Goafest 2009: Sir John Hegarty on why this is the best time to be in advertising

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Goa | In Advertising | April 06, 2009
On the concluding day of the Goafest, Sir John Hegarty of BBH had the audience's full attention, as he gave a 10-point presentation on why advertising is a great business to be in today, despite troubling economic conditions

When it's Sir John Hegarty, chairman and worldwide creative director, Bartle, Bogle & Hegarty (BBH), addressing a captive audience, then wavering attention spans, disturbing mobile phone beeps and chattering are unheard of in the presentation area. And the concluding day of the Goafest 2009 was no exception, when Hegarty took to the dais at the makeshift hangar, in a Knowledge & Learning seminar, explaining the top 10 reasons why this is the best time to be in advertising.

His first point: Agencies can now genuinely innovate, moving beyond regular broadcast advertising, into viral and other means. "Earlier, there were limited media options. But today we can genuinely stand back and innovate…it's a liberating process," began Hegarty.

He cited work for The New York Times by BBH as an example, where the brief was to rope in tourists by showcasing the city's rich and vibrant street culture. The rock band, Oasis, Warner Bros and BBH came together for this purpose and launched an album on the streets of New York, with various musicians playing music from the album quite unexpectedly, live on pavements. Videos of these were uploaded to Flickr and YouTube, leading to a high buzz quotient driving traffic to the website, nycvisit.com, as well as to press coverage across countries.

Second, Hegarty pointed out that agencies can create media opportunities and even their own media channels these days, with the help of technology and digital transmissions. In BBH's case, this was executed in the case of Audi.

The agency helped launch the Audi TV channel on the Sky network in 2005, a channel dedicated to make consumers experience the car, feature branded content, information on the car, games, racing, stunts and so on. "The channel helped us address an involved audience, who may actually be interested in buying a car," said Hegarty.

Third, agencies can create programming, he said. For instance, to launch a new fragrance by Axe, BBH tied up with MTV to launch The Gamekillers Show -- a reality show that revolves around the hurdles people experience on dates and how to eliminate these hurdles. The show had guys wondering if they had what it takes to beat the 'Gamekillers', while Axe stepped in, giving tips on how to do so.

Eight million viewers watched the show, while 112,000 logged on to MTV's website. As a result, the show will soon move out of the US and become global. "Describing ourselves as ad agencies can be somewhat limiting, and it's all about connecting with consumers after all," he said.

Next, Hegarty spoke of how an agency's creativity can actually be the media. "If your idea isn't fantastic, people won't click onto it; they'll just move on," he shrugged. "It's an incredible challenge."

He cited the example of the launch of a new drink by Smirnoff on the East Coast. The agency created a viral for this - a three-minute music video featuring the drink, which became popular online.

"We had limited budgets to begin with," said Hegarty, moving to his next point -- one often has to defend ideas before clients. "Don't hem and haw with your client, saying that we could do this, but that is better. Tell them if we don't do this, it's not going to work," Hegarty said, concluding that determination and conviction from the agency's end is the most important step in the scheme of things.

His fifth nugget was that agencies can persuade clients to be brave. "Often, our great work is diminished, reduced, or compromised, when we're not able to do that," Hegarty said. At BBH, he added that instead of arguing over ideas with clients, it is best to show them results way before the campaign even releases officially.

For instance, ideas could be test marketed by releasing all of them on low budgets on viral media, and checking out which ones get the most response from consumers. The feedback thus received is almost like evidence, and eases the pressure off the client that he is shooting in the dark with a radical idea.

BBH did so in the case of the X-Box's 'Life is short, play more' commercial which was first shot and released virally. Only once it created a buzz there, was it released in broadcast media.

Hegarty's sixth theory was that of agencies tackling social issues. "The largest advertiser in the UK is not a brand; it's the British Government!" he began. "In advertising, we have a fantastic opportunity to change habits, solve social problems, and influence mindsets."

"We're not just selling jeans, soaps and powders. We're also contributing to society and making a difference. We're not just doing stupid scam ads that do nothing but give someone a stupid award," he seethed, inciting chuckles from the audience.

His seventh point was that technology has always been a spur to creativity; now, more than ever. For instance, BBH's work for Mentos -- There's nothing like a Mentos Kiss -- was an innovation made possible by technology alone.

It gave people a chance to share a kiss with a big screen heartthrob. Visitors would log on to the site, choose a model of their preference, 'feed' the model a mint online, and watch the magic -- once they brought their face to the screens to kiss the model, the screen character would, in turn, kiss them back. And every move the user made would be matched by the screen character. This concept was first tested out through a demo video on YouTube; 50,000 people watched it even before the launch of the campaign.

Hegarty moved on to his eighth point: Agencies can expand their influence with clients, and integration is now critical. "Audi was our first account when we launched BBH. Since then, we have been trying to break convention with it. When we launched the R8 for Audi, we called it the slowest car. It worked!" Hegarty said.

Nearing the end of his presentation, Hegarty stated that agencies can invent products. As clients constantly want to cut costs, agencies have to find ways of paying themselves, he said.

"We started ZAG, a division to invent new products and create alternate streams of revenue," he revealed, and two of those products -- Pick Me (a food product now available in TESCO) and a security product for women that lets out a loud shriek when beeped (to distract attackers) have already taken off in the market.

"We developed 22 products, two for which we were lucky to find partners. Don't just look at your existing clients for partners in this sense," he advised.

Hegarty concluded with a final point: Agencies can use the recession to be more creative. "In the UK, with the collapse of financial services, all creative industries are the largest there, be it filmmaking or gaming. One should see this recession as an opportunity, and not a problem," he grinned.

"And I almost forgot…another important reason why you should be thankful you're in advertising is that you get to come to Goa," he quipped.

In the Q&A round that followed, Colvyn Harris of JWT asked Hegarty whether the Goafest should be made a global platform like Cannes. Hegarty was sceptical. "I have watched D&AD grow from being a complete British show to a global one. I'm not so sure it hasn't lost its soul in the process," he remarked. "Goafest should be unique in being Indian, and celebrate Indian creativity. Keep it that way."

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