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UK Advertising’s Favourite Books

06/03/2024
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London, UK
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To celebrate UK World Book Day we asked people at British ad agencies what they’re leafing through in search of inspiration, information and influences
Photo by Ivo Rainha

Although it’s called World Book Day, the UK celebrates literature on March 7th, rather than the more globally accepted April 23rd. 

Weird though that is, books are still great. So we thought the event was the best excuse to get some people from UK advertising to share with us the books that they most often draw from, reference and return to for creative reinvigoration.

If your bookcase doesn’t need expanding after reading this, there’s no hope for you.

Alex Wood

Senior creative at AnalogFolk


The Honda Book of Dreams / The Honda Book of Dreams 2 by Wieden+Kennedy London

Despite the title, these aren't really 'books' - they weren’t mass published and the only way you'll have them on your shelf is if you nicked one from an agency that used to work with Honda circa 2002-2012. Instead of reading about how to build a brand in the abstract – here you can see it being crafted with each turn of the page. What started off as a simple piece of pitch theatre became the guiding principle behind one of the most creative and successful campaigns of the 2000s. My advice? Steal the book, then steal the enthusiasm, optimism and ambition.
 

Amy Ratcliffe

Planning director at CHS


The Illusion of Choice by Richard Shotton
 
One of the most bitesize ways to understand that application of psychological biases. 
 
This book is great if you’re new to consumer psychology, or due a refresh. It succinctly explains the key theories and then, most importantly, provides real-life examples of them in use, allowing creative minds to instantly picture how the theories can be applied to their own work. 
 
I recommend this book because it contains the perfect amount of information – just enough to understand the principles, without being information overload. It’s always great to give the team extra reading which doesn’t feel like laborious homework…


Andy Brown

Creative director at INNOCEAN UK


How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema

At the start of my career every D&AD annual I could get my hands on was a goldmine of inspiration, but I’d chuck all of those off my bookshelf to make space for my tattered copy of ‘How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way’ by Stan Lee and John Buscema. I grew up on Marvel Comics, collecting them, reading them, trying to write my own. So when I found this book hiding in the back of my old comic shop, I had to have it. I even passed up X-Men issues 70-76 for it - tough call for a tunnel-visioned 11-year-old! I did learn how to draw Daredevil, Spidey, and the Hulk but a bigger learning was how to create visual narratives in my mind and put ideas on paper. All the skins I’ve worn as a creative began with that book, from creating ads to inventing toys and games, and yes even writing a handful of Spiderman comics. They were only promotional, so they’ll never be worth what those X-Men comics are worth now. Still, they had to be signed off by Marvel which is good enough for me. And I wasn’t the only one inspired by that book. My little brother stole it off me all the time. He grew up to become an Art Director and Supervising Art Director on the Marvel movies.

(I don’t have a picture of me with the book because a few years ago my little brother stole it off me for about the thousandth time. I still haven’t stolen it back. I’m tempted to pick up another copy and let him keep mine. It won’t be quite the same though. I bought that book when I was 11. It’s nearly 50 years old!)


Andy Peel

Associate creative director at Southpaw


Words Fail Me by Teresa Monachino

Why is abbreviation such a long word?
Seven contains ‘even’, but is odd – and even a prime number.
Why isn’t emordnilap a palindrome?
Remove the r from friend and you’re the opposite.
Words Fail Me by Teresa Monachino was a book I bought at university that sparked something inside. As a person who never struggles to verbalise language, this inspired me to always look closer at how words are constructed and how they can be reconstructed to tell a whole different story. It was a smile in the mind, before I got my hands on A Smile in the Mind.


Andy Taylor

Chief creative officer at Trouble Maker



The Wonderful World of Dr Seuss by Dr Seuss


If you're stuck in a rut, there’s no need to fret, 
the lessons of Dr.Seuss you’ll never forget. 
With rhymes that dance and words that sing, 
he'll remind you to spread your creative wings.
Spawn colourful characters with whimsical flair,
as brave and as bold as your imagination will dare.
Doing what’s already been done is never the way, 
To turn a blank sheet of paper into hours of play.
Unlock your Seussian spirit, let your ideas fly,
make your brands unforgettable, and for now, bye bye.


