“There Is a New Generation of Marketers Coming through in Ireland Who Realise the Value of Absolutely Brilliant Creativity”
The Institute Of Advertising Practitioners In Ireland, Fri, Nov 20, 2020
Seán is the co-founder and creative director of Bonfire and leads the Creative Council on the IAPI Board. In tandem with his creative talent and wonderful personality, Seán is passionate about what he does and has played a most pivotal role in growing Ireland: Where Creative is Native (C=N) from the ground up. If you didn’t catch his presentation at the launch on Nov 5th, I urge you to watch the playback video. Charley Stoney, CEO, IAPI.
LBB> In your opinion, what defines Irish creativity?
Seán Hynes> We're very good at storytelling, especially in an engaging, emotional way. And I think that comes from our innate background in the creative arts - we’ve got so many writers, musicians and artists here. So if I was to pick out one particular aspect, it’s probably that.
LBB> What was it like growing up in Ireland, did you have quite a lot of creative influences around you?
Seán> Absolutely, yes. We all read a lot, it was no chore to read Irish literature. It’s just something we absolutely love to do. Particularly in late teens and onwards, we were reading all of the great writers and proudly so.
Another influence was music, unquestionably. For me, music stemmed from sitting under a kitchen table as a child in my grandparents’ house down in the west of Ireland, as a traditional music session. My grandfather made fiddles and collected music and wrote music. So it stemmed from there to just fanatically being obsessed with music all throughout my life. It wasn't just Irish music, obviously, but Irish music certainly played a role in my influence.
LBB> What drew you to the advertising industry?
Seán> It happened a little bit by accident, which was not unusual for my generation. I was interested in art and communications, so that drew me towards advertising in between studies. I was going to go back to college to do something else before I realised that this industry is great. Back then, half of the attraction was the fact that they buy you free drinks on Friday! But I just loved the creative expression and I loved that friends of mine who worked in other industries were having to spend more of their free time on hobbies because they needed a creative outlet - but what I’ve always loved about advertising is that I get most of my creative satisfaction in my working day. And that's fantastic as a job and as a career. It’s certainly one of the things that's kept me very passionate about the industry.
LBB> The ad landscape in Ireland seems to be growing rapidly, how have you seen it develop over the past few years?
Seán> There are new agencies opening all the time, especially new indigenous agencies. I think that’s a reflection on the health of the industry and the fact that emphasis from the client perspective is more and more on creativity. And that’s one of the biggest differences for me now, as opposed to 15 years ago, it’s that more value is being given to creativity. And it's more quantifiable now so there’s more faith in it but there is a new generation of marketers coming through in Ireland who realise the value of absolutely brilliant creativity.
LBB> You founded Bonfire in 2005, what does it mean to be a brand ignitor?
Seán> Myself and my partner worked for network industries as creative directors for a while. We worked for one particular agency, and without leaving the physical building, worked for around six different names of international agencies over time because they kept changing the name. We just got a little bit tired of that and the lack of control so we thought, wouldn't it be courageous to take everything that we know and throw it on a bonfire and just start afresh. So that’s where the name came from which inspired the idea of igniting brands by delving into how their consumers feel about them and using our ideas and spark to bring that alive.
LBB> You have won numerous awards over your career, what do you think makes an award winning piece of work?
Seán> First and foremost, it’s about having original ideas that are genuinely insightful. Then it’s about getting the way in which the idea is expressed right. That's the part that makes the ad watchable again - there are classic ads that we still remember today and it's because we enjoyed watching them again. So it's really important to get both of those aspects right. An original, insightful, entertaining, emotional idea is key. But making sure that how it's executed makes people want to watch again, and enjoy watching it again. I think that's really important.
LBB> And what makes people want to watch an ad again?
Seán> If it’s for TV or video, primarily for me, it's about the performances of its people. And the opposite is very true - hard performances are difficult to watch again. But little nuances and expressions in people's faces can bring a smile each time. So you know it's the same ad, you know the message, you know where it's going to go and you know how it's going to end. But you love watching the performances. So that's a hugely important thing. Striking visual effects help, when something is beautiful to look at or really dynamic which makes people want to keep looking at an ad. And music is massively important. If we like the music, we play it again because it makes us happy.
LBB> What are some of the projects in your career that have been the most memorable for you?
Seán> We did a project a couple of years ago for a company called Uniflu that’s still talked about now - only the other day somebody repeated its catchphrase to me. The company that owned the brand got sold a couple of years ago but on the day it happened I got over ten calls from the chief executive asking for reassurance that they still own the creative assets for the TV commercial - and that showed me that they understood that at the end of the day, the valuable thing that they were selling was the creativity. So that gave me a lot of pleasure.
From recent years, we created a brand called Parcel Motel. It's essentially a set of lockers that are outside of your home and you can get your parcels delivered there. It was a lot of fun and we came up with the name and everything. The founder told us that one of the reasons that their company was so valuable was that UPS put great importance on their branding and realised the power of it. So again, I really loved that.
LBB> What would you say is the biggest lesson you have learnt in your career?
Seán> The biggest lesson would have to be remembering to always keep the point of view of the person you're talking to in mind. It’s very easy to lose sight of it. It could even be in the small nuances like the tone of voice and the language you use to address them.
We do a lot of creative work for a charity here called Alone. It's a charity for older people and we did a brand refresh for them recently and one of the things that I was particularly proud of is that we put a huge amount of emphasis on making sure that any conversation that we have, is absolutely respectful of the people that Alone works with. We put a huge importance on making sure that we are respectful to the people that we're talking to and are respectful to our audience. So not losing sight of who you're talking to and being respectful to your audience is the key thing for me.
LBB> What are some great pieces of recent Irish work that you wish the world knew more about?
Seán> It's a very good year for Christmas ads here particularly, and there is one that has just come out for a hardware store called Woodie’s. It's one of the best examples I've seen recently. I watched it being viewed in my own house, which is funnily enough a very advertising skeptical house but that can be quite valuable for me because you get to see the truth of what people really think! But the reaction to Woodie’s was great because they’re really creative in their ideas and they add value.
There is a lot of work on the Creative is Native website that is unique to Ireland and all of the world should go and have a look at it! Some have actually been picked up abroad such as a cigarette ad that uses the song I Will Survive that was picked up by a health agency in the US because it’s so strong.
We’re going to do a new call out for work too, as despite the current situation, there has been a huge amount of really fantastic Irish work that has come out in the last couple of months. So we're doing a fresh call out and we're hoping to have some new work on the website soon.
LBB> What is your ambition for the coming five years or so?
Seán> Just to keep enjoying being creative. We’re a small Irish ad agency and so we're probably not going to go out tomorrow and win the biggest budget work here, because we don't have the matching resources, and that's fine. But what we do attract is clients that are like minded in terms of looking for great ideas. For me, that's as much ambition as I need. The most important thing is that we continue to be happy doing what we do. And that's about getting the opportunity to continue to make great ideas at whatever level. So that's as simple and as grand as my ambitions are, is to keep enjoying myself and making nice ideas.
LBB> Lastly, what advice do you have for up and coming Irish creatives?
Seán> I would say to anyone at school level - please consider our industry. It’s a growing industry and whatever kind of talents you have, the likelihood is that you're going to fit in somewhere in this industry. Especially if you're female, there are great opportunities and we need as many voices as possible.
And if you're starting out in the industry here, there are initiatives coming soon in response to the current landscape to help foster young creatives. So keep at it!
Featured Companies: Bonfire