‘Sometimes we should just shut up.’ John Hegarty warns industry not to get too carried away with technology

At one of the increasingly popular “fireside chat” events to lure big names on stage, John Hegarty, founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, was in typically opinionated mood as he talked to the audience at Connect London.

“People go on about AI writing books and painting but it’s just bollocks,” he said. “I was at Cannes a few years ago and a leading bank had taken every Rembrandt ever painted and used them all to create a new Rembrandt. Yeah great – who says Rembrandt wanted to go on painting portraits? He might have thought, ‘Do you know, I’m fucking sick and tired of painting portraits? I want to do a nice landscape’.”

Hegarty’s other beef with tech was the amount of “stuff” that it generates. He said: “I loathe the word content. My dustbin is full of content and people take that away. Just because you can do things doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes we should just shut up.”

It’s not that Sir John was anti-tech. He said: “Technology is fundamental to everything we do. We should try and embrace it, and the more we make technology work for us, the better off we’re going to be.”

His point was that creative people are still in control. “AI can do all kinds of things, which is wonderful, but it can’t walk down the street, notice a bit of typography and think about doing something with it. Technology is not going to take over and destroy us all — it is liberating us.”

On in-housing of creative work, Hegarty was wholly dismissive. He said: “Working in-house you would end up working with the most boring creative people. Stimulation is what drives creative people, and connecting to other creative people. The really great creative people are outsiders looking in, asking why it’s done like that.”

The previous day’s fireside chat at Connect London was with Sir Martin Sorrell. There seems to be some jousting going on between the two knights of advertising: apparently, when Sorrell was asked what he thought of Hegarty’s comment that, as a maths man, he would leave no legacy in advertising, Sorrell replied: “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall is a journalist and editorial consultant and is the former Europe Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.