John Hegarty: Here is What’s Wrong with the Modern Ad Industry

John Hegarty: Here is What’s Wrong with the Modern Ad Industry

The co-founder of TBWA London, the founding shareholder of Saatchi & Saatchi and an advertising giant in his own right, Sir John Hegarty’s creative insights have always been revered. He is also the legend behind the iconic British advertising agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) and has been a part of several presentations, interviews and radio programmes for his undisputed services to the advertising and creative industry. BBH has become the frontrunner in the industry with several laurels and accolades to its credit.

In this video, Hegarty is seen talking about tenets of advertising wisdom and his school of thought which bases itself in presenting the truth and great storytelling.

Since 1965, Hegarty’s lessons have been the backbone of some seminal and groundbreaking ad campaigns such as Levi’s, Audi, Phileas Fogg, Axe, Johnnie Walker, The Guardian Three Little Pigs TV commercial, Volkswagen among others. A multiple award winner at D&AD, British Television and Cannes, Hegarty was the first recipient of the inaugural Lions Award at Cannes International festival and also knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his impeccable work.

Last year, Hegarty claimed that “No great idea has ever come out of a brainstorm meeting”, adding that “Einstein didn’t work in a brainstorm session.” This year, the maestro who now is running the startup incubator, The Garage Soho, was interviewed at the Cannes Lions’ festival by marketing agencies on his opinion about Cannes Lions’ entries, modern advertising systems and processes, the role of data in advertising and more. These interviews show him as the master of creative rebellion that he is touted to be.

Here is an excerpt from his interview featured in AdAge where he emphasizes on how Cannes is losing focus and its brand value with overdependence on data. He exemplified how this is happening with the quantifiable number of Grand Prix awards that are given not based on creative ingenuity but profits. While putting forth the delusions of the industry today, he also gives examples of flawless and creative advertising that have stood the test of time.

AdAge on John Hegarty’s Interview. Credit: Brian Braiker

There’s a lot of talk about a retrenchment at Cannes this year.

It had lost focus. If you start handing out so many Grand Prix, it devalues the Grand Prix.

Had it gotten out of control?

It’s a money-making machine. And that’s always the way when you allow the accountants to drive the company. All they do is go for profit. Of course profit is fundamental, but you end up undermining the value of that brand. Many awards schemes have done that. I don’t think that Cannes is the only one guilty of that. It’s become—you don’t need me to tell you, walk up and down the Croisette—it’s become a tech festival, not a creative festival.

You’ve bemoaned the increasing role data and tech have played in the creative process.

I was accused by Martin Sorrell of being a dinosaur because somebody said “Hegarty doesn’t believe in data,” which is not actually true. Data is fundamentally important. One of the greatest stories ever told, the Nativity, came out of data collection, didn’t it? You’ve got to remember a brand’s job is also to convert. you’ve gotta go out and throw your net wide. How do I know who’s going to like what I’m selling?

Meaning that with targeting, advertisers are preaching to the converted?

It’s not that. It’s a lazy way of marketing: “Look at the data, what does the data tell us? It’s an instruction manual!” No, it’s not an instruction manual. You’ve got to think about how you’re building the values of this brand. I know I’m boring and I say this all the time, but a brand is made not only by the people who buy it but also by the people who know about it.

“Those people” being the brand itself and also agents of the brand?

If I say to you “Rolls Royce,” you say, “Ooh!” You’re probably not going to buy one But by talking to a broad audience who understands what your brand is about, you become part of culture. We are forgetting that part of advertising’s function of course is about effectiveness, but it’s also helping that brand become a part of culture.

Have you seen any of the work this year at the Palais?

No I just got here but most of it is scam anyway so I can’t be asked.

Last year the talk was all about Fearless Girl. There doesn’t seem to be a corollary this year.

I’ll get provocative here again: Fearless Girl did what for the brand? I don’t know what brand it was associated with. We’ve lost connection. We’ve confused persuasion with promotion. Everybody got hugely excited about the Nike FuelBand 10 years ago. I thought it was a brilliant promotion. I used to be a runner. There was no way I would ever run in Nikes. New Balance, yes. I don’t care how many FuelBands you create, I won’t buy them. I don’t think you make a great running shoe. You have to persuade me.

Back to the past, then. You mentioned the Nativity being the original data-informed creative. You look at the Ten Commandments, some of the most enduring “content” ever, and it was written on stone. The oldest medium there is.

Exactly. The greatest brand in the world is the Catholic Church. Best logo. Every lesson in marketing is there. The point is: Two thousand years, some problems, still going. Where will you be in 2,000 years?

As we advance into a time of synthetic realities and a more data-driven approach, Hegarty reminds us to look back into the past and reimagine creativity as this is where the future of the advertising industry lies.

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