Sir John Hegarty: ‘Marketing is letting us down’

hegartySir John Hegarty has told a room full of senior marketers that while we are living in an “incredible period of time” in which “technology is coming at us in ways that are unimaginable” audiences believes the work marketers are doing is “getting worse”.

Speaking at the Global Marketing Conference in Sydney yesterday, the ad veteran and founder and creative partner of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) said: “Marketing has been letting us down for a very, very long time. Our audience believes what we’re producing is getting worse.

“A lot of people say what’s happened over the last 15 years with technology, has it revolutionised the communications industry?

“I really don’t genuinely think it has, I think what it has done is liberated the communications industry in the way you can do things, in the way you can talk to people.”

He suggested that the beauty of technology has allowed even the smallest producer, with a minimal budget, to be able to do anything.

Hegarty used BBH’s ‘Keep Walking’ PR video for Johnnie Walker, which started with a £40,000 budget on YouTube and moved into cinemas, before winning a Gold Lion at Cannes, as an example.

“This is why I think it’s a fantastic time to be around in this business. A bad idea costs the same as a great idea.”

The problem, the famously research-sceptical Hegarty believes, lies in marketers’ desire for the process to be a science.

He said: “I’m convinced all you marketing people want it to be a science. If you could just make it a science it would make it so much easier, you could add it all up, get the equation right, go home and play golf.

“But it’s not. Selling stuff has never been a science, it’s about persuasion. And persuasion is an art. And it will never ever be that, despite big data.”

“Most people don’t understand creativity,” he continued. “We are all creative, it’s just I learn by living by it. If you’re in marketing, you’re a creative person.

“The essence of creativity is to is to take a number of known assets and reassemble them in a way that stimulates the imagination.”

BBH’s work for Unilever’s Lynx/Axe brand is what this is all about, he said.

“We won this business in about ’95 and it was a product that was sold based on it would make you smell better and girls would like you,” said Hegarty.

“But what we said, it’s more than that. We converted it to being about seduction. We moved the brand from that into seduction, and with changing nothing just with purely an idea for repositioning it we created advertising for Lynx that has transformed that marketplace.

“Unilever used to always come up with a fragrance, they’d give us the fragrance and we’d create the advertising around it. We now start with the idea and they make the fragrance and take that to the market.

“They’ve recognised that this is about marketing a great idea. It’s having a transformative affect on that business,” he said.

He warns that when companies become too caught up in process and forget about innovation they are “on the downward path”, reflecting on the fall of Nokia and the rise of Apple with its iPhone and Kodak filing for bankruptcy in 2012 while Instagram was sold to Facebook a year later for $1 billion.

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

You can see more from Sir John Hegarty’s speech which Mumbrella live blogged yesterday between 4pm and 4:46pm.

Miranda Ward


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