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BOOK REVIEW: Hegarty on Advertising: Turning Intelligence into Magic by John Hegarty


BOOK REVIEW: Hegarty on Advertising: Turning Intelligence into Magic by John Hegarty



I approached this book with a little trepidation for a couple of reasons:

1. I’m not a rap for 90 per cent of advertising [luckily John Hegarty’s work historically has been ensconced in or around the 10 per cent of advertising that is actually any good]; 

2. The sub-title of the book – ‘Turning Intelligence into Magic’ – does have a touch of self-pleasuring about it.

For most part, Hegarty on Advertising is a rollicking good read, albeit an inconsistent one.

By ‘inconsistent’ I’m not saying the quality of writing or the yarns Hegarty tells diminish throughout course of the book [they don’t]. Hegarty writes with wit, charm and enthusiasm and, as you’d expect given his legendary status in the UK advertising world, he’s a potent storyteller.

The trouble I had with the book was it kind of didn’t know what it wanted to be – one part stream of consciousness, one part biography, one part collection of stories behind various advertising campaigns. In other words, it’s a bit of everything.

The book kicks off with Hegarty’s take on ideas, brands and audiences. While far from in-depth, his musings on these oft-discussed topics make for interesting reading.

For example, he’s big on the power of irreverence e.g.

 “Irreverence is more than a tool for communication, it is an essential ingredient for corporate success and forms the core of a philosophical approach to creativity – a belief in something that helps me create challenging, persuasive thinking.” – Hegarty writes.

In chapter two, Hegarty attempts to define in common language the concept of ‘brand’; he goes out on a limb and discusses his reasoning behind nominating the Catholic Church as the world’s greatest brand. His argument is a good one.

These first two chapters are horizon-broadening stuff but then in subsequent chapters Hegarty gets bogged down in ‘advertising land’[in Chapter 4 for example he provides advice to would-be creative directors] – which is okay if you’re an ad agency staffer or fantasist but a little irrelevant [indulgent?] for the rest of us.

After veering into pure adland territory for a few chapters [the classic decades-old ‘Ogilvy on Advertising’ springs to mind], Hegarty riffs on storytelling [interesting] and the challenges associated with digital technology [pretty scant] only to do a u-turn back into bio territory where it’s mainly about the ad agencies he’s worked with and the ad campaigns he’s worked on, before finishing up chatting about his new life as a winemaker.

Hegarty has dotted throughout the book countless pithy nuggets of gold about ideas and storytelling. Are they enough to have you turning ‘intelligence into magic’? Nup, I don’t think so, but they’re entertaining/enlightening nonetheless.

Personally, I think Hegarty should have written two books – one a bio of his life and times as an ad guy [it would be good read]. Then, if he felt the need, produce a more in-depth tome on the power of ideas in communication [a ‘how-to’ of turning intelligence into magic].

As it is, he’s come up a bit short on both accounts.

So, who should buy/read this book?

If you work in an advertising agency, you must read Hegarty on Advertising – you will find it illuminating [if you don’t, you are probably in the wrong game].

If you are a client who works with advertising agencies, you should read this book [be warned though: Hegarty doesn’t suffer fools and several unnamed clients from his past cop a bit of flak].

If you’re interested in the quirks and nuances of life in an ad agency […and I’m not sure why you would be] this book will definitely appeal.

If you’re interested in biographies of creative professionals, there’s probably enough here to sustain you interest-wise.

If you’re CEO or an entrepreneur expecting to learn how to turn ‘intelligence into magic’, there’s every chance you’ll be underwhelmed.

Oh, by the way, if you’re going to buy the book, get it in hardback – it’s beautifully designed and produced.


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