There is a video of Sir John Hegarty on line that shows the master commit himself to misapprehensions so unpardonable that it is clear he should be relieved of his knighthood and sent to the tower for an indeterminate period of time and at least till he comes to his senses.
Sir John on good creative, marketing and taste. Click here.
Sir John tells us that, finally, creative decisions come down to taste. Do we like the creative in question, or do we not? Advertising, he says, is about creating desire. We must make people want the product. In the old days, we did this be insisting on a point of difference, a special ingredient. Now, it’s the way we communicate with the consumer. And that’s about taste. We are increasingly living in a fashion world. We are dominated by it. Taste is important and you can’t teach it.
There are several things wrong with this argument, but I want to point out the most obvious: that one of the most powerful people in the world of British advertising has just declared intellectual bankruptcy.
All the world is persuaded that there is something wrong with advertising. The New Media people claim that TV ads are dead. Clients have always nurtured their suspicions and now they are in full out revolt. The academics cannot figure out what makes this bumble bee capable of flight. The "critical" theories have no such difficulty, and routinely find advertising to be the chief culprit in the creation of false consciousness, consumer manipulation and every ill that ails us. The consumer is happily TIVOing ads out of existence. The agency world is in disarray. The world of marketing is the throes of crisis.
This might have been the moment from something oracular. As one of the senior members of the profession, Sir John might have stepped forward and poured oil upon the water. He might have recited verities to reassure us. Or he might have broken new ground and issued a new model for understanding what advertising is.
Not a chance. No, Sir John choose this moment to tell us that advertising is effectively mysterious, inscrutable and unteachable. Bravo, sir. That’s leadership!
With this declaration, we are back in the black box that advertising created after World War II. Advertising, agencies told the client, was a thoroughly creative process. Only the agency could do it. Only the agency could evaluate it. Only the agency could be trusted to invent it. The client was obliged to keep her distance…and pay the bills. The quid pro quo was clear. We, the agency, give you ads. You, the client, pay us hard-stopping amounts of money. Oh, and one more thing: go away.
In the old days, this black box approach to advertising was not a bad idea. It kept the least talented cooks out of the creative kitchen. It left the agency free to do its best work. But now that clients have got smarter, now that the agency world is in crisis, now that advertising is effectively being taken away from the agency world, this might not be the best time to retreat into a naive obscurantism, and the pretense that advertising is, well, imponderable.
Unless, shudder, it’s true. Could it be that one of the most powerful men in British advertising has no idea how advertising works? Could he really believe that it’s just taste? That it’s all about fashion. That there is no meaning manufacture here to be understood, refined, build upon, taken forward. No bold new thinking that shows how the challenge of new media can be turned to advantage?
Don’t tell me this is the best you can do, Sir John. You spent a life time managing the creative process, and your epiphany is that it’s all about taste and fashion? Maybe the world of advertising is beyond all hope. Perhaps we should read this declaration of intellectual bankruptcy as a requiem for the field.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. Minstrel Marketing and the Hegarty Trade-off. This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. June 24, 2005. here.
(For a kinder view of Sir John’s significance)
With thanks to the following for bringing the video to our attention:
Serendipity Book here.