Knee-Jerk Thinking

You know when you go to the doctor and he checks your responses? He gets out a little rubber hammer, taps your knee, and your legs flies up in the air. This is called a knee-jerk response.

Amazingly, this is how most people in our business think advertising works.You run a good ad, sales fly up. You run a bad ad, they don’t. No one thinks there might be other factors having just the teensiest-eentsiest little effect on sales.

Like maybe pricing, or product-quality, or distribution, or customer service, or seasonability, or availability. No, none of those trivial little things have anything to do with whether a product or brand sells or not. The only thing that can affect sales is advertising.

Good ad: up. Bad ad: down.

Personally I think this is not so much a knee-jerk response as a jerk response. There are so many factors effecting sales, the real question is
how and where can advertising help. Advertising can’t do the whole job from factory to consumer on its own.

So precisely how and where should we use it? As always, it depends. We can’t go on auto-pilot. We have to reinvent the wheel every time. Here’s an example.
We got a premium beer account: Marstons Pedigree. Sales were falling so we started with the basics: the product. We found out that Marstons Pedigree is the only beer in the UK that’s still brewed in wood. Isn’t that a fantastic story?

Apparently the yeast they use is too delicate for the large metal vats that most brewers use, so it’s brewed in a network of smaller wooden barrels.What a great fact.
So we did a TV campaign about it being the only beer that’s brewed in wood. We shot it with Paul Arden, it looked great. But when the ads ran, sales still kept going down. I thought, this can’t be right. We’ve got a great proposition, lovely commercials, why haven’t sales gone up?

Then a lightbulb went on in my head. I thought, how do people actually buy beer? If I persuade someone that Marstons pedigree is a better beer, do they
walk the streets searching for a pub that sells it? No, of course not. First they choose the pub, because their mates are there, and they’ll have a good time.
Then they choose from whatever beer is available in that pub. Roughly speaking, there will usually be about five fonts on the bar. Two lager fonts: a cheap one and a premium one. Two bitter fonts: a cheap one and a premium one. And a stout font (usually Guinness).

So they’ll make their choice from what’s available. Which means the issue isn’t talking the drinker into WANTING our beer. The issue is talking the landlord into STOCKING our beer. So the advertising is actually a trade campaign disguised as a consumer campaign.

We need to use the advertising to support the sales force. The sales force are the guys who are traipsing around pubs all day. Trying to tell the landlords why they should take the London Pride font off the bar, and put a Marstons Pedigree font on the bar instead. And the problem with TV advertising for beer is what? Obviously the landlord isn’t watching TV, he’s busy working in the pub. So what medium could we use that would get to the landlord? What medium would convince the landlord that his regulars want Marstons Pedigree?

Well the landlord has to walk to and from his pub. And all his regulars have to walk to and from his pub. So how about if we change the media from a TV campaign to a poster campaign? Then we could run the ads in the streets all around the pubs we’re targeting. Not only will the landlord see tons of advertising, but he knows all his regulars will too.

So that’s what we did. We changed the media, and the sales force began to get more pubs stocking Marstons Pedigree. So sales went up.Not because of how good the ads were. But because of where they ran. Not because we made consumers trudge the streets looking for our brand. But because we helped the sales force sell it in.

So it was available where customers were drinking. We didn’t use knee-jerk thinking. We used our loaf. We worked out how to take advantage of the situation that existed. Rather than just carrying on thinking advertising is always the only factor responsible for sales.

There’s a lot more going on in the world than just advertising. If we realise that, we’ve got a much better chance of being effective.

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    ‘For quality beer walk past the nearest pub’?
    ‘Sometimes you have to go the extra mile for quality beer’?
    Any examples of the work, Dave.

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    I think the real work was the thinking John.
    Switching media was the creative part.
    The ads were just the ads.
    Nothing special.

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    Sorry Dave

    I got that part. Excellent thinking. Media placement is key. ‘The medium is the message’ as Marshall McLuhan expressed.
    Was just trying to second guess what it was that you did. Was interested in the execution as well.
    Top of my head, if there were opportunities for posters on the side of pubs with ‘Some of us walk the extra mile for a quality beer’, for example, then perhaps the landlords would have been ‘motivated’ to switch?

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    There used to be a campaign for Youngers Tartan, “Worth passing a few pubs for”.
    I thought it was a good line, but not as creative as using “The 80/20 Rule”.
    That’s when (very roughly) 20% of your market consume 80% of your product.
    So the people who actually savour their pint are drinking maybe 2 pints two or three times a week.
    The people who are having a session with their mates are drinking maybe 5 pints a night, 5 times a week.
    So you’d need to reach 4 times as many of the ‘savour’ type drinkers to sell as much as you’d sell to one of the ‘session’ drinkers.
    For me, this is the kind of upstream creative thinking Edward de Bono talks about.

