"You had me at 2 for 1 cinema tickets," was probably one of the most memorable lines from an ad I have been involved in. It was the first big commercial I worked on for my beloved McDonald's, when I started at Leo Burnett. A cinema promotion in which we parodied famous movie moments.
Balloon-hunting in Barcelona with Leo Burnett and Freeview was one of the most fun productions I have been a part of. Telling the story of Boris the fruit seller from Russia for Google Chrome's 'The web is what you make of it' was one of the most bizarre.
But what has been the ad that has stuck with me, inspiring and guiding me along the way? What is the piece of work that has defined my career so far?
I’m only allowed to pick one and, fortunately (or unfortunately if you don't like it), there was only one clear winner.
Is it an original option for an article like this? Certainly not. Is it a lazy choice? You might argue that. Did I have anything to do with the creation of it? I wasn't even born.
The black sheep
There you have it, the tough questions out of the way.
Let’s be clear, when I was asked to write about a piece of work that defined my career to date, I thought long and hard. What was going to catch people out? What would be the quirky choice? What was going to really hit deep and make a statement?
But the more I thought about it, the harder it was to ignore it. The thing that stares me in the face as I write this very sentence.
The black sheep.
It stems from the first ad BBH created. It’s a print ad. Yes, A PRINT AD. It has a logo, seven words and somewhere between 150 and 200 white sheep (I appreciate this is a broad range but they are a difficult herd to count accurately), and one black sheep heading in an opposing direction. It was for Levi’s black denim in a time where black denim was unheard of, and Levi’s was pretty out of favour. Yet, it had no product in it and no people. Just sheep.
It was the ad I referenced to Sir John Hegarty 13 years ago when pushing for my first work placement at BBH.
"When the world zigs, zag," was the opening line for my personal statement when I applied to universities.
And it’s the piece of work I refer to week in, week out to help tell the story of BBH.
But why does this ad represent so much to me?
Well, firstly it’s incredibly striking. And it remains so some 35 years later. It’s a product ad without the product, and a brand ad without saying much about the brand, yet saying everything.
Secondly, it’s an asset that has been leveraged far beyond its original intention. After asking our friends at Levi’s, we later adopted the black sheep as our logo to signify how we would position ourselves and our clients, and how we would ensure everyone in our business had a very clear purpose and direction, to zag.
The importance of a good idea
It’s a print ad, yet it’s been more impactful than many new media ads in recent times. A reminder of the importance of a good idea, which can outlive any medium.
And, finally, it’s an idea that is timeless and can never be wrong. I have often heard people say ‘but everyone zags today’. But zagging is relative to the market and if someone else is doing something one way, this ad pushes you to find a new direction.
It was powerful in 1982 and I’d argue it’s just as pertinent today. It represents a simplicity that is much needed in our industry, because in a world of complexity and higher volume of communications than ever before, simplicity wins.
On a personal note, it's a daily reminder of the importance of avoiding conformity and standing out from the crowd. I would urge all future generations to consistently question what they are going to do that's different, and what they are going to do that makes a difference. The world, and our industry, needs more zag.
Tim Harvey is global business director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Harvey was featured in Campaign’s Faces to Watch in 2015.