The Drum speaks to Jeremy Sinclair of M&C Saatchi to talk about the brutal simplicity of thought

By Mairi Clark |

July 20, 2012 | 6 min read

In the complex world of advertising, creativity is often overlooked. Mairi Clark catches up with M&C Saatchi’s ‘quiet man’ Jeremy Sinclair to discuss his new-found status as an author following the publication of his book “Brutal Simplicity Of Thought”.

He has been described as the ‘shadowy partner’ of M&C Saatchi, and the ‘quiet man of advertising’. When I finally meet Jeremy Sinclair, chairman of M&C Saatchi, I’m astonished that we haven’t met before. After nearly twenty years in the industry, and almost 50 years for him, it’s surprising. But that’s the attraction of Sinclair. He admits that he lies below the ‘celebrity’ level of the ad industry, but seems to be relishing his new-found status as an author of advertising literature after the publication of Brutal Simplicity Of Thought. “Creativity is ignored,” he says. “Things come in and out of fashion. Most types of advertising are far too complicated. Most people who have an understanding of the simplicity of the world become Steve Jobs.” The book, which has now been replicated in several languages, has evolved into a competition for young creatives to win an internship in M&C Saatchi’s offices in London’s Golden Square. The book looks at Sinclair’s belief in ‘inspiration being both verbal and visual’, so the competition has rules which relate just that. The ethos of the book remains at the centre of what the Saatchi brothers evoked, but Sinclair has a slightly lower-key past than them. He stumbled into advertising via a stint in Paris. “I saw an ad in The Times for Watford Art School,” he says. “So I wrote in and said I’m the kind of person that you want. I wrote, actually to all the advertisers at the time, just to see what kind of response I’d get.” A trip to Algeria delayed his journey to Watford – a well known incubator for advertising gurus – but after borrowing the money from his mum to do the entry test, he got in. After joining what was then Cramer Saatchi in 1967, he was responsible for overseeing possibly two of the most famous ads of all time: The Pregnant Man for the Health Education Council in 1969 and Labour Isn’t Working for the Conservatives in the 1979 election. “In my view of the business, there are two adverts which, when you can go to a dinner party and people say “what do you do?”, you mention them and they know them,” he says. Saatchi & Saatchi was formed in 1970, and Sinclair was a stalwart until the heady times of the 90s. Maurice and Charles Saatchi were unfavoured by the new management board of the parent company of Saatchi & Saatchi and when the idea of ousting them was mooted in 1994, Sinclair was not for turning – to quote his favoured party’s line. “We told the board not to get rid of Maurice and Charles, as did Mars and British Airways,” he says. “Then when they did, we [Sinclair, Bill Gallacher and David Kershaw] thought ‘we’re not going to spend the next five years making up for a mistake we told people not to make. We’re going to start an agency.’ “Then we had a phone call from Maurice and Charles who wanted to join us.” The agency has since gone from strength to strength, with this new book – and competition – being another injection of vigour. “Oddly enough, the idea for doing the book was Moray’s,” Sinclair says, referring to Moray MacLennan, the agency’s worldwide CEO. “I nicked the idea off him, and just did it. When he suggested it, I said ‘that’s a great idea, now you sit back, have a rest and I’ll do the book’. So then we just took it and did it.” Sinclair has a passion for creativity; one that has led to him being lauded by his peers. Being in the industry for so long he’s clearly seen changes. The question of whether accountability is helping creativity or hindering it is one that causes him some thought. “Certainly clients know how every penny is being spent, much more than they ever did, and I would question whether that’s making advertising more effective he says. “The whole idea of procurement, I don’t know whether that’s making advertising a) cheaper or b) more effective.” The ironic thing about Sinclair’s involvement with the Conservatives is that if he wasn’t in advertising, he’d be in politics. “I’ve always believed if you go into politics, you should do something before,” he says. “So I wasn’t completely waylaid. Besides we do a lot of politics as an agency.” It shouldn’t be surprising that Sinclair’s love of philosophy has influenced the Brutal Simplicity Of Thought. He teaches his other passion outside creative advertising twice a week at London’s School of Economic Science. “The philosophy that I teach is to be useful, and not just about mind expanding,” he says. “That’s heavily influenced the book. Part of it is about looking at things and then looking again to see just what they are.” The book has been a great success. The agency ran a course for staff – led by Sinclair – and then started compiling ideas for a second edition. The whole process was driven by what would work as an ad. “We edited it down by a completely arbitrary and egocentric manner,” Sinclair says. “There are rules. You have to have a very simple picture, you have to have a question on the right-hand side and the copy has to be four to six lines. You could end up with the discovery of penicillin or nuclear power. It mustn’t become a list of inventions, it has to become ideas.” The project, if you can call it that, has yet to come to fruition. “Well, the first thing that has to be done, long before the work,” he says, “is that your strategy has to be correct. What is supposed to be ‘brutal’ is your thinking. The first thing you’re supposed to be brutal with is yourself; to cut out all those irrelevant bits.”

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