Monday, 9 November 2015

The Idea is Everything; Does it Really Matter Where it Comes From?

Art Director and copywriter, Bernie Thornton, talks about his experience in the advertising world & why it's important to share ideas & work as a team.

From day one I wanted to be an Art Director.

In 1976, having just completed my Advertising and Design degree at Manchester Polytechnic, I made the leap into London armed with an A to Z Street-finder and a long list of agency phone numbers.

It was easy to get in front of creative directors back in those days, you just called up and made an appointment. They were always keen to see students.

I had a book full of fresh ideas – rough Magic Marker stuff – and the majority of agencies I went to see said I would make a good copywriter. I could write good headlines.

A bit confused about which way to go, I was given a trial in a London agency – Benton & Bowles – where I worked for nothing for 3 months to gain some experience and work out what I wanted to do.

My learning curve went straight up through the whole five floors of the building.

I was a 23-year old sponge; I soaked up everything working in that place.

My first ad was for Associated Biscuits – headline, copy and layout – then I came up with an idea for a beer poster for Youngers Tartan Bitter. I enjoyed writing, but because the agency was short of Art Directors they asked me to go and shoot both ads, I was so excited. I knew nothing about photography so the more experienced guys set me up with two top advertising photographers: Derek Seagrim and Bob Cramp. Those guys knew how to take a picture. There was no Photoshop back then – the shot had to be perfect, retouching was expensive.

When I got back to the agency with the shots everybody commented on how good they looked. Next day, the Creative Director came in to see me and offered me a full time job as a junior Art Director.

“I know you want to be a copywriter” he said, “but these shots are great and we need another AD here right now, so do you want to take the job?” Damn, I thought, I really want to write ads, but I’d be mad to turn this down. I took the job.

So, I’d swapped roles within my first 6 months in advertising and became an Art Director.

After a month of working with different teams, the agency finally brought in a writer who had previously been a teacher in a secondary school. She didn’t think advertising straight away, which meant she couldn’t think different. Don’t get me wrong, she was a nice person, but she hadn’t done four years at an advertising college like me. She thought she was employed to just write persuasive words on a piece of paper.

It was hard work. Every time I suggested an idea or a headline she would resist it, saying it was her job to come up with the headline and the words. Strewth, it drove me up the wall.

Then it all changed. One day we were working on a cold remedy and she had a great idea for a TV spot using Russian dolls. It showed how cold and flu symptoms built up as one doll was placed inside another. To show the relief from symptoms, after taking the product, the sequence was reversed – simple. I loved it!

Trying hard to conceal my enthusiasm for the idea I said to her: “But it’s my job to come up with the visual ideas, so we’re not going to do that”. She looked at me distraught, tears welled, she was livid. Then I smiled, just before she was about to throw her typewriter at me. (Yes, volatile creatives did do that in the 70’s). She knew what I was up to and laughed, calling me one or two unprintable names. I’d made my point. We were fine after that, and a better team, because she finally accepted that this was a good way to work.

Since then, I’ve worked as an art director in one agency and as a copywriter in another – I’ve had a foot in both camps over the years.

Once I had a call from a client, who said he wanted me to meet up with him to talk about a campaign.

I drove all the way up to Luton and he sat me down and talked about this idea he had. It was based on a sound strategy and good advertising thinking. He was a good client.
I said to him: “Chris, you get me all the way up here to tell me this? You don’t need me, you’ve cracked it. This is a great idea” He looked at me and said: “Yes I know, but I just wanted to hear you say it, and I need you to make it better.” He wanted reassurance and someone who wasn’t going to be precious or upset about the fact it was his idea. He also knew that I’d be honest enough to tell him if I thought it was crap too.

The point of my story is this: It doesn’t matter where an idea comes from, because an advertising idea is the most important thing. We see too many ads these days that are just wallpaper; all veneer and no idea. They become part of the background, easily forgotten.

