing of the past? Did David Abbott "do things differently" from the young copywriters of today?

I do hope not.

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