SpecialPress: Sir John Hegarty

Sir John Hegarty is one of the world’s most famous advertising creatives and was knighted in 2007 for his services to advertising. He’s founding partner and worldwide creative director of BBH, an agency he set up in 1982 with fellow ex-TBWA staffers John Bartle and Nigel Bogle. The network now spans London, New York, Singapore, Shanghai, Mumbai and Sao Paulo and is famous for pushing the boundaries creatively and transforming its clients’ businesses as a result (Levis and Lynx are two great examples). Hegarty’s values have never wavered, he is as driven now as he ever was and BBH’s work is consistently entertaining, irreverent and insightful. We sent him a few questions and, as always, he was happy to give us a bit of his time and share his views.  

You say in your book Hegarty on Advertising the essence of great advertising is irreverence. To your mind has this been successfully embraced in the era of digital marketing?

Not as much as I would have liked. But then that’s always the way when a new piece of technology arrives. We’re dazzled by its possibilities and are in awe of it rather than sublimating it to our ideas. It was the same with the development of cinema and commercial television. Eventually the novelty will wear off and someone will say, ‘where’s the idea?’

If you were starting over from scratch, would kind of company would the next one be?

BBH is just an ideas factory so I’m not sure that much would be different. In my book I talk about a possible scenario for the company of the future. How it engages people and spreads its influence. It’s based on a ‘Club’.

Is London still the creative and cultural powerhouse it was when you got into advertising?

London is still an exciting city to be in if you’re following a creative path. I would say it’s more exciting than when I first came into the business in the mid ’60s. It’s now accepted the creative industries play an important role in the city’s cultural and economic life. Will it go on being so? Only if we go on training young people and keep the business an exciting one for people to join.

Do you still get a buzz out of walking into the agency first thing in the morning? Based on the answer being yes, what’s the secret of your sustained enthusiasm?

I still love coming into work. I think this is the most exciting time to be in our industry. But what we need is more creative people leading it. I think it’s very sad for a supposedly creative industry that one of its top leaders is an accountant.

What sort of creative work/marketing annoys you at the moment? What sort of creative work/marketing excites you at the moment?

Never dwell on what is bad, only surround yourself with great work and great people. It will rub off. The last piece of work from someone else that got me excited was Wieden and Kennedy’s Old Spice campaign. Brilliantly written, brilliantly executed and brilliantly effective. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about?

Are there any recent examples of ads you can think of that disrupt brilliantly? 

I’m not mad about the word disrupt. It’s too negative. I’m always trying to inspire and engage. I look at what we’ve done for Yeo Valley as a brilliant piece of thinking and creativity. To take the client’s limited budget and run a two minute spot in the first break in X Factor and get the country talking about it is what turns me on. It also turned on the client’s profits. That’s why I believe in ‘irreverence’. It forces you to challenge the convention and come up with something more engaging.

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