John Hegarty: Globalisation has hurt the marketing industry

Brands don’t run global marketing campaigns because it makes creative sense or is what customers want, but because it saves money, according to advertising guru Sir John Hegarty.

john hegarty

Sir John Hegarty believes globalisation has been detrimental to the world of advertising, leading brands to create global campaigns that can reach millions of people while reducing costs but too often mean “absolutely nothing”.

Speaking on the headline stage at the Festival of Marketing this morning (10 October), Hegarty said: “What happened with globalisation is it became possible because of technology for people to create a campaign that worked around the world. It was done because it saved money. It wasn’t done because that was actually what people wanted. My obsession has always been, when I’m creating a piece of work, the audience I’m talking to.”

He cites the example of Heineken, describing its global ad slogan ‘Open Your World’ as “a piece of complete tosh”. He believes it is no surprise that sales of lager are declining while craft beer is on the rise because craft brewers have a “better product” and “are connecting with people”.

“[Open Your World] means absolutely nothing to anyone… but it does work globally,” he said. “When you then put that alongside declining sales in the beer market, you are not surprised because you are not connecting your brand to people.

“I’ve seen it on Audi, I’ve seen it on Volkswagen, I’ve seen it on an enormous number of brands where they’ve adopted a global agenda because it saves money and gives them control but that is the wrong decision.”

I have never believed in giving customers what they want, I’ve always believed in trying to inspire people to come to a brand.

Sir John Hegarty

Hegarty has a unique view on the advertising industry having worked in the industry for a number of decades. He was a founding shareholder in Saatchi & Saatchi and co-founded TBWA London in 1973 before going on to start the agency that would bear his name, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), in 1982.

He has created work for brands including Levi’s, Volkswagen and Audi that is still regularly touted as some of the best and most creative advertising ever made. And this experience has taught him that the job of marketing is to “inspire” people.

“I have never believed in giving customers what they want, I’ve always believed in trying to inspire people to come to a brand. [Customers] aren’t necessarily sure what they want. If you’re in marketing your job is to inspire your potential audience; everything else is a side issue. If you can inspire them to come to your brand you will have a brilliant brand that will have fantastic value and create great results.”

Hegarty also raised concerns about the tenure of marketing directors, which by some estimates is now down to around 18 months. This, he said, leads to a “constant flow” of new thinking and reviews of creative work and agencies by clients, rather than long-term thinking.

“When I was first in advertising, the questions marketing directors were asking were long-term. Now, the tenure is down to 18 months and therefore we constantly get this flow of new thinking where someone will come in and say, ‘I’m the marketing director’ and they’ll review everything that’s being done, review the advertising, review the agency and consequently we get broken down all the time. That is the greatest danger.”

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  • Brian George 12 Oct 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Whilst there may well be some benefit in core international brand messages, but by their nature they can only be supportive, with a real need for market specific comms that resonate with consumers on the same basis and generate empathy, something no worldwide message can possibly achieve. So completely agree with Sir John

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