Doing the unexpected is just what you would expect from Jonathan Durden, the millionaire co-founder of PHD.
But even those used to his eccentricities have been left slack-jawed with astonishment at his latest stunt – appearing as a contestant in the reality knockout show Big Brother. (The news, incidentally, was first revealed by marketingweek.co.uk).
Since he entered the Big Brother house last week, there have been plenty of tabloid “revelations” about his personal life and he admits to having a “fruity past”.
But his colleagues in marketing wonder whether becoming a Big Brother celebrity will enhance brand Durden or turn him into a national laughing stock.
There’s no doubt he’s a colourful character. Tabloid newspapers have reported comments from “pals” that he uses mind techniques to bed women and claim he became a male prostitute just for a laugh. He’s had more than his share of personal tragedy, went through re-hab at the Priory Clinic and tonight he’s up for eviction from the Big Brother house.
Durden made his millions in the late 1990s selling to Omnicom his share of PHD, where he continued to work until he left just a month ago.
He has cultivated a mythology around himself of a brilliant strategist and creative thinker who is maverick, untameable and irreverant. Many clients have been seduced by his off-beam style and apparently stunning marketing insights.
His latest job (not that he needs one with £5m in assets) is as a partner at creative agency Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy dispensing all sorts of sage advice.
Some wonder how marketing directors will react when they are confronted by a Big Brother reject (or winner) telling them what to do with their brands.
Some will no doubt be intrigued. Others may be bewildered. Here is a man who has spent his life helping to make brands famous; but now he’s sought the fame for himself.
The Durden brand may appeal to certain types of brand owner. He has built the image of a wild, creative maverick and no doubt plays the role brilliantly when confronted with a marketer used to the buttoned-up life of a corporation.
However, when put up against the youthful Big Brother contestants, there was initially something cringe-worthy in seeing the portly 49-year-old moneybags trying to get down with the kids.
Over the course of the week, though, he did seem to win people round and was soon part of the gang. Friends say this is how he works with clients, turning on the charm and eventually bowling them over.
One colleague thinks the problem with the other Big Brother inmates is that they are immune to the subtlety of Durden’s approach.
His appearance comes after Katie Hopkins, a brand consultant at the Met Office, was offered a place in the finals of The Apprentice. It was reported that she lost her job at the Met Office shortly after she unexpectedly told Sir Alan Sugar she was quitting the show. Perhaps she should send her CV to Jonathan when he exits the house.
Durden is not about to get fired from MCBD – the agency is firmly behind him, saying he is a “colourful character”, a “brilliant figure” whose life will always continue to be anything but dull. There has apparently been positive feedback from clients about the move. He is unlikely to restrict his talents to the world of marketing in future, claiming to have a number of writing projects on the go.
He’s been through a fair dose of therapy as he coped with tragedy, and appears to be putting some of what he has learned about human psychology to work on the other BB contestants. It’s all grist to the writer’s mill.
Durden said he was entering the house to feed his ego. It may turn out to be just the therapy he needs.