Back Chat with J Walter Thompson's Dave Dye: 'We need to shape opinion and sell things'

Dave Dye was appointed head of art at J Walter Thompson earlier this year. We catch up with him to find out what’s keeping him busy, why he thinks juries shouldn’t just reward good causes, and why he’s fed up of fiddly coffee stirrers.

Back Chat Dave Dye

How are you and what’s keeping you busy?

I’m great thanks. Currently trying to figure out how we can help Aston Martin beat its bling-tastic competition, wondering how we make more people aware of Legal & General’s decency (it pays out more claims than any other insurance – fact), and trying to win a pitch for something our PR chief Noel Bussey says I can’t mention (it begins with ‘B’).

Oh, and trying to deal with title-creep. What’s the difference between designers, artworkers, typographers, studio bods, Mac monkeys and visualisers? All the terms seem to have become muddled, so it’s now difficult to know what someone’s skillset is. I guess everyone who has access to a Mac likes to call themselves ‘designer’. It just sounds so cool.

What’s your biggest gripe at the moment?

Juries awarding good causes rather than good thinking. It’s understandable, we’re all human and want to be seen as a decent human being.As a juror, voting for ideas that benefit humanity makes you look more decent and caring than voting for the launch campaign for a new raspberry flavoured fizzy drink.

But if, as an industry, we appear only to be interested in creating ‘cool stuff’ for brands we truly believe in, we risk looking self-absorbed. If we want to be considered a vital part of business we need to celebrate creative thinking across the board, for companies we don’t personally like, in channels that aren’t our preference, and for ginormous budgets as well as tiddly ones.

We need to be seen to shape opinion and, perish the thought, sell things. If we primarily award work in the margins we’ll end up being marginalised.

End of lecture. Sorry. But you asked.

And what have you been enjoying?

Adam Curtis documentaries. I’m late, I didn’t catch a lot of them when they first came out, but I’ve been catching up. Love the vibe – very serious subject matter, but dealt with in a kind of flippant, nonchalant way. And I love the way they are put together… the music and editing are very hypnotic.

Also, the Bafta Screenwriters’ Lecture Series – great podcast a friend of mine put me onto. The best episode is the Charlie Kaufman lecture. I thought he’d be a pretentious prick, I couldn’t have been more wrong. (Note to self: don’t be so damn judgemental all the time!)

What projects do you wish you’d worked on?

How long have we got? Jeez, so many I wouldn’t know where to start. I would love to have worked on finishing up the PG tips campaign I did at Mother.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m easily inspired. I recently read about the design and construction of Stansted Airport. Until that point all airports had the utilities on the roof. Norman Foster turned the blueprints upside down and said: ‘Can’t we do it like this and make the roof glass?’

All airports are now built like this. So obvious, yet no-one had done it before. Few people see what’s right in front of their nose; they are too busy trying to ‘be clever’.

If you had unlimited power or resources, what would you change?

Coffee stirrers. Everyday, before I start work, I’m forced to stir my take-out coffee with a wooden stirrer no wider than a Twiglet. As if the width issue isn’t annoying enough, the end is curved, which means I have to push around sugar granules one at a time.

It’s 2015. Surely we can be trusted with wider stirrers?

And what’s your last word on the industry?

It’s at an interesting point. Our output has never been more in demand. If I was being negative, I’d say advertising has become less influential than it was. Partly due to the dilution of the media, partly due to the fact that there is no longer any mystery around what we do. Any idiot can now create an ad. Many do. But few do it well.

If I was being positive, I’d say there’s never been a better time to be a creative. You can find out anything you want for free. You can create work for any channel, finished enough to run, for free, on your own, in your home (if you can be bothered to learn how to operate the cameras and computer programmes).

Revolution, anyone?

Dave Dye started his career at Brooks Legon Bloomfield in 1985. Since then he has worked for agencies including Leagas Delaney, AMV BBDO and Mother, launching two of his own in between; the Omnicom backed Campbell Doyle Dye, and Dye Holloway Murray. He took up his role at JWT earlier this year.

This feature was first published in The Drum’s 9 December issue.

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