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Advertising awards have become a curse: Sir John Hegarty

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Advertising awards have become a curse: Sir John Hegarty

Sir John Hegarty, Co-founder of BBH, spoke to an assembled audience of peers, marketing professionals and advertising experts at ASCI’s 'Creativity, For Goodness' Sake!' conference in Mumbai. The legendary ad man gave a number of examples from his long career and also spoke about some of the principles that he has followed in his distinguished career.

“I find this a very odd conversation, the one that we are all having because I do not view creativity as something to create shock but something to create engagement. BBH is quite an old-fashioned agency. We are quite a conventional agency,” he said. He touched upon the challenges faced by advertisers in having to stick to rules especially in markets that might be quite traditional. He gave the example of a 1987 campaign run for Coca Cola in Saudi Arabia by BBH. “When you go beyond borders you can still maintain creativity if you concentrate on the positives rather than the negatives. The very essence of an ad is to unite people. That is what great ads do,” he added.

Hegarty also gave his personal opinion on the current proliferation of awards in the advertising community. “Awards have become a curse,” he said. “The problem now is that so much of what we do has got to be in light of winning an award. Why is that? Because the media starts to measure us in terms of the awards we are winning. The big agency groups feel that awards are most important and so they are encouraging all kinds of behaviour, which, I feel is not conducive to good advertising.”

Talking about ads that go beyond boundaries and unite people, he said that searching for a universal emotion helps in creating aspiring ads that touch people. “When you touch a basic human core, you create something that goes beyond borders and cultural barriers. I keep telling people that I just don’t want to create ads, I want to effect change. I want to do something bigger,” he said.

“When you talk about how advertising is moving into a lot of different areas like content, I have some very serious concerns about that. We have seen to be arrived to a place that what advertising should now be is tricking people into seeing it and undermining the value of what we do by pretending that it is not advertising; by embedding it into places where people do not realize it is ads. I am not sure you can balance these things. I am not sure how we can portray ourselves as a truthful industry if part of what we do is deceiving people into watching ads. I think part of the reason that we are considered deceitful is because of these things. I did not come into this industry to be deceitful and I think brands who do that should be really ashamed of themselves,” he further added.

He also spoke about the importance of humour in connecting with the audience as well as the danger of over relying on research over instincts. To give an example of this, he spoke about “The Lynx Effect” and other campaigns for AXE. “Research told us that guys like girls with bigger breasts so we had to put those in because research can be never wrong. Don’t get me started on research or we are going to here for a long time,” he told an appreciative audience, while admitting that these AXE campaigns lost their way after a while. “These things happen with campaigns. You keep doing them and no one pays attention to the small things and before you know it you have reached a terrible place,” said Sir Hegarty.

He also paid respect to music, which he calls is something that connects people and has the potential to go beyond cultural differences. Giving the example of the Live Aid concert in London in 2006, he opined that the greatest musicians, whose music stays on for years, are the ones who can create the ‘anthems’. “The ones who were playing anthemic music, like U2, Madonna, Coldplay, etc. were the ones who had got the crowds behind them. When you are going beyond boundaries, music has the potential to touch something deep within us and creating the connection,” he signed off.

Sir Hegarty was speaking at ‘Creativity, For Goodness’ Sake!’, a festival of debate organised by ASCI in partnership with exchange4media, in Mumbai on March 20, 2015.

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