Asa Nowers

Creative strategist at 20something



Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

The narrator's love for the meticulous, classical reason behind motorcycle maintenance bounces so satisfyingly against the romantic characters he creates; like John, who winces at minor chain tinkering on his machine; exposing a deeply held belief in a chaotic world.

Beyond inspiring me to treat my strategy with the craft creatives apply to their work, the book shows how beneath human responses lies a web of personal philosophies to which we’re always best offering active compassion; asking genuine questions to those we seek to understand.


Ben Usher

Creative director at FCB London
 


It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden
  
There are A LOT of books people tell you to read when you start out as a creative.
 
But not many are written by the person who came up with “The world’s favourite airline” and “The car in front is a Toyota”.
 
INHGYAIHGYWTB (look, I’ve only got 100 words and it’s a long title) is Paul Arden’s ingenious and unconventional mind, distilled into a brief 125 pages.
 
It challenges you to think creatively with every word and image.
 
It’s a book I still reach for when my brain needs a jump start.
 
And in his words, it’s “The world’s best-selling book by Paul Arden”.


Charles Olafare

Creative at AMV BBDO



Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
 
There are lots of lessons a creative can take from this book about the life of multi-hyphenate humourist Steve Martin. But I’ll be honest: reading this book hasn’t made me any funnier. What it has done is deepen my appreciation of the guts it takes to get up on stage and tell a joke.
 
The way Steve puts it, any attempt at being funny is subjecting your ego to a beating. The trick is letting it die and learning something in the process. To me, that’s advertising in a nutshell. What are jokes, if not ideas with punchlines at the end? Presenting a deck, if not putting bits of your ego in front of a firing line? Whether you die on your feet or absolutely kill, you’ll always come away better than when you started. And if that doesn’t work out, there’s always Cheaper by the Dozen 2…


Danielle Melia

Creative director at Dentsu Creative
 


The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

“Sometimes, it can be the most ordinary moment
That creates an extraordinary piece of art.” 

It’s 3pm-ish. I’m listening to the sound of the kids bowling wildly out of school. The sun pierces through my cottage window. It’s just an ordinary day. And I know exactly what Rick Rubin means. It’s in these ‘ordinary’ moments that I feel most creative. In the snippets between the chaos. 
 
Most of the advice in Rick Rubin’s ‘The Creative Act: A Way of Being’ isn’t groundbreaking. Or revolutionary. Or ‘I’m going to change your life in 60 seconds’ kinda thinking. It’s the stuff you already know… but need a gentle reminder of. 
 
Rubin’s perspective and views on creativity are the antithesis of our ‘just get it out quick’ culture. And that’s why I’m drawn to it. It’s a massage to the cluttered brain, compared only to the feeling of those few seconds when you come out of a yoga class. Until your phone rings. And it’s back to square one. 


Ellie Lavender

Junior copywriter at Imagination 



Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

This personal memoir explores the complexity of a mother-daughter relationship and dealing with sudden grief through the crunchy tang of kimchi and the soothing warmth of a creamy broth.
 
Filled with rich detailed food descriptions, Zauner’s words transport you to Seoul where you’re raiding the fridge at 3am with her and her mum, tucking into salty crab and chewy rice. But it also takes you to Zauner’s kitchen, as she carefully learns how to prepare the Korean dishes in the hope it’ll cure her Mum of cancer.
 
Zauner articulates the difficult parts of life with a frank point of view peppered with moments of humour, showing me that complex things can be conveyed in the simplest ways. And the power of good food writing. 

This book will leave you heartbroken and hungry.


Imogen Tazzyman

Executive creative director at McCann Manchester



Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan and Edward Boches

Having just returned from my second mat leave, I have to be honest and say that for the past few years my World Book Day has been less about reading, and more about the night before panic of trying to conjure up a Mr Muddle outfit from nothing. However, I can’t let the opportunity to wax lyrical about my favourite ever advertising book pass me by. I discovered Hey Whipple, Squeeze This while I was at uni. Having no idea what advertising was, our tutor and CD of a local agency (I never really stopped to question how the hell he had time for both) recommended it, and it was love at first sight. As inspiring and truthful as it is funny, Hey Whipple is probably still the most accessible book I’ve read on the subject. And introduced me to one of my favourite ever print ads for Fisher-Price roller skates.
 
