The Executive Creative Director of McCann Australia has more than thirty Lions in his trophy cabinet. He is also the man behind ‘Dumb ways to die’ - easily the most awarded campaign in Cannes ever.
What do you think is the key to modern advertising? What is fundamentally different compared to let's say ten years ago?
The advertising industry has always been telling a lot of lies. Or put somewhat nicer - we are good at telling beautiful stories that are a tad beside reality. It is easy to say that's totally over now but probably more accurate to say that it is bad advertising and less and less effective. Lies are now much easier detected and when they are it is bad news for any brand. It's that simple. Furthermore advertising was mostly disruptive. We figured out how consumers use the media and send them our message while they were actually interested in something else. Now ‹disruptive' is the definition of bad advertising. Good advertising tells you an amusing, touching, truthful story and tries in that way to create a bond with you.
Was it your dream as a child to become an adman?
My parents said, John you're going to get a real job. So I dutifully studied economics and have seriously tried to work at a bank but it wasn't for me. Especially the fact that the human factor was so far removed from the daily routine, made it difficult for me. I'm very happy I moved into this profession. I have been in advertising for over twenty years now and the last five years have absolutely been the best time so far. Advertising now uses just about everything; music, books, design, films, computer games, poetry... you name it. It has become a phenomenal playground.
What is the most important thing you have (not) learned in Cannes this year ?
We saw that work with a certain social relevance was often highly appreciated. And there was criticism to be heard about that as well. Of course there is an element of patting ourselves on the back in it. On the other hand, you see that consumers too prefer that kind of work. Socially relevant work is gaining influence significantly. And I do prefer that kind of work as well so for me it is a great development.
What agencies have you been noticing lately?
72andSunny to begin with, what they create sometimes makes me think of movie trailers. Barton F. Graf 9000 I find very good as well with their specific brand of humor and different perspective on issues. I regard them as a kind of contemporary Cliff Freeman and Partners. Their Long Day of Childhood campaign for Ragù spaghetti sauce, that's truly great stuff. And everyone should pay attention to the computer-games industry in Los Angeles. Interactive fun, that is going to be a big part of our business in the future. And of course there is Ogilvy Brazil - it's amazing what they do.
Who or what inspires you?
I don't want to sound pompous but it comes down to the whole of humanity. Just walking down the street and watching at how we behave, how we treat each other and how that varies in every subculture. You really do not have to look very far. According to me studying advertising is a bad idea because it will make you create work that already exists. The trick is to stay open minded and not immediately have an opinion. Don't go looking for confirmation of what you already think you know. That's a dead end street. Just pay attention to everything, absorb it. That's what I do. There comes a time when you will need it.
What is your favourite commercial ever - and why ?
I would like to do two. Favourite is Blackcurrant Tango from HCCL - that spokesman who gets angry with a dissatisfied customer. The man puts on boxing clothes while walking out of the office and eventually ends up leading a whole crowd to a boxing ring challenging just about the whole world. At the time I could not believe something like that could be advertising as well. Sony Bouncing Balls is the other one, the triumph of emotion over logic. marketing research will never lead you there. Once in a while I'd like watch those two commercials again - just for fun but also as a benchmark.
What is the future of advertising - especially if you take the development of the technology into consideration?
The direction is much more entertainment and less interruption. I'd don't mind saying it again - people do not want to be bothered any longer. Because of that I see computer-games grow very fast as a communication medium in the near future. And in general, we will tell our stories using much more media. The basic idea can and needs to find its place in books, in games, on television, theater plays if you like - there is no limit. And being able to come up with ideas that work in all those media is our biggest challenge now. Technology will lead and at the same time help us, doing that.
Dumb Ways to Die has now been viewed around 70 million times. Aren't you afraid that it will be regarded as a freak accident, impossible to follow up.
On the contrary. I think this kind of work will go a very long way. The basics concept has proven to be extremely popular and that allows you to keep going in games, new songs, movies, merchandising et cetera. As long as you come up with something people like to experience there is no end to it. That’s what advertising is about anyway these days, coming up with stuff people want to experience. If they don’t, it's bad adverting.