Disarmingly congenial, Allein Moore’s wry affable laugh sparked across the line from Malaysia where he currently resides in semi-retired contentment. Besides lecturing and running his website, the advertising guru likes to walk his dog and enjoy life. In our immensely engaging phone interview, he shared his colourful legacy in Singapore’s advertising scene.

Growing up in the U.K, Allein’s entry into the advertising industry was marked by curiosity rather than deliberate intent, as he had meandered out of school at a fairly young age, clueless but armed with a fortuitous flair for drawing.

“A friend of mine went to art school. As I could draw very well, I thought ‘That sounds good,’ but I didn’t have any career in mind. I just thought the alternatives weren’t very good. I was offered a job in my Uncle’s lawyer’s office as a clerk to work my way up – and I thought that sounded very boring. As I get older, I think that may have been a better choice!” he laughed. “See, he made a lot of money, and I didn’t quite so much.”

In 1959, Allein enrolled in West Sussex College Of Art and Design, which was the first of several colleges that he attended. The college was oriented towards the fine arts, and a young Allein was exposed to a variety of fine art techniques ranging from lithographs to live drawings and portraits. While he had no clear direction regarding what he wanted to do, he gradually realised that he was more interested in graphic design and advertising.

‘First Aid for hair’ was written and art directed by Allein, circa 1982. Photo courtesy of Allein Moore

While working as a window cleaner in his student days, he made the serendipitous discovery of an old printing press which lay half-buried in the garden of a house whose windows he had been tasked to clean. The lady of the house did not want it anymore, so he took it and proceeded to restore the rusting contraption.

“It’s actually sitting just a few inches away from where I am now,” he revealed. “I’ve been carrying this huge press around for over 50 years. I used to print on this little printing press.”

Allein started out as a typographer and designed two typefaces during his stint as a type specialist. The backyard treasure was his holy grail and when his company saw what he was printing, they assumed that he must be an expert in typography and hired him as a type specialist. He had all but two weeks to read up on everything he could about type and typefaces before he started his new job. Eventually, with the help of professionals he’d met on the job, he did become a very good typographer.

Back in his fledgling days, typography was a manual effort. The positioning of the headlines and text had to be done by hand. Accuracy was crucial as the text had to be outsourced to another company for processing.

“You’d indicate the size of type that you wanted, the length of line, and everything like that – but you had to work it out, you had to count out every character including the spaces between words, and the full stops and everything. And if you were very good like I was, you could come within a couple of characters of where it would actually fall as a typeface,” he explained.

Before the proliferation of computers, a comprehensive knowledge of typefaces and the ability to visualise how the typeface would look like before it was set, were necessary.

“If you didn’t get it right and you chose a terrible typeface or the size was wrong, it was very expensive to change. And quite honestly, [if] you do that two or three times, you’d be fired,” he said.

Part of a series for Hewlett Packard’s quieter copier; Allein wrote and art directed the ad, circa 1980s. Photo courtesy of Allein Moore

He realised that in order to get ahead in the advertising industry, one needed to become an art director but he eventually found copywriting to be more his speed.

“As I went up the ladder, I realised the easier job was becoming a copywriter,” he laughed. “So I decided to become a copywriter instead, and then managed to become a creative director in several agencies in London before I was headhunted to Singapore.”

Declaring himself to be temperamentally unsuited for design (which he loved), Allein found advertising to be right up his alley.

“I don’t really have the patience for design,” he admitted, laughing. “I love the fact that advertising is a fresh challenge almost every other day –a new solution to be found.”

Allein today with his beloved printing press that he found in his student days. Photograph courtesy of Allein Moore

In 1979, Allein arrived in Singapore to work for Batey Ads. The company had been working on the Singapore Airlines account, which was awarded to them about five years earlier. Back then, design and advertising were not considered as important in a developing economy more focused on engineering and manufacturing.

Local talent was scarce. Employing expatriate talent and professionals was pivotal in producing quality work and developing the industry. Helmed by Ian Batey, Batey Ads, with its headcount of about 30 to 40 people, pulled off the extraordinary feat of positioning Singapore Airlines as a major international carrier with the iconic Singapore Girl campaign – the brainchild of John Finn. Ian spared no expense and effort to enlist top global talent, from photographers to film producers, to create each ad.

“And [Ian] made the world think that Singapore Airlines was a huge company with many aeroplanes, when in fact it probably only had two or three,” Allein explained, revealing his respect for the trailblazer.

