Paul Arden is one of the best advertising people in the entire world. As Saatchi & Saatchi's Creative Director he turned the agency in London's Charlotte Street into the Doyle Dane Bernbach of our times. Hermann Vaske spoke to Paul Arden in London.
P. Arden: Good, I'm glad you're prepared.
L.A: I prepared myself in the steam room.
P. Arden: Aha.
L.A: Did you always know what you wanted to do?
P. Arden: Yes, I always knew what I wanted to do. I wanted a job in advertising. My father was in advertising. He was a commercial artist. He was different from other boys' fathers and I was very proud that he was different. I had no idea if I was any good, I just wanted to be in advertising. I was quite good at art but I couldn't draw. My first job was as an assistant to a commercial artist, and I remember spending a miserable year lettering on cardboard boxes and sacks. It was horrible work. I was unhappy.
L.A: What did this unhappiness drive you to?
P. Arden: I don't know, but you know when things aren't right. I wanted something better. When you're young you go into advertising because you think you can change things. I wanted to work in the best agency. Colman Prentis and Varley was the best agency. My boss was Colin Millward. The great Colin Millward who became the creative director and a founder of CDP. This is very boring, Hermann, push me.
L.A: Is dissatisfaction crucial for your work?
P. Arden: In the last 8 -10 years I have become more satisfied with my work, and that worries me. Because I always considered people who say they know what they're doing to know what they're doing. If you work from knowledge you are not going anywhere new. So when I get to the stage of being satisfied I worry that it is not right But I have to admit I'm a bit more confident about going into a job than I used to be.
L.A: What made you confident all of a sudden?
P. Arden: Tim Mellors was always a glamorous, a very charismatic person. And I got fired from Doyle Dane Bernbach and he left D.D.B. to work with me. I found that very complimentary. I didn't have confidence at all, and that gave me quite a lot It was the first time I realized I might have something. I became the creative director of a small agency when I was 31 and was fired after a year. But we did do good work in that year. Peugeot cars. Stanley tools. Dutch fruit & vegetables. I thought I had made this agency good. I then went to another small agency called The London Advertising Partnership, which for obvious reasons we changed, naming it the Colmans. And I made it good. And then I realized I probably was a good creative director.
L.A: You finally found that one thing you always wanted to do.
P. Arden: I had a fantasy when I was 16. I thought if ever I became a creative director in a medium-sized agency that would be a success. I never thought about being a creative director in a big agency. That was beyond my wildest dreams!
L.A: Did it frighten you?
P. Arden: I was terrified. A creative director. I was terrified.
L.A: Nevertheless, you became the creative director of the biggest and most creative agency in the world. Saatchi & Saatchi in London.
P. Arden: It's a gradual thing. Everyone told me that an agency of Saatchi's size would be very different from a small agency but it's not really very different, quite honestly. It's the risk, it's your attitude, it's your will to do whatever you want to do. In my case I wanted to sell goods, that's what drives me. But in a way which pleases me. Possibly the most disenchanting aspect of advertising is the way agencies are always trying to please the client. Creative people are always working for the public. How will the public react to my advertising? How will they feel about it? What will they think about it? Will it work? Will it sell We spend so many sleepless night thinking about solutions to those questions. And it's almost irrelevant. It's not what a client wants from us. All he wants is superficial studio work, a little bit of decoration to his own quite often rather bland and light corporate thinking
L.A: Do creative people whose work does not frighten them anymore not produce good work?
P. Arden: Absolutely. They stop producing good work. Every time I sit down to solve a problem I fear that I can't do it I just can't. And then somehow, but don't ask me how, one does. However, I'm rather spoilt in that I work with some very clever people, it takes away from some of the pressure. If Simon Dicketts, James Lowther, Jeff Stark, Jeremy Sinclair or Charles Saatchi have an idea I've got to make it good enough for them, I must make them happy. Do you see what i mean? At the end of the day, the writer takes the responsibility w the way the words are written and he art director takes the responsibility for the way it looks. The art director may have the idea. The writer may decide on the visual aspect of it. But each of you in the end have to take your own responsibility. Otherwise, change your job title or change your job.
