Posts By: Jim Reade

LADIES AND GENTS

I’m away for a fortnight.
I’ll check in on the comments while I’m gone if you want a chat.

dave

THE TECHNOLOGY CART BEFORE THE IDEA HORSE

A tall, confident, handsome, muscular, good-looking man goes into a tailor.
He says “I’d like a suit.”
The tailor says “Certainly sir, I’ve got the very thing.”
He gets the man to put it on.
The man says “The arms are too long.”
The tailor says “Just bend your elbows and crook your fingers.”
The man does it.
The tailor says “There, the sleeves look perfect.”
The man says “But the shoulders are baggy.”
The tailor says “Just hunch your shoulders together and bend your head down.’
The man does it.
The tailor says “There, the shoulders look perfect.”
The man says “But the trousers are too long.”
The tailor says “Just bend your knees and squat down.”
The man does it.
The tailor says “There, the trousers look perfect.”
So the man pays for the suit and hobbles out of the shop.
And he limps down the street looking like Richard III.
Bent over, hunch-backed, dragging his feet,
Two men are watching him from across the road.
One says to the other “Look at that poor bloke, don’t you feel sorry for him?”
The other man says “Yeah but what a great tailor. Look how well that suit fits him.”
I think that joke sums up our business at present.
The original idea was to get a suit to make the man look good.
But in the end, the man was contorted to make the suit look good.
We do a lot of that.
We get our criteria wrong.
In America, they have an expression for this.
“If the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
Which is (IMHO) how it currently is with technology.
We all know we must beat the competition.
We must have fresher, more powerful, newer ideas.
The problem is, not everyone hears that as fresher and newer IDEAS.
They just hear the ‘fresher and newer’ part.
So fresher and newer ‘anything’ becomes what everyone is searching for.
Which defaults to fresher and newer technology.
Which just means the latest thing.
We must have it.
And we must have it first.
What we forget is, if it’s just technology, we won’t have it exclusively.
Everyone else will have it too.
And, at best, we have a nano-second before everyone else catches up.
Then we’re not first or new anymore.
And everyone else is doing the same.
They’re not looking for ideas, either.
They’re just chasing the technology to be first, too.
And so just being first with technology becomes the sole idea.
For us and everyone else.
Then we’ve all got the newest technology, at roughly the same time, and we’re all doing the same thing in it.
No wonder we all look the same.
And the consumers can’t tell which product or brand ran which ad.
And we’re not fresher or newer at all.
Because all the ideas are bent and twisted and contorted to fit the technology.

But hey, never mind how bad the ideas look.
Look how great the technology looks.

Read more on THE TECHNOLOGY CART BEFORE THE IDEA HORSE…

CLUSTERING: LESS REALLY IS MORE

When I was a junior copywriter at BMP, one of the first commercials I did was for Pepsi Cola.
“Lipsmackin,thirstquenchin,acetastin….(etc)……”
I asked the account man, David Jones, how it was doing.
He said, “Well it’s certainly caught on. But I’m not sure how much good it’s doing us.”
I asked him what he meant.
He said “Well, I was at a motorway services at the weekend, and a father came in with two young boys.
The father said “What do you want to drink?”
The boys said “Two cans of Pepsi.”
The father said to the man at the counter “Two cans of Coke please.”
And the man gave him two can of own-label cola.
And no one noticed any difference.”
That’s how it is in the real world.
We like to think the public inspect all brands under a jeweller’s eyepiece.
The truth is they don’t.
Sheena Iyengar is Business Professor at Columbia University.
She specialises in the way people make choices.
In her TED lecture, she talked about conducting research groups in Russia.
As you’d expect, her team provided refreshments for the respondents.
First the basics: cans of Coke.
But, as some people prefer Pepsi, they had cans of that too.
Then, for people watching their weight, cans of Diet Coke.
And, again, Diet Pepsi for people who preferred that.
Then some cans of Sprite, which has a lemon flavour.
Cans of Dr Pepper, which has a cherry flavour.
And cans of Mountain Dew, which has a fruity flavour.
So they laid out a choice of 7 different canned drinks.
The interesting thing was that the Russian respondents saw it as one choice. Cans of fizzy drink.
For them the ‘brands’ were artificial, just different labels on the can.
They hadn’t been ‘educated’ in brand preferences.
For Sheena Iyengar this was surprising.
She’d grown up in America, the land of the brand.
So she’d assumed infinite choice was everyone’s goal.
The more choice the better.
For the first time she saw that was just an artificial construct.
That the mind doesn’t see, or need, infinite choice.
In fact infinite choice can be unsettling, disorientating.
Recently, I heard about an experiment conducted in a supermarket.
They set up two displays of spaghetti sauce.
One display featured 6 different kinds of sauce.
The other display featured 24 different kinds of sauce.
As you’d expect, thirty per cent more people stopped to look at the display with more kinds of sauce.
But here’s the bit you wouldn’t expect.
Thirty per cent more people actually bought sauce at the display with less kinds of sauce.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about choice on TED.
Gladwell says the fact is, the mind doesn’t need and can’t handle infinite choice.
The mind works on ‘clustering’.
When the choice is over a certain size, the mind clusters the choices into groups.
Because 24 is too big a number to handle, we need to reduce the choice to something manageable, say 6.
So we look for similarities and create, say, 3 or 4 clusters.
Then we choose one particular cluster and we choose from within that cluster.
What was difficult for Sheena Iyengar, was the realisation that clusters take precedence over brands.
People don’t choose a brand first, then see what they make.
They create clusters first, and then brand preference may make a difference.
The truth is we don’t want infinite choice.
With infinite choice it’s almost impossible to choose.
It’s too much.
So we are always looking for a way to reduce choice.
To find ways to knock options off the list.
To get it down to manageable size.
That’s what clusters are about.
When I was a youngster, some of my friends used to go to the wasteland near the Thames and collect eggs from birds’ nests.
I said I thought it was cruel.
They said it wasn’t cruel if there were more than five eggs in the nest.
I asked why.
They said “Birds can’t count beyond five.
So if there are 7 eggs in the nest and you take one, she won’t notice.
She’ll continue to hatch all the eggs as if nothing’s happened
But if there are only 4 eggs there and you take one, she will notice.
Then she might abandon the nest and all the eggs will die.”
Living beings naturally think in clusters.
That’s how the mind works.
That’s what makes thinking manageable

