How does bravery define great work, that was the question from David Droga to this panel of industry legends at Advertising Week Europe earlier this week. Here’s what John Hegarty had to say about that. He doesn’t like the word ‘bravery’, linking that directly to an element fear and nobody wants to be afraid.
Firstly, he said: “Agencies don’t make great decisions they make recommendations and when we talk about agencies being brave, we’re not, it’s our clients.”
And secondly: “We spend a lot of time trying to get clients to buy brave work and my latest observation is if 10 per cent is bought by clients you’re doing quite well. So you’re being paid vast amounts of money for being ignored 90 per cent of the time.”
Hegarty admits that despite his efforts trying to get clients to be brave with advertising, they are simply not “attuned” to taking risks. His solution? Change your approach.
“There is no point in saying ‘I want you to be brave’. You’re not going to succeed,” he told the advertisers in the room. “We need to challenge this notion that we’ve got to sell more bravery because people won’t like it – we’ve got to think of a different word for it.”
Hegarty revealed he now uses the word “excitement” when talking about bolder work to clients.
“I suspect Creative Enemy Number One is our own intelligence. It’s our own ability to identify shortcomings in ideas. Because smart, intelligent people can always find a reason not to proceed; and the smarter you are the greater will be your capacity to see problems, to cause complexity. Creative Enemy Number One may be looking at you in the mirror every morning.
When you think about it, ordinary work is actually the intelligent choice. Because ordinary work tends to translate the brief directly, it observes sector conventions, it uses familiar reference points. And, critically, it achieves low levels of misunderstanding or rejection in research. By contrast extraordinary work often cor- relates less directly with the brief, it breaks sector conventions and it uses unfamiliar reference points. Consequently, it often precipitates a certain amount of misunderstanding and rejection in research. Extraordinary work is ordinarily very easy to reject.
Inevitably, behind every great piece of communication you’ll find clients who were brave enough to see beyond the flaws; clients who could control the whispering voice of reason telling them “it’s good, but it’s flawed”, clients who were happy to stop making sense.
In nearly all aspects of business, intelligence represents a blessing, a competitive advantage. But in the judgement of creativity it can represent a curse, a competitive disadvantage. We must be mindful that there are always very sound reasons to reject great communications ideas. But the existence of a good reason to reject something doesn’t mean that you should. There is indeed a fine line between stupid and clever.“