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Trying to be brave, is silly: Neil French@Spikes Asia

18-September-2009
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Trying to be brave, is silly: Neil French@Spikes Asia

The most applauded, best attended and high energy session of the day was BBC Hard Talk with Neil French, and needless to say, the credit for the “sex” in the session can go only to the godfather of advertising himself. BBC World News’ Mishal Hussain may have expected French to be tough, but the interaction kept the audience spellbound.

Even before the session commenced, two allegations were already hurled on French – the creator of scam ads and “women are crap”. Not that French was not expecting this, he was prepared with what he had to respond, and the audience hung on to each of his replies.

French stated that when he had first set foot in advertising and the work coming from Asia market, the one word to describe it was ‘crap’. He said, “They didn’t know what they wanted to communicate. Trying to be brave is just silly.” For French, one is either creative or not, and the creative industry then was not.

He was questioned on the famous work that he had done for a beer brand that did not exist. The result was that consumers asked for the brand in the market and its absence created quite a stir. Addressing this, French said, “That was an ad for the print medium. Advertisers at the time were obsessed with television, and this ad showed that print was a strong medium is used well.” When Hussain asked whether French had not feel any responsibility about the fact that the ads were, in fact, deceiving the consumers, French replied, “No, we are in advertising; that is our job!”

Can an interview with French take place without mentioning the infamous episode of 2005, when following the publishing of a remark derogatory to women, WPP had let go of French, who was then the Worldwide Creative Head for the company. French clarified the facts for the audience, stating that even as the report that was first published had quoted him out of context, he strongly held the view that women who married and had children could not be leaders in the advertising industry. He said, “This is the industry where you can be required to be in your office at the drop of a hat and you may have to work till 4 am to finish a presentation for the next day – job cannot be priority when you have children, because there would be days when you are either a bad mother or a bad professional – there is no choice, but to choose between the two, if you have to be successful in the advertising industry.”

Responding to this, Hussain said that with that one comment French would have discouraged many women creative professionals, who would have wanted to be a part of this industry. French replied, “If a comment from me can be discouraging enough, then you are not meant to be a part of the industry in the first place.”

French fielded questions on scams and stated that while he was not against them if they were creative, but he was surely not for them if they were not. To the audience, the session was as entertaining as it was “enlightening” to some of the younger delegates. The one thing Hussain was heard saying once the session was over was, “Thank God it was not televised!”

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