From Kim Jong-Un’s Hair to a Copywriting Hero

My favourite copywriter and advertising innovator was a little-known American called Tom McElligott.

Everything I know about McElligott is down to this article on Vice by Mark “Copyranter” Duffy. Following links (and a few online searches) also revealed this brief biography, a handful of articles from the LA Times, a 1990 David Lynch ad for Calvin Klein and an awe-inspiring blog post by Dave Dye featuring a mammoth array of his incredible work. I’ve read the campaigns in Dye’s blog over and over again.

The Vice article, incidentally, is top result on Google when you search McElligott’s name – and he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. If anything highlights under-appreciation more than that in this day and age, I’m not sure what it is.

Being such a fan, I’ve wanted to write about McElligott on this blog for months.

Little did I know that North Korea’s fascinatingly-coiffured despot, Kim Jong-Un, would give me the opportunity.

Kim Jong-un hair poster

On Tuesday 15th April Sky News ran a story about a London hairdressers that had put up a poster with a photograph of Jong-Un, accompanied by the caption, “Bad hair day? 15% off all gent cuts through the month of April”.

The North Korean embassy was ironically (or ingeniously) a ten minute walk from the hairdressers. The poster hit the headlines after two officials from the embassy called in to the shop to complain.

What struck me as remarkable about this story, aside from the resourceful marketing move by the South Ealing salon, was how their poster idea mirrored an award-winning McElligott series from 1983 promoting 7 South 8th For Hair – a unisex hair stylist in Minneapolis.

Of course, comparing this bizarre 2014 DIY version (with its predictable slogan) to McElligott’s witty, charming, wry, multi-layered and subversive campaigns is like comparing warm, flat Lambrini with a classic 1945 Bordeaux.

Yet, crucially, a few key ingredients are shared; particularly the purpose of the ad and the mocking reference to a notorious public figure.

It’s probably a coincidence, and I’m probably reading a bit too much into the West London salon’s poster, but any spontaneous marketing gesture that conjures up images of McElligott’s work (and gives me the excuse to write a few words about him) is fine by me.

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