CANNES, France—The aspiring comedy duo of Sir John Hegarty and Dan Wieden took an audience through some of their agencies' most notable work here on Friday morning, telling stories of the ads' creation and offering advice about how to get fearful clients to do fearless work.
The session—celebrating the 30th anniversary of both Wieden + Kennedy and Bartle Bogle Hegarty—began with an amusing video in which Wieden, to compete with the knighted Hegarty, gets a handful of degrees and ordainments through the Internet so he can be introduced as Lord Rev. Dr. Dan Wieden. The comical mock one-upmanship continued throughout the talk—moderated by Atifa Silk of Campaign Asia-Pacific—as the two legendary creatives alternately praised and teased one another following the screening of each spot.
The first ad shown was Wieden + Kennedy's "Earl and Tiger" ad for Nike Golf, which aired in the wake of the golfer's sex scandal. It shows a stoic Woods looking into the camera as his late father, heard in voiceover, urges him to reflect on his life.
"That was a really controversial spot, both inside Nike and with the general public," Wieden said. "But it lit up the airwaves and the talk shows on both continents." He credited his agency's founding client for always being willing to stick its neck out, from the very beginning, and try experimental things.
"The bravery of the client is central to doing good work," he said. "The one thing Nike did for us was, they didn't believe in advertising. They didn't want us to do any of the conventional things people do. For instance, they said, 'We don't want to run an ad more than once.' I said, 'OK, why would that be?' And they said, 'Well, you don't write your friend the same letter over and over again, do you?' "
Two more celebrated W+K spots came next—"Best Job" for Procter & Gamble and "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" for Old Spice.
Of P&G's emotional tribute to moms, Hegarty argued that the magic was largely in the execution. "If I'd been passed that script and read it, I think I might have vomited," he joked. "But it's one of the lessons you constantly learn. I always say advertising is 80 percent idea and 80 percent execution. … We live in a world today where there's the YouTube attitude of 'Let's just get it out' and 'Anybody can make it.' But the directing of that spot was crucial to making it work. Because the vomit factor was high."
Hegarty was even more comically blunt in discussing the Grand Prix-winning Old Spice ad, and the envy he felt in watching it for the first time.
"You know when something's great because you really, really fucking hate it," he said, to laughter from the crowd. "When I first saw it, I stood up and said, 'Who did that?' And they said, 'Wieden + Kennedy.' And I said, 'Oh, fucking shit. Oh shit. Oh my God.' … Well, that feeling goes away after a few weeks, and then another feeling hits you, and you run out of your office and I say to [BBH executive creative director] Nick Gill, 'Have you seen this Old Spice? Because I've just seen Old Spice. What are the scripts like on Axe? Are they that good? Make them better!' "
Thus, he said, while BBH and W+K do have a rivalry, it's a productive one. "We need them to succeed because it helps us get better," he said.
The audience was also treated to four classic BBH spots: an early ad from its founding client, Audi; "It Gets Better" from the Google Chrome campaign; the Xbox "Champagne" commercial, with the flying baby who becomes an old man crashing into his grave; and "Three Little Pigs," this year's Lion hopeful for The Guardian.
Wieden said he admired the Chrome work in particular for warming up an often chilly brand. "For Google, which can be perceived as a less emotional group of people, when a spot like that comes out, it humanizes the place a lot," he said. "And that brand has a lot more power, I think, because of it."
Of all the BBH work shown, Hegarty said: "It tries not to be in the world of advertising. In our world, we have a lot of advertising truths as opposed to human truths. And what we should be looking for are human truths. All of this work finds a human truth that becomes so much more powerful than these advertising truths that we erect in our funny little world."
Asked how the industry should evolve and improve, both men, not surprisingly, said it's all about the quality of the work.
"Make the bloody work better," Hegarty said. "I keep going on about it. We must be the only industry in the world that actually thinks you can succeed when the work's getting worse. There's empirical evidence in the U.K. that our audience believes the advertising has gotten worse. … Obviously, Cannes is about this question. But what are we doing about it? How are we working to make the work better?"
"It needs to be honest, too," said Wieden. "There's so much strategy sometimes, and all this bullshit. What is the emotional essence of this issue right now? And clients, I think, sometimes have to look at themselves in the mirror and say, 'Who have we become? How do we get back to where we used to be?' "