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The need to keep being a Mad Man

When first promoted to the position of Creative Director at DDB and reporting to the Global Chairman- and mentor- always concerned that we might be lulled into a false sense of security and formulaic thinking, Keith Reinhard, below, did many things to keep us young guns grounded, focused and not out there shooting blanks.

Each Thursday, every DDB creative director around the world received a handwritten note from him to inspire us. What I remember was receiving a note saying “Break The Pattern”, but written vertically on a horizontally lined writing pad. Simple, but it said so much.

Also highly memorable was attending a Creative Directors Conference in Amsterdam where the Keynote Speaker picked by Keith was the brilliant trumpeter Wynton Marsalis who spoke to us about bebop and the creative process and the genius that was Louis Armstrong.

Again, it was Keith’s way of making sure we embraced all arts and keeping us multi he was. He loved music. All music and even wrote the famous “You Deserve A Break” McDonald’s jingle.

Where’s this type of leadership and mentoring today? Let’s not go there. It’s painful because it’s been missing for too damn long.

At that time, our biggest global client was McDonald’s. McDonald’s had immense respect for Keith and the always passionate adman that was Keith was adamant that we didn’t take the success of McDonald’s for granted. Burger King, for example, was always nipping at its heels and forced into playing follow the leader. He was always looking at how McDonald’s could stay ahead of the chasing pack.

One year, he brought in a marketing expert to conduct a creative workshop. The idea was to forget everything we knew about McDonald’s- but not what some of us had learned about their Operations at Hamburger University in Oakbrook.

There were five young creative directors and we were divided into teams with each being given a celebrity “McBoss”.

I was fortunate enough to draw the long end of the stick and get Steven Spielberg with the objective being this: What would you do differently if the film director owned the McDonald’s business?

With everything that Spielberg was known for, it was a question of where does one stop with the ideas- like The Close Encounters McHappy Meal, The E.T Burger, themed restaurants etc etc?

The creative directors given Arnold Schwarzenegger and, I think, the cast of “Cheers” didn’t fare that well. But that was the whole point of what made Keith such a brilliant mentor- making the time to challenge us to look beyond the obvious, understand the audience and how to communicate with them by using words wisely.

The same thing was needed in every client presentation and how to read your audience, especially the decision maker.

If a woman, know her strengths and play to her weaknesses. Make eye contact. Make her feel extra special. It was often the difference in winning and losing an account.

What was drummed into us were the words, Appeal To Heart And Head. In other words, Empathy.

It’s no doubt why I was drawn to the complex character that was Don Draper- mysterious, ambitious, street smart, a clever womaniser who didn’t know who or what he wanted because he didn’t know himself, and a brilliant ad man who somehow found a role for himself in advertising and during those early days of the “Mad Men”.

The character of Don Draper was meant to be a composite of a few of these original “mad men” including Keith Reinhard.

Having never forgotten the creative workshop mentioned earlier, it’s an experience I delve into from time to time when desperately needing inspiration, and which came up when speaking recently to a friend in Hong Kong.

The conversation came around to horse racing and the workings of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. How would and would that creative workshop idea work for horse racing?

Well, the racing menu is pretty limited- 5-6 races between riders and their horses over varying distances with the one objective being to be first past the post.

Still, even with these limitations, when approached by Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the forward thinking CEO of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, while seeing the death of EMI Music after a decade with the global giant to attract a younger audience, we made this work by building everything around music.

This strategy brought in thousands of regulars, largely a very attractive group of the large French community living and working in Hong Kong at the time- and tourists.

This idea evolved into themed nights, the opening of new venues and, very quickly, the horse racing looked and felt younger and more hip because it was now associated with the bigger world of entertainment.

Social media and relevant new content was brought into the mix. It wasn’t confined to the more adult and gambling driven world for largely Aussie racing fans that was and still is the Twitterverse.

The Happy Wednesday brand was a global game changer and it’s something all those involved should be very proud of everything we achieved.

This is not to say that at the right time, there won’t be a reboot and which takes horse racing- and Hong Kong- where it’s never gone before.

Hopefully, I am still inspired enough to make this happen. I know that I can.

Why did Happy Wednesday work? Relevance and not overthinking everything to death- something that often leads to Stop signs and corporate red tape by many in their jobs for too long about what cannot be done.

Of course there were the naysayers, but because of the support from Winfried, we always found our way around all that old school bollocks. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough.

The protests of 2019 followed by the current pandemic that the world is fighting brought an end to the way Happy Wednesday worked.

Still, we’ve never stopped creating original content, experimenting with the online world and seeing what new business partners we might be able to bring to the table.

Lately, it’s been a little demotivating to hear friends and ex colleagues ask why I bother. How the time is wrong and that no one cares about being creative because there are greater priorities.

Of course, there are, but I am not Madam Curie and don’t have any new vaccines.

I have a problem staying at home and doing bugger all except for thinking of worst case scenarios and scaring myself trying to keep the bogey man at Penny Bay.

Ideas happen when least expecting them and it’s always good to see where they might lead. They might be very big ideas.

Created last year were online campaigns based on the thinking that Creativity Cannot Be Locked Down.

It’s how and why we went from thinking that, Nokia phones were all we needed and to see where we are today.

Along the way have been game changers like Steve Jobs, Jim Henson, Penny Marshall, George Lucas, Spielberg, Joni Mitchell, Scorsese, Branson, Nike, Elon Musk, Amazon etc etc.

It’s called progress. It can’t be stopped and though we must depend on the scientists to get us out of this medical darkness, there’s still the task of shedding light into new ways of doing things so that we’ll be ready once we dig ourselves out of the hole we’re in.

But putting one’s life on hold? Nah. That’s not living.

This is just high avoidance and surviving without getting out there and really doing things and trying to make a difference.


Maybe it’s time to ask those hard questions

Like are we only living just to die?

Does anyone or anything matter?

Is there anything that makes you cry?

Is family only a word and who you never see?

And if this is the case, what’s the point?

Why keep up those false pretences?

Why keep flipping a double sided coin?

Why are you here when I don’t know you?

Never even see you or anything?

Why are we aimlessly collecting friends?

Is it just to show no one something?

But something like what and who for?

Where is any of this leading?

Was it going nowhere and just stalled?

Is this why we’ve lost touch

of real feelings?

Yes it is

Maybe there are no maybes

Are there?

Copyright © Hans Ebert


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