It’s been a wild, 40-year ride, says creative star John Hunt

It’s been a wild, 40-year ride, says creative star John Hunt
John Hunt, cofounder of TBWAHuntLascaris. (Photo: Supplied)

Advertising industry kingpins are throwing a massive party – for everyone they’ve ever worked with.

He’s the global creative chair of arguably the best ad agency in the world, delivered some of South Africa’s most famous ad campaigns  – BMW’s ‘Beats the Benz’ of the late 1980s, the original Nando’s, the first ANC-Nelson Mandela campaign – and last October he was inducted into The One Club for Creativity’s Hall of Fame.

This year, ad legend John Hunt, co-founder of TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, celebrates his 40th year in the saddle at one of South Africa’s most celebrated ad agencies – and half a century in the advertising business.

To celebrate, TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris is throwing a party for anyone who has ever worked at, for or with the agency.

Since its founding in 1983 by Hunt and Reg Lascaris, the agency has grown in stature to become one of the continent’s most influential, by delivering world-class work. It’s certainly one of the most awarded on the continent: last year, “Hunts” won Best Integrated Agency (Scopen), making it the number one agency in South Africa.

The year before, TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris took home three Creative Circle Ad of the Year awards, all for Shwii by Nissan: for Digital Communication, Radio & Audio, and Integrated Campaign.

With the motto, “Life’s too short to be mediocre”, TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris owes its success to the talent it has been able to attract and grow over the years.

Hunt probably owes his entry into the industry to his quick wit rather than a strategic assay into advertising.

“I wrote some articles in newspapers and magazines. My then girlfriend’s mother’s sister read one of them and said to me I was quite funny. She asked if I had ever considered advertising. I had no idea what a copywriter even meant,” he explains.

The woman set up an interview for him with an agency. With no tertiary education, Hunt arrived at the meeting clueless. Serendipitously, he hit his métier that day.

“I worked for an agency called Hands, a small agency above Dean and Richards in Braamfontein. That’s where I met Reg [Lascaris],” he says.

It wasn’t the world depicted in Mad Men, but it was certainly a leap from his previous job as an insurance broker.

Hunt was the creative force in the agency, while Lascaris worked the clients. After almost a decade at Hands, the two friends traveled for a year, backpacking through Europe, the Americas and the Far East, thinking about their future.

In 1983, they opened their own agency, Hunt Lascaris.

Their first client might not have seemed a big deal, but it was very big for them: Kelly Girl recruitment agency. Then they landed Exclusive Books – right up Hunt’s alley, he says – for which they won their first award.

One of their most well-known campaigns was for Nashua printers: “Saving you time. Saving you money. Putting you first.”

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They grabbed work wherever they could because they had bills to pay, but, five years in, they had proved themselves and landed some big fish: Nando’s, Nashua, BMW and Standard Bank.

The Nando’s link was perfection: “If you can match a client’s atmospherics or culture or whatever you want to call it, it is so much easier. Robbie Brozin [co-founder of Nando’s] and I got on very well from day one.

“There were only three Nando’s in the country when we got the business, so it wasn’t as if they were big clients – and people said don’t take Nando’s because there are rumours they’ll go out of business; they’ll never grow; they don’t pay well…

“But it was just a wonderful experience because they went from three little stores to six, then to 12, and overseas. We had a lot of fun and created a lot of great work.”

Their work as Hunt Lascaris on the Mandela campaign brought them international recognition at an important time.  In the early 1990s, they were already affiliated with TBWA internationally, and the Madiba job gave them a “huge” profile globally.

“The world’s attention focused on South Africa and when we ushered ourselves into the happy light of democracy, TBWA came to us and said, essentially, why don’t we buy you over a number of years, so we became TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris.”

In 2002, Hunt became global creative director of TBWA\Worldwide in New York.

Last year in October, he was inducted into advertising’s Hall of Fame – the first person from Africa to be so honoured.

It was a memorable night, on which they showed the inductees’ bodies of work.

Hunt Lascaris’ work, spanning 40 years, stood out, he said. “In my humble opinion, South Africa’s was the best work of the night. South Africa punches creatively way, way above its weight, when it’s at its best. It’s globally competitive – sometimes even better.

“Times are tough in South Africa. But I do think there’s a kind of creative hotspot in South Africa, not just in advertising, but in music, jewellery design, whatever. Africa is heating up and moving. It has the kind of energy Europe and America might lack at the moment. So I think the continent’s creative time is now.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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