Neil French is without a doubt one of the greatest advertisers, and copywriters, ever to work in the industry. A true creative thinker, with an incredible ability to contort words and phrases into works of advertising art, he is one of the last true bastions of long copy.
When his book "Sorry For The Lobsters" was released in 2011, I immediately purchased a copy. I usually don't like paying full price for hardcover issues, they usually go on sale a month or so later, but this was different. It wasn't available from the usual channels, only through Neil French, and I could not risk it selling out. It was by far the best $50 I spent that year. Or perhaps, any year.
The book starts with a foreword by Indra Sinha. That alone should tell you of the quality that is to come from the 394 pages contained within. Indra, another truly incredible copywriter, sets the scene for a great story, and a great man.
Now, in the beginning, Neil French did not start out as a copywriter. That is so often the story of writers back in the sixties, seventies and even early eighties. Most just fell into it, having obtained a degree in English language, sociology, or even psychology.
In the case of French, he had many careers over the years. Among them, he was a rent collector, estate agent, doorman, encyclopedia salesman (I'd have bought a set), rock group manager, actor, singer, matador (yes, matador), venture capitalist and porn star. You can research that last one on your own time. Probably away from the office.
As you can imagine, being the master storyteller he is, French recalls each experience with a heady mix of humor, irreverence and prophetic advice.
But on the subject of advertising, his life has revolved around one word. Fear. Or rather, a complete lack of it. Fear, it seems, holds us all back. It stops us achieving our potential. It keeps great ideas on the cutting room floor, and stalls the creative process. In short, fear is the enemy of excellence. If you're afraid, get over it. If you can't do something, fake it. If you're not good at presenting, just act like you are. This "overcoming of fear" would be parroted by many other advertising professionals over the years, including the great Alex Bogusky.
This advice, while difficult for many of us to follow these days, makes doing your job so much more enjoyable. And throughout the many chapters of his book, one thing comes to the surface more than anything else…Neil French really loves what he does, and has a zest for life in general. He loves laughing (near the end of the books he says "Die laughing if you can") and makes others laugh just as much. I, for one, had several laugh out loud moments during my time with his book. And I'm not one to "lol" that often.
For those out there who believe long copy is dead, Neil French has words for you. Lots of them. One of his greatest pieces of writing in recent times was done for Ibid Photo, a stock photography site. Imagine their amazement when Neil French presented them with an ad that contained hundreds of words, and not one picture. Yet, with its mix of sarcasm, humor and honesty, it did more for stock photos than any shot from Ibid's library could have done.
By the time you've finished the book, you are confident of several things. Or at least, I was. First, Neil French got lucky. He'll say so himself if you ask him. He was in the right place at the right time. BUT, he has the incredible talent to turn opportunity into a fabulous career filled with important work. Second, French has lived live to the fullest. He's done enough to fill two or three lifetimes. And he's loved doing it. Third, fear will always bring you down. Kick it to the curb. And fourth, you will realize that he is one of a dying breed, and you will never be as talented as he is.
"Sorry For The Lobsters" is a great book, and luckily, you can still pick up a copy direct from Neil French's website. I urge you to do so. Today.