‘90% of advertising is crap’ Sir John Hegarty at The Tyneside


Sir John Hegarty

“I’m not sure what I’m doing at a book festival. I’m an art director, I spend my time trying to take words away.”

Sir John Hegarty was at The Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle in October to talk about his career as one of the greatest ad men of our time and to launch his new book, Hegarty on Advertising – Turning Intelligence into Magic.

He expressed his surprise at the fact that he had managed to write the necessary 60,000 words needed for the book and thanked his friend, the writer Frank Delaney, for ‘his excellent advice’:

“Frank said, ‘writing is just describing pictures. If you can imagine a picture then that’s what you write.’”

Hegarty started out as a student at the Hornsea College of Art where he wanted to be a painter but soon discovered, with the help of his teacher Peter Green, that he “wasn’t going to be the next Picasso.” From Hornsea he then went to study at The London School of Printing where his teacher recognised his talent for having ideas – and his love of the blank page.

BBH – the ‘Ideas Factory’

As the man responsible for Nick Kamen stripping down to a pair on white cotton boxer shorts in a steamy laundrette, for making a star out of a yellow fluffy hand puppet called Flat Eric and putting the ‘Vorsprung durch Technik‘ into Audi, Hegarty’s agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) has been behind some of the most notable advertising campaigns of the last 30 years.

Hegarty on Advertising

“What’s the idea?” I always ask, Hegarty said as he described walking around the offices of BBH, his ‘ideas factory’. You can have strategic thinking, you can have the magic of creativity to bring that thinking alive but behind it all – what’s the idea?

Influencing minds and changing point of view

“90% of advertising is complete crap. Just like 90% of most creative things are complete crap. Think about the films you’ve seen that have come out this year, the music that you’ve listened to.”

“With advertising we have a responsibility to make things better, to reduce complex problems and to simplify them. To communicate and to change the way that people act and think. I always have to ask myself, ‘How am I going to make you (the audience) change your point of view? How am I going to wrap it (the idea) up in a way that will make you sit up and take notice?’”

“Take the Levi’s Ad. That 60 second launderette ad changed the fortunes of Levi’s and changed the life of BBH. It changed the music industry. It brought old R&B tracks back into the mainstream. It changed the fashion industry. Raise your hand if you’re wearing boxer shorts here today… You can blame the government for that. You’re wearing them because that ad changed a point of view, it changed the way people felt and thought, both about Levi’s – and about boxer shorts. The original script had Kamen in a pair of Y-fronts but the board thought that they would look indecent so we used boxer shorts which, up until that moment, had been thought of as dodgy garments that American men wore in the 1940s.”


Hegarty on the Truth

“The truth is the most important strategic position you have. Find the truth – and make it interesting. Think of the Levi’s ads ‘I like them best just before they fall apart.’ ‘The more they’re washed, the better they get.’ That’s the truth.”

Hegarty on Creativity

“As a creative you need to be constantly aware. Of what people are doing, of what is happening Look, watch and absorb what’s going on around you. I see the people in my office watching videos on YouTube and say – if it’s on YouTube it’s been done. I see people walking with headphones on – they can’t absorb, they aren’t looking, feeling, thinking … You can’t advance your career that way.”

Hegarty on Inspiration

“You are a cipher. Shit goes in and shit comes out. Go and see stuff. Visit art galleries, read books and magazines, go to the theatre … All those influences go in and will come out in your work. The more you feed yourself the more you can create.”

Hegarty on the Company You Keep

“You have got to surround yourself with great people because they will inspire you. Think about footballers. Footballers surround themselves with other great players to constantly push them in their game. It’s the same with creativity. Surround yourself with inspiring people. You reflect the world around you”

Hegarty on Life

“A lot of people say that music is the greatest of all forms. I disagree, I think life – being – is the greatest of all art forms.”

Hegarty on Humour

“Think of the man who looks across at Nick Kamen as he sits down in his boxer shorts in the launderette. We laugh at him – not at Nick. Humour challenges convention, it is fundamentally important. Humour is the enemy of authority, if you can use humour to change people’s views it is the most stylish thing that you can do.”

And finally …

Hegarty on Integrity

“You can’t be all things to all people. Be true to yourself. Believe in what you stand for and you will attract people who believe in you. Decide what you want to be – and live and die by that.”

You can buy a copy of ‘Hegarty on Advertising’ here .


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