Tony Barry on why advertising should move people

The director and former Wieden + Kennedy creative director looks back on the lessons he’s learned about peeling back the ‘veneer’ of advertising to make people laugh, cry, and truly believe in what they’re watching

Authenticity has been an ad industry buzzword for years, with the idea that if you can just get the consumer to believe in what you’re showing, saying or selling, then the job’s a good’un. Ironically, this is probably what’s led to a wave of purpose-led ads and campaigns that often come off as superficial or manipulative. But done well, the ad industry is onto something. Making work that’s relatable and believable is a powerful way to connect with people, and evoke the kind of emotion that means they’re going to remember what your brand has to say.

Tony Barry, who’s worked at various ad agencies, including a stint as creative director at Wieden + Kennedy, has seen firsthand the difficulties of making believable ads. “The thing with advertising is that from the get go it’s inauthentic, because it’s transparently trying to sell you something,” Barry tells CR. “The problem when you’re inauthentic is that it’s hard to connect, because people see through the ruse.”

Nevertheless, in his years as a director – which have seen him make award-winning work for brands including HSBC, VW and the Guardian – he’s learned some of the sleight of hand that helps the sales facade vanish. “Ultimately you’re making it up, but you try to give it that sheen of authenticity so the emotional high and lows connect more strongly,” he says. “You’re trying to take away the advertising veneer, in a sense. If a performance suddenly doesn’t ring true, or the reactions are too big, you massively undermine that.”


Milton Keynes