Grab someone’s attention with a good idea and it will stand the test of time. Ads like that are the ones you remember, the ones that stick in your head.  The ones that make you say: “Damn, I wish I’d done that”, whether you‘re a copywriter, an art director or a client.

I’ve heard it said many times that art directors come up with better headlines than copywriters and more often than not the copywriter would come up with a great visual idea. Who cares? It happens when you’re a team.

We should also listen to what our clients have to say too. I like to involve them and treat them as part of the team. After all, they’re much closer to their product than an agency and often have a good idea that’s worth talking about. Having said that, we need to have the wisdom to know a good idea when we see one and the courage to speak up if it’s not; being precious and protective about an idea will only stifle creativity in my book.

Bernie Thornton, is a freelance copywriter with over three decades of experience and a genuine passion for ‘ideas’. He has worked for some of the UK’s top ad agencies, on many of their leading brands, producing everything from small space ads to big international campaigns. His expertise extends across all the communication disciplines, including traditional and online media.
With his long-standing advertising experience, he also has a solid understanding of what motivates consumers. He applies this knowledge to good effect and never loses sight of the fact that creativity has to work – and sell too.

We invited Bernie to join the Bastian Contrarian copywriting and advertising team in September this year and can’t wait to work with him in future.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Guest Bloggers Wanted for the Bastian Contrarian Blog


Thank you for dropping by.

We're looking for guest bloggers who have interesting articles on SEO, analytics, social media, graphic design, marketing and content management software, advertising or similar themes that we can publish on the Bastian Contrarian blog.

This is a great opportunity for companies or individuals looking to promote their writing skills or a particular service or product.

If the article gets published, we will obviously credit you and link back to your website.

The articles don't have to be new, they can also be something you've already published online.

Interested? Then please drop us a line.

We look forward to hearing from you. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Kathaline Page-Guth: A New Unique Jewellery Brand from Florence

We love what we do and we also love working with start-ups. Here's a recent press release we wrote for Kathaline Page-Guth, a new, online brand of luxury jewellery that is launching today. I wish we were in Florence to pop open a bottle of champagne with her!

Kathaline Page-Guth, a fine jewellery designer based in Florence, Italy, will be unveiling her new online store on the 30th September 2015.

Through her designs, Kathaline, who was born in Geneva in 1961 and has studied at the Gemological Institute of America, explores the female world, drawing inspiration from her own personal experiences, travels and passion for ancient geometry, cultural contaminations and precious materials.

To mark the occasion, the new luxury brand, which proposes an exclusive, limited edition range of handcrafted designer rings, necklaces, earrings, pendants and broches, will be launching four distinctive collections:

Empowered is a unique range of assertive, statement pieces, showcasing an eclectic selection of designs with meticulous artisanal accents. The height of the collection is the striking ‘Claw’ ring, featuring a generous, London Blue Topaz stone in a Diamond pavé, feline claw setting.
           Empowered collection: Claw ring         
Glamourous and indulgent, the Burlesque collection is the epitome of feminine sensuality and luxury. The range features a sophisticated, ‘Passementerie’ ring with curvaceous, snake-like lines, punctuated with a shimmering array of brilliant cut, white or black Diamonds.

                                            Burlesque collection: Passementerie ring

In Alter Ego, the designer explores the dark side of the female psyche, expressed through glinting shark’s teeth and striking geometric forms. One of the highlights of the collection is the 18 karat yellow gold, ‘KATI ring, featuring a distinctive, circular motif with brilliant cut diamond accents.
Alter Ego collection: Claw ring

As the name dictates, the Romance collection, pampers to the gentler side of a woman’s nature. And it is here that the designer gives free reign to her creativity, crafting unusual, playful and extravagant designs of a timeless yet contemporary quality. One of these pieces is ‘Greedy’, an exquisitely colourful dragon brooch, made of a striking array of minute Tourmaline cabochons, Sapphires, Tsavorites, Diamond pavé, and a single Chrysoprase briolette.
                                   Romance collection: Greedy brooch

“I wanted to create a collection that expresses the true spirit of the modern-day woman. An independent woman who knows what she wants; a woman who doesn’t have to wait for a man to buy her a ring or a special piece of jewellery. For me, a piece of fine jewellery is more than just an ornamental accessory. It’s a rare and valuable work of art; a symbolic and emotional investment piece to be worn and treasured for generations to come”, states Kathaline Page-Guth about her new collection.

