Hardhat Australia’s ECD on making leap from CHE and AJF Partnership to a smaller agency and how early rejections shaped him
Growing up Glenn Dalton had an idealised view that working in advertising meant wearing t-shirts and jeans to work and getting paid to “think of cool stuff”. Fast-forward a few years and after second attempt to get into the prestigious AWARD school he landed his first job at CHE earning $25 a week.
Since then his sheer determination has seen him create campaigns for some of Australia’s biggest brands in roles at CHE and AJF Partnership. He left the world of big agencies after 18 years to flex his creative muscles at a smaller one in a step he says is similar to one Harrison Ford makes in Raiders of the Lost Arc – the reward is in front of you but there are obstacles to overcome.
Glenn talks to LBB’s Natasha Patel about this decision and career highlights from the past two decades.
LBB> Tell us about your childhood, was a career in advertising always on the cards?
Glenn> Not at all. Although when I was about six years old I renamed our toasted sandwich maker, ‘The Slam Down’ and to this day my family doesn’t make toasties, they make ‘slam downs’. Maybe this was my creative calling?
I had a pretty unremarkable childhood really. Grew up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne in a town called Lilydale. Dad had a steady 9-5 government job, and mum raised me and my two brothers in between shifts at a care home. An average student, I was more interested in being a golf pro or professional football player than pursuing a creative career. I never could, and still can’t draw for shit, but I was pretty good at stringing some words together.
I actually didn’t read a heap of books growing up either. Instead, I got a lot of my stories from songwriters. Bruce Springsteen summed it up nicely with the lyrics: “I learned more for a three minute record than I ever learned in school” The best storytellers I feel have voices of the people; they can empathise and give a map of escape from the day-to-day. They make the average seem amazing and a familiar landscape feel cinematic. And songwriters have to condense these epic narratives into three or four minutes! I think that’s what good advertising people do too — tell big human stories in not much time at all. Often, we have to start with the chorus though.
LBB> What about academics, did you study further than high school?
Glenn> Marketing was the new buzz word in the late 90’s - thanks Melrose Place. I didn’t know heaps about it but I knew if I said I was studying 'marketing', people would nod and be somewhat impressed. I finished High School without the grades to get into a decent Uni though, so I sucked up some pride, pulled up my socks and I went off to Tafe https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_and_further_education
for two years studying marketing.
My favourite subject was advertising. I loved the thought of wearing jeans and t-shirts to work, and the lure of getting paid to think up cool stuff was highly appealing. My auntie, who was a copywriter at JWT in Manila, and then later in Sydney, was also in my ear around this time, encouraging me to get into advertising.
During Tafe, I applied for and got into AWARD School, a private industry-run advertising course. This was in, I think, ‘97. I did ok, but not good enough to land a job. Some encouraging words from the Award head lecturer, Ben Welsh (now CCO at DDB Australia) were enough to keep the creative flame burning. After finishing Tafe, I was accepted into RMIT Bachelor of Business Arts - Advertising. In my third year of that course I did AWARD School again, and this time I finished in the Top 5 and scored myself a summer placement at Clemenger Harvie (Soon to be CHE). I got paid the grand sum of $25 a week, but it was worth it as I was soon offered a full-time job as a junior writer.
LBB> Wow, what a journey. From then to now what have been highlights over the past 20 years of your career?
Glenn> Dare Iced Coffee stands out. The ‘Dare Fix’ll Fix It’ platform is one I’m most proud of. Now in its 10th year, the campaign that celebrates mental clarity (or the lack of it) was awarded two Gold Effies in 2017, including the prestigious Grand Prix Effie (Mark Ritson talking through the case study here.) I like that it’s one idea, multi-channel. It can fend for itself now, and has survived multiple brand managers and agency strategists over the journey too, which is never easy.
Farmers Union Iced Coffee - in South Australia this brand is massive and it was a privilege to re-establish the ‘It’s a Farmers Union Iced Coffee or It’s Nothing Campaign’ multiple times to a changing audience, over a ten year period. Two ads: ‘Sad Farewell’ and ‘Armageddon' which both won at AWARD remain my favourites. Simple stories with few words. As a copywriter, taking out the words is just as important putting them in.
Forty Winks - Serious About Sleep. Ironically, most ads for bedding retailers are shouty affairs, yelling at people to get in now and save! With this campaign we did the opposite, encouraging people to get in bed, and sleep. With sleep being so important to our mental and physical wellbeing, and new entrants in the market peddling bed-in-a-box online solutions, it was important someone stood up (or lied down) and took sleep seriously.
