Nietsche and the Advertising new-business pitch


Friedrich Nietzsche infamously alleged that God is Dead. The Almighty didn’t wait long to have his revenge, but the philosopher’s confusing way with words inspired an entire generation of Admen.



“A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling”

Friedrich Nietzsche

On reading stuff like this from Nietzsche, you realise why he was not cut out for stand-up. First of all, you have to remember the difference (if any) between an epigram and an aphorism, then wonder what sort of feeling it is that’s died, and then ask yourself whether Nietsche was thinking about death on the micro or macro scale. By which time, Freddie Niet (as he is best-known in the Northern clubs) would perhaps have been halfway through another gag about how his mother-in-law was the only woman he’d ever met with a sunburnt tongue.

Nietzsche was first and foremost an expert in philology – a branch of academia that sounds as if it was first put forward by a lush trying to pronounce phraseology – but in fact describes a person who studies the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages.

I tend to think of that as etymology, but as the famous British Telecom advertising character Beattie once remarked, “Everyone should have an ology”: so it’s important there are enough of them to go round. Because, as you all know, we’re just over five days away from 2020…the year in which a Tony Blair Edewkayshun Minister once promised that every British child would go to University.


It was very fashionable in the late 1960s through to roughly 1997 to depict advertising professionals as evil beings pulling the strings of hapless consumers who were helpless suckers for their alleged wiles. After that, the former-hack spin doctors arrived to prove how much of a fallacy this was – and just what total phalluses they could be given a half a chance.

Typically, it was at this point I chose to quit the advertising business for another career that has still to be defined. So it gives me more than usual pleasure to defend my first profession by recording here (for any open ear or mind) that ad agencies were largely peopled by those who had never graduated to the lifestage of long trousers.

The American sociologist Vance Packard once referred to my tribe as The Hidden Persuaders – indeed, his book of that name is still in print, and enormously popular as a set book for wannabe university graduates.

The truth is, Packard was an exemplary virtue-signalling liberal pillock decades ahead of his time: the real hidden persuaders were those who wrote press Opeds under the disguise of informed and objective opinion. Later – under New Labour and post-Clintonian Democrat administrations – they lost the plot on hounding news and morphed effortlessly into being propagandists divorced from reality…. nevertheless desperately keen to drag everyone else formerly married to reality into their spurious slipstream.

I am not even slightly amazed by the degree to which openly admitted media advertising is loathed by the LibLeft….whereas smuggled editorial spin seems to them fair game. Their end-to-end assumption when dealing with the electorate is that we all stupid. Ad agency people, however, know they are not.

Consumers of advertising have long known that we know that they know….that it’s all a game. Indeed, my calling was often referred to as The Advertising Game: but it was a game in which – inevitably – the Truth would out. We used to have a saying in the business: “Nothing kills a crap product quicker than effective advertising”.

Legislators, by contrast, don’t know from shit about real people. And this has always applied to a frightening number of process-trained marketing clients.

So it was that, many years ago – when advertising was still fun – stunted emotional characters like myself (and thousands of agency colleagues) used to relieve the pummelling stress of pitching for new business by attempting to smuggle Nonsense Nietsche stuff into any and all presentations to prospective clients. This too was a game: would the Marketing Diploma clones turned out by the tens of thousands spot the difference between a real insight and fortune-cookie bollocks?


I was lucky enough, throughout my career in adverts, to work with people who understood only too well that Life is far too serious to be taken too seriously. As I asserted earlier, in their minds they had yet to graduate into long trousers. This is a great strength in advertising, because babes and innocents ask questions and observe realities that make adults think; and if you can make a consumer think again about a brand choice, then you’re well on the way to dragging them towards a better alternative.

On the other hand, it does make people like us irritatingly anarchic – in that we just can’t stop observing how bloody ridiculous those who swallow aphorisms, epigrams and mots justes whole are.

A bloke I worked with for several years (very happily I might add) once suggested I insert into a new business presentation the phrase, ‘It’s always darkest under the lighthouse’. I did, and the silly observation went unnoticed apart from some sagely nodding heads in the audience.

So returning belatedly to Nietzsche (which, let’s be clear about this, is like returning to nature, but without the laughs) I present for your delectation an assortment of strangulated Nietzschesque I’m sure could be equally useful in dealing with pretentious clients – regardless of your profession.

“Actions speak louder than the charm of knowledge on the road to perdition”

“Never fire until you can see the eyelashes of the snake”

“The hand that kills in considerate fashion should be seen and not heard”

“The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality is in the eating”

“You can lead a horse to water, and still die of thirst in the ocean”

“If you don’t know what you’ve never done, you won’t retrieve your dinner from the ashes”

“Mistrust of the very clever makes the heart grow fonder”

“If you know which side your bread is buttered, your impatience will rise in a traffic jam”

“Vanity is hardest to wound when the healthy, wealthy, and wise give not a monkey’s chuff for the poor”

“If you lie down with dogs, the Devil finds things for idle paws to do”



Things did not end well for poor Nietzsche himself, seen here (left). So enormous was the weight of his perpetually lacquered moustache, it pulled much of his brain out through his nose in 1889*. He suffered a collapse, rapidly followed by losing all his mental faculties. Not just a few or a lot, all of them. This included his Professorship of the Faculty of philosophy at the University of Basel; so by the time of his death eleven years later, he was a faculty-free zone. Which just goes to prove that firm epigramatic favourite, “Nothing good ever came of being a wise-ass”.

*I made everything in those first two sentences up. IABATO rules, OK.