L.A: That would support what you once toId me. You said, Hermann, everyone has to specialize.
P. Arden: Yes, yes. If you decide you are going to be the best of what you want to do, you will be the best of at you want to do. If you decide that you will be the best writer in the world, you will be the best writer in the world. at least pretty close to it. But you can't be the best painter and the best director and the best writer at the same time. You can't do all that. If you want to do that you are trying to be famous. You can't do all these things. You can't do all those things and be brilliant in all of them. You just want to successful, make money, be rich and famous. And being famous is very nice. I would like to be famous, but not at the expense of not doing something incredibly well. Too many people don't give a damn about quality, all they want I glamour and riches. They quite like to onto a bit of quality but it's not what drives them. They want money first and then glamour or fame. I want quality first, money second, and fame' third, ha, ha, ha.
L.A: Do you respect people who want glamour first?
P. Arden: Frankly, no. They have a role If you have to have a regular relationship with a client, it has to be sweet. You don't need account people. You need charming people. That's a good point I just made.
L.A: Very good.
P. Arden: Hahaha.
L.A: It was the first point you ever made to me.
P. Arden: Was it? So I'm boring you. Can we talk about global?
L.A: Sure. Wasn't it Saatchis, together with Professor Levitt, who created global advertising?
P. Arden: Global advertising was inevitable in a shrinking world. The theory of global advertising is fine. The problem with it is the people. I'm sure we all know that when you're dealing with one person, say a client with a small account, you can deal with it very straightforwardly. There is nobody in between trying to give their opinion. The bigger the client gets, the more money he spends, the more levels of hierarchy there are in between. The client may have good people working for him and the agency may have good people working for them but the process is not at all straightforward or truthful. "What will the boss think?" It rules corporate life. It's the death of good advertising. Take any mega client. There you are dealing with corporate people who don't really want to make decisions because it might be the wrong decision. And even the man at the top is not an entrepreneur - he too is a corporate man, because he went through the same system. However, when the chairman of a major client deals directly with the chairman of an advertising agency and they decide to make something really good, the advertising has every chance of being wonderful.
L.A: You were certainly able to create a couple of extraordinary long-running campaigns, for instance Silk Cut. How were you able to sell a campaign of that mileage?
P. Arden: Well, it's a case of top man dealing with top man.
L.A: One of those rare examples.
P. Arden: Yes, one of those rare examples. It's also an example of trust.
L.A: How did you sell it?
P. Arden: Charles Saatchi sold it directly to the chairman of Gallagher. The chairman was a very great man. It was good man to good man. When we did ne the campaign we didn't know if it was going to work, it was too new, too different, it couldn't possibly be researched. You do your very best and your gut does the rest But you don't actually know. And it is that not knowing which is everything. It is the whole, and that is lo why I work. When you say you know you're just rerecording old tunes. But usually the things that you do that are different don't go through, and one can get to the state where one doesn't attempt the impossible. And that's serious. That is serious.
L.A: Is there a way of reducing the fear of clients?
P. Arden: Trust.
L.A: Do you think there is such a thing as new?
P. Arden: 10 years ago, a man I really respected said to me that we don't have ideas, ideas are out there, floating by in the ether. What we have to do is to put ourselves in a state of mind to pick them out of the ether. I was forty and at the time and I couldn't quite get it. I heard it. but I couldn't quite get it. I understand it now - at least I think I understand it now.
L.A: Are there new ideas?
P. Arden: There are new orchestrations. Take Stravinsky. Not that I Iike his music, what I like is what he said. He said, I don't compose music. I invent it. Yes, dreams are inventions.
L.A: How do you approach a campaign? How do you get the idea?
