John Hegarty Bursts the Cannes Bubble – “Make the bloody work better”

I’ve glanced at the commentary coming from Cannes annual advertising shindig. A lot of local Australian reports have bemoaned the fact that local agencies haven’t swept the board with awards. In fact Australian agencies such as Clemengers seem to have done quite well?

It was therefore interesting to see John Hegarty who is founder and worldwide creative director of BBH, returning to the basics and telling the industry to pull it’s creative socks up in his speech at Cannes as reported in AdNews.

The great thing about John and his leadership of BBH is that he doesn’t change. His principles and practical approach to advertising remain basically the same, they just evolve with experience. I am biased having worked there, but it made a lasting impression as John was one of the best marketeers I ever met, as well as having countless creative credentials.

Despite the chagrin of many in advertising who are scratching their heads as to why awards and recognition aren’t flowing their way, John puts it simply:

“Make the bloody work better. We must be the only industry in the world that actually thinks you can succeed when the work’s getting worse. We don’t talk about this enough.

“Obviously Cannes is about this, but what are we doing about it, how are we changing the way we’re working to create better work.”

I think that this is outstanding for the fact that it is true, the fact that BBH have been at the forefront of creativity and that John has the guts to throw off the Emperors new clothes and look at the industry with fresh eyes as a respected veteran of the business.

Not to say that there isn’t great work out there. There just isn’t enough of it. There seems to be a lot of “lazy” advertising, dictated by the need to get the campaign on-air on-time. I’ve seen creativity rushed and ruined as a result of a notional deadline to get it on-air.

John went on to say that advertising needs to stimulate and solicit the right response in the consumer along the lines of:

“Wow, I want to have a conversation with these people’, as opposed to ‘I’m doing my best to ignore them and they’re doing their best to trip me up in some way or another’. Isn’t that awful, we’re an industry that tries to trick people into watching what we do, why isn’t it inspiring, so people want to watch it.”

The discussion about the effectiveness of introspective “teaser” campaigns (Commbank, Blackberry etc) falls into this bracket of trying to “trick” and entice people into guessing the campaign. This assumes that consumers can actually be bothered?

Advertisers being big (in spend terms…) with teasers and tricks, but not necessarily clever in terms of creatively attracting consumers, are then bemused as to why effectiveness awards allude them and their CMO’s are replaced every 18 months?

Consumers don’t like to be deceived or have to guess who or what is behind a campaign, even if advertisers think that this brings engagement. It is more likely to bring annoyance and antipathy towards the campaign and brand. Consumers are wise to it and the novelty has worn off.

Advertising is a tool to drive awareness, engagement and sales and should be judged on these parameters. Advertisers are at risk of talking to themselves and then wondering why no one is listening?

The truth is that advertisers are not making ads that are truly relevant, interesting and motivating and that reach a mass market quickly and efficiently with the message.

As John says the ads aren’t good enough. Many advertisers are seduced into making advertising for social engagement on-line and PR notoriety first. Whilst this is important in contributing to a campaign idea, it can’t replace the effectiveness of producing strategically sound mass market creative to impact consumers and change opinions into new behaviour (i.e. buying stuff).

What was the last TV ad (TV still reaches the most households), that made you say “I really want that” or “they look like a great company I want to hear more from” or “wow, that changes my opinion!”

Hopefully hearing this from John will provoke the industry into some positive thought and action.

His book lays it out pretty clearly and is boiled down to the basics of the two most important points to remember if you’re a creative:

• The truth is the most powerful strategy

• The power of irreverence

The truth of product propositions seems to be getting lost in the “art” of advertising. The same rules still apply. Great products and services with genuine unique selling points (product truths), creatively delivered to attract the attention of consumers – this is what still works and sells.

When it comes to handling a situation or tackling an idea, John couldn’t stress more the importance of these two aspects of truth and irreverence in his book. Ask yourself, what is it exactly you’re trying to do? You should always challenge the accepted norm. Of course, he highlighted the fact that when it comes to clients, you can’t always break prejudice, it’s all about how you make the limits they give you distinctive. A nice challenge to the traditional brief.

He follows up with the first of many interesting anecdotes, featuring one of the most influential creative minds in advertising, Bill Bernbach. After the Second World War, Germany’s economy was kaput and they were in desperate need of a boost. One of the key elements they had to offer was their cars and they needed to sell them badly. They decided to approach an American named Bill Bernbach to try to generate sales for the Volkwagen Beetle. Now here was a car which was completely unappealing and actually not all that good, but Bernbach saw an opportunity in advertising a key feature about it. It was small. In this world of everything getting bigger, and bigger meaning better, Bernbach identified that the beetle went against the grain, and instead of trying to hide from supposed disadvantage, he turned the spotlight onto it and came up with the now famous line: “Think small”…and as they say the rest is history.

I hope that John and his blunt appraisal drives clients and creatives to make history and produce the campaigns that the industry can be proud of and that the consumers deserve.

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4 thoughts on “John Hegarty Bursts the Cannes Bubble – “Make the bloody work better”

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