Havas' Jacques Seguela: 'The future is Vivendi. And the past is Martin Sorrell'

At the age of 85, Jacques Séguéla continues to serve as a creative consultant and a member of the Havas Global Creative Council. In an interview with Campaign during his recent visit to India, Séguéla has some advice for a world dominated by technology.

It’s rare to meet an advertising legend. It’s even more rare if you meet one on the eve of his 85th birthday. Jacques Séguéla, the S of French ad giant RSCG (Roux Séguéla Cayzac Godard), floored the audience at IAA World Congress in Kochi when he went down on his knees as the 1,000-plus members in the audience gave him a standing ovation and sung Happy Birthday. In an exclusive interview with Campaign India, Séguéla says: "It’s time for India to invent the advertising of the future."    

He also has a word of caution in a world where tech dominates the conversation. "You are born with a camera instead of eyes, headphones instead of ears, a microphone instead of a mouth and clicks instead of fingers," he told the gathering in Kochi, adding: "I was born in the good old days of advertising. I was in this business before television, before computers, before mobiles, before data, before AI. Happy time!"   

"As we go digital, we must take care not to become numbers, losing the essence of humanity" is his word of advice. Humanity is not a piece of data, it is a subject and let us not turn it into a currency, Séguéla explains. He adds that, 10 years ago, McCann Japan developed the first artificial intelligence creative director. "We are all waiting for their first Lion," he says, giving a broad hint at the failure of tech to be creative.  

"Let’s not be fooled by this digital world. We need to approach artificiaI intelligence intelligently," he says, giving an example. A Miss America jury decided to replace traditional jury members with AI. Result: all the black candidates were eliminated.  

You have been in advertising for 55 years now. Do the old rules still apply?  

We think advertising is a mirror of society. Wrong. Advertising is actually a mirror of the trends of humankind. When we make a campaign, it takes two years for the message to enter the consumer deeply. The big task of advertising is to repeat, repeat and repeat. It’s not just creativity but re-creativity. Repeat and repeat, but in a refreshing way, to retain the attention.  

When you have an idea, it’s not an individual idea. We make a baby and then another, and it’s like a family. That’s the progress of humanity. So we have to mark our immortals. There is a beginning for advertising, but no end.   

The advertising of the future is to start from the heart and go straight into the heart. Advertising is becoming advertainment and it’s a big change. With Vivendi, we are building the first global content agency. Be it the content of TV (StudioCanal) or music (Universal), we are global leaders. Now, with all of this coming together, we are the biggest network providing advertainment.  

Sir Martin Sorrell says (at the IAA World Congress) that after the Vivendi acquisition of Havas, all that remains is only Vivendi and no Havas. How do you respond to that?  

The future is Vivendi. And the past is Martin Sorrell. I call Martin Sorrell Sir Dollar. Money has no idea. Only idea makes money. You can buy a lot of technology and it costs a lot of money. But in a decade that technology turns obsolete. You need to invest more money for more technology. Look at WPP and they have made this error.   

Tech without affect is the death of humanity. Tech without idea is the death of advertising. We need to be hybrid and bring technology and creativity together. That’s not the way WPP or Publicis are working. They just keep going towards data and more data. They say the new media is in data. Wrong. The new media is in idea. Data without an idea is like a gun without any bullet.   

What has been the high point of your career?  

It’s tomorrow. It’s tomorrow morning. What is the past? It’s nothing. You just have nostalgia of the future. 

How does the nostalgia of the future look like?  

It looks hybrid. Like tech plus creativity, it’s roots plus future, feminity plus virility. That’s exactly like India, which is philosophy and reality. Movies and news. Advertising needs to do that to make this marriage.   

We must escape from the fast food of depersonalisation. We must escape from totalitarism of the tech attitude, force it to accept the mix of algorithm and human rhythm, inventiveness and sensibility, numbers and poetry.  

Creativity is to selling what eroticism is to love. It ensures consummation.   

Technological overkill must not kill the need for every brand to create a romantic, almost carnal, relationship with the consumer. And this has to be a love marriage and not a money marriage. Sir Dollar makes money marriage. I make love marriage. 

Mark Read, WPP's chief executive, says that advertising has to move from the cottage industry to the industrial age. But Havas, with its village concept, still seems to be in that cottage industry era?  

In the 20th century, creativity was the number one priority for advertising. In the 21st century, media has become the number one. We need to put all of them together. We were the first agency group to do that. Now everybody tries to do that. We create a village as there are multiple functions and all service providers are put together, which is a priority. WPP and Publicis can never do that. It's too late. The "Power of one" by Publicis is just a slogan. It's not real. They don't have one village in the world. They are too big. A big village is an ugly city. We are a small village in the ugly city.   

To WPP, I just say one thing. Good luck. For me, it’s exactly the opposite of what Read believes. Why? Industry is all about machines. Machines is robotification. Do you want advertising made by robots? McCann Erickson tried to do that in Japan. Creativity is human and not robotic. AI tried to make campaigns. But the campaigns are nothing.  

The thought that millennials don’t like advertising is a wrong assumption. They don’t like bad advertising. If we create a good idea, the millennials will share it on social media, like they did with our Lacoste Sport ad that had millions of views in a week.   

In artificial intelligence, disruption is a failure. In human intelligence, it is an Idea. You can have technology in the media, as you can sharply target customers. In the past, we bombarded customers with ads. If we needed to touch one million customers, we would target 10 million of them.  

Now we use drones to sharply target customers individually. That’s fantastic. But customers are not seeing the idea, if there is no heart and human touch. Life without passion is death.   

Nothing great is ever achieved without passion and advertising is only great when it is driven by passion. A passion shared between the client, the adman, the consumer. Passion transforms. It transforms fear into courage, immobility into progress, pessimism into optimism. Optimism invented planes, pessimism invented parachutes. Let’s fly high and think differently, spend differently, communicate differently, live differently.  

The big chance of my life is not my books, my ads, my presidential campaigns, my agency. The big chance of my life is love.  

What would you like to be remembered as?

As the last clown who was happy in the world. 

A version of this article first appeared on Campaign India

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