Creative Hall of Fame

Sir John Hegarty

Inducted: 2005

Even for John Hegarty, some things are unimaginable. Like the thought of reading a thousand words on his life and times.

It just begs for him to remind you of a survey that revealed that less than two percent of people bother reading copy. This two percent, he'll tell you, is the client, their marketing department, the writer, the writer's mum and the account director.

"If the founders of the French Revolution were able to reduce their slogan to three words 'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité' and the Romans built an empire on another three 'Veni, Vidi, Vici' why do we need so many more to sell cat food?" So if John had to sum up his first 40 years in advertising, what would that one word be?

That word would be "Ideas" for it's been in the restless pursuit of single, simple ideas "the ones that elude so many creative people" that has fascinated John ever since he left the London College of Printing in 1965 and started work as a junior art director at Benton & Bowles.

Why do some people have ideas, and others don't? Why are some ideas more compelling than others? ("Nobody ever bought something whilst they were asleep.") Why does an idea inspire people to think about products in a new, more attractive way? Why do ideas that capture a mood, an attitude and a point of view accelerate their impact and magnify their effect? Where do ideas come from? A writer who worked with John tells the story of them sitting in an office after a briefing. "First he looked at the blank sheet of layout paper, and shook his head. Then he looked up at the wall, and shook his head. Then he gazed skywards and started wheeling his chair around the office. I asked him what he was doing. He said, 'If ideas drop out of the sky, I don't want them to miss me.'" John Hegarty But John had to wait two years before he found himself in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time.

Within 18 months of landing his fi rst job, the advertising business almost lost him. It wasn't because he was fired (he was). It was a love affair (with golf). Golf, or advertising; one had to go. It was 30 years before John pulled out his putter again.

In 1966, he took a job in a small agency called John Collings & Partners with offi ces in fashionable Soho, in London's West End. They said they were an agency going places. They were 'Camden Town,' at that time a shabby area in North London.

But even working in small agencies, John managed to appear alongside the creative giants of that time, Doyle Dane Bernbach and Collett Dickenson Pearce in the D&AD (Design & Art Direction) Annual, the gold standard of British advertising. In particular, his work for EL AL airlines and an ad with the headline "The Flight of the Israelites."

But it wasn't until 1967 when he joined Cramer Saatchi that John really began to make his mark. Ross Cramer and Charles Saatchi had clients that allowed high profile work, like the Health Education Council.

In 1970, Charlie teamed up with brother Maurice and started Saatchi & Saatchi. John was appointed Deputy Creative Director.

In 1971, John won a D&AD Gold for an anti-smoking ad. Another ad in the campaign showed a cigarette in a man's mouth. The photographer asked him to be the model. "It let me show off my best feature," John said. "My lips." Realizing that the agency "was going to grow into the largest agency group in the world and fall foul of the City," John left in 1973 to co-found TBWA the first agency voted Agency of the Year in 1980 by Campaign, the UK's leading advertising magazine.

It was here and for LEGO John wrote the ad that best summed up his approach. A single red brick sits on a yellow brick. The line: "It's the simple ideas that win through."

At TBWA, John and his creative department's ideas more than won through. John was awarded his second D&AD Gold, for Newsweek (he was later to win another six Silvers adding to his Cannes and British Television Golds & Silvers). The agency also produced a commercial that got into the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most awarded commercial.

In 1982, John left TBWA with the two other founding partners, Nigel Bogle and John Bartle, to set up on their own. Within weeks, BBH had asserted its creative superiority with work for Levi's and Audi their first accounts, both still clients today.

John's commercial for Levi's launched the career of an unknown model named Nick Kamen, who stripped in a laundrette. A second featured another unknown at the time, Brad Pitt. John pioneered the importance of music for Levi's, the soundtracks for seven commercials getting into the UK number one spot. He was also responsible for "Vorsprung durch Technik" for Audi, now one of UK's most famous advertising slogans.

Since then, BBH has been voted Campaign magazine's Agency of the Year four times. In 1993, it became the Cannes Advertising Festival's first Agency of the Year by winning more awards than any other agency. (They won it again in 1994.) More recently, BBH Worldwide was voted Campaign's first Network of the Year. John has also been awarded the D&AD President's Award for Outstanding Achievement, Chairman of the 1999 New York's Art Directors Advertising Show, voted one of the most influential people in fashion, and awarded the International Clio Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. His belief that if an idea is simple and compelling enough it can work anywhere in the world has resulted in BBH becoming "one agency in five places" London, Singapore, New York, Tokyo and Brazil, all of which John oversees as Worldwide Creative Director. With Shanghai as his next stop, John's premise that before you can inform you must engage is being stretched to new lengths. "How do you engage with people who don't have televisions?"

One thousand words are up. John may never read them, but I will let him have the last word(s):

"When the world zigs, zag."




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