Ant Keogh: The Best of Australian Advertising

Ant Keogh is an unusual creative for us to include in this list. Not because he is underserving – because he most definitely deserves to be on this list. But because most of the iconic creative directors on this list at some point had their name on the door of their own agency. John Hegarty had BBH (the ‘H’ is Hegarty), David Droga has Droga5 and so on.

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Ant Keogh never took that step. (Though at various points of his career he certainly must have owned some shares in agencies he worked in). Perhaps it’s because Ant is a true creative in every sense of the word.

As well as ideating some of the most entertaining and iconic pieces of advertising from the last three decades, he is also an accomplished artist and musician. He’s also done some acting. Not just background extra stuff. But real roles in real films. Ant Keogh is a true renaissance man. He is a restless creator. Always busy. Media neutral. Take a look at his art and music. His art, in particular, is actually really good. He’s not just dabbling. Though he studied art and illustration at university, he’s best known as a writer and creative leader in advertising.

Ant Keogh Lesson One: Ad-nerdism is overrated

The great thing about the ad industry is that you get to be creative and get paid. But if you get too caught up in advertising itself, you’re in danger of your creative thinking becoming siloed. Ant Keogh has shown the benefits of flexing your creative muscles in different directions.

He said in a recent interview “I think you shouldn’t get caught up only looking inside the industry. Apart from when I was just learning (which is where it’s crucial by the way). I’ve never nerded-out on every award book like some people. So most often it’s from comedians, books, art, films & music.”

He’s also manifested this by taking creative breaks from the industry to do his own creative thing. Other creatives such as Stefan Sagmeister have done the same thing. Taking the opportunity to work on your own things, not necessarily bound by the strictures of a brief.

The longest time he’s taken has been about nine months to concentrate on doing art or writing films. From those concentrated bursts of effort you can usually then keep coasting a bit, fitting in stuff on weekends or at night. It takes great discipline.

I found the more disciplines you learn, art, design, music, writing, film – the more you see it's all connected. Take the lessons in, say, designing a layout – the laws of contrast, hierarchy and "letting something win" - this kind of principle can be mirrored in, for example, mixing a song or film editing. I find it fascinating, trying to understand it all.

Ant Keogh Lesson Two: Things will go wrong. Things will change. Rejection is part of the process.

The biggest learning curve in some ways is learning to be rejected. And there’s both good and bad rejection. I think the first point is that everyone thinks their ideas are awesome. Even people who aren’t in the industry, they have a bias towards their own ideas. When you’re a junior you’ve got to learn to get over that. You notice when you’re with juniors or award school students or whatever, their biggest struggle is that they hold onto their ideas. You have to get over the idea that your ideas are so precious, and you have to learn that there’s always another one.

Having another creative thing on the side helps. 

The not-getting-anything-made thing can drive you nuts after a while. It can be good for your motivation to have that outlet. Go and do a painting, for example, because it doesn’t have to get it approved. You don’t have anyone looking over your shoulder telling you how to change it.

When starting out, it’s easy to get frustrated or angry about everything that goes wrong.

As you get older, you’ll learn to step back from that energy and not get caught up when details got changed. 

“Often jobs would go through a sort of pattern. There’s this pattern they’d follow where they would go off track. Like you’d have this straight line from your idea to what you wanted to have made, and as it was getting made the job would start veering off.

So when we were in the middle of shooting it there’d be bits that were wrong. But then I started to have faith that we’d bring them back. We had a pretty good team so we’d generally get our jobs back on track by the end. It’d be in the editing room, it would be that late, because we’d shoot it two ways.

You know, you’d go “Mr Client I know you want it to be purple and we want it to be red, so can we shoot it both ways?” And in the edit room you’d show them the red and they’d go “oh yeah, red’s much better”. You leave the fight til the right moment. And we’d often come back or like 90% back. It wasn’t often it’d be like really ruined.”

Ant Keogh Lesson Three: Ideas are great. But execution is better.

“I think a lot of young creatives these days, they’re taught to not execute. They’re taught to tell you the idea.

But particularly with something like television, there’s the idea but a lot of it is the execution. Like the dialogue or something that makes it great. I mean sometimes not, you can probably say a lot of things are just the idea. But there are plenty of amazing television ads out there and the idea is not that great. It’s literally how they make it. It’s in the detail.”

Ant Keogh Lesson Four: Read widely

Here are ten book recommendations from Any Keogh. Read Booker prize and pulitzer winners, as well as unashamedly fun books. The important thing though, is to read.

