Hegarty on Advertising... and more

Sir John Hegarty, founding partner of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), is in India to judge the Star Re.Imagine Awards that will honour the best creatives broadcast on Star Sports and Hotstar during IPL 2018.

by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Published - May 29, 2018 8:58 AM Updated: May 29, 2018 8:58 AM

What does Sir John Hegarty love about the best IPL 2018 ads? “They were Indian, and I got them!”

Hegarty, founding partner of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), is in India to judge the Star Re.Imagine Awards that will honour the best creatives broadcast on Star Sports and Hotstar during IPL 2018. A legend in the world of advertising, Hegarty said that of the 360 ads he judged, he was inspired by 12 that were “genuinely Indian.”

As the 74-year-old, who was knighted in 2007 for his services to the advertising and creative industries, sat down for an interview, he said: “It’s just John, by the way…”

What followed was a quick no-holds-barred conversation, which was a master-class on advertising peppered with passionate one-liners, severe criticism of the industry practices at large, and some crystal ball gazing.

On Indian Advertising

Hegarty observed that the IPL ads that stood out gave him a peek into the Indian culture. He recollected talking to Piyush Pandey about advertising 25 years ago when he had said: Whatever you do, I would love you to hold on to an Indian tone of voice. “I believe the Indian ad industry has done that,” he said.

His worry is that globalisation could drive the ad industry towards a rather “bland world” where ads look the same across geographies. He said that brands pursue these monotone ads because it is cost-effective for them. “It isn’t more effective in terms of communication but they just look at the bottom-line. But I am hoping we get out of that and do work which is more instructive of that country,” he said.

On Digital vs Traditional

Is it that advertising is not as good as it used to be? he wondered. “I am not sure advertising is getting worse in India. But certainly if you look at Europe and the America, you see a decline in creativity. There is empirical evidence that our audience don’t appreciate advertising the way they used to. According to a research by TGI, audience appreciation of advertising has been going down in the last 20 years.”

A strong believer of the need for broadcasting, he said, “A brand is made not just by the people who buy it, but also by the people who know about it.” He identified the problem with digital as that of ‘targeted advertising’.

“Marketers would like advertising to be a science; but it isn't a science. Along came the digital technology, that can make advertising a science, predict the future, target consumers and reduce wastage,” he said. The industry has “forgotten that we need to broadcast at some point of the campaign,” he observed.

He is concerned that the industry has forgotten that a brand needs to persuade and promote. “We’ve entered into a land where they just promote. Over the last 15-20 years, we have confused persuasion and promotion. Persuasion is more long term, and broadcast is about persuasion.”

“Don’t get me wrong, the ability to talk directly to consumers is fantastic, but you cannot forget that you have to persuade as well as promote,” he further said.

The other problem with digital, he pointed out, is that creative people are yet to understand how to use the technology. “Digital technology is phenomenal, but nobody knows what to do with it.”

Content Marketing

In praise of Star Re.Imagine Awards, Hegarty said it is necessary to promote good advertising. He said that he would like ads to be seen as entertainment much like ads for the Super Bowl. He even floated the idea of Friday Night Ads! “Something where you watch the ads like the TV programme. It might change your viewing experience.”

Isn’t that what content marketing is attempting, we ask? It’s a vehement ‘No’ from Hegarty. A harsh critic of content marketing, Hegarty believes that content should be informative. “It must start from the point of view that the content needs to be informative but done in an entertaining way.”

Artificial Intelligence

If one is to go by Hegarty’s view of future, robots will not replace human beings, instead human beings will be more valuable than ever. “It might be something like what we have today where some products are handmade and the others are machine made. Similarly, there may be machine made ideas and handmade ideas. And someone may walk in and say: I would like to see a handmade idea, please.”

Agency Structure

Strategy consultants are beginning to play a big role in agencies, and clients such as P&G are experimenting with the agency model by roping in multiple people across agencies. Hegarty is of the opinion that while agencies can bring on a consultant or a freelancer on some occasions, an organisation should have all the capabilities in-house. “Ten years ago, someone said to me, we should crowdsource ideas. It was a big thing, and you think about it and go: my creative park is the world. Never forget, it is the culture that produces an idea.”

On Sir Martin Sorrell’s Exit

Hegarty felt that Sir Martin Sorrell's exit from WPP and what follows next could foreshadow the future of the advertising holding agency model. “The talk is that the company will be broken up. One could argue that the big groups are under threat - because what value are they giving clients? It could be problem for them unless they get back to the basics of advertising - focus on creativity.”

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