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Jack O’Neill Dies Aged 94

Something caught my eye at the bottom of the “World News’ page of the weekend’s Sunday Times…. It was a shot of an old man in a wetsuit with an eye patch!

This immediately brought back a memory from about 25 years ago when I was working for an advertising agency in Nottingham’s’ Lace Market.

I don’t know how the contact came about but we were invited to have a meeting in Belgium with the European arm of a great American surf wear brand – O’Neills.

The brand was looking to launch in the UK and after various meetings and presentations of creative work, we were awarded the business. This was huge as we had come to realise how big the brand was in the States.

I looked after the media planning and buying and had input to the creative work which was spot on for this iconic, laid back, Californian brand.

The launch went well and we supported the brand as it made its way in the market – more ads and a variety of other collateral followed but sadly no trips to Santa Cruz to meet the founder.

The article that caught my eye was his obituary – he passed away at the weekend aged 94 from natural causes. He was a true pioneer and a surfer all his life. He is credited with inventing the modern, neoprene wetsuit because he said ‘I just wanted to be able to surf longer’!

And the eye patch? Well, I immediately thought this was a touch of marketing genius emulating the famous David Ogilvy campaign for Hathaway shirts in the early 50’s (see below). Ogilvy had to make his small shirt brand client stand out amongst the bigger brands who had huge marketing budgets… so he shot the model with an eye patch which created instant story appeal and made the brand famous! But a more simple explanation is actually the truth. O’Neill was experimenting with a new surfboard leash and was hit in the eye by the elasticated strap!

So RIP Jack O’Neill. A true pioneer and a one-off – it was a pleasure doing business with you.