THE ADVERTISING ARMS RACE

At the end of World war Two, Germany was dropping guided missiles on London at will.
First they had the V1.
Basically a flying bomb with a crude jet engine attached.
A very simple design.
But the next development was light years ahead: the V2.
This was the world’s first space ship.
They fired it 50 miles straight up, out of earth’s atmosphere.
When it reached its peak, it turned and dived on London.
The first thing anyone knew about it was when it exploded.
All of the R&D for both weapons took place at Peenemunde.
When It became obvious Germany was losing the war, the scientists had to make a decision.
They could stay at Peenemunde and be captured by the Russians.
They wouldn’t be killed, they were too valuable.
But they’d have to work for the USSR.
Or they could escape to the west, and be captured by the Americans.
And work for the USA.
All the old school V1 scientists escaped to work for the Americans.
Nearly all the more advanced V2 scientists stayed, to work for the Russians.
Fast-forward 10 years.
Now it’s the Cold War between the USSR and the USA.
Each side threatening the other with nuclear weapons.
The advanced German scientists (now working for the Russians) had developed their V2 into a genuine space ship.
In 1957 the entire USA was petrified because the Russians put the world’s first-ever satellite into orbit: Sputnik.
It’s hard to grasp the significance now.
But in those days it was like someone having military control of another dimension.
Suddenly all strategic thinking was geared around the premise that whoever controlled space would win any war.
For decades, that was all anyone could see.
Meanwhile.
The German old school V1 scientists had been quietly working away in America, on their obsolete design.
No one cared about them, so they were just left alone.
Without much of a budget, they’d developed a superior guidance system.
They’d developed better engines and technology.
And one day, they unveiled the cruise missile.
No one had ever seen anything like it.
It was exactly the opposite of everything all the world’s sophisticated rocket scientists were working on.
It could fly so low radar couldn’t detect it.
It would fly slowly so there was hardly any noise.
It didn’t have to sit in a massive silo with a large crew to guard it.
It was so simple it could be launched from anywhere: plane, a lorry, a boat.
It could even be launched from a submarine underwater, and find it’s way precisely to any target.
And you could make literally hundreds for the cost of a single ICBM.
Suddenly the whole game changed.
Everyone had been looking the wrong way.
Everyone had been spending more and more money in the race to have the biggest and best ICBM technology.
To build huge missiles that flew higher and faster then the other side.
Because of the spending on the arms race, on having bigger and better and faster and more powerful missiles than America, the USSR went bust.
They had no money left.
The Soviet Union broke up.
The ICBMs led up a blind ally.
You couldn’t use them without the other side using theirs.
Which would have meant the end of the world.
So the ICBMs were, in effect, useless.
But it wasn’t that way with cruise missiles.
They were smaller and cheaper.
You could use them just to take out a particular house if you wanted.
They cost next-to-nothing so you could use as many as you wanted.
They could carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
They weren’t part of the arms race.
And the world shifted 180 degrees.
Suddenly something that all the ‘experts’ had ignored came and bit them in the arse.
The old fashioned thinking that they pooh-poohed.
The obsolete technology that they called dinosaur thinking.
Suddenly all the people that blindly followed the ‘experts’ were stuffed.
Something everyone had written off wasn’t really dead after all.
Can you see any parallels with our business?
Everyone blindly involved in race for new technology that will solve everything.
Everyone saying that whatever came before that technology is just dinosaur thinking.
Everyone convinced that there’s only one answer for every situation.
Everything that went before is obsolete and can safely be ignored.

Any of that ring any bells?

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    It does Dave – The online evangelists r so busy evangelizering online, that they fail to see that offline, in it’s various guises, r excellent ways of driving traffic their way. NASA + space exploration greatly benefited from post-war Germans too, didn’t they?

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    Hi Grilla,
    Werner von Braun worked for NASA. He said “The only thing wrong with the V2 was it landed on the wrong planet.”

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    So, basically, the US got more bang-for-buck than the Russians.

    However, why did the US then go to such lengths to get in to space?

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    Dan – I think it was because the Russians beat them there and as they say in America ‘nobody likes a loser’.

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    Reminds me of the urban (or should I say out-of-this-world) myth of the million dollar American Space Pen and the humble Russian space pencil. Wonder what they use now?

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    Space: the final frontier + Americans r frontiersmen+women. Live long+prosper [I’m doin the thing with the fingers, Chris – a good way to smoke a banana btw].

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    What blinkered digital dogmatists seem to forget is that you still have to have an idea in the first place. That’s where creative teams come in.

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    Hi Dave.

    I was wondering whether you’d read Teressa Iezzi’s new book ‘The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a new media and marketing era’. You’re quoted in it, so I guess your aware of it!

    I just finished it today and found it very interesting. It’s about how the role of today’s (and tomorrow’s) copywriter has changed in the last 5 years or so. How the landscape isn’t one of one way communication anymore, but one of consumer control; what you offer must be entertaining or useful to an extent that people seek it out (most often online), rather be subjected to it. Which is why digital content (online films, games, blogs, twitter conversations, apps etc) is so important. It’s not just a question of technology for technology’s sake, but the type of deeper two way experience that technology enables and traditional cannot offer (only supplement).