My copy is still covered with post-it notes. At least I hope it is. I leant it to a junior copywriter years ago and never got it back.


India Pearce

Senior creative and designer at Havas Play UK
 


Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

A fascinating blend of science fiction, philosophy, and social commentary. If you're into the idea of AI but want a gripping story - this is for you.

The cleverly weaves together virtual reality, morality, and the nature of existence. There's an intricate plot, multiple storylines, and engaging characters that all converge in one dramatic conclusion.

It sits as part of Banks' 'Culture Series'; a string of non-sequential books where technology and ethics collide, challenging everything you think you know about sci-fi.

It's a book that leaves a lasting impression, making it my favourite recommendation.


Issie Mandry

Senior creative at Havas Play UK
 


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
 
It's the most beautiful yet heart-breaking book I've ever read. It comes with a long list of trigger warnings, but it's an absolute masterclass in making people really feel something. Which should be the goal of all great creative work. It's both warm and wretched. The writing is both poetic and devastating. I can't stop reading it and also want to launch my Kindle at the wall. Anything that can make you feel that range of emotions pages apart is remarkable if you ask me.


Jamie Bell

Executive creative director at The Maverick Group


A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young
 
My book of choice can quite simply be described as the bible for anyone working in creative. It should also be the bible for every one of their clients (or at least the clients that want original creative work). Since its publication in 1965, A Technique for Producing Ideas has helped thousands of advertising copywriters unlock their creativity. This brilliantly concise and powerful little gem gives you all the tips and tricks to generate exciting ideas on demand, at any time, on any subject. His book was so revolutionary that Bill Bernbach himself made it compulsory reading for everyone at DDB. 
 
As Young said, he wasn’t afraid to give away his secrets because he was certain that hardly anyone would be prepared to put the work in that his method prescribed. But if you do put in the work this 48-page set of instructions will make you a creative powerhouse. Among the most pertinent lessons are the importance of observation and recording everything you notice in your daily life. The other essential, which isn't part of modern business, is allowing yourself the time to do something completely different. Young noted the importance of giving your brain the necessary time and breathing space to rearrange combinations of stimulus to come up with a big idea.
 
This is the most important set of rules that any creative person will ever have the chance to read. The tough bit is getting others to let us work this way."


Jamie MacCarthy-Morrogh

Executive creative director at FCB Health Europe



Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan and Edward Boches

The book ‘Hey Whipple Squeeze This’ by Luke Sullivan and Edward Boches was my favourite book on advertising I ever read. I picked it off the shelves of my first agency as a junior copywriter with no formal advertising training, and it was a wonderful introduction on how to think about creative copywriting and the many strange terms that pepper our industry.


Joe Stone

Associate creative director at Mr. President



Mort by Terry Pratchett

You probably can’t tell because my Photoshop skills are so good, but I’m not actually holding a real copy of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Mort’ in the photo. This is because my copy fell apart, as all the greatest books eventually do [insert sad emoji]. If the photo hasn’t been used then this won’t make any sense. Anyway, the character DEATH in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Mort’ (and others) has probably subconsciously influenced everything that I have done. I don’t know. You’d have to read it and then look at everything that I have ever done to find out.

 

Kate O’Connor

Associate creative director, UK at Momentum Worldwide



Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

On the first hot day of summer each year, I skip to the nearest pub garden with my West Country husband, order two pints of 'proper' cider, take a big old swig, and loudly declare, 'It’s like melted gold'. Because no one has ever described it better than Badger in 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' And no one can build worlds with words quite like the problematic eccentric, Roald Dahl. His stories, rhymes, neologisms, and characters live rent-free in my head, none more so than (spoiler alert) the downfall of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean - one short, one fat, one lean. It’s still one of my comfort-reads and an undeniable influence on my writing.