1. Most stuff by Hunter S. Thompson, P. J O’Rourke, Tom Wolfe, etc.
2. Slaughterhouse Five or Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.
3. All My Sons and Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller
4. David Sedaris and John Ronson are very funny contemporary writers.
5. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
6. Alan Watts (philosopher)
7. At one time I sought out everything J.D Salinger wrote.
8. Billy Wilder’s and Buck Henry’s screenplays.
9. Slowness, Laughable Loves, Identity; all by Milan Kundera.
10. (At age 8) “Willy The Kid Book” A hard-back slightly subversive comic by Leo Baxendale. Very hard to find. The first books I can think of which shaped my sense of humour. And Mad Magazines of course.

Carlton Draught Advertising

Ground zero for making Australian beer advertising the best in the word. “Big Ad” wasn’t the first ad that Ant contributed to for this client. But it was the piece of work that really made the brand world famous, and set it on the path to becoming the biggest beer brand in Australia. But without those first two campaigns, Big Ad would have never been possible. They successfully set a larrikin tone of voice for the brand, which allowed for larger ideas to floated in further years.

The Big Ad one of the first – arguably the first – viral video. More than half a million people viewed the commercial on the internet before it even got on TV screens. In its first 24 hours, it had been downloaded an incredible 160,000 times. But they didn’t rest on their laurels. Carlton Draught became one of the most prized ad accounts for Australian creatives to work on.

Carlton Mid Advertising

Thanks to the success of Carlton Draught, the Agency was asked to work on another of the brands.

It needed to have it’s own voice, but still feel like it was part of the Carlton family. Under the creative direction of Ant Keogh, they succeeded admirably.

Obsessing about one medium versus another is a waste of energy. It is the cultivation and management of ideas, and the people who generate them that is the crucial factor.

National Australia Bank

It’s one thing to do incredible work for a fun product like beer, but to do something truly transformative for one of Australia’s Largest Banks is a degree of difficulty higher. The NAB ‘Breakup’ campaign was one of the most awarded campaigns globally in 2011.

Additionally, there were other campaigns such as the ‘honesty experiments’ that are worth noting.

Transport Accident Commission: Meet Graham

This client, whose mission is to prevent road deaths in Australia, had long been successful at award shows. Regularly winning gold lions for their hard-hitting, graphic depictions of road carnage.

But ‘Meet Graham’ was wildly different. It was thoughtful, informative and artistic – while at the same time being hard-hitting and accessible. It used many different media channels to show what our bodies would need to look like for us to survive high-speed collisions on the road. It won plaudits everywhere in 2017.

The website is still live, and definitely worth your time. It’s a brilliant example of how modern campaigns should be run. As a bonus, there is a later piece of work that is also brilliant and so well made. That’s below the Meet Graham work.

Guide Dogs Australia: Support Scent

Advertising for charities have usually been a formulaic demonstration of the challenges of living with the condition that is being advertised. This was ground-breaking for the category. Not only bringing attention to the issue, but also creating a fund-raising mechanism that could have a real effect on the well-being of blind people. It won everywhere in 2010.

Cougar Bourbon: Barry Dawson

This ad campaign won a few awards here and there. Even though it’s not iconic, geez it’s good.

Australia Post: Video Stamps

A typical Australia Post Christmas campaign would  remind people to get their parcels ready to be sent a few weeks before the holiday. Of course, in an emotive, heartfelt way. But this idea is so much bigger, so much better, and so much more effective. It’s one of the best hybrid tech / advertising solutions that you’ll ever see.

Bonds Underwear

Bonds is the largest underwear brand in Australia, particularly for men. Most of their previous work had used celebrity ambassadors (most notably Pat Rafter the tennis player). But Ant Keogh brought some much needed levity to the product, and came up with these incredibly fun pieces of film.

MLC Superannuation: Save Retirement

Superannuation is an incredibly competitive field in Australia. With compulsary superannuation payments a cornerstone of Australian law, Australian’s currently hold more than three trillion dollars in their superannuation accounts. Ant Keogh and his team at Clemenger BBDO found a beautifully realised way to cut through the relentless wall of messaging.

BUPA Health Insurance: The Moment

Sure, this is just one ad. But what an ad. Awarded everywhere around the world, just as you’d expect from Ant Keogh. That’s the thing about the greatest creatives. They’re just as comfortable making a damn good 60 second ad as they are at concepting an integrated tech breakthrough idea. This is a lovely way to finish our Ant Keogh profile. Enjoy. Hope you’ve been inspired.

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