LBB> You won awards for the ‘Dare Fix’'ll Fix It’ campaign. Does this recognition mean a lot to you?
Glenn> The fact that it’s been around now for 10 years means a lot to me. Some ads, especially on social these days last all of six seconds, and then they’re gone. That’s why I’m so big on brands having solid organising ideas; a creative north star that guides them through time, and channel. The shiny gold Effies Dare has won sit at reception at my old agency. Is it nice knowing I helped put them there? Yeah it is. Recognition is nice, it's not everything, but it's nice.
LBB> Did you ever see anything that you wished you'd worked on?
Glenn> Lots. I’m a huge fan of creative that enters culture. I grew up in the big beer era of the early 2000s and loved the ‘Made From Beer’ ads for Carlton Draught and Pure Waters of Tasmania spots for Boags. I also look on enviously at the current Aldi ‘Good Different’ work. I enjoy what Spotify do every year with their ‘Wrapped’ creative - it’s the perfect example of social and traditional channels working together. The Honda, ‘Impossible Dream’ ad from 2010 still stacks up, and I wish my name was attached to the ‘Every ad’s a Tide ad’ Super Bowl campaign of 2019. It’s perfect.
LBB> How was the step going from bigger agencies to smaller?
Glenn> Kinda like those steps Harrison Ford makes in Raiders of the Lost Arc when he approaches the golden skull thingy. The reward is right there in front of you, but there’s some scary obstacles in the way. It’s pretty much the same except production companies don’t call up as much or take me out for lunch as often.
Interestingly I met the Hardhat team when I was briefing them on the Dare brand tone of voice whilst I was still at AJF. They had just won the social account and the client asked me to come by and talk them through a few do’s and don’ts. I didn’t know at the time Hardhat were looking to evolve from a social agency to a full-service creative one. And I didn’t know they thought I might be the one to help them do that. The next day I got a call and we chatted. Three months later I joined as ECD.
Hardhat reminded me of AJF when it was smaller; somewhat unproven, but hugely ambitious. Having been a part of building what AJF became, I wanted to help Hardhat founders Dan and Juz achieve that same growth and success. I also wanted to be around different people with different digital skill sets, and to look at answering a client’s brief in other ways than “We open on…”
To me, going smaller, was a bigger step than if I had stayed in a bigger agency.
The nature of a smaller agency is you have to roll up your sleeves a bit higher , and get down a bit dirtier, usually because the timings are a bit tighter and the budgets a little smaller. But big or small, the brief is still the same: solve the problem in the most correct and creative way. Simple.
LBB> Where does your creative inspiration come from?
Glenn> People inspire me. Truth inspires me. Stupidity inspires me. I’ve always been nosey, always questioning; always been interested in stuff that on the surface isn’t that interesting. I like watching what people do, then wondering why the fuck they do it? I love playing in that space between the rational and the random, working out what makes people tick, click, swipe, buy and believe. Because brands that can tap into behaviour, that get into culture, that get into people's heads, also find it easier to get into their wallets.
LBB> Tell us about Kogan.com, how did the campaign come about?
Glenn> A lack of budget inspired that. We had not much time, not much money, and not many options to shoot anything as the country had just gone into Covid lockdown. But sometimes what you don’t have inspires you more than what you do. The only visuals we could use really were the shots of products on the kogan.com website. So we started and finished with them, and threaded a humorous narrative and new brand positioning of ‘Quick Smart’ around things like inflatable pizza slices, home gym equipment and sumo suits. It’s early days for our Effie submission, but searches for Pizza related items did rise by 300% in the first three days. Just sayin’.
LBB> What advice do you have for young creatives?
Glenn> Having talent isn’t enough. You need tenacity. When you start off, the brand you’re really working on is yourself. You have to prove to everyone, including yourself that you belong, that you’ve got it. You can’t just wait for a brief and ideas to come to you either, you need to be on the front foot and seek out the opportunities. It’s a balance of being humble to learn and listen, but hungry to prove you can crack any and every brief.
In my first year at Clemenger Harvie, I pestered my way into a last-minute briefing for a job that the senior creatives hadn’t cracked yet - a TVC for White Pages Phone Directory. Yep, this was pre-google era. I wrote two scripts that night; one got presented to the client and the next day it was approved. Soon, it was me, the junior, on set with the Creative Director shooting a big budget TVC. I felt like I’d jumped two years in my career with two days work. The ad’s still in my folio today.