In these difficult times, creative thinking should be the mechanism for getting you out of trouble.
Rosie Arnold, whose one-year presidency at D&AD started this September, joined BBH straight from art school in 1983 when the world-famous agency – founded by John Hegarty just two years previously – was but a little creative hot shop. She has been there ever since. (Her bio on the D&AD homepage also cites the fact that she “has not only worked for the same agency for her entire professional life, but has lived in the same house. And if some people feel the need to change jobs frequently, Rosie feels the need to change dresses, and is well known for her flamboyant fashion sense.”) Among Rosie’s countless achievements over her almost 30-year-career are the classic TV ad for Pretty Polly tights (Vol. 3/87), the famous “Ideal Woman” TV ad for Lynx (Axe) deodorant (Vol. 3/00), which won a Cannes Gold, and the Levi’s jeans “Shrink to Fit” poster campaign (Vol. 4/97). Michael Weinzettl talked to Rosie Arnold about her long and successful career and the new challenges awaiting her as President of D&AD.
L.A.: Hi Rosie, last time we talked to you, you were overseeing or involved in BBH’s international and very successful “Boom Chika Wah Wah” campaign for Axe. That was in 2007. Can you bring our readers up to speed? What has happened since then? What projects/clients/accounts are you working on right now?
Rosie Arnold: A lot has happened since 2007. I have become deputy ECD, working with Nick Gill when John O Keefe moved on to WPP. Workwise, I have more of a helicopter role on Axe and we now have David Kolbusz as CD on the brand. I am an ear for him and he is producing some really exciting new work on Axe even as we speak. I have been working on the global laundry business for Unilever, which is pretty complicated, but I am happy to say we have just finished filming a thirteen-part content piece which I am really thrilled with. I oversaw the phenomenon that was the Yeo Valley “rapping farmers” campaign, which really took off in the UK last year, and we are working on the next ad at the moment. BBH has also just won the global Sol account so I am feverishly devising ideas on that.
L.A.: How far does your involvement with D&AD date back? Were you already looking at the annuals when you went to Central St Martins or did your interest in it start at a later date, when you were already with BBH?
Rosie Arnold: D&AD is the reason I got a job in advertising. Way back when I was at art school, there were no advertising courses. I looked through the annuals and noted the art directors’ work I admired and then went to talk to them; they told me about the D&AD evening workshops, which were brilliant, and helped me devel-op my book. They gave me
an invaluable insight into how agencies worked and a chance to meet the creatives who were behind the campaigns of the day.
L.A.: How has advertising changed over the course of your career, which spans almost three decades? What, to you, were some of the more dramatic changes? Which did you welcome, which less so?
Rosie Arnold: The most seismic change is the fact that, now, we can have conversations with consumers. We can see their reactions to work immediately and even talk to them via Facebook, Twitter, and websites. When I first started, you might catch one of your ads at the cinema or see someone reading a paper with your ad in it but that was the only way you could really gauge the impact before sales figures were out. Now – it happened in a major way for me on Yeo Valley – you can look on YouTube and see the comments roll in.
L.A.: How did the advent of digital affect you and your work? Most of the time, the response to this question from ad creatives is that it’s the message that counts, not the medium? What is your take on this?
Rosie Arnold: The other major change is the range of media we have to use. I love it, just so many more toys in the creative toybox. The only downside is we have less and less time to think of more ideas across more media. I definitely think if you ask any creative about using digital media they will agree that it is the message, not the media, that’s important. We are excited about the range of opportunities not just in media but also in production now open to us. In my first print campaign for Pretty Polly, we had to hand-draw on the prints to do the retouching; now, anything is possible!
L.A.: Do you think that there is a tendency in agencies at present to focus more on the digital arena at the expense of “traditional” advertising media such as press and posters and even TV?
Rosie Arnold: I think there is a bit of a backswing away from uniformly recommending digital, and agencies are doing what is appropriate for the message. As always, the pendulum has to swing a bit before people settle to what is right.
L.A.: What is your opinion of the standard of print and TV work we get to see nowadays? Is it as good as it used to be?
