Emily Tan
Jun 25, 2012

Cannes 2012: Dan Wieden and John Hegarty on making the work better

CANNES – Thirty years ago, on April 1, two maverick agencies, BBH and Wieden+Kennedy, were born on different continents with striking similarities beyond the twin birth dates.

Cannes 2012: Dan Wieden and John Hegarty on making the work better

In a lighthearted yet inspiring session moderated by Campaign Asia-Pacific editorial director Atifa Silk, advertising legends Dan Wieden and John Hegarty talked about the elements of great creativity, of admiration, of hatred, of bravery and of nausea. 

“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?”

W+K's out-of-the-way location was proof positive of their difference in Hegarty's eyes. “Goes against all the things people believe about creativity needing to congregate.”

In many ways, the agency's founding client, Nike, set the tone for W+K, said Wieden. “Nike didn't believe in advertising. Didn't want us to do anything conventional.” For one thing, Nike didn't believe in running an ad more than once. “Well you don't write your friend the same letter over and over again do you?”

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 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.

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.”

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 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! Oh SHIT!'.”

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.”

The industry needs to make the work better if it's to survive and thrive, added Hegarty. “John [Patroulis], who runs our NY office said, 'The trouble is that we have ad truths instead of human truths.' We must be the only industry in the world that thinks we can succeed if the work's getting worse.”

The work needs to be more honest as well, added Wieden. “There's so much strategy sometimes and so much bullshit. Clients have to look at themselves and ask, 'Who have we become and how do we get back to who we used to be?'.”

“Wouldn't you rather have a stimulating and exciting conversation with your audience than doing your best to trip them up into watching them?” asked Hegarty. “Make the work bloody better!”

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