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    So it’s a case of focussing on the drinkers not the thinkers? Smacks of that excellent Sainsbury’s example ‘Try something different’ that you discussed your cst blog.

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    ‘try something different’ never made sense to me – surely Sainsbury’s would be better off if their regular shoppers bought regular lines, increasing and sustaining demand for selected products and providing a stronger bargaining position for their buyers – we flog tons of X, so we want to buy it cheaper.
    ‘try something different’ is a nice idea, but doesn’t it just encourage disloyalty – to brand, product, supermarket…?

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    yeah – surf control (fascism on the web) – can’t access the venerable Mr Dave’s website – ‘the man’ says No

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    Unfortunately Dave
    The closest I got to a great strategist wasn’t for long enough. Leslie Butterfield liked my choice of ‘Werewolves of London’ at an xmas party though.

    Worked with a good planner on a pitch at Clarke Mckay, although some of it might have been considered reverse strategy after I had come up with the visual thought.

    I think most of the shops I have worked have been pretty small and so it’s always been a given to be able to think strategy. De Bono’s ‘Six Thinking’ Hats’ awaits with Bobby Charlton’s Manchester United biog.

    Interestingly, I always think in words first and then I recently read that George Lois said “Everything I did was looking for the Big Idea, but you’re not going to get to an idea thinking visually in most cases. You have to think in words, then add the visual. The you can make on plus one equal three.”

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    Basic gist;

    “Forget the brand for a minute, and look at the numbers.
    Sainsburys has 14 million store visits a week.
    That’s 3/4 billion store visits a year.
    If we can increase the value of each store visit by an average £1.50 we’ll have increased revenue by £3 billion over 2 years.”

    And because she said that the, ‘Try something different today” campaign was born.
    Not by kneejerking into brand, but by getting upstream and looking at the business problem before you look at the advertising problem.
    That’s the sort of planner I, and every creative, want to work with.
    Not a planner that says brand isn’t ever the answer.
    Just a planner that says brand isn’t always the only answer.

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    …that last line should read, ‘Then you can make one plus one equal three.’

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    Hi Dave, I look forward to the book coming out.

    I had to do a campaign once for Sabic Steel and insisted on a visit to the steelworks, which was both terrifying and highly informative. It also gave me a respect for what the manufacturer was wanting and doing.

    We visited a distribution depot where they literally dumped truckloads of rebar steel (Steel used to strengthen concrete) on the ground.

    We had a cup of tea with the distributor, and that’s where we got the ad that sold to the trade. Steel is bought by the contractor, and the contractor buys at the surveyor’s recommendation. So the the surveyor was the man that would make a multi-million pound decision on the purchase of raw material.

    The ad ran in the Arabic equivalent of Surveyor’s Weekly. It simply stated:
    You can tell a great surveyor, because he always chooses rebar with the ‘HAD’ mark. This was a mark only related to their product.

    I suppose it’s another example of the 20 / 80 rule although this was probably closer to 5/95. I am so glad I decided to sit down and drink that cup of tea with the little Arab man in his run-down office in the middle of the desert. What made it even more enjoyable was the fact he was so pleased to see us.
    It made him feel as if the Corporate giant really cared about him, and he ended up buying more steel from them wholesale. More to the point, he made a great
    cup of tea.

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    I love the George Lois quote.
    Especially coming from one of the greatest ever art directors.

    The steel story is exactly right, it’s about pressure-points.
    Knowing where to get maximum value fro minimum effort.
    Don Revie had a dossier on all referees.
    He used to make his teams study the referee for the upcoming game, so they could ask about his family, his hobbies, etc.
    Most teams get 50% of decisions go their way.
    Leeds used to get 80% of decisions go their way.
    It’s about knowing (figuratively speaking) where 20% effort brings 80% reward.

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    Cool solution Dave. Much better than running a separate ‘trade’ campaign telling the landlords how great your consumer campaign is. If an ad’s good it should work to the consumer, trade and ( I think oft forgotten) the brand’s employees. I’ll never forget the insanity of being briefed to do a campaign to
    explain a bank’s impenetrable TV campaign to its poor befuddled employees
    who were being hassled to explain it to equally confused consumers. What a
    hoot. And it wasn’t even my agency’s TV campaign to explain. So either the client was too embarrassed to tell the agency responsible their campaign was incomprehensible. Or the agency who created it didn’t understand it either.

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    Hi Dave, Wouldn’t it be fun to have a national referee football league table on all referees in the country supported by voters from the football league’s fan club base. The national press could award them a prize for points system based on: slow running, acting like a tart in public, and self-importance. I think the press boys would have a good laugh. I read a referee’s autobiography once. I am so glad I took it from the public library. The pleasure of knowing he had not got a penny out of me for publishing his trite rendition of self-important nonsense made me very happy, especially when Sir Alex Ferguson endorsed his book by saying the author was a total ‘F.W.’ …and he published that on the cover!