P. Arden: There are two questions there. The answer to the first is logic. The answer to the second is illogic. Let's talk about the second part. I have a couple of tricks, which when up against it, I do employ, though I'm usually pretty desperate at this stage. One: look out of the window. Let your eyes rest on the first thing you see. Let's say it's a chimney, make a campaign using the chimney. Two: do the exact opposite of what is required and expected. Let me give you an example. What is the one thing you wouldn't do if you advertise elegant jewelry? You wouldn't think of dustbins, tires, spanners. So start putting rings in the treads of tires and bracelets around drainpipes - just where you wouldn't put them and immediately you have some kind of presence. If you put the brooch or bracelet on a lady's arm or by her throat, it's ordinary. It's safe, and it's not going to hurt anyone. If you do what you shouldn't do, it will create attention and gives what marketing people call a brand image. Its brave to be wrong. The higher the risk, the greater the rewards. But you've got to gamble, most great entrepreneurs gamble.
L.A: You play chess.
P. Arden: I think I gamble. I hope I will always gamble. This is really boring, I've said it all before. Is the tape running?
P. Arden: When Jean Genet was interviewed by the BBC he said: "Do we have to do this interview face to face? Me here, you there, camera over there? Can't we do something different?" The interviewer said: "What do you mean?" He said "Can't we stand on our heads or let our hands talk?" The BBC interviewer couldn't handle it, he couldn't think quickly enough or do something mad. And I feel that's the way we are. Sitting in chairs, talking in the way everyone talks.
L.A: Well, but we don't have a camera.
P. Arden: No, no, no, but we're still using the same words.
L.A: Well, I could ask you a question and you could answer with a picture.
P. Arden: Strong. Yes, that's good. I don't understand it. Good.
L.A: I could ask you the question why are you creative. Here is a pen and paper and you could draw me a picture. (Herman Vaske gives pen and notepad co Paul Arden.)
P. Arden: Um.........
Well, instead of going into the centre. That's the first thing that came into my mind.
L.A: It's great.
P. Arden: It's a great question.
L.A: Let's stick your drawing in the interview.
P. Arden: Come on, another one. Ask another question.
L.A: What do you feel about current work in Britain?
L.A: It's open to interpretation.
P. Arden: We'll let people interpret it.
L.A: Ok, fine...Er...
P. Arden: Good interview; good interview!
L.A: How do you feel about Tony Kaye?
L.A: I remember you once made a speech, but instead of speaking you just stood next to a woman playing the cello. Are these surprises part of your work?
P. Arden: I don't want you to put that in about Tony Kaye.
L.A: Why not?
P. Arden: Though I'm far from being in agreement with everything Tony does his courage has produced some very fine commercials, but they're not produced in a regular way. You cannot produce great work by normal means, you simply cannot. If you could produce great work within the rules, there would be a hell of a lot more people producing fine work. You must have tunnel vision. Think of a great director who doesn't have it.
L.A: In the last issue we published an interview with Leslie Dektor. What do you think about him?
It's beginning to be an interesting interview, isn't it?
L.A: What is influencing you?
Hahaha. By the way, the clouds have to be in space. Up there.
L.A: What about Pina Bausch?
P. Arden: She moved armchairs around on stage, so that the armchairs could dance. Well, that was 10 years ago. I was aware that there was something going on, suddenly dance was different. It changed dance. I'm not even sure whether I saw it right, but I think the armchairs were dancing.
L.A: Could you explain your fascination when you saw the Pina Bausch performance in Brooklyn?
P. Arden: I think it was probably the best theater moment I ever had. I was at the Brooklyn Academy of Arts to see the Wuppertal Dance Company. It was a very big stage and the curtains opened up. Across the stage was a wall about 10 foot high at the front of the stage right behind the curtains. It was so strong, immensely strong. It was unexpected. It was marvelous. What happened was that the wall collapsed backward and the dancers danced amongst the rubble. I thought it was a pity they collapsed the wall so early, a great pity. It was so strong. I could have stayed a long time with that wall. Maybe with a little fly walking on the top. Just like Warhol's "Empire State Building." Nothing happening. However, she did it. Marvelous. Thank you, Pina.
L.A: What does Germany mean for you?
L.A: Are you influenced by other German artists?
P. Arden: Well, I haven't read Schiller or Goethe. I quite like Fassbinder Blossfeldt. Karl Blossfeldt. Every time I see a flower photographed, I think Blossfeldt did it better.
L.A: Better than Penn, better than Mapplethorpe?
