Sarah Holt talks to creative guru Gareth Howells about courage, kookiness and what it takes to go viral.
When Gareth Howells started in advertising, the word viral was still a medical term – he took an advertising course at Manchester University at a time when only three universities in the country were offering qualifications in the subject.
“I chose advertising because I have a brother who is six years older than me and he went into advertising,” says Gareth. “Every time I went to see him he was playing football in the corridors and talking about drinking. When I saw that, I thought ‘this job is for me’. Little did he tell me it could be the most stressful job in the world.”
When Gareth started working full-time in advertising, the virtual version of viral still hadn’t been coined yet. But that didn’t stop Gareth. His ads were the forefathers of viral. Campaigns like Hamster for Powerleague and Chick Irn Bru were talked about in places where the soon-to-be minted concept of warm-body contact took place, aka the pub.
When the world of social media finally did open up, Gareth had front row seats to the show.
“I’ve been amazed to watch it grow,” says Gareth. “It’s been like watching a child get older. At the start, big brands with big budgets were doing big YouTube ads. BMW did some with Madonna and they were s@#t.”
While big brands busied themselves with YouTube one-upmanship, Gareth settled into the saddle of social media naturally.
“I saw social media as a way to be more creative,” says Gareth. “It’s an age old idea, though, that if something’s a good idea, it’ll work on anything. If you’ve got a brilliant idea, it doesn’t matter what channel you use. I saw social media as intuition. You had to talk to your customers the same way you’d talk to your mates in the pub.”
Easier said than done, you might think. But brilliant ideas can’t be plucked out of thin air. Or can they? When you talk to Gareth about creativity, a formula emerges. Gareth claims binge drinking has played a big role in his success, historically (although he’s ‘too old for that s@#t now.’). However, between drinks, a few other factors seem to have played a large part in his achievement, like competition, for instance.
“I encourage competition,” says Gareth. “When we were working on the IRN BRU campaign it was a big free-for-all in the creative team as to who could create the best caption.”
‘Balls’ – Gareth’s way of describing courage – is also a key component in the creative process.
“You’ve got to put your balls on the line with an idea,” says Gareth. “I almost resigned over a Tennents campaign that I did. In the end, it earned me more respect. Just act like you’ve got nothing to lose. You have to take risks.”
Gareth also admits, it helps you in advertising if you’re a bit kooky.
“I asked my good friend and client, the marketing director of Honda, where he thought creativity came from,” says Gareth. “He told me something the advertiser Dan Wieden, who came up with the Nike Just Do It campaign, had told him. He said that all creatives were broken souls. And he’s right. You have to be slightly insane to do this job.”
Gareth also believes you’ve got to have the right DNA to get ahead in advertising. He believes creativity is something you’re born with.
“The best creatives I know have big personalities,” says Gareth. “But they are good listeners. I’ve never met a loud creative. You have to listen before you can get your answers.”
To find out more about Gareth’s work, visit him on Behance.