Sir John Hegarty looks back at some of the best ads created during Bartle Bogle Hegarty's 34 years and how, in its own way, each spot was groundbreaking.
People constantly look at the 80s describing it as the golden age of our business. I’m not sure I agree. Our industry has had many golden ages. I’m certain that if you were a creative in New York working at DDB in 1965, you would describe that as such. Or even Collett Dickenson Pearce in the 70s.
Whenever our industry puts creativity at its centre, a magical age will occur. Looking back at 34 years of our own history, there have been many golden moments. I can assure you, there have been some non-golden ones too. The important thing to remember is: there will be many more great eras. As long as, that is, creative people take control and produce challenging work.
Sir John Hegarty is a founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty
1 Audi Vorsprung durch Technik 1984
Most endlines are boring and instantly forgettable. Making one that sticks and adds value to a brand is one of advertising’s great tasks.
Illogicality helps. We’re strange creatures, us humans. We respond to and remember anything unusual.
Sadly, too much advertising has the edges rubbed off it, so it slips easily into the mind and out the other side. Anyone who remembers the disastrous launch of Olestra fat-free oil will appreciate what I mean.
Our task was to come up with something – a visual, a mnemonic – that tied all our ads together. I remembered seeing the "Vorsprung durch Technik" line at the Audi factory in Ingolstadt and being told:
"We don’t use that any more." But it stuck. So, back in London, as I pondered the need to link all work together, I suggested we use the German endline. It caused a huge debate. Research said don’t use it.
Fortunately, we had a client who was still attached to his balls and we ran it. The rest is history.
2 Levi's launderette 1984
Believe it or not, after winning the Levi’s account in 1982, we were in danger of losing the business in ’84. It was launching the 501 in a last-ditch attempt to revive sales. Did we have the ability to create a campaign that captured the imagination of 16- to 18-year-olds?
It was a formidable task. Almost everything about the product didn’t work. When researched, nobody liked the button fly. The cut of the jeans, its silhouette, was not fashionable and they were going to retail for more than £20. This was unheard of. The jeans buyer at Selfridges refused to stock them.
We were given a chance to see if we could crack the brief. Turn the 501 into an iconic product and resurrect Levi’s fortunes. A man walking into a launderette undressing, placing his jeans in a washing machine and sitting down next to a bored, fat man to the sound of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine did just that.
It not only revived Levi’s, turning the 501 into iconic jeans, it sold millions of boxer shorts and revived our interest in original R&B stars. It’s amazing what you can achieve in 60 seconds.
3 Levi's Flat Eric 1999
I’m including a second Levi’s commercial, "Flat Eric", because it’s credited with being the very first viral ad. The genesis of the campaign came from Levi’s – which, after some 26 commercials of sexy men taking their clothes off for the 501, wanted a different kind of hero. It wanted us to explore relationships.
Was there something in the chemistry between two people that could create a different kind of execution?
"Yes" was the answer – and Levi’s didn’t realise how different. I presented the idea as though it was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road. Two characters travelling across America in search of their identity. Naturally, clothed in Levi’s sharp new look. The client loved it.
Until, that is, I revealed one of the characters was a fluffy yellow puppet. The client thought I’d gone mad. In fact, many at the agency did as well. But, after going back three times, our client said yes. And so a new hero was born.
4 Lynx/Axe getting dressed 2004
In 1995, we won the Lynx/Axe account – a relatively minor Unilever deodorant. Doing well, but not spectacularly well.
Our strategy for supercharging the brand was to move from attraction to seduction. But not take it too seriously. We introduced humour into a category that was, by and large, very straight and we showed geeky guys could also get the girl. After all, there’s nothing more seductive than a man who can make you laugh, whatever he looks like.
We made the brand iconic with wit and honesty. In all the original executions, we owned up to the fact that our magic powers of seduction could wear off, so be careful. Breaking the mould of fragrance advertising obviously made us stand out.
My favourite execution is "getting dressed". It is the simplest of ideas. It shows a moment of seduction, but shows it in reverse. Brilliantly executed with the most perfect soundtrack.
5 Johnnie Walker the man who walked around the world 2009
Revolutions start on the fringes and gradually work their way to the centre. The brilliance of today’s media landscape is where and how you can start that debate.
This spot was commissioned as a PR film to show the history of Johnnie Walker for visitors to the distillery. The creative team thought ambitiously and wanted to make something that would be bigger than the original brief. The budget was less than £100,000. They spent most of the money on getting Robert Carlyle to act out the brand’s history in a walk. "Keep walking" was our line.
Armed with a great script, a genius of a performance and the insistence that it be shot in one take, they came back with a piece of magic. It leaked on to YouTube and Carlyle, so proud of his performance, allowed it to be broadcast.
So an idea that started life as a simple PR film turned into a global idea that won a gold at Cannes, and becomes a lesson for never giving up and looking at every brief as a chance for glory.
6 The Guardian three little pigs 2012
Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen the popularity of the TV ad challenged by the power of the internet.
In fact, many predicted the demise of the commercial with the rise of one-to-one communication.
How wrong those predictions have proved. TV is having a golden age, with audiences increasing and binge-watching becoming a phenomenon. In all that innovation, however, the 30-second spot seems rather quaint. And I think that is certainly so. We must constantly rethink how we see and use a medium.
Creating event TV is one of the answers. Buy the whole break. Make a dramatic, stimulating spot that starts a debate; social networking picks up on the conversation.
Those who haven’t seen the spot, go to YouTube to see what everyone is talking about and dramatically increase the power of your idea. Of course, all this needs an outstanding idea – provocative, thoughtful and brilliantly produced. It is advertising, but not as you normally know it.
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