Agencies and brand values

Updated on: Apr 13, 2011
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As the last speaker at the last seminar on the last day of Goafest finished, a young lady in the audience, who had struggled to get into the packed seminar hangar like many others, sighed, “Keep talking'. We don't blame her. After Sir John Hegarty presented some fascinating work including the legendary corporate film for Johnnie Walker, the reaction was not surprising.

The inspirational Co-founder and Worldwide Creative Director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), which has six offices across the world today including BBH India, began by saying, ‘The consumer has always been in control. Only, now he can switch you off'. In the digital world, the power of fame for brands is even more important, he contended, warning against confusing ‘fame' with ‘celebrity'. Fame is an incredible force in the market place, which can protect margins by allowing premium, protect against competition, and short-hand the decision-making process of consumers, according to Hegarty. And what makes fame? Leadership, innovation and heritage, he says.

“Technology is not a challenge. It is a liberator,” he surmised, noting that a great idea on one medium today will get picked up and amplified through digital and social media.

A day prior, BrandLine caught up with Sir John Hegarty. Excerpts from the conversation, where we encouraged him to keep talking:

On having once said BBH would rather be a 20-person agency and have 100 or 200 people contributing with ideas: Now we're 400 in the UK (laughs). But the core purpose of our existence hasn't changed. My partner Nigel (Bogle) always says, ‘How big can we get before we get boring?' And we don't really know the answer. But if you're constantly focused on the quality of your work, then in a sense you limit your own growth. There are a lot of people out there who don't want to do great work. So we don't work for them.

All brands should have the parameters set out on what they stand for. If you buy a Ferrari, you have to be prepared to pay a huge amount of money and sit in a very small, cramped car. They're not going to expand the market by saying ‘Why don't we make a big, fat, comfortable car?' Those are the brand values of that car.

One of the disappointing things about ad agencies is the brand values they have (or don't have) - yet they spend all their lives advising clients on how to build their brands.

On BBH adapting to change: We have adapted. When we set up in 1982, we had no idea that we would have five other offices around the world. When we started work on brands like Levi's, we started crossing borders showing that you could do international work that is creatively exciting. And as media began to change and technology began to change, it was evident that advertising is becoming a global industry.

If we wanted to stay as a local, UK agency, we could have done that. Our ambition was to be the best agency in the world.

On BBH India and global alignments: Among global clients, we are working with Vaseline in India. There is a little bit of global clients here but not much. Whenever we set up an office, we don't set it up on the back of a client. We always set it up when philosophically we think it is right to be in that place. And then, hopefully, we will grow business from there. We've never been driven by our clients - only by our philosophy.

I think we've done very well in India. We've got a fantastic team of people. We're obviously upset that Preeti (Nair) left. She wanted to go and do her own thing and I respect that totally. You get those setbacks; nothing is going to be perfect. Great companies know how to manage their way through those problems. Now we have Raj Kamble joining in.

I am looking for BBH India to not be the biggest, but the best agency in India. India is at an exciting stage of development, and our timing is absolutely right.

On digital impact on creativity: The digital changes we have seen in the last 10 years haven't changed our creative philosophy one iota. They have given us more opportunities and more ways to communicate with people, more things to consider. Two years ago in India, I spoke of 10 reasons why it was the best time to be in advertising.

It's very important for people to understand that technology has always been a spur to creativity. When the paint brush was invented, it allowed artists to paint with more creativity. The electric guitar helped rock-and-roll.

You need to bring in people with skills required for digital. Fifty or 60 years ago, the television became a powerful medium. We needed people who understood television, who could write TV commercials, and who could write commercials, therefore, that captured people's attention and imagination. They weren't just print ads on wheels – words on wheels as we call it. We had to develop an understanding of a different kind.

On techies driving social media: Whenever a new piece of technology comes along, it's always the geeks who grab it first. One day maybe I'll do a speech on this – can anybody name Gutenberg's second book? You can't. Because Gutenberg was the Steve Jobs of his day or the Bill Gates of his day; he printed the Bible and that's what people know. The people who understand communication will adapt to the technology and adapt the technology to communicate with audiences soon after.

Why advertising should entertain, engage: Advertising has to entertain before it informs and we have to respect that. Sadly, I think something like 95 per cent of advertising is still living in the Sixties. The world has changed. We are subject to what our clients force us to do. By and large, it's our clients who are forcing us not to create the work that we think ought to be created. Advertising has a phenomenal future as long as it understands what consumers are looking for. And I think they are looking for exciting, engaging work. We can now irrefutably prove (with digital social media) that if we create something exciting, people engage with it. If it's a bad movie, people don't watch it; if it's a bad book, people don't buy it. If it's bad advertising, people are not going to watch it.

My little motto in life is, ‘Do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you'. Brands have got to be more interesting. The trouble in the world is that we are surrounded by mediocrity, in every field. Why aren't there more interesting-looking cars, or houses? What about fashion?

The other - big - problem is that there aren't enough great creative people. Are we doing enough to train people, to guide them? Are companies giving them an opportunity to shine? The industry would be twice the size it is, if we could get more great creative people in.

Published on April 13, 2011

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