Tuesday Mar 28

Issue index

Ant Keogh - the "BIG AD" man

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Issue #01 - Interviews

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nt Keogh is the maestro of mixing media and juggling genres, boasting a career that is as schizophrenic as it is humongous. Last time we spoke he had just taken Gold at Cannes, One Show, AWARD, M2C, Adfest, Mobius, New York Festivals and Sharks, plus Silver nomination at D&AD for his Carlton Draught "BIG AD".

He is a creative director at one of Australia’s preeminent agencies, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, and considered to be among the very best creatives in Australia.

Agency.Asia: As if your role as a creative director wasn’t enough, you’re also a prolific fine artist, a director, a musician and a married man . You must be ambidextrous. Let’s see: a pen in one hand, a brush in the other and a guitar in the other. We’re out of hands. How do you find the time to be all these things and not become the ‘tortured artist’?

Ant Keogh: Well, much of the time I’m totally caught up in advertising. But at various stages I’ve taken substantial time off - the lengthiest time being about nine months – to concentrate on doing art or writing films. I used to be pretty serious about music but I decided something had to give. (Now I just play for fun.) 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. Especially now I have a son. The secret of life, of course, is to give up television, which I’ve done at various stages. But I’m weak so I slip back onto the couch almost without realizing.

Agency.Asia: There’s an old adage that goes something along the lines of, “Is advertising a mirror of society – or is society a mirror of advertising.” It’s all very confusing. What are your thoughts about ideas, inspiration and influence!

Check out Ant's TVC here.

Ant Keogh: Advertising is of course idea-obsessed. The idea is everything - and well it should be. I love the cleverness and craft of advertising and when I read award books I’m usually very inspired.

But when it comes to my painting, I’m consciously not “idea-sy”. I don’t feel the need to jump through that hoop. I try and do something more personal, small, more like story telling, or a song.

The ironic thing is that contemporary art seems to becoming more and more like advertising. Much of it seems very flashy and slick, almost gimmicky. Jeff Koons, for example, his work’s whole appeal seems to be it’s surface slickness. His work is incredibly attractive in that way, the kind of thing that would attract a cat. “Wow, look it’s so shiny.”

Agency.Asia: People would be forgiven for assuming that you are art-based, whereas you are actually a copywriter and a writer first and foremost, right? Explain the artist bit! Explain the screenwriter bit! Did you study to be either?

Ant Keogh: Well, as a kid I was a “drawer” and, probably, any creative ability I have, stemmed from there. It gave me the confidence to springboard into other creative disciplines. At university I studied “Visual Communication” and wanted to be an illustrator but after a while they said, “you write funny stuff. Maybe you should be in Advertising”.

My first advertising job was as an art director. In my second job I worked on my own, covering writing/art direction. Then I went to Mojo (Publicis) and partnered up with the C.D., Darren Spiller. He’s an Art Director so I went, “okay, well, I’ll be the writer.” By that stage I was getting very interested in screenwriting, so it felt natural. At the moment I’m back to working on my own, doing both - although more often, these days, I’m Creative Directing other teams.

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. Music is the most markedly different one I think. It has a mysterious, primal, unseen element.

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Agency.Asia: You told us you freelanced in Japan at one point in your advertising career. It is undoubtedly one of the most wonderfully creative, eccentric places on earth. Tell us about you time there and how the scene struck you!

Ant Keogh: In fact, it was just one Toyota pitch I worked on years ago, direct for TYO, so my experience is very limited. I loved it though. It was my first time in Japan. I presented to the client using a translator, acting out scripts with the whole time delay thing. You realize you’re making ridiculous gestures a few moments before they understand what you’re actually saying. One thing that struck me - I could be wrong - I got the impression the standard Western story structure, with a twist at the end didn’t seem to translate so well in Japan. It seemed to be more about symbolism perhaps?

Some ads would just start and then have lots of shots and then end without the rhythm I’m used to. It was just one experience so I have no idea if my impressions are valid. And I’m certainly not qualified to talk about the scene there. I was recently in Tokyo shooting a campaign for Fosters - teamdry.com. We were running about with hand held cameras. It’s such a cool place.

Agency.Asia: After your brief stint in Japan where humorous advertising is de rigueur, and something you obviously do extremely well, were you not tempted to then move on to Thailand or HK, for instance? Melbourne is a hard city to leave, yes?

Ant Keogh: Actually, I didn’t really realize it was such a culturally specific thing, although obviously I see great comedic ads coming out of there, especially in print. I was born in Melbourne. Other than living in London for nine months, I’ve made my career here. Even though we’re at the bottom of the earth, we usually manage to get out half-decent work so the need to move hasn’t seemed so imperative. I’ve thought about the USA before. To be honest I’ve hardly had any offers from Asia.

The ironic thing is that contemporary art seems to becoming more and more like advertising.

 Agency.Asia: We absolutely cherish a good fun horror story here at Agency.Asia. In all your years on the job what is the funniest mishap that has taken place to you in the course of your work - or to one of your friends if that is less incriminating?

Ant Keogh: Well just recently shot an ad where we needed to film a large explosion at about 1000 frames a second. It took about half a day to set up, with all the obvious safety procedures and rigmarole. One chance to get it right. Anyway we blew this thing up. Played it back. Perfect shot. All great. Except, the guy controlling the computer, in his eagerness to view the play-back, forgot to save the take. It was pretty tense there for half an hour as the news slowly spread from the crew to the production company, to our producer, to me, to the client. But, hey, mistakes happen. We did it again a week later.

Agency.Asia: If your God visited tomorrow and demanded you to make the ultimate sacrifice, which of your fields of endeavor would you have to give up - or would you simply lie and claim that the most beloved thing in your life is client meetings?

 Ant Keogh: Do you mean which would be the worst thing to give up? If I had to give up creativity in general I don’t know what I would do. I think you gave me the answer. Lie.

Agency.Asia: Speaking of deities, we heard that the great Neil French kissed you at a party. How was it?

Ant Keogh: It was in Cannes in 2006. I met Neil French at a party and someone said, “Hey, this is Ant – he wrote the ‘Big Ad’”. Neil didn’t say anything, he just grabbed my head and kissed me on the forehead. I took it as a great compliment because I’ve always looked up to him. For the rest of the time, I think, I just asked him about Judas Priest.

Agency.Asia: We’re sure that you’ll surprise us with your eclectic taste in literature. What are the books which influenced your way of thinking and that you’d read again if you ever found the time?


Ant Keogh: Sure. I guess I could try and impress you with lots of pretentious choices but, if I’m honest about it, my taste is somewhat low-brow. Probably the obvious social satirists:

  • 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.

Agency.Asia: Thanks for providing us with a amazing selection of your art. We would invite you to give people the opportunity to see more of your painting. Please feel free to highlight any upcoming exhibitions – or is it best we visit your website?

Ant Keogh: My website is www.antkeogh.com.

Agency.Asia: We ask our guests to nominate a special somebody in the Asia-Pacific advertising industry who they think we’d be interested to hear from. Which legend would you like to nominate? Thanks Ant and all the best with everything.

Ant Keogh: David Guerrero.

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