Wieden + Hegarty – 30 years of Creative Chaos

What are the reasons behind a successful commercial – is it the craft, the execution or great story telling, and what has made campaigns stand out over decades? On the fifth day of the 59th International Festival of Creativity, Sir John Hegarty, worldwide creative director and Dan Wieden, co-founder and global executive creative director, Wieden+Kennedy (W+K) discussed the elements that make a campaign successful, while speaking on the topic, ’30 years of creative chaos’.

The session—celebrating the 30th anniversary of both Wieden + Kennedy and Bartle Bogle Hegarty—began with an amusing video in which Wieden, to compete with the knighted Hegarty, gets a handful of degrees and ordainments through the Internet so he can be introduced as Lord Rev. Dr. Dan Wieden. The comical mock one-upmanship continued throughout the talk—moderated by Atifa Silk of Campaign Asia-Pacific—as the two legendary creatives alternately praised and teased one another following the screening of each spot.

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“I have enormous empathy for Dan’s work…,” Hegarty said. “I remember when I suddenly started seeing this work—Instant Karma—coming out of this American agency for Nike. I had to find out who they were. Where are they? Portland, Oregon? Where is Oregon?”

The session started by talking about Nike’s long term association with W+K, and how over the years the sports brand has worked with the agency, trusting and believing in its every work. To this, Wieden said, “Nike is a very different client as the company does not believe in airing one TVC several times. Interestingly, the company also does not believe in advertising, it believes in creating an experience. When I came to know about this, I enquired about this quite unique approach. The company representative replied, ‘You never write the same letter twice, then why the same spot?”

Agreeing with him, Sir Hegarty cited the example of the Nike commercial featuring golfer Tiger Woods. “Earl and Tiger” ad for Nike Golf, which aired in the wake of the golfer’s sex scandal. It shows a stoic Woods looking into the camera as his late father, heard in voiceover, urges him to reflect on his life. He said, “In order to break away from the usual and to create something unusual, a brand has to be constantly brave. A brave brand will be ready to take risks, and will further allow the agency to create unusual and interesting campaigns.”

Sir Hegarty next talked about the ‘Go forth’ TVC for Levis by W+K, called ‘America’s challenging time’. “There are times when due to the scale, it becomes difficult to use one language to unify different countries with different dialects. In such situations, one needs to conceptualise one single idea, which will bring everybody to a common platform,” he remarked.

Wieden, in turn, first became aware of Hegarty’s work with the Levi’s ad of  “a young man walking into a laundry room and taking off his clothes.” “You keep stumbling across opportunities, an idea reveals itself within an idea,” said Hegarty on the inspiration behind the ad. “In a Levi’s ad there’s always someone getting dressed or undressed.”

But, how the foundation client has overpowered the agency’s business?

According to Wieden, in case of W+K, Nike was the only visible client for a long time and while the agency had the business of a small radio station from Portland, the fact is that its survival was mainly dependent on one client; this made the agency uncomfortable. So, while foundation clients are important for any agency, there is also a need to branch out.

Next, speaking on the power of creativity, Sir Hegarty elaborated, “Advertising is 80 per cent idea and 20 per cent execution – and we live in a world of YouTube – where everyone can make everything, so it is important to be both perfect in detailing and in storytelling.”

Adding to his view point, Wieden said, “Emotions need to be depicted in the right form and it is not necessary that one always has to go the social media way to depict emotions. Rather, telling simple stories with great emotions can move the consumers.”

But sometimes ideas aren’t enough and it’s the execution that pulls the ad through, commented Hegarty on W+K’s “Best Job” TV commercial for P&G. “If you had passed me the script I think I might have vomited. You Americans, you wade around in this treacle of emotion…” said Hegarty wryly. “But the way you [Wieden] executed it really worked….The vomit factor was high…but the directing worked.” “It’s the power of storytelling, you’ve got to make sure the emotions are relevant and just let yourselves be swept up by it,” agreed Wieden.

Sir Hegarty discussed the campaign called ‘Dean Savage’ for Google Chrome, and how it turned a brand which is usually perceived to be unemotional to emotional. “Some of the best advertising, is not advertising”, continued Hegarty, referring to Google Chrome’s support of the ” It gets better” initiative. The work done by BBH NY could have easily backfired on the company, said Hegarty. “We tried to put it into a place that wasn’t advertising, that was part of the social fabric of life.”

“When you do your job right, you add something to the value of the brand, not just for the audience but for the people who work there,” commented Wieden. “Google is perceived as a less emotional group of people but when a spot like that comes out, it humanises them.”

Sir Hegarty next focused on the importance of motivation. “In this industry, one gets motivated via competition’s work. The ‘Old Spice’ ad is a spectacular example of good work and when I watched it I felt jealous. However, two minutes later, I was determined to do better work for Axe. Therefore, in order to do great work, we need competition to succeed, as then at that time even clients fuel up, which further motivates to create good work,” he noted.

“When truly great work happens, and it isn’t yours, the gut instinct is to hate it with a passion”, said Hegarty. “I remember the moment one of our account people came to me and said, ‘John, I think you’d better have a look at this,”—it was the first ad for Old Spice. “You know something’s great when you really really f***ing hate it. I hated it. I stood up, looked at this ad and thought, ‘Who did that? Is it W+K? SHIT! OhSHIT!’.” Then Hegarty recalled running out of the office and yelling for the latest scripts for Axe, their agency’s rival brand to Old Spice. “We had to do better! The better they do! The better we do! Great creativity drives each other, two people run a race faster than alone.” The Old Spice ads were a prime example of great writing, he concluded.

“I had the same hateful reaction when the Xbox ‘Life’s too Short’ spot came out,” admitted Wieden.

Like the Levi’s laundry ad, the Xbox commercial was entirely done without script, noted Wieden. “It was the craft of the spot that pulled it completely into superspace.” Commercials like these are only possible when clients are brave, said Hegarty. “You can imagine us presenting this to Xbox, ‘She’s got her legs like this… and…’ The client rejected it, but we got it posted online and it went viral—never give up, keep pushing.”

The two agencies have even ‘swapped’ clients. BBH resigned Nike which went to W+K and BBH won Guardian off W+K. The result of the change was the Levi’s Go Forth ad and Guardian’s Gold Lion-winning “Three Little Pigs commercial. “I’m pleased that Levi’s went to you and not the agency before us, which I cannot name, but they produced unutterable crap,” chuckled Hegarty. “W+K, however, told Levi’s story in a powerful and compelling way.”

Taking the example of the commercial for the UK-based newspaper, The Guardian, Sir Hegarty said, “It is all about the art of storytelling and we should master how to tell the simplest of the stories in the most interesting way.”

Asked how the industry should evolve and improve, both men, not surprisingly, said it’s all about the quality of the work. “Make the bloody work better,” Hegarty said. “I keep going on about it. We must be the only industry in the world that actually thinks you can succeed when the work’s getting worse. There’s empirical evidence in the U.K. that our audience believes the advertising has gotten worse. … Obviously, Cannes is about this question. But what are we doing about it? How are we working to make the work better?”

It needs to be honest, too,” said Wieden. “There’s so much strategy sometimes, and all this bullshit. What is the emotional essence of this issue right now? And clients, I think, sometimes have to look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘Who have we become? How do we get back to where we used to be?’ “



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