Sir John Hegarty calls out industry’s biggest fallacies

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 25 June 2018
The Financial Times and Sir John Hegarty at Cannes Lions

An overreliance on data, a lack of morality and the separation of creative and media agencies are the biggest fallacies in the industry, advertising legend Sir John Hegarty believes.

Speaking at Cannes Lions at the Financial Times lunch, Hegarty said brands have become hypnotised by technology and data and that has led to a “creative deficit”.

He said technology should be viewed only as the "handmaiden to creativity" and urged the industry to go back to its creative roots.

“We talk about Frank Sinatra but we don’t talk about the microphone and that’s the best example of tech enabling creativity. What we talk about is the song not the microphone," he said.

While it's clear Hogarty has a distain for data, he doesn’t believe marketers should completely ignore it.

“Targeting is brilliant but there’s no pointing targeting someone unless they already love your brand,” he said.

“We live in this weird bubble called marketing and we don’t step outside and behave like a normal member of the public. It's bizarre. Marketing people are living in a constant bubble."

Hegarty has had a long-standing career in advertising, founding Saatchi & Saatchi and co-founding TBWA London in 1973 before starting his own agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), in 1982. He recently founded a startup incubator called The Garage.

Having lived through the process, he views the decision to separate media and creative agencies as one of the industry’s “great mistakes”.

“When I was first in media, we were passionate about where the ad ran. It was fundamental to us where we placed an ad. Then it was separated and no one gave a bugger and it was madness. Complete madness,” he said.

“It shows we shouldn’t do things for monetary reasons. I always say to creative people money is a tool, not a philosophy. As soon as it becomes a philosophy its all over.” 

Touching on the recent trust issues plaguing the industry, with big brands being called out for tax evasion, Hegarty said there’s a “lack of morality” within businesses.

"The foundation of brand is trust and that is sadly something we are seeing broken. You can point to any number of brands and say there's a lack of morality," he said.

“We’re in a dangerous place. We are abusing trust and assuming people in a transparent world aren’t going to find out what we’re doing."

He gave the example of Starbucks, which had established its brand purpose as 'to build communities cup by cup', but has avoided paying its taxes.

"How can Starbucks write that and then not pay their taxes? What's going on? There's a complete breakdown and I think it's very dangerous and leading to people questioning brands."

Hegarty also shared his views on Martin Sorrell's departure, saying he doesn't believe the former WPP boss will leave a legacy in the industry. Read more here.

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