Neil French's new book: Sorry for the Lobsters
Neil French is without a doubt one of the most inspiring and famous advertising copywriters ever lived and he has just published a book about his professional and personal life titled Sorry for the Lobsters.
Read Indra Sinha's foreword
A CRAB STARTER
Twenty years ago, the journalist Philip Kleinman and I were sitting in a shack-on-stilts in a swamp off the southwest tip of Malaysia dismembering large mangrove crabs and discussing the problem of what the hell to do about Neil French.
I had just finished judging the Singapore Creative Circle awards. There were five judges, three of us from London: me (CDP), Alexandra Taylor (Saatchi) and Steve Dunn (Leagas Delaney). We were all experienced D&AD jurors. It was in our blood to be cruel, ruthlessly to reject anything less than perfect, to acknowledge only what was outstanding and reward nothing but the conspicuously brilliant.
We’d arrived not knowing what to expect. Singapore surprised us.
On day one, we were asked to listen to an opera, written and performed by a local agency and entered in the ‘self-promotion’ category. It was three hours long.
‘I’m not giving it three minutes,’ said Dunn, never a diplomat. ‘It’s a piece of unmitigated shite.’
On day two we were surprised again, this time pleasantly. Among the thousands of press ads lining the walls were a considerable number of striking ideas, witty, unexpected, many of them written with a sort of rakish nonchalance that we guessed must be typical of the easy-going Singaporean way of life. We further supposed that, as would have been the case in London, this pool of excellence represented the work of probably half a dozen of the most creative agencies.
When the judging was over, we learned that we had awarded 3 of our 5 golds, 19 of 23 silvers, 30 of 45 bronzes and the Campaign of the Decade to just one agency.
Not only that, they were all the work of one person.
Well – as you can imagine – consternation! We’d made a mistake. Must have.
In a panic we decided that we had no choice but to recall all the entries – the entire show – and judge the whole lot again. It was 9 pm, we’d been working for twelve hours and fwelling can die lah, as they say in Singapore, but sandwiches were sent for, and gallons of coffee, and we began the long trawl, looking for something, anything, we might have missed that just might deserve an award – anything not by Neil French.
Somewhere deep in the small hours we stopped and admitted defeat. We had found . . . nothing.
Kleinman, tearing into the crustaceans, had been giggling and sniggering as I unfolded my tale. Now he had a fit of hysterics and coughed fragments of crab all over me. As an ex-editor of Campaign he'd been around advertising long enough to see the problem.
‘Oh this is hilarious. It’s fucking genius. You’ve done everything in your power to take away his awards and give them to other people, and they are going to complain that you rigged it.’
‘Only one thing to do,’ said Kleinman. ‘On the way back we buy a durian fruit. You know, one of those bloody great spiky things that look like armoured footballs. They smell so awful they’re said to taste like eating custard in a lavatory and they’re pollinated by bats and the Singapore government has banned them from the subway and hotels. So we get a durian, smuggle it into our hotel, then just before the awards dinner, you nip downstairs and slide it under Frenchie’s table. It’s the only way.’
‘The only way to what?’
‘To remind the bugger that he is human.’
According to his own confession, Neil French arrived in Singapore on the run from the British police and taxman. He stayed 25 years and what he did there changed advertising, first in Asia, then in the rest of the world.
It has taken Neil’s friends, me among them, years to persuade him to write his memoirs. This book is the happy result. It tells the stories of some of the campaigns we rewarded on durian night all those years ago, plus many others. Woven in are stories from his personal life. And what stories!
When Neil invited me to contribute this preface I said to him, you do realise that after you called my first book ‘unreadable’, asking me to write about yours could be a bit of a risk. He laughed. Well, I guess that when you’ve been a bouncer, a matador, a pornographer, dated a Mafia’s don’s daughter then refused to marry her, and had a contract put out on you by a disgruntled girlfriend, you don’t frighten easily.
So, here it is at last. Neil French in his own words. Great ads, great stories, great fun.
And like everything the man writes, very very readable.
