I tore the package open with great delight while the FedEx man stood at the doorway earnestly awaiting my signature for proof of delivery. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the pages of Neil French’s “Sorry for the Lobsters.”
"Thanks for the Lobsters", Giclee Print, 72" X 72" (1.82 m), by Mike Fromowitz, AOCA
I’ve known Neil for well over twenty-five years, having come to Asia in the early 1980’s, a few short years after he first landed in Thailand. To put it simply, he’s my favourite ad man. I believe I learned more from him than from any other creative person I had ever worked with or worked for.
I figured, if this book of his was anything like the hilarious and witty ads he had written over the years, it would be a fun filled read. I also figured, that if he included some of the multitude of stories I had heard him tell in the sweaty bars of Bangkok; on the crowded beaches of Pattaya; at the conferences in Switzerland and Jomtien Beach; inside the noisy nightclubs of Singapore and Hong Kong, and during lunches and dinners in some of Asia’s finest hotels, restaurants and cafés, the book would be different than any other written on the subject of advertising.
"Portrait of Neil French, Pattaya Beach, พัทยา, Thailand", Acrylic on Canvas, by Mike Fromowitz, AOCA
And sure enough, I was absorbed in it from the opening pages of Indrah Sinha’s preface, through to the author’s very last few paragraphs where he says: “This will be the last book I write, as well as the first.” Frenchy makes you look at advertising—no, at life—on a whole new level, Besides, it conjured up memories of the fun times together—none of which, thank heavens, are written about in these pages. Neil’s tales had always made me laugh my pants off. After reading “Sorry for the Lobsters”, I found myself begging for more.
These days, the market is pretty well saturated when it comes to memoir. Which means it has to be good. It has to be different. Neil’s essays from his early days in the ad business in England to his first “famous” ad for DYNO-Rod which featured “a wincingly awful pun”, dare we say it, are as funny and quirky as a dog with a big, juicy bone. When you aren't squirming in your chair, you're laughing out loud.
The writing is evocative, unflinching, whimsical and cool. When Frenchy takes a scalpel to his life, what you feel is the precision of the surgeon. It gives off a vibe of a carefree honesty. Smart, heartfelt and confessional, he approaches his subjects with generosity, warmth and integrity, without being maudlin.
For those willing to go on this adventure with Frenchy, welcome. Everybody else, please continue on to the ‘A’ section of the bookstore, where you'll find a multitude of milquetoast books written on the subject of “advertising and marketing in the new digital age”, by people that never wrote an ad in their lives and to whom Neil French will undoubtedly be compared.
Neil French is an advertising genius. A master communicator. He is to advertising what Picasso was to painting. His new book is not about the secrets to creating great advertising, selling strategies or advertising techniques. This is one of the most entertaining guides to the power of communicating and salesmanship.
Neil French 'IV', Acrylic on Mylar, 36" X 36" (0.9144 m), by Mike Fromowitz, AOCA
Who better to write a book that will soon become an advertising classic than Mr. French. Whether you manage, sell, buy or create, his book will inspire. Neil is a brilliant writer, a great art director and a creative director of unmatched abilities. He’s been a pioneer, an innovator, and a Renaissance man to the Asian advertising industry, and a beacon of originality to the rest of the advertising world. Not to mention, he’s a legendary and controversial figure who has done as much as anyone to open new doors of possibility and change to the way we advertise.
He’s a lovingly brash, sometimes arrogant, one-hell-of a highly talented guy. I’ve been told that Neil could be notoriously short-tempered, unyielding, quick and changeable in temperament, but I haven’t seen that personally. He certainly doesn’t suffer fools—I think that if you were several IQ points smarter than most, you'd be irritated a lot of the time, too.
"The Big Idea", Acrylic on Canvas, 28' X 12.9' (8.5344m X 3.9319m), by Mike Fromowitz, AOCA
Whatever people think of him, he has always remained fiercely loyal to his principles and to his friends and close colleagues. He’s always been an intense competitor and resolute in his ambitions. Ever since I’ve known him, he’s kicked up a creative storm throughout the ad world. And in the process, he has had a major impact on the lives and professional careers of many others in our industry—I consider myself one of the fortunate ones.
The man himself is The Big Idea. His solutions to creative problems are often audacious, and always full of wit and freshness. His work has set the bar for how advertising should be, fun, endearing, approachable and always, always relevant.
"The Infamous XO", Oil on Linen, 48" X 48" (1.2192 m), by Mike Fromowitz, AOCA
He has been called an “advertising guru” because he has that special quality handed down from the heavens—he has “it” and he knows how to flaunt “it”. He’s worked for David Ogilvy, yet no man I know has defied the “rules” more than Neil, and been able to persuade clients to accept his bold ideas.
“Sorry for the Lobsters” is a an intimate and intensely personal romp through the extraordinary times of Neil French—revealing, passionate, engaging, poetic, witty, and charming—a mesmerizing window on his thoughts, influences and generosity. His unparalleled storytelling gifts and exquisite expressiveness are the hallmarks of his advertising and his career.
The writing is clear and easy to follow, making for a quick, pleasurable and informative read—not at all one that is long and drags. This is one memoir that does not disappoint. For me personally, it’s a reminder of how much fun advertising use to be.
"Thanks" for the Lobsters, Frenchy!