Sir John Hegarty and others discuss above the line advertising on a budget

‘You have to remember that most people’s lives are really boring. I’ve always seen my job as entertaining people, making their lives less boring.’

As the creator of iconic adverts for the likes of Levi’s, Lynx and Audi, Sir John Hegarty has certainly entertained us over the decades, as did he at our most recent Founders’ Collective, a quarterly skills-sharing roundtable for founders growing challenger brands.

We caught John on the back of a fascinating interview in This is Money, a thought-provoking diatribe railing against the innovation-stifling tech giants. In it, he partly blames the stagnating economy on the tech companies for taking far too large a share of advertising spend and not giving enough of the money to the companies that create innovative ads that seek to entertain us.

His ultimate message is that brands have become overly reliant on finding and engaging with customers online, and that a breakup of these giants is inevitable.

‘Context is all.’

Taking us through his favourite above the line campaigns, it’s clear that John is still a passionate advocate of non-digital marketing – ‘it’s about changing the way people look and feel about things. Context is all. It’s not just what you say, but where you say it.’

For him, all great campaigns think about the medium they are using to tell their story (often cleverly using cheap space) as much as the creative itself – with the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo makes you stare up at God; with street graffiti, Banksy enlightens you on political ironies at the most unexpected times; by masterfully owning Twitter, Trump bypasses the conventional channels through which opinions are formed.

‘Brand-building is about creating fame. If you keep saying it, people will start believing it. Brands are a movement not a product.’

As consumers, we see on average 4-10,000 brand messages every day. The moments in people’s lives where brands can have a conversation with them are becoming increasingly elusive.

For John, growing a great brand is about creating fame. Getting known for something means telling people what you stand for creatively and consistently, long enough for people to start believing it. The role of a great brand campaign it not to promote but rather to persuade a consumer, to sell them a dream, to make them want to be part of something special, a movement not a product.

‘Growing brands is an assault. Jesus preached to the masses, not to 18-35 year-old women with an income of 20 shekels.’

One of the brands that we’ve always admired in their impressive use of above the line is Camden Town Brewery, not a surprise given that John is father-in-law to the brand’s founder, Jasper Cuppaidge.

Taking over from John, Jasper ran us through the ways in which Camden has used TV, billboards, radio and even murals to disrupt stagnant beer drinking habits – ‘it’s about creating an assault on consumers’ ingrained behaviours and mindsets. We needed to be disruptive in taking on the big boys, from big advertising campaigns to the beer taps and mats in pubs.’

For Jasper, it was all about starting small and testing before spending more and, most importantly, having a strategy. Camden’s first above the line campaign with Crowdcube was free – funded by Crowdcube, it helped them raise £4m in eight weeks.

Their first proper campaign cost just £75k, although this made up 18% of total marketing spend. The campaign ran in 363 sites (157 outdoor, 206 underground) around London. The small scale allowed them to be very targeted, hand-picking sites near Hells lager stockists. The campaign helped to drive London prompted awareness of Camden from 38% to 48%, increase London drinker penetration from 25% to 27%, and maintain brand love at 85%.

‘It’s an emotional decision.’

Following from John and Jasper, and in direct defiance of their approach, on-demand CMO Mehul Garg took us through the innovative ‘scientific’ model that he’s built for evaluating the potential for TV advertising, especially useful for first-timers wanting to dip their toes in.

For him, the challenge is not providing ROIs, it’s getting senior buy-in. The realisation from his time at brands such as Moonpig, Photobox, Touchnote, and 8fit, is that ‘investing in above the line advertising is not a rational but an emotional decision. Management are naturally sceptical and it takes time to win hearts and minds. In the end, the channel works for some brands and not others – it worked incredibly well for a brand like Moonpig, which is a cheap impulse purchase, but less so for Photobox, where digital marketing works best.’

‘It’s more scientific than you think.’

Likewise, out of home providers will also advocate measurability. JCDecaux’s Nurture program was specifically set up to dispel some of the myths around out of home and help young brands with their first campaigns (they give you free ad space by matching your spend).

Nurture’s Chris Felton took us through the ways in which they use big data, consumer insights and demographic analytics to geo-target consumers in real-time bursts, to help with sales activation in the short-term and brand building in the long-term – ‘with digital advertising space, you have the ability to adapt real-time and switch campaigns depending on sales, time, traffic, weather, and current affairs. For example, as a food and drink brand, you can link in with Dunhumby sales data and activate the ads when you know you’ll get the most traction.’

‘A brand is the most important piece of real estate in the world, the corner of your mind.’

Out of 15 brands in the room, nine brands had spent money on paid print ads/inserts. However, only five brands had ever spent money on tube ads, three on billboards, two on TV, two on podcasts/Spotify, one on radio, and none on buses.

Like them, at Piper, we have always been hesitant about spending money on above the line. Growing challenger brands with limited budgets, it has never seemed great value for money when compared to other channels.

However, this is changing. What once felt like the preserve of the big boys trying to stay relevant, above the line is now littered with innovative start-ups keen to show how they are better and different.

With digital customer acquisition costs rising, there are clear merits in helping people fall in love with brands away from the screen. Many of our brands are using experiential marketing to engage with consumers – Propercorn organising a bike ride around London and wrapping bike seats with branded covers; Frame using graffiti murals around their sites; and Forthglade organising a Great Dog Walk Get Together to promote wellbeing during the winter months through fresh air, exercise and meeting new people.

We are constantly reassessing the best ways to grow brands and create meaningful engagement, with campaigns that make you smile, stagger, and find space to simmer and swell in the corner of your mind.

For more information, please contact:
Yasha Estraikh, Associate Partner
Phone +44 (0)207 727 3842