Wallop! is more than a book about the work done by Rightford Searle-Tripp and Makin and Ogilvy RSTM. It is a nostalgic, passionate romp through the heady days of South African advertising.
Advertising and marketing people who experienced the advertising revolution of the 1980s are wont to hark back to ‘the best days of our lives’ and describe the work, craziness and camaraderie in explicit detail. Most of this talk is shunned by current marketing and advertising people who describe themselves as professionals, which in the 1980s was a euphemism for dull people who created boring work that didn’t push the envelope and failed dismally at building great brands.
In the latter part of the 1970s ad agency doyen Bob Rightford formed Rightford Searle-Tripp and Makin (RSTM). This after being fired by Graham De Villiers of DeV&S for allegedly accepting a bribe. A natural entrepreneur and leader he had not anticipated a career in advertising, but he did know that he aspired to making money. Advertising calls for attributes he had in abundance – energy, decisiveness, charm and mental acuity. An ambitious and natural leader who did not suffer fools, he saw the potential of running an agency that flouted conventions and restraints.
He instinctively knew that to make a difference he had to attract top creative talent and hold on to them. The RSTM threesome of Bob, copywriter Roger Makin and art director Roger Searle-Tripp proved to be one of the most powerful and enduring of that time. Roger and Brian were (and probably remain) quirky characters with quick minds. This is how Roger describes Brian: “Brian slept, ate, drank and smoked advertising. I did the same except I didn’t inhale.” Roger was famous for stripping off his clothes and hurtling across the roof at DeV&S. Much of Wallop! is devoted to people at RSTM and later Ogilvy Mather RSTM (RSTM joined the worldwide group in the mid 1980s) and the award winning work they produced for clients such as Lion Match, Volkswagen and Sales House. And yes it was good, bloody good. It challenged racial barriers, catapulted brands, added significantly to sales turnover and produced outstanding admen and women many of whom rose to prominent positions locally and globally.
Descriptions of what took place behind the scenes at client, agency and on set are often hilarious, definitely insightful and prove that the power of a great idea that is well packaged and presented to an open minded client will succeed. And win awards.
Wallop! is also an honest book, failures are admitted and the strong branding of the agency as a hive that bumble bees flocked to or buzzed away from, indicates the FIFO mentality that prevailed in successful agencies throughout those heady years. Advertising was difficult to break into and if you made the grade, a thick skin and strong constitution were essential. It did not attract or keep sissies.
Having spent time in the 1980s at JWT and later BBDO, I could relate to the frenetic pace and perfectionism described in the book. Long, long hours in the office added to time spent wooing clients over long dinners and weekends away which while exhilarating, were equally exhausting. I read Wallop! on a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. As one would expect, the work is well packaged, brightly illustrated, easy to read and you can feel the impact and excitement in your gut.
For details of how to get your hands on a copy of Wallop!, written by Toni Younghusband, and to view the original commercials visit //rstm.ogilvy.co.za. But please buy the book, you won’t be disappointed and may even be in one of the countless pics (some quaintly in black and white) that break the text so efficiently.
Sandra Gordon is CEO of Wag the Dog Publishing.
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