Hegarty: The future of marketing is a return to the basics

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Panel: Hegarty, Greenberg and Credle
Panel: Hegarty, Greenberg and Credle

While technology may be cool, marketing's future lies in a return to the basics of persuasion and promotion, co-founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Sir John Hegarty told Web Summit.

"My prediction is that it will come around again, like fashion. It will come around again but not be exactly the same as before," Hegarty said at the conference in Lisbon today.

Also speaking on the panel was Susan Credle, chief creative officer for FCB and Bob Greenberg, founder, chairman and chief executive of sister Interpublic agency R/GA. 

Credle, too, believes that there is a need for the industry to return to the fundamentals of brand building. "I’m starting to hear rumblings of the importance of building brands over time. The more chief marketing officers I talk to want to know they’re investing in rather than spending against. We’re going back to branding and that makes me excited," she said.

Greenberg, however, believes that future creatives have to be social and as much a technologist as they are creatives.

"Agencies are restructuring around storytelling that is connected to systematic thinking. Those two things are largely about the new platforms that have presented themselves in the most recent couple of years," Greenberg said. "This ties into platforms, tech and where the millennials are today."

Hegarty pushed back, however, insisting that agencies have, in a way, always organised around platforms in terms of creatives, copywriters, production teams and so on. 

"The thing today is that the creative voice is being drowned out because there are so many platforms. I don't catch fucking platforms. I get ideas. You need a more profound, bigger and better idea to sustain this message going through all these channels," he said.

Creativity's own generosity is undermining itself, Credle added. "Creativity is so generous about giving that we don’t know how to value it and it’s very valuable."

When asked by moderator Lara O'Reilly, a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, if creativity is being threatened by the consultants, the panellists scorned the idea. 

R/GA's fastest growth area is in consulting. "Working with C-level clients on innovation and not just come up with ideas but implementing them," he said. 

"I don't see consultants as a threat," Hegarty said. "Consultants are going to find it much harder than they thought to turn their ideas into actions. More competition is great though, keep it up."

The danger, O'Reilly pointed out, is less that consultants may win business from agencies, but that they will coax clients into redirecting their marketing budgets from advertising into other areas the consultants specialise in, such as UX. 

"I believe advertising works and I don't think the outcome is great when you move away from advertising. I think FCB will be an ad agency in the future and we may even be the only one, so we'll get a lot of business. Creativity is not that easy. It's a skillset that takes practice and culture," Credle responded. "You can't just throw a bunch of creatives into a non-creative culture and expect them to be brilliant."

Hegarty responded that he personally believes that advertising is talking to people and that broadcasting still matters. "I don't know where my market is, and how to expand it. Well, broadcast is the way you do that."

The stupidest thing that was ever said, he continued, is the line about 50% of advertising being wasted and not knowing which half.

"He doesn't understnad that you're selling an idea to people who may not buy it, but you're still adding value to a brand," Hegarty added.