    I don’t want to summarize the whole book in a single comment, but would love to know what you think of the book.

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    Thomas – I don’t think Dave is saying that V2 (or digital) was wrong, or right, merely that it wasn’t everything. Similarly, digital isn’t wrong or right, it’s an addition or new frontier to be exploited, but not at the cost of everything else.

    Of course I’d still be interested to hear what Dave has to say about it.

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    Hi Thomas,
    I didn’t know I was in the book and I haven’t heard of it.
    But, IMHO Dan is right.
    The main thing to remember is that Modern Homo Sapiens (us) have been evolving for 200,000 years.
    Digital, as an advertising medium, appeared about 20 years ago, social media about 10 years ago.
    Humans don’t change that fast.
    As a copywriter (or anyone in advertising) it depends on what you think your speciality is: technology or people.
    Unlike technology, people don’t change overnight.
    We can add new ways of getting to them, new channels are always good, and technology is always changing.
    But that doesn’t change how people work.
    And, of course, people are still more important than technology.
    Because technology is the HOW not the WHAT.

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    Thomas, I’m guessing Dave would have been happy to ok the use of his quote in the book u mention – It appears Ms Lezzi was unaware that it’s common courtesy to gain permissions first before using a quote attributed to someone else [unless the person in question is non-breathing which, given that he has @ least another 25 seasons to lament his love for WHU, isn’t the case with Dave].

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    I think the meaning you are seeing could be applied to anything dear. But I’m going to use it in my flyer which I produce on a photocopier with scissors and Prit after the boss has gone home. It’s printed on paper and secretly distributed. I don’t know how to do a blog but I love the type faces on e mail and the colors on a photocopier. I will say about the rockets, they’re just like men, some…

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    Totally agree Dave. Digital is a delivery platform; it’s not an end in itself. It doesn’t matter if you’re tweeting, twatting, viralling or dancing in Trafalgar Square, if you’re not saying something relevant, motivating, engaging etc about your brand, you’re wasting your time….and money.

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    Hi Dave,

    I cited to someone recently how everyone sat up when HJ Heinz decided to move its TV budget to posters decades ago. Campaign ran it on the front page, and TV buyers were jumping out of their office windows clasping mobile brickphones at the time.

    If digital was all it was cracked up to be, we wouldn’t be seeing campaigns for Go Compare, Money Supermarket.com, Money Expert.com. et.al. on TV or 48 sheet posters. However, the undoing of online is its blinkered context. The user is constantly blinkered to the content, and if the content becomes boring…or so and so down the pub tells you of a better site…goodbye. There is no brand loyalty
    because there is no interaction in a mass-market sense.

    TV is an Atom Bomb.
    Posters are minefields.
    They all catch you unaware.

    Online, in most instances is predictable.
    Its First World War trench warfare.
    Run by Generals at the top as in Blackadder.

    Like junk mail, the online offering has shifted out of the letterbox and into the inbox generating 10% of all UK GDP.
    The good news is. It’s easily trashed and saves trees.

    Like Governments, Clients have moved the money, but there will come a time when online saturation renders everything useless because as you have quite rightly pointed-out, the human organism does not change.
    Good news for Doctors.

    I switched over to watch the news on ITV3 last night and got bombarded with 15 minutes of TV advertising. My hunch is there’s more TV advertising running than ever before, just not enough being spent on production budgets. I’m just an old V2 Scientist waiting in the wings for someone to walk through the door with a budget to build a cruise misslie.

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    The trouble with analogies is that using a particular situation to illustrate a point about something unrelated is very selective and rather arbitrary. This applies as much to Socrates/Plato and his Cave as it does to the American Christians who decided that March Of The Penguins showed God’s preference for monogamous couples as parents. I mean, what about those insects that eat each other after sex? They’re apparently God’s creatures too aren’t they?

    One analogy I remember reading about how old technology was unexpectedly usurped by another was crossing the Atlantic. White Star Liners etc thought they were in the ‘shipping people across the Atlantic’ business. They weren’t. They were in the ‘getting people across the Atlantic’ business and when Airlines were able to do that quicker and cheaper the boats had to find something else to do.

    That analogy is just as valid a description of the current state of advertising (possibly) as the fate of German bomb designers.

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    Great Ideas last generations.
    Advertising is about the generation of great ideas.
    Titanic was a big idea, but it wasn’t great.
    That’s why it sank.
    The great idea came after it sank.
    The double skinned hull.
    Similarly when computer and TV become one
    to the mass market, we will have the digital experience
    in our homes in 3D (without glasses) and everyone
    will wish to participate.
    The danger in the meantime is that
    the great idea becomes lost in execution.
    If this happens, few will know the difference
    between a big idea and a great one.
    Even fewer will recognise a great big idea.
    Funny thing is…the public always do.