Make people laugh
“The most powerful strategy in advertising is to tell the truth,” John Hegarty started at the V&A. Another brilliant talk in the British Design series, the lecture room was filled with advertising industry players and hopefuls – a different vibe to the other talks in the series.
Seeking the truth is the key to Sir John Hegarty’s, who started his career at Saatchi & Saatchi, incredibly successful and long career. “Ruskin says that there is no beauty without truth, but there is also no profit without truth,” Hegarty says. He takes great pride in being honest and says how telling the truth has got him far. “If you’re wearing boxers it’s because of our Levi’s ad,” he says sharing a story about how in the early days of BBH they won the Levi’s pitch. “We decided to not show any creative work and instead only talk about the brand.” “We didn’t even have an office, but we told them the truth,” he says. Hegarty is a champion for being true to who you are – that honesty can change your life.
Whilst everyone talks about changing times and the decreasing attention spans of people, Hegarty says the challenges in the industry have long been the same; “We’ve always lived in the era of the sound byte.” It is easy to shock when actually it is relevance that you should be after. “We are losing an element of craft in the digital era,” Hegarty says. It is something you feel, not something you can articulate. He also says that there is a real danger with people thinking they can do everything – we are losing the appreciation and respect for specialists. “It’s nonsense to want someone who can do everything, you should hire people who are good at one thing,” Hegarty says. Like many other key industry people, Hegarty agrees that today is the best time to work in advertising; “It’s the most exciting time in the industry because it’s no longer a rich mans game. Creativity is now the media.”
“All brands should seek fame,” Hegarty continues. He says fame is fundamentally important to all brands. And when clients try to divert from taking about brands, sometimes it’s easier to talk about reputations instead; “What reputation would you like to have? What do you want to be known for?” Hegarty asks. Everyone wants a reputation. He sparks some debate in the audience after he states that all clients get the advertising they deserve, to which his old Haagen Dazs client, sitting in the audience, responds by asking what the clients role in all this is. Always the charmer and clearly a very good mediator, Hegarty talks about the importance of the likes of the Medicis to the development of art, and how creativity needs to live through, not just the creative agencies, but the clients who commission the work.
Quick to joke and burst out into laughter, Hegarty values the power of a good laugh; “Humour is a powerful tool,” he says. “What we do is really the icing on the cake – we are here to make people feel better about things.” Humour works both internally and in the external work. “Make people laugh,” he says is the route to good and successful work.
A question from the audience results in a hilarious finish to the talk and encourages Hegarty to share his infamous best brand example. “The Catholic church is the best brand in the world,” he says. “The logo has the founder’s son on it (try and put that through research today..), location is everything for them – they are on every street corner, it’s a global brand, they are open 7 days a week, and they were the first brand with a true manifesto – the 10 commandments,” Hegarty elaborates. “They cater for everything – births, marriages, deaths – and have expanded through the years,” he says. “At the height of their power and popularity they used the best musicians and painters in the world.” Hegarty talks about the Catholic church’s USP; “It couldn’t be better – if you don’t buy it you’ll go to hell.” Who could say no? Increasingly we are selling and monetising things that you cannot see and in that sense the church, selling belief and selling faith, was lightyears ahead of it’s time. Perhaps Hegarty is as well.