Kirstie Dallas

Creative director at Proud Robinson + Partners [PRP]
 


Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
 
I cannot claim that this is an industry classic – in fact, you’ve likely seen it being read on the tube recently. However – since it is also IWD this week – this witty book feels like a relevant read for the uncomfortable light it shines on the societal expectations of being a woman in the 1950s (and beyond?) and the perennial challenges faced by anyone striving to balance parental and professional roles.
 
It also can’t be lost on marketeers that Lessons in Chemistry delivers some hard-hitting lessons in the value of understanding – and respecting – your audience, creating experiences that offer true value and the power of speaking through authentic, trusted voices. Enjoy!


Laura Grant

Copywriter and account director at 33Seconds



Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman


My vote would be for 'Humankind: A Hopeful History' by Rutger Bregman. In this book, the author challenges pessimistic views about humanity and argues that essentially, we’re a decent and good species. Although I don’t necessarily agree with everything Bregman says - it’s a hugely complex topic with no easy answers - the optimism and hope of the book is catching and great for sparking creativity. As we continue to live through this somewhat crisis-laden era, the book provides a heartwarming and highly relevant antidote to the negativity and doom & gloom we may read about daily in the news and via social media.


Lewis Robbins

Creative strategy director at Proud Robinson + Partners [PRP]
 


This Will Make You Smarter edited by John Brockman

This Will Make You Smarter is a collection of 150 scientific concepts that have been collated with the express intention of enhancing the reader's cognitive toolkit.  

The concepts - explained in just a page or two by some of the world's leading thinkers – span hard science, philosophy, psychology, and economics, with topics including deep time, zero-sum games, microbes running the world, the biases of technologies, and thinking in powers of ten. Over the years, it's proved to be fertile ground for discovering different perspectives and insights - either to unlock client briefs or simply to enrich my own view of the world.

 

Marcus Bowler

Illustrator and animator at Salamandra.uk



Chris Riddell's Doodle-a-Day by Chris Riddell


The Edge Chronicles really got me interested in drawing early on. Paul Stewart's storytelling paired with Chris Riddell's fantasy illustrations created this whole imaginative world. When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time immersed in these stories, enjoying the detailed black and white drawings that brought to life the characters and settings. It wasn't just any book; it was a really cool escapism. Even now, as an animator, I still draw inspiration from Riddell's style and follow his work. Those bedtime stories my mum shared with me when I was little, that I took into my teenage years, really were an influence and fuelled a passion for storytelling and animation.


Matt Michaluk

Executive creative director at Household
 


Brutal Simplicity of Thought by M&C Saatchi
 
This book was recommended to me by a colleague when we were briefed to radically change the automotive industry. 
 
When you are determined to create real change, this is the book that reminds you to relentlessly defend the purity of an idea.
 
It started life as a training manual for Saatchi employees. But everyone in our industry should read it, at least once a year, to declutter our brains from the distraction of doubt.

 

Michaela Pannese

Senior creative at CPB London



Remember those great Volkswagen ads? by Alfredo Marcantonio, David Abbott and John O'Driscoll 

Open this book on any page and I promise you, every ad will give you a frisson. Each piece of work is annoyingly good. The kind of ‘annoyingly good’ which makes you both envious and inspired at the same time. With over 500 press and tv ads, it is a masterclass of insight, writing and art direction. Be prepared to say “I wish I’d done that”... a lot


Rachael Kendrick

Creative director at Livity (part of The MISSION Group)
 


Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

If you tilt your head and squint, great advertising and great sci-fi come from a similar place - they take a kernel of insight and exaggerate, escalate and antagonise it into something greater. Paolo Bacigalupi is a master of the art, and I return to ‘Pump Six’ again and again. By turns disturbing and mesmerising, ‘Pump Six’ is a horrifying vision of a not too distant future, a masterclass in pacing, prose and the world-shaking power of an idea.


Rahul Sonegra

Junior designer at Mr. President



How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy


I felt inspired reading the book ‘How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul’ By Adrian Shaughnessy. It combines practical advice for designers on how you can achieve success in the industry whilst maintaining your artistic principles. I find myself using this book as a roadmap in navigating my career. It’s a great reminder of the importance of investing in your personal growth by developing your soft skills like project management and self-promotion. It also serves as a reminder for me to find fulfilment in creating art and to work towards establishing a legacy that is long-lasting.