Rosie Arnold: I think TV and print are every bit as good as they used to be and, excitingly, markets like China are coming up with some really good print.
L.A.: Back in the 2005, ad maverick Neil French virtually ended his career in advertising by declaring, in a much-publicized speech, that women were unfit to be good creative directors because, after spending time within the industry, they usually leave “to go suckle something,” as he horribly put it. As an example of a woman who can brilliantly succeed as a creative director, can you say something about the role of women in the British advertising scene and how it has changed over the years? I know there were far fewer women in advertising when you started out, when there was the great Barbara Nokes and no one else really …
Rosie Arnold: Neil French’s remarks were unfortunate, to say the least, and possibly an example of why few women wanted to remain in an industry that harbors individuals with those sort of opinions. Luckily for me, BBH has always recognized talent over sex, color, or creed. Barbara Nokes was here when I started and my first influence in the business was a fantastic art director called Judy Smith, who was working at the great CDP. She encouraged me enormously. It is still a largely male-dominated part of advertising. I see many women across other disciplines but when it comes to creatives the numbers dwindle. We have quite a few women in our department and two all-girl teams, but I hope that my role as President of D&AD will bring more women into the profession and publicize it as a good job for women.
L.A.: As far as I am aware, the share of women in D&AD is about 25 %. Would you say that represents the ad industry in the UK as a whole?
Rosie Arnold: Yes, I think 25% is probably an accurate average reading across the creative industries.
L.A.: What are some of the campaigns you did over the course of your career that you’re proudest of?
Rosie Arnold: I am most proud of my work on Lynx/Axe – positive proof that girls can do boy products. I am also hugely proud of the success of the recent Yeo Valley work. I felt that something big and populist was needed that would genuinely do a great job for a client with a limited budget. A client who I really admired who had built up a great business.
L.A.: What do you think about the importance of social media for advertising? And you personally – do you go on things like Facebook or Twitter?
Rosie Arnold: I think that social media is a must for brands that want to make an impact and really converse with their consumers. At the most basic level, they need to have a forum where they can respond to consumers. We think it is most powerful when coupled with a “Super Bowl” broadcast idea like we did with Yeo Valley. You can create a real noise by using both together (with a great idea, of course). Yes, I have a Twitter feed and I will be hoping to spread the word about what we are up to at D&AD. I actively use Facebook to connect with friends and family and see what’s going on in the world.
L.A.: What are some of the plans and hopes you have for the year of the D&AD Presidency?
Rosie Arnold: I want the year of my Presidency to be the start of reasserting D&AD’s credentials as the gold standard of creative excellence. We are celebrating 50 years of D&AD next year. It is the perfect time for the charity to step forward as the voice of creativity and champion creativity as a business tool and the necessity of creative education. I am shocked by the government’s cuts in the UK and the increasing trend to marginalize art and design in schools. I think we should be the voice that will not be silent when these cuts are made and make sure we have a global message that creativity is a vital business tool. In these difficult financial times, creative thinking should be the mechanism for getting you out of trouble. I also want to celebrate 50 years of design and advertising excellence.
L.A.: What are some of the areas within the D&AD that need “optimization”? What are some of the challenges D&AD is facing?
Rosie Arnold: I think we need to maintain D&AD’s relevancy. We need to be THE organization people go to for inspiration, education and debate. We should recognize clients’ contribution in making the work great. For too long, D&AD have only recognized the creatives behind the work. This has created a distance and lack of awareness of D&AD in a wider community. I want everyone to value the organization as much as I always have. The other extremely exciting project (devised by Andy Sandoz for Work Club) is to introduce the first new Pencil in 50 years, the White Pencil, which will be awarded to a piece of creative thinking that changes the world for the better. To launch the initiative, we chose the organization Peace One Day. It is an organization that has global reach and global impact and is something that could benefit from a creative solution to the brief: “Make September 21st an international day of peace.” We briefed the world creative community on April 12th and I can’t wait to see what people come up with.
L.A.: What were some of the favorites among this year’s D&AD Pencil winners and why?