It was difficult to produce ad projects around the schedules of top-class photographers. There were only two or three photographers whom the firm used at that time, and for all major projects, only international photographers were called upon. Allein, however, took notice of local talent, as he recalled renowned local photographer Willie Tang’s eagerness to learn from the best.

“Willie Tang, he was a very smart young man. Whenever these international photographers came into Singapore, he’d work as their assistant. He had his own studio so he used to let them use all his equipment. And he invested a lot in equipment. And he learned from them and he became a very, very good photographer,” he said.

Allein wrote the headline and art directed the Modial ad, which was part of a series, 1980. Photo courtesy of Allein Moore

Apart from the dearth of great photographers, he found it difficult to adjust to the shortage of good illustrators in the early days.

“When I came to Singapore, I don’t think there was really more than one or two illustrators, and they had a style, but you need to have a choice of hundreds of styles when you choose an illustrator, and they weren’t here” he explained.  “And I was at a loss, I must confess when I came.”

Time has swiftly changed that. He contended that Singapore has made considerable progress today, and now has the talent and facilities of international repute.

“Only when people demand high standards, do people rise to that level,” he said.

Like his induction into advertising, Allein’s venture into publishing was not by design. Allein was fed up with advertising after a regrettable decision to sell his own ad agency – which he had run for several years with four local partners – to a larger one. While contemplating his next move, the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies (4As) rang him up to ask if he could help them with a four-sheet publication they were working on.

An ad for Regent Motor, for which Allein wrote the copy and art directed, circa 1986. The model was a local typesetter, Gordon Tan. Photo courtesy of Allein Moore

“I was sitting around the pool doing nothing, so I said okay, I’ll help out for three issues,” he said. “And I thought about it, and I thought this is a terrible little magazine for the ad industry – it was black and white, and only two-colour I think.”

As he worked on the publication, he found that he enjoyed the process so much that he asked 4As to sell him the magazine, but was turned down. After sitting around for another month or two, Allein, who was by then in his late 50s to 60s, decided to start his own magazine. AdAsia, a marketing and advertising publication, was born.

He gave up advertising and ran both AdAsia and a sister publication, Designer, for 13 years. While the trade magazines were financially successful in the first few years, competition heated up and made it tougher to sustain the business.

The launch of a new model for Mercedes Benz, for which Allein wrote the copy and John Tan was the art director, circa 1991/1992. Photo courtesy of Allein Moore

“I staggered on for a number of years,” he said. “But in the end, I sold the magazine off to someone else, and focused more on training and that kind of thing.”

The evolution of media demanded a high level of adaptability; AdAsia was the first advertising trade magazine in Southeast Asia to go digital. Allein’s heart, however, was still in print. He reckoned it was one of the reasons he gave AdAsia up.

“You know in the old days, you could open up The Straits Times, and every good ad would be in it. And nowadays, it might be on a website anyway, you know, it could be sent to people as a digital mailer. So we don’t become aware so much of the talent that’s out there,” he explained.

Considering the wide reach of digital media as well as the convenient immediacy it affords for edits, Allein acknowledged its virtues.

“But do I love it? No, no,” he laughed. “Still an old-fashioned print man at heart.”

What drives Allein to push his boundaries is his love to create, and for people to do better things. He emphasised that advertising is a craft skill that has to be honed, and curiosity, its fuel.

“Look, anyone can put a few words together and take a photograph, but it’s those people who just spend a little bit more time, a little bit more thought on the words that they put on paper or words they put online, and the photography,” he said. “It’s that craft that lifts ordinary work into extraordinary work.”

Passionate about developing the next generation of creatives, Allein currently sits on the advisory committee of the School of Design at Nanyang Polytechnic. He admired Singapore for having achieved much to nurture its creative industry, particularly in film-making and design. He also marvelled at the opportunities given to tertiary students through internships and overseas exchanges – privileges he never had when he was in college. Allein was also part of the group of creative directors who established the Creative Circle Awards in 1980. The intention was to create an independent local platform to encourage local talent, and to showcase and publicise Singapore’s best work.

Allein reckoned that being immersed in a vibrant and dynamic city like Singapore is already creatively stimulating. As the creative business constantly evolves, adaptability is key, and it is precisely because of this that he openly expressed his admiration for young people today; they wear multiple hats with dexterity.

As the interview drew to a close, he offered a nugget of wisdom that encapsulated the spirit of spontaneity and openness so essential to the path he has treaded.

“You must change and adapt as life changes for you. It never stays the same.”

Written by: LY Kang

This blogpost is part of the Red Dot Stories campaign

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