P. Arden: Oh, yes. I adore Durer's logo. The idea of Berlin is exciting, Berlin's nightlife.
L.A: Did you ever dive into Berlin's night life?
P. Arden: No, but I like the idea of it.
L.A: What about George Grosz?
P. Arden: I'm not mad about George Grosz. I like Bauhaus. Bauhaus was the strongest thing to come out of Germany.
L.A: What do you think of the current German situation, if you watch the news?
P. Arden: It's global.
L.A: what scares you most?
P. Arden: Leave a big gap.
L.A: Will you tell me later?
P. Arden: No.
L.A: Oh, just leave a big gap.
P. Arden: Leave a big gap and then just carry on.
L.A: If you could describe yourself; what attributes would you use? (Toni, his wife comes in.)
P. Arden: He just had a great idea. I was telling him about great.
L.A: OK, what attributes would you use to describe yourself?
P. Arden: I don't know.
Toni: I know one. (Toni draws Paul.)
P. Arden: Put that down, put that down.
L.A: Instead of a photograph?
P. Arden: Yes.
Toni: The thing is, he's only got one ear.
P. Arden: Hehehehe. Good drawing. Hahaha.
L.A: If you could leave something behind, what would it be?
L.A: What would you write on your tombstone'
P. Arden: Knife. (It takes him 10 minutes to sharpen his pencil.)
L.A: You traveled the world with Brian Griffin.
P. Arden: No. Oh yes, I did in a way, yes.
L.A: What do you think of Brian?
P. Arden: This is only my opinion, but there are two very special photographers living in this country. Lester Bookbinder and Brian Griffin.
L.A: Is it his lighting?
P. Arden: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. It has nothing to do with light. Bookbinder is more about light. Most photographers are dismissive of all other photographers. He's not just dismissive, he doesn't even bother to look. All his ideas came from outside of photography.
L.A: He's totally uninfluenced.
P. Arden: Totally.
L.A: Who's your favorite film director?
P. Arden: John Webster once said: "A director is someone who comes between me and my idea." I know exactly what it means. A director, he wants to interpret the film his way, he wants to appear creative. He wants to take your idea and make it his own. You've been working on it for 6 months and you know what you want. What you want is someone to help you execute your idea and express what you want, that is what a director is for. The answer to your question is Carl Dreyer. (Well, this week.)
L.A: Who is your favorite art director?
P. Arden: Jeff Koons.
L.A: Isn't he an artist?
P. Arden: Is he? He has an idea. He takes a kitsch item, has it copied by a master craftsman and signs it. That's art directing, isn't it? It's the same with Damien Hirst. He has an idea, has someone make it for him, or has someone photograph it. That's what I do. We haven't got a great interview yet. I'm not happy with the pictures.
L.A: Let me tell you something. I think it was about an agency football match. Saatchi were playing. Somebody asked if Paul Arden was there. And he said: "Ha, he wouldn't play, the colour of the grass isn't the right green."
P. Arden: Hehehehehe. Hahahahaha.
L.A: Would that be true, Paul?
P. Arden: I like the quote. Put it in.
L.A: Are you good with people?
P. Arden: I wouldn't describe myself as popular. People won't say 'very nice chap' ... I don't know. People respect my point of view. Leave it, leave it. Ask other people to answer that one. You answer whatever you want on that question. You were there.
L.A: Do you want to direct?
P. Arden: I would like to make uncommercials.
L.A: Good word. Here's a pencil. Could you please describe the uncommercial?
P. Arden: It's the one on the right Hahahaha.
L.A: I got it. Yeah.
P. Arden: That's the screen. Outside. (Paul Arden asks for an eraser.)
P. Arden: This is rubbish. Let's make this absolutely right commercial, uncommercial, hahaha.
L.A: To make it clear it could you write caption explaining which is the commercial and which is the uncommercial. That would be big news.
This article was printed in Lurzers Archive 1993. Herman Vaske has collected some of his best interviews, with the likes of Cliff Freeman, Dan Weiden, Paul Arden and Tim Delaney in his book Standing on the Shoulders of Giants available at amazon.