Although it’s been twenty years since I officially worked in advertising (I continued with the occasional freelance project after I changed careers) I’m still a fan of clever examples of marketing communication and tip my proverbial hat to the writer, art director or designer of anything I see that tickles my tastebuds. I also enjoy reading books about my former profession, especially when they’re written by those I’ve always respected in an I’m-not-worthy way.
Since in my opinion John Hegarty is a genius ad man who falls into this category, I loved his recent book, ‘Hegarty on Creativity: There are No Rules’. Now, when someone’s as gifted as he is, you totally excuse them for a bit of own-trumpet blowing so it was nice to be reminded of a Levi’s press ad that was one of the first pieces of work produced by BBH, the agency Hegarty co-founded in 1982. The ad was for the jeans manufacturer’s new black denim range and featured an image of a single black sheep headed in the opposite direction to a herd of white sheep, with the headline: ‘When the world zigs, zag.’
That was it. No product photograph, no body copy. Just the suggestion that if you wanted to plough your own furrow, you knew what to wear.
However while I entirely applaud this sentiment, still love the ad, and in fact am often to be found in black Levi’s (who says advertising doesn’t work?) there’s a slightly uncomfortable side to going against the flow, and I suspect that if you, like me, are subject to the occasional blue mood, you’ll know what I mean.
By some horrid quirk of the human psyche, it’s often the case that when going through a rough patch you can actually feel completely disconnected from others in a way I’m sure John Hegarty never intended. Far from seeing yourself as a fad-defying individual, you’re likely to feel more of a reject, more of an outcast. A pretty unpleasant self-image.
At times like this, it seems to me that there’s value in – however temporarily – seeking out white sheep activities that can carry you along with the herd and make you feel part of something bigger.
I can find this kind of connection by simply taking myself to places where there are also others. So rather than work at home, I’ll take my laptop to a library or coffee shop. Instead of watching TV on my own, I’ll go to the cinema. I’ll seek out public talks where I can sit in an audience and feel less lonely.
It’s great to zag, and heaven knows, the world needs more original thinkers, more who want to create change.
When times are not so great though, perhaps we all need to find ways to zig?