Rosie Arnold: I love the Gatorade Replay work. I think the whole idea of engaging with out-of-practice ex-athletes, rather than their core audience, was an inspired strategic thought, and then beautifully executed. I could see the campaign spreading around the world. It’s a really big idea. I also love the Old Spice work. After all those years on Lynx/Axe, it is both exciting and galling to see some fresh thinking on the seduction game. The Johnny Cash project is also a favorite of mine, and who could fail to fall in love with the little Darth Vader for VW? The Geometry of Pasta by Here design is a gem too.
L.A.: I remember that, in your office at BBH, you don’t have photos of your children but drawings or paintings done by them, and you made a very interesting point about the difference for you between the two. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Rosie Arnold: I still have a large 6ft x 4ft canvas my two sons painted in 1997 on my office wall. It is a fantastic reminder of them while I am at work. They have grown up a lot now but, at the time, I felt that the world then was not very approving of mums returning to work. It seemed as if people would either judge me for leaving my kids or, worse, think I was distracted if I had photos all over the place, so the painting was the perfect solution. The world is a very different place now, thank goodness.
L.A.: What, in the past 10 years, were some of the creative highlights in the world of advertising for you?
Rosie Arnold: I think, over the last 10 years, the power for creative thinking to do real good or effect change in the world has really been a major force. Look at the effect Band Aid, or the Aids RED campaign has achieved. Campaigns like the Tap project, the great Schlep, or Millions (all Droga5) have continued this exciting trend.
L.A.: How and where do you get your inspiration from?
Rosie Arnold: I try and see and do lots, sticking to John Hegarty’s mantra, “Do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you.” My son Tom has taken this trait to a new level and is driving from London to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. He is somewhere in Iran at the moment, heading for Turkmenistan. He will have a lifetime of stories and experiences and I am really quite jealous.
L.A.: I know you’re an avid reader and that you hesitate to read too much current stuff and prefer to catch up on some of the great novels of the past. What were some of the most impressive reading experiences you’ve had in the past year?
Rosie Arnold: Yes, I am still an avid reader. My latest classic phase is Anthony Trollope. I am working my way through his Palliser novels. They are quite brilliant. He has a fantastic understanding of the human spirit and his characters jump off the page. What is extraordinary is how women’s rights have progressed in the last 150 years since he was writing.
L.A.: What were some of the highlights of your career in advertising, and what were some of the less positive aspects of working in this field?
Rosie Arnold: I love shooting in strange places I cannot imagine ever visiting if not for the work. I love working with local people who know the ins and outs (and language) of the place. Utah was one of the most spectacular places I have been, even if we were staying in a truckstop in the middle of nowhere. Also picking tea on the Green Well Dragon Terraces in China with National Geographic photographer Mike Yamashata was pretty memorable. Downsides … the pressure, the long days and weekends working when you let your friends and family down and, now, the amount of meetings. Ugh!
L.A.: Why are you creative?
Rosie Arnold: I don’t know why I am creative. I think it’s in my genes. When I have a free moment not at work, I will paint, or sculpt, or even write. It is an itch I have to scratch. I love creating things, however painful the process is.
L.A.: Do you think your sons will follow in your professional footsteps or are they off to quite different horizons?
Rosie Arnold: My eldest son is a surprise to my husband and I as he is studying economics; he is a real adventurer and loves devising new products. He has a list of ideas that keeps growing. I have no idea what he will do but if I had to guess I’d say an entrepreneur. My youngest is a really talented artist and he is planning to study fine art next year. He tells me with a wry smile that less than 1 % studying fine art go on to practice it as a living, although that is what he wants to do. Being the eternal optimist, I hope his talent meets luck and he will be in that tiny minority.
L.A.: What advice would you give young creatives starting out? Would you advise them to go into advertising? Is it as exciting an industry today as it was when you started out?
Rosie Arnold: I still think it is one of the best jobs in the world, more exciting than when I first joined as the range of possibilities is huge and ever evolving. I love the variety, the travel, the teamwork, the opportunities to work with really exceptional people. Advice to young creatives: you have to work hard and grab every opportunity but enjoy the rollercoaster ride. Very few of your friends will have such a satisfying job.