Opinion: A breakfast with Sir John Hegarty

Peter Seabrook-Harris, regional sales director for Peal & Dean discusses his thoughts on advertising legend Sir John Hegarty, and gives the man's latest book a plug too.

Breakfast with Sir John Hegarty

I can’t claim to be best mates with John Hegarty but I have been nodding an occasional hello to him for some 30 years as we pass each other now and then in Soho as he wanders into work at BBH. Well I normally nod and he raises an initially quizzical, then knowing bushy eye brow in a silent gesture of recognition.

The legendary creative genius and co-founder of BBH, he recently gave a great insight into his thinking at the launch of a new book he’s written. Typically this was at a favourite Soho café much beloved by the creative fraternity called The Star.

Still cutting a dash at 67, John has an impish sense of fun and it’s clearly in part due to his irreverence that the advertising he has helped created has been so successful.

As an art director he was peerless and has been also blessed with working with a number of equally great copy writers including one Charles Saatchi in the past. John’s other key strength has been an innate natural grasp of underpinning great creative ideas with an equally great strategy and indeed recognizing the absolute commercial reality of this relationship.

To quote Hegarty: “ Irreverence is key to great advertising , but if it has no point , the advertising risks becoming irrelevant and therefore pointless”

John is a modest man, as great people often are, and he is also a consummate and passionate salesman - can you imagine how difficult it must have been to have sold-in some of the great ideas that ultimately got the nervous if not grudging nod from some clients. Often not even featuring the product itself or using a picture of a dog to promote cat food and the like!

Levis Launderette with Nick Kamen inevitably comes up as does Audi’s equally iconic “Vorsprung durch technic” strapline - intriguingly, a copy line he spotted randomly on a sign at an Audi car plant.

But JH is no two trick pony with an enormous archive of other great ads of course spanning four decades along with some great anecdotes.

He still has a thing about perfecting things - be they advertising or wine making which is his latest passion in Southern France where he naturally now owns a vineyard.

I rather liked the way in which he debunks much of today’s research methods as still being conducted in an old fashioned 1960’s way. He then chuckled mischieviously at the fact that Launderette ,Vorsprung and Flat Eric all researched badly initially but then went on to become truly great campaigns nonetheless.

He’s passionately upbeat about today’s opportunities for young creative‘s and the endless possibilities being afforded by new technology to spread the message – rather appropriately “Vorsprung durch technic” means “Progress Through Technology.”

And JH still likes risky – he says his personal mantra is that “if you do interesting things, interesting things can happen” . He just makes it look so effortless and that’s his true art I guess.

His new book by Thames & Hudson, Hegarty on Advertising: Turning intelligence into Magic packs his 45 years in the business into 221 pages. It will surely become one of those books that will be on the shelves of both the art & design colleges as well as many advertising agencies and client’s and remain there I’m sure as a vital reference handbook for many years.

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