Sussex, May 2011
Watch the promo video
Here are some sample pages
Read what famous advertising personalities said about the book
"In the opening sentences, Neil French says he is not writing yet another book about How to do advertising. This is ridiculous: everything he writes is a master-class in how to do advertising. He never, ever, ever bores the reader. He might shock you, he might offend you, he might even piss you off royally, but he will never bore you. More likely he'll make you laugh or, on occasion, even get a little misty. Better than any other advertising legend I know, he puts himself, usually quite literally, into everything he writes. He makes every ad... and this book... an adventure."
— Mike Hughes. President. The Martin Agency
"Delicious and totally decadent, just like a marathon lunch with Neil... with him firing on all cylinders. Honest, inspiring, entertaining... and necessary. He may well be the most interesting and authentic person in our entire industry."
— David Droga. Founder. Droga5
"Here is a book no creative professional or student of advertising should be without. Written by one of the world's leading advertising writers, it skillfully captures the remarkable story of a man who has experienced the rich tapestry of life and all it has to offer. It's a fascinating read, packed with wisdom, insight and highly entertaining anecdotes."
— Mark Tutssel. Worldwide Creative Director. Leo Burnett
"A book that needed to happen. Where could you find such a distillation of experience, of contradiction, of craft, of charm, of risk, of wisdom... of a life more lived? He has the ability to melt humor into emotion; you laugh aloud and then find you get goose bumps... like having rain and sunshine together. There are no false notes here. Just join in the richness, and the utter fearlessness of being Neil."
— Prasoon Joshi. Copywriter, Poet, Songwriter
"If Neil French didn't exist, we'd have to invent him, if only to remind ourselves how boring our own lives have been! But also to remind us of the power of contrary thinking and the beauty of the art of advertising when practiced at his level. He's a hero to a whole generation of copywriters."
— Bob Scarpelli. Chairman. DDB Worldwide
"Neil French is a storyteller. (Charles Dickens meets Ernest Hemingway). It's why you'd like sitting with him and a bottle of wine (or two) and mostly listening. It's why people like reading his ads, the long copy ones and the short copy ones. And it's why you'll like reading this book."
— Lee Clow. Chairman. TBWA worldwide
"An engaging romp, as his career spirals from bullfighter to nightclub singer to club bouncer to porn producer, and finally hits rock bottom as an internationally-acclaimed Creative Director."
— Jeff Goodby. Co-founder. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
"With twice as many pages as David Ogilvy's classic, these are the confessions of a real advertising man. Packed with hilarious anecdotes, get-rich-quick schemes and sage advice, it's worthy of a Cannes Lion... and knowing Neil he'll probably find a category for it!"
— Graham Fink
"An intriguing, engaging, funny, bellissimo book! And no matter what the Buddhist chaps say, Neil French is the living proof that you don't have to die to live so many lives."
— Andrea Stillacci. President and Founder. Herezie. Paris
"If you want to know why Neil French is the most compelling advertising guru on the planet, come on a journey. From the earthy bowels of Birmingham to the sunlit uplands of Ogilvy and WPP, only Neil French could have lived it, and only Neil French could have written it. Lessons abound, as do laughs. But read beneath the outrageous yarns and self- deprecating wit, and you'll discover an uncompromising creative passion... and an awesome talent."
— Jim Aitchison. Author.'Cutting Edge Advertising'
"Shamelessly honest, sometimes brutally so, in recounting his past and his present, he is the Godfather of Guerrilla advertising, and more relevant than ever! Love him. Hate him. Can't ignore him. Read him. He's the one and only Frenchie."
— Piyush Pandey. Chairman. Ogilvy India
"He's the Jack Nicholson, the Keef Richards, and the Genghis Khan of advertising. Except that he can write a bit. (Here's one blurb that won't make it to the book!"
— Name subsequently withheld by request
"I know of very few creatives who have managed to write one or two memorable ads during their entire careers. But there is just one who has not only written dozens of them, but who's also lived such a memorable life that it deserves a book. In a world filled with yes-sayers, consensus - seekers and 'team players', it's great to have Neil French."
— Marcello Serpa. Almap BBDO. Brazil
"Neil delivers a wicked, hilarious swift-kick-in-the-ass to advertising and life. Then he picks them up, dusts them off, gives them a big bear hug, gets them drunk, and talks. And when he begins to tell you a story, you shut up and listen."
— Ted Royer. ECD/Partner. Droga5
You can buy the hard cover book exclusively on Neil French's website for $40. At this time there is no Amazon Kindle or iBook edition.