Ben Welsh and his secrets on creativity

Maha Obeid
By Maha Obeid | 7 September 2021
Ben Welsh - we asked for a selfie but no luck

Ben Welsh, in life before advertising, worked in sales for wine companies and he maintains that connection with a blog about decent wine under $20 a bottle.

He announced last week he will be stepping down from his role as DDB Australia’s chief creative office. He finishes up at the end of September, with a replacement yet to be announced.

Welsh has gained a reputation for being one of Australia’s top creatives. In his five-year tenure At DDB Australia, he and his department have won numerous Australian and international awards.

AdNews sat down virtually with Welsh to distil his career and inspiration. He hopes his next project will be a passion one.

What’s your secret with campaigns?

Working with brilliant people!

But I guess that’s only part of the story. Those brilliant people need to be united in a team, working as one. The best way to do that is to all agree on what the problem is before tackling the solution – I don’t think we spend enough time on this generally. We would do well to consider the jobs to be done theory and then to work together.

I know those corporate posters of rowing eights are a cliché, but having done a lot of rowing myself, I’d say they are spot on. Go back further and you’ll find Viking crews would have to all agree on who they were going to raid – the captain could suggest it, but then there’d be a discussion.

What makes a campaign great, versus pedestrian?

I grew up in a time filled with simple, enduring campaigns: Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach; who knows the secret of the Black Magic Box; things happen after a Badedas bath; British Airways, the world’s favourite airline … the list goes on. What did they have in common? A clear, distinctive message with enough flexibility to endure.

But that’s not all. These ideas were born from people – both agency and client side – who were more focused on making their brands famous than themselves. To quote Scott Morrison, misquoting Truman (our PM credited Regan!): “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Hats off to both the creators of ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ and those who haven’t tried to change it.

Why did you stay with it – did you do it for the money or something else?

Three things:

1.    The people – we are lucky to work with some of the most amusing, intelligent and inspiring people. Add to that the joy of seeing young creatives grow.

2.    Every brief is an opportunity and there’s the excitement of seeing a great idea being born.

3.    Yes, we get paid well to do the job.

Your work has been highly celebrated around the world, scoring awards at Cannes, D&AD, Effie Worldwide, ADFEST, The One Show and The Caples. Was there a common theme to those award-winning campaigns?

I’d like to say: ‘See Question 2’, but in truth, the work that wins awards these days tends to be ephemeral, rather than enduring. We’ve become an industry even more obsessed with new. Case studies distort the truth, jurors are seduced by the number of views, and if you don’t have an enthusiastic newsreader adding to your story… craft still commands though. Interestingly, the most enduring campaign I’ve ever worked on, 100% Pure NZ, has become more award winning over the years.

What is commercial creativity – what makes it so special?

These days, the advertising industry talks about creativity being the most powerful force in business, but the phrase was born at DDB by Keith Reinhardt. In the early days, M&C Saatchi had its version with ‘Creative hard sell’. It really shouldn’t need any explanation, it’s supposedly what we do. Strangely, business is more comfortable when creativity is called innovation

How do you do it?

Hire the best people and get them to do it!

Is it really that special – can it be taught?

I’m definitely not the best creative I know. But early on, I was certain I would become a good creative director – who was that arrogant dick? As a mid-weight writer, I remember putting down ‘trainee CD’ as my title in an annual review. I guess I studied all the behaviours of my leaders and learned both what to do and what not to do. But you never stop learning.

Where do you think the industry is headed, particularly with Covid affecting so many aspects of life, from spending to travel to finances?

We will adapt. Humans are very good at that. What worries me is the imbalance between the companies who come up with the ideas and the ones that distribute them. The likes of Google and Facebook get richer and richer, while the agencies that create the ideas that run on their platforms are left behind. Targeting people with shit ideas will never grow your business.

What’s next for you?

No idea. Hopefully passion projects.



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