BOOK FESTIVAL REVIEW – John Hegarty, Advertising Guru is an easy sell


John Hegarty – Advertising Guru is an easy sell, Tuesday 23rd August 2011.

Sir John Hegarty is not afraid to stand out from the crowd – in fact he’s spent most of his life doing so – both individually through his work in advertising and subsequent industry accolades, but also for his clients. And taking to the stage in a striking powder-blue suit, lined with a silk ‘stamp’ pattern, his appearance at the book festival was to be no exception.

After a brief introduction by Andrew Franklin, Hegarty took to the lectern and started by telling the packed audience that he felt ‘a phoney’ standing in front of them all as a writer. He was by trade, an Art Director – basically he did the pictures and had usually relied on copywriters to provide the words. Copywriters, he went on to tell, including the equally admired Charles Saatchi and Barbara Noakes.

So how did he tackle the 60 thousand-word requirement for his book ‘Turning Intelligence Into Magic’? Well, once his publisher had told him that it was simply a matter of “describing the pictures” it became easier. And Hegarty has an enviable portfolio of ‘pictures’ to write about, being responsible for some of the most influential and awarded advertising produced in the last 45 years.

Illustrated by some of these ads, he told how ‘Irreverence’ had powered his ideas, and indeed continues to do so. In fact irreverence, he argued, had been driving creativity since the renaissance – where work was commissioned to make people believe in things like authority and religion. And irreverent creativity is also apparent in great feats of design and architecture, like the Guggenheim in NY and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

During an enthralling hour, he also showed work from his much applauded Levi’s campaign – that not only did remarkable things for the jean manufacturer, but was also responsible for making boxer shorts the fashion essential that it is today, through to the early work for Audi and the inception of the strapline, ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’.

Hegarty also told that he thought creativity was not an occupation as such, but a pre-occupation, and explained how he didn’t just notice everyday things and events, but saw and noted them for future use; and his disappointment and frustration at how some of his team today prefer to experience life through YouTube, rather than reality.

Further wisdom was liberally sprinkled through his talk. Soundbites and lessons such as; The importance of recognising facts; The strength of telling the truth; The impact of self publicity; And how ‘good’ is the enemy of ‘great’.

Ending on how his own agency arrived at their ‘black sheep’ logo, and slogan ‘when the world ziggs, zag’, he left his audience thinking about his own philosophy – that ‘the greatest art form, is life itself’.

By Tony Bibby

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