Last week we were lucky enough to have Sir John Hegarty (he doesn’t seem to mind if you use the ‘sir’ or not, unlike Sir Ben Kingley) speak at the agency.
He was a very friendly and affable chap (I hadn’t really spoken to him since I blagged a crit with him back in 1998. He said my art director and I were more suited to writing for Viz than working in advertising. I didn’t bring this up). If he’s like that all the time he must be a joy to work/live with. Andy, our head of print production, poured him a tea and SJH said ‘Oh, Andy, you are wonderful. Thank you so much.’ If I asked a question it was always an ‘excellent’ question (hmmm… maybe all my questions were excellent).
Anyway, he said many interesting things on the subject of creativity and how to sustain it. I could make this a very long post by detailing each and every one of them or I could just proffer the three I remember most clearly:
1. A brand is made as much by the people who don’t buy it as the people who do.
He said this was the most important thing, and when the words left his lips I felt I’d heard one of those blindingly obvious truisms that had somehow never occurred to me. Of course the non-buyers are shaping the brand, but we tend to ignore them in favour of brand advocates and devotees. And then we tend to market to the (I hate this phrase) low-hanging fruit, while doing nothing about the potential damage done by the unconverted.
2. We don’t look back enough.
This is the unarguable point that it’s very odd that one’s progression in any other art form would always involve a deep knowledge and understanding of your forbears. Who would paint seriously without knowing Picasso and Rembrandt? Who would start a band without listening to Dylan or The Beatles? And it’d be pretty odd to go into movie-making without experiencing the work of Kurosawa and Welles. But advertising creatives tend to stumble blindly into whatever is required today, often armed only with the knowledge of their own favourite ads from childhood etc. For many, the great history of advertising, and the work that has been done across the globe might as well not exist and that can only be to the detriment of the quality of their work.
3. Life is the most powerful art form.
I love that one. We think of music and painting and movies as being so powerful, while ignoring the fact that we create ourselves and our worlds every second of every day. We all have to participate in that creation, and every decision we make is like one more brush stroke on a massive canvas. Of course, most of us are unaware of this, and many simply think that life is something that happens to them, but if you think of yourself as the artist there’s no limit to the extent to which you can shape the end result.
There seemed to be a common thread of unawareness running through those three points, probably because they are from a fresh perspective, the fresh perspective of a lovely gent whose drive and curiosity would put most of us to shame.