Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), the UK’s advertising agency fondly called the black sheep of advertising, is known for its association with brands like Johnnie Walker, Levis, Mentos and Axe. It is also known for the way it has reacted to economic slowdowns. Its inception itself took place in the 1980s downturn in the UK. The market crash in Singapore happened a year after the company set up base there.
The technology meltdown at the turn of the century saw it open the New York office. As the current economic crisis continues to rage all over the world, BBH has come to India. John Hegarty, its global creative director, tells Sapna Agarwal & Suvi Dogra that recession is a good time to try out new things. Edited excerpts:
BBH is known for its unconventional ways of doing things. How do you make sense of these decisions?
Nothing great happened easy. We are very clear in terms of values and the need to create magic by having business intelligence aligned with creative thinking. Our philosophy is to create centres of excellence by creating the BBH culture at our centres and having great people. As such, every time we open a new office it’s like our rebirth. The new office shows us how to perform in the current crisis, gives us feedback on our performance and makes us a new BBH.
Your statement that recession is a good time to be in advertising belies conventional logic. In a slowdown, companies are quick to cut advertising and marketing budgets?
To tell you briefly, during recessions agencies need to persuade clients to be brave. It is also a good time to look at piggybacking on the viral publicity and word-of-mouth publicity with small budgets and get paid media publicity. The creativity will be the media. It is a good time to look at integration and expand the client account by doing more than just commercial, print ad and posters. Besides, the time can also be used to look at additional revenue streams.
Additional revenue streams?
We have created a unit called Zag, which invents new products and looks at new markets. We are looking at partners within our client network and outside as well for partnering with us for our inventions. We have created about 22 products of which one, Pick Me, a vegetarian food brand, is being retailed at Tesco. The other is a security product, a personal alarm for women that lets out a horrendous screams. It retails at Marks & Spencer’s and has received good response.
Can you give the reasons why this is a good time to be in India?
I can give you 25. But top of mind, three: People, opportunity and weather. India is unique in having an ability to deal with diversity — diversity in culture, religion, languages and sophistication where there is a large difference between the rural and urban consumers. The country has a lot to teach the recession-hit markets. Also, this is the first time that we have launched an office with an all-Indian management. It has never happened before in our other offices. The country has a great skilled resource pool.