Each piece is made entirely in Italy, by highly skilled Florentine artisans, using only the finest quality materials, and all of the diamonds, precious and semi-precious stones are ethically sourced and certified through the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS).

Kathaline Page-Guth jewellery is available on the official website and in selected online stores, with prices ranging from €2000 to €24.000.

For further information visit

Press contact
For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Kathaline Page-Guth
Tel : +39 335 5355110
To download high resolution images, please click here.

About Kathaline Page Guth

Born to Hungarian and American parents, in 1961, Kathaline Page-Guth grew up in Geneva, where she first studied Art. After graduating in Business Administration, in 1982 she moved to Milan where she worked as an Art Director at an advertising agency for five years, continuing to design and create in her own free time.

She finally went freelance and channelled her passion for design, aesthetics, luxury objects, cultural crossovers and pattern making into everything, from furniture and home objects, to fabrics and clothes.

Kathaline’s move to Florence in 1997 was a real turning point in her career. It was here that she came into contact with the Florentine ateliers and, under the mentorship of Simone Rucellai, began to learn the prestigious art of fine jewellery making.

Convinced this was the ideal way to vent her obsession with sacred geometry, symbols, history and intercultural aesthetics, she enrolled on a number of courses at the Gemmological Institute of America and began designing and creating her own jewellery collection.

The Collection

This exclusive range of limited edition jewellery is inspired by the raw and multi-faceted vitality of the female experience. Women’s desires, sexuality and emotions, embodied in luxurious yet understated designs that express the dynamic and independent spirit of the modern-day woman.
Meticulously crafted heirlooms that aren’t necessarily worn just on special occasions or chosen for us by someone else, but sophisticated pieces that radiate the true essence and complexity of who we are.

Fine jewellery designed by a woman for women.


For Kathaline Page-Guth a piece of fine jewellery is more than an ornamental accessory. It’s a rare and valuable work of art; a symbolic and emotional investment piece to be worn and treasured for generations to come.

This is why every design is handcrafted with the utmost care and precision by highly skilled artisans, trained in the century-old goldsmith tradition for which Florence is so renowned.
Each piece is made from only the finest quality materials and all of our diamonds, precious and semi-precious stones are ethically sourced and certified through the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS).

Need help with your next press release or campaign? Visit the Bastian Contrarian website or write to to find out how we can help.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Translation Tests: To Do or Not to Do?

When to avoid or accept doing a translation test.

Most translators will probably face this dilemma at some point in their career. In the fifteen plus years I've been working as a freelancer, I’ve been asked to do tests on several occasions. But should you do them?

Well, let me start with a story.

When I first started out, I hadn't really entertained the idea that there might be bogus agencies out there. Bad payers yes, but not translation thieves! Parasitic companies that ask translators to do tests to get their clients’ projects done for free.

I was only a few months into my freelance career when an agency contacted me, asking me if I could do a translation test, with the promise that there would be more work if I passed. New to the game and eager to get established, I stupidly agreed to do a free translation of approximately 4000 characters. [I saw you shake your head and roll your eyes then].

To be honest, I did have my suspicions, but I'd checked their website - they seemed a legit agency - and we'd exchanged several e-mails. N.B.: they were always very responsive during the negotiations and when I had any questions about the job...

Anyway, I finished the job on time, sent it off and awaited their almighty verdict. Nothing came. I sent them an e-mail, asking them if they’d received the work, but they never replied. I chased them again: not a bleep came from my inbox.

So, I went on the company's website to look up their telephone number and, to my horror – and shame –, I discovered they didn't have one. Again, mia colpa, I should have known better. I'd checked just about everything else except that one extremely important detail. 

