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Changing the World is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man

Associations, Award Shows and Festivals
Sydney, Australia
Steve Harrison, former Global CD at Wunderman, discusses his new documentary on the life and ideas of Howard Luck Gossage

Steve Harrison, former European Creative Director of OgilvyOne, and Global Creative Director of Wunderman, travels to Australia next month to present an exclusive AWARD screening of his new documentary, Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man. Following a 2012 biography, the documentary is Harrison’s second major project dedicated to exploring the life and ideas of 1960s adman Howard Luck Gossage. The Communications Council conducted a Q&A with Harrison to find out what led the film to be made. For event details, see here.

[Main image: Howard Luck Gossage]

CC> What inspired you to write the first biography on Gossage, and now the documentary, 'Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man'?

SH> I've always been alarmed at how little knowledge people have of the history of our industry.  If there's any at all, it is of Ogilvy and Bernbach.  Yet Howard Gossage was much more innovative and influential.  He was the Velvet Underground to Ogilvy's Beatles and Bernbach's Rolling Stones.  Not many people know about him, but those that do have dominated the industry.  For example, Jeff Goodby, Dan Wieden and Alex Bogusky all cite Gossage as their main inspiration.

CC> In your view, why is Gossage such an important figure in the advertising world?

SH> As Jeff Goodby says, "The best of Gossage is the best advertising ever done. And what is really amazing is that the work he did foretold what's happening on the internet and social media right now."  It's true that he invented the term "interactive advertising" back in the 1950s.  And I've found that, here in London, it's the leading digital agencies that are keenest to hear about Gossage.   Certainly, his work seems as fresh today as it was back in the 1960s.  

CC> What are some of his most significant achievements or ideas?

SH> Like I say, he introduced a form of interactive and used it to build communities for the brands he promoted.  Perhaps even more important was the fact that he was the first adman to understand that PR was an integral part of his media plan.  He was the first adman to use an ad to introduce an idea and then harness all other available media to amplify that message.  I'd say that pretty much every Cannes Lions Gold winner (outside press and posters) from the past 10 years can be traced to Gossage pioneering thinking.

But not only that, Gossage also argued for advertising to have a higher social purpose 50 years before that dawned on anyone else.  He was advertising's harshest critic and felt that its power should be used for the general good.    For example, it was his ads that stopped the  US government's plans to dam The Grand Canyon.  This campaign and other he did in support of conservation are widely regarded as having kick-started the environmental movement.

CC> What do you think today’s advertisers and marketers can learn from Gossage’s approach?

SH> Gossage was aware of advertising's faults (and they are remarkably similar to those of today).  But Gossage looked for solutions beyond the industry.  He took the big ideas of his age and harnessed them to reinvent advertising.  Alex Bogusky said that at Crispin Porter, they used to "sit around and wonder what would Gossage do?".  I think individual planners, strategists and creatives, and the industry as a whole, would greatly benefit from doing the same.


About Steve Harrison

Steve Harrison was European Creative Director (OgilvyOne) and Global Creative Director (Wunderman) either side of starting his own agency, HTW.  At HTW, he won more Cannes Lions in his discipline than any creative director in the world.

When he left agency life, Campaign magazine described him as "the greatest direct marketing creative of his generation".  Thereafter, he explained all in his book, How to do better creative work, which became the most expensive advertising book of all time when it traded on at £3,854 a copy. The book is also published in Mandarin, Spanish and Italian.

In 2012, Steve wrote the biography of the 1960s adman Howard Gossage: Changing the world is the only fit work of a grown man.  He suggests you buy a copy now as, in a few years' time, you may be able to sell it for a lot of money.




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