Hegarty tells marketers: You and your processes are holding advertising back

By Rosie Baker | 27 March 2014

You could be forgiven for thinking that Sir John Hegarty doesn’t like marketers much. He told hundreds of them yesterday in Sydney that “marketing is holding [creative] back” and gave them a light searing for choosing research and big data over creativity and not driving integration.  

Hegarty, the founder of BBH, didn’t pull his punches addressing the audience of marketing big guns at the Global Marketer Conference. “They think what we [advertisers] do is getting worse," he said, but returned fire by jabbing the finger back at the client.

Marketers must return to  marketing from a more creative, rather than a process driven, method, he urged.

“I love this industry, I’m proud of it and I fundamentally disagree that advertising is just selling people stuff they don’t want. I believe that you have to create a competitive advantage with creativity. It seems obvious but I spend so much of my time trying to convince marketers to be more creative.”

It all comes back, he said, to the age old debate over whether advertising is a science or an art form.

“You all want it to be a science, to get the equation right and go home. But selling stuff has never been a science, it’s about persuasion and it’s an art. It will never be a science. It’s important to remember that we’re all creative. If you’re in marketing, you’re creative.”

Unilever’s Lynx brand, for which Hegarty’s agency drives the global strategy, he said, is an example of brand where a creative idea transformed the marketplace.

“All we did [back in 1995] was change the thinking. It’s more than a fragrance – anyone can make a fragrance – it’s actually about the marketing.”

Similarly, it’s no coincidence that in 2012, just six months apart, Kodak filed for bankruptcy, and Instagram was bought for $1 billion. Kodak, Hegarty observed, had become obsessed with process and didn’t see the opportunity for innovation.

“When process overtakes innovation, that’s how you know a company is on the way out. What we now have in our industry is procurement taking the value out of everything.”

Creativity and innovation doesn’t have to translate into risky advertising, which he said is “completely stupid".

"I don’t like risk at all. Don’t talk about risk – talk about excitement. Make exciting ads.”

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