Good advertising is great advertising’s enemy

Keith Reinhard is one of the world’s most respected advertising thinkers. Richard Abbott met him on a recent trip to Dubai

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By  Richard Abbott Published  December 18, 2005

Good advertising is great advertising’s enemy|~|Keit-reinhard200.jpg|~|Reinhard... ‘The first rule of creativity is be prepared to look foolish’|~|Keith Reinhard has a clear message for creatives in the Middle East: don’t copy the rest of the world. The chairman of DDB Worldwide, who has been named among the top 100 industry influentials by Advertising Age, believes the region must develop its own style rather than imitate the world’s creative capitals. “In emerging markets there is a temptation to copy London or New York. That is dangerous. You need to evolve your own culture and your own values. Only then can you be at the top of your game,” he says. “Imitators are never as good as that which they imitate.” We are sitting in a non-descript hotel lobby overlooking one of Dubai’s busiest highways, which is carrying too much traffic between the city and neighbouring Sharjah. Reinhard flew into Dubai a few days ago from wintery Amsterdam to speak at the Young Arab Leaders conference and took the opportunity to speak to some of the agency’s local representatives from the Gulf countries. DDB has offices across the Middle East, including Cairo, Doha, Jeddah and Sharjah. “This place is very important to us an agency network. There is real growth here,” he continues. “It is young. It is learning. It offers great possibilities.” He is particularly impressed by the diversity of nationalities working in agencies in this part of the world, from Arabs and Indians to Europeans and Australians. “With this kind of diversity, you should be producing a cultural production that nobody else could copy,” he says. However, he admits that clutter may be diluting the impact of local advertising. “The market is becoming increasingly cluttered with advertising because of the tremendous boom. Look at real estate,” he says. “Looking through newspapers and watching TV I don’t see much that makes me say ‘wow, I wish I had that on my reel’.” I ask him what has caught his eye and he names the outdoor work for Masafi water and DDB’s own work for Tropicana. Like most global advertising agencies, DDB has Asia firmly in its crosshair. China and India are seen as the two next big growth areas and Reinhard says their prospects are aligned with those of the Middle East. “Asia is the market of the future. India understands brands, China is very tactical,” he says. “Martin Sorrell owns the Indian market. He was very astute in understanding the future of that,” he says. “But when we are talking about India or China we are talking about this part of world too.” Reinhard, who is now in his 70s, oversees an agency that has 206 offices in 96 countries. DDB was named the “Most Awarded Agency Network in the World” for 2004 by The Gunn Report, the survey that ranks networks by creative excellence. As a working creative man, Reinhard was best known for work on McDonald’s, including the ‘You Deserve a Break Today’ campaign which, in 1999, was voted the number one jingle of all time in Advertising Age’s ‘The Century of Advertising’. He leads the non-profit organisation, Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA), which aims to enlist the US business community in building bridges between America and the world through business-led initiatives. It was while wearing this hat that he spoke at the Young Arab Leaders conference. His thoughts on advertising have been well documented, so I can’t resist asking him for his advice for young creatives in this region. “You need a relationship where clients understand that you are obsessed with making their brands famous,” he says. “Your goal should be to understand your client’s business better than he or she does. Then you can be in a leadership position. That role is more important because of the explosion of media. When you have that you will establish a trust that will allow us to establish ideas that can be considered brave.” He uses the example of the ‘Wassup’ campaign that DDB produced for its client Anheuser Busch, owner of the Budweiser beer brand. It was a strange idea — a group of men phoning each other and shouting ‘Wassup!’ down the phone — but the client trusted the agency and the campaign was a worldwide success. So are clients getting braver with their advertising? Reinhard says: “As a rule there are still a preponderence of clients worldwide who have not understood the transformation power of creativity, where you can, with one idea, get the whole world talking about your brand. To do that you have to break some rules and defy convention. “We, as an industry, have not done a good job over the years in explaining how our product works. We have not yet convinced clients that as well as being informative, it can be transformative.” Reinhard believes there are three types of advertising; bad advertising, good advertising and great advertising. “Good advertising is the enemy of great advertising. If it is just okay, nobody is compelled to take it to the next level,” he says. “Okay advertising is cluttering up the landscape.” It is irresistible to ask someone as well respected where he gets his ideas from. The answer is surprisingly straight-forward. “The first rule of creativity is be prepared to look foolish,” he says. “How many times have you been in a meeting when someone makes a point you were thinking of making but were too afraid to because you thought you might look foolish? “You have to be willing to step out and put out new combinations that have never been seen before. That is the essence of creativity.” And he is a stickler for process. “You can’t short change the process. Whether you have a day or a year you have to go through all the stages,” he explains. “The first stage is information gathering. “Then you have to force those new bits of information into new combinations. “And then finally, when you are so exhausted and discouraged that you will never have an idea, you drop everything — forget about it completely. Then, in that early morning, when you are only half awake, something in your head goes pop.” I ask him what frustrates him about advertising. Reinhard says he regrets the separation of the media element from the creative, and longs for a return to the full service agency days. “We did some bad things. We put the media guy at the end of the presentation,” he says. “But shouldn’t you first ask the question ‘when and where’? “But we didn’t, so the media guys came in and convinced the clients that there was no creative involved here.” And now? “That was the second generation. Now we have to work out how to get to the third generation.”||**||

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