Over the past few weeks I have spent a fair amount of time in the back of Welsh taxi cabs (don’t ask). Despite my best "I’m from London I don’t talk when I’m in a taxi" face, it is only a matter of minutes before I find myself sliding down the slippery slope triggered by the question: "So what is it you do?"
"Advertising," I say. "Oh right." Pause. "Saatchi & Saatchi?" No, Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Longer pause. "So what adverts have you made recently then?" It’s at this point that I had to stop and think carefully about my answer.
The CCO, creative award-judging, "woke" side of my brain wanted to step in and talk passionately about the brilliant Refuge ad that raises awareness of the terrible situation that domestic violence puts children into. Or the hijacking of London Fashion Week to raise awareness for Justice 4Grenfell. Or the wonderfully poetic spot for Prostate Cancer UK. Or maybe the very latest film for Absolut in support of Pride.
But alas, there was no point because I wasn’t cocooned in my London bubble and I wasn’t virtually spouting off in the Twittersphere either. Here I was in, shock-horror, The Real World.
Luckily, at that moment we drove past a 48-sheet featuring Morph with a trolley full of groceries – one of our "Prices that take you back" executions for Tesco’s Centenary campaign. We did that, I said.
Margaret the cabbie’s face lit up. "Oh I LOVE that one with the 70s roller girl skating down the aisles and then the mods come riding past on their scooters. Made me smile that one." She went quiet before saying: "I do like Tesco."
Suddenly, all felt right in my world again, or at least it did in Margaret’s cab for the remainder of the journey. We, the advertising agency (not called Saatchi & Saatchi), had done our job. We had used our creativity to solve a business problem. A consumer had seen it, liked it, and bought the bag for life.
It may not be a campaign cool enough to get commentators tweeting, it doesn’t champion a cause so won’t trigger a panel debate, and it won’t win a pencil (try explaining that prize to Margaret). But it made Margaret smile and it helped her to like Tesco a little bit more.
People are worried about the state of our planet, people are furious about gender inequality and LGBT+ rights, but they also have a life to live when they’re not waving placards, and they want to live it as well as they can.
They want to eat decent food, drink nice beer, wear clothes, wash their hair, go on holiday, feed their dog, go to gigs, communicate with each other, play sport, watch sport, look like they play sport. They want to buy products from brands they like and a brand doesn’t have to have a purpose or champion a good cause in order to be liked.
Our job is simply to let people know about those products and those brands. Of course, we have to be smart and do it with communication that entertains, educates and informs.
You can’t just bombard consumers with brainless advertising and hope that they’ll remember you and put you in their basket without really knowing why. Well you can, but only if you’re able to get to sleep at night knowing that your lack of care and general apathy has led to yet more unwanted noise in the world.
I’m not saying purpose and good causes don’t matter. We can and should use our smart, strategic and creative brains to help make a positive difference to society, but it should be the icing on top of the day job.
If you’re not interested in what Margaret thinks, or the 65,850,000 other Margarets who don’t work in the London advertising industry, then I think you should probably find yourself a different career. Because like it or not, our world is the real world. Or at least it should be.
Ian Heartfield is chief creative officer at Bartle Bogle Hegarty London