Regan Warner

Executive creative director at McCann London



Woman Made: Great Women Designers by Jane Hall

Jane Hall's ‘Woman Made: Great Women Designers’ is, quite frankly, my creative bible. It's an awesome collection that throws the spotlight on over 200 kickass women who've rocked the product design world—flipping the script on what is historically considered a man's world. From the legendary Ray Eames to the innovative Eileen Gray, this book is packed with stories of women who didn’t just enter the design world; they bulldozed their way through it. Their boldness and creativity in designing everything from furniture to tech is a daily nudge for me. A reminder that we're part of a bigger story of women making history, pushing the envelope, breaking the glass ceiling and showing that we can design the rules. So, yeah, this book? It’s not just inspiring—it’s a playbook for me, for us, to keep pushing those creative boundaries.


Richard Dennison

Executive creative director at The Ninety-Niners



Roots by Alex Hayley

I was tempted to choose something work-related. And as a student, I poured over every D&AD annual in print to the point where I could name the writer, art director, year and page number of almost every piece of work. (I was great fun at parties.) But outside of our industry bubble, one book made a lasting impression: ‘Roots’ by Alex Hayley. It's more than a gripping tale; it's a testament to the power of storytelling. Haley's journey from the USA to Africa, tracing his ancestry, was only possible because generations preserved the story of Kunta Kinte, a boy taken into slavery 200 years earlier. In 'Roots,' the enduring impact of storytelling transcends time and geography, underscoring its profound ability to connect and resonate across generations.


Robin Garton

Group executive creative director at Sky
 


How Tom defeated Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen by Russell Hoban
 
‘Tom likes to fool around…’ After perfecting this art, it results in him beating the significantly more professional, and much more uptight, Captain Najork at various sporting challenges. He wins a boat, escapes his guardian (Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong) and heads down river to find a new one - Bundlejoy Cosy-Sweet, who as the name suggests is an all-round upgrade. It is a book I read too often as a child and more recently even more often to all of my children. (Whether by coincidence or subliminal influence I even adopted Tom’s casual slouch of a posture, which various osteopaths have spent years trying to crack out of me.)
 
The more general message here is simple: encourage your children to fool around/mess about/make mischief - and try to keep doing that yourself - they’ll/you’ll gain skills without trying (or realising) and good things will come of it. But if you want to squeeze some creative advice out of it, then it’s this. Don’t ignore the stupid, the silly, the ridiculous ideas you have. Because with a little push, a tug on the reins, or a slight sidestep those ‘jokes’ can often be the gold you’ve been mining for.


Sophie Körner

Brand designer at AKQA



The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

This is a book that makes you realise the importance of being in the moment and how much beauty there is right in front of your eyes. I think as a creative it is important to be present. I always find inspiration in the surroundings I am in. It sounds cliché but the world is beautiful, and weird, and crazy all at the same time and therefore the best inspiration there is. In order to take that all in you need to be present, allow yourself to pause, and look for all the beauty that is around you.

 

Steven Bennett-Day

Founder at Ourselves



The Element by Ken Robinson

The book I’ve re-read the most, recommended the most, given away the most and that had the most profound effect on me finding out who I was as a creative is ’The Element', by Sir Ken Robinson. I remember watching his TED Talk ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity’ and was both upset and elated in equal measure because I felt seen. The book didn't tell me how to be creative, it held up a mirror and said it was ok that I found school and the education system a challenge and there were other ways. To find what you love and get on it. I fucking loved that man and all he stood for.


Tomas Gianelli O’Ryan

Creative director at DUDE London 
  


If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
 
This book re-defined everything I thought I knew about storytelling.
And it does it from the very beginning. In the first few pages, you realise that the protagonist of this book is… you.
Yes, you, the reader.
 
From then on, you’ll embark on ten different plots, or “journeys”. but you never get to finish any of them.
Frustrating? A little bit. But more important than that is the underlying theme: Embracing the journey over the destination.
 
At a time when we obsess about results, remembering to enjoy the process has become more important than ever.
So whenever I fall into this trap and need some inspiration, I grab this book and open it on a random page. It never fails.
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