I'd been taken for a proverbial ride.

Determined not to let it happen again, I started trawling the online forums and found quite a lot of sensible advice – as well as disagreement  on whether it was good practice to do translation tests or not.

Armed with this contrasting but valuable knowledge, I decided that I would only do a translation test under very special circumstances, i.e. if a reputable client was offering a long-term contact, and, in any case, I would never do a test of more than one file (I usually work on a 1500 characters, spaces included basis, which is roughly half a page).

This decision has, in fact, served me well for the rest of my career, and I’m usually able to spot one of these rats a mile off now. 

Which brings me to the reason for this post.

Last month I responded to an advert for an Italian-English book translator. They said they were selecting for long-term translators – the guy claims he is an experienced publisher, who is launching a new publishing house – and that they would be in touch with the short-listed candidates in September. I also checked him up online: he didn't have a company website yet, but he did appear to have a history in publishing…

Well, what do you know? Yesterday I got an e-mail from this, ahem, ‘publisher’, who said that they were now contacting all of the translators to ‘wheedle out’ the ‘false mother tongue speakers’ (i.e. those with a British surname, who might not be pure native speakers, because they’ve grown up in Italy, for example) and that if I wanted to be considered for the job I would basically have to do a two-page [!] translation test of the book. After which, if I passed his  'exacting standards', he would send me the details about the payment terms and conditions, etcetera.

Come again? So you’re basically saying you want me to do a two-page translation of a book, without even telling me when the deadline is or what the payment terms and conditions are going to be? Sei matto? (Are you mad?)

Evidently so...

For a conscientious professional, a book translated by multiple translators is enough to keep the author, translators, proofreader and publishers awake at night - for life. 
But this sly customer doesn’t care, because he’s hedged his bets on getting his job done super quick – and practically for FREE! Capisici?

So, I wrote back, politely telling him that as a busy professional, I am not prepared to do a two-page translation test; a shorter test would be enough to understand the quality of my work. And, that I would like to know the payment terms and conditions before I even consider his offer.

Guess what? I haven’t heard a peep from him since…

So, after all my rambling, what you probably want to know is when should you agree to do a test translation? Well, it really depends on the case, but here’s a few tips that should help guide you in making a decision.

Forewarned is forearmed
If you’ve vetted a company as much as you can (by Googling, checking the translator forums, etc.,) and you agree to do a test, make sure the text is short. It’s also important to check – you can usually tell just by reading it – whether it’s actually a snippet from a full text or a finished piece. If it looks like a finished piece and your instincts are telling you to run for the hills, run for the hills!

Size matters

Today, the only people I do tests for are usually reputable companies or translation agencies who ask me for a ‘reasonable’ test, i.e. not a ridiculously long one. This shows they understand the job and also appreciate the time and effort that goes into a translation.

It ain’t necessarily so

In any case, bear in mind that even serious translation agencies won’t necessarily ask you for a test. They will usually try you out on a [paid] short job to see how you work first, then, if they like what you do, they’ll use you again.

Terms and conditions

Always get them to provide you with the date of the deadline and the payment terms and conditions before agreeing to do any test. If they won’t give you this information they’re probably up to something and should be avoided.

The personal touch

If possible, have a telephone or Skype call with the potential client first. Even better, if they’re in your area and the deadline allows, arrange to meet in person. That way you’ll have a better idea of who and what you’re dealing with. Usually, most serious clients will be more than happy to Skype, talk on the phone or meet face to face.

Set firm boundaries
Where reasonable, impose your own limitations on the interested party politely, stating that you usually only do tests of approximately 750 characters, which will be more than sufficient to evaluate the style and accuracy of your work. You will soon get an idea of their true intentions.

Obviously, there’s always the risk of making a mistake and even when you’re really cautious you can still be conned. But, if you stay within the less than 1500 character rule, you’ll probably feel a lot better about it than if you slogged over a couple of pages work for nothing.