The trick isn’t just to increase choice.
The trick is to manage choice.

Read more on CLUSTERING: LESS REALLY IS MORE…

HOW SHOULD WE JUDGE ANYTHING?

In the thirty years before 1933, Germany won the Nobel Prize 33 times.
The USA only won it 6 times.
But then something changed.
Because, in the next thirty years, Germany only won the Nobel Prize 8 times.
And the USA won it 52 times.
So what happened in 1933?
Adolf Hitler came to power.
He passed a law that only people of pure Aryan race could hold public office.
This meant that 3,000 Jewish professors were dismissed from German universities.
That was 20% of the entire teaching staff.
Mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists, all the professors.
Not dismissed for incompetence, dismissed for their race.
Nothing to do with their work.
Hitler wasn’t concerned with their work.
He only wanted Aryan professors teaching German students.
So all those Jewish scientists left Germany for the USA.
Among them were Einstein, Schrodinger, Haber, Teller, and Fermi.
Also two of the most influential in starting the Atomic Bomb project:
Frisch and Peierls.
Luckily for the world, Hitler wasn’t interested in their work.
He was judging something else.
Obviously, what he did was stupid.
But we’re all guilty of that sometimes.
Judging factors other than the quality of the work.
Take the agency pitch situation.
Often clients make a decision based on liking the people.
Or the agency’s location, or the decoration, or the ‘vibe’.
Almost everything except the work.
Personally, I’m a simple person.
I judge something for what it does.
How much I like it, depends on how well it does what it does.
There’s an old saying about advertising.
“No one wants a nail. They want a picture hung on the wall.”
That’s how I am.
All I want is a solution, not a friend.
If I’m ill, I want the doctor who can cure me the quickest.
Not the one with the best bedside manner.
If my car’s broken I want the garage that can fix it fastest.
Not the one that remembers my birthday.
Most pitches occur because the client’s got a problem.
Usually their advertising isn’t working.
So they’ve been told by their boss to get the advertising fixed, quick.
The client knows their job depends on getting the answer right.
So they’re worried.
They’ve got to look at a lot of agencies and spend millions of pounds on a solution that could determine their career.
At this point, I wouldn’t be thinking about who I liked.
I’d be thinking about who I could depend on not to let me down.
That means I’d be looking at the work.
Not at how much they smiled, or how attractive they were, or how stylish, or how trendy, or how charming.
If the advertising doesn’t work none of that matters.
So IMHO, you judge everything on the work.
Luckily for us Hitler didn’t do that.
He depended on people he liked, and that wasn’t enough.
In truth everyone, even consumers, knows that isn’t enough.
Years ago in New York, Chase Manhattan Bank spent a lot of money on an ad campaign.
It showed people shaking hands with the smiley bank staff, waving, and hugging each other.
And throughout, happy music was playing.
At the end came the strapline “You’ve got a friend at Chase Manhattan”.
Shortly afterwards, their competitor, Bankers Trust, ran a different sort of ad.
Their bank manager talks to camera.
He says “If you need a loan, or a better rate of interest, or any serious financial advice, come and see us.
If anyone can help you, we can.
Remember, if you want a friend, get a dog.
You’ll find a banker at Bankers Trust.”

It made Chase Manhattan look so ridiculous that, shortly afterwards, they had to stop running their campaign.

Read more on HOW SHOULD WE JUDGE ANYTHING?…

REALITY IS IRRELEVANT

I recently watched a TED talk by a professor from The Columbia Business School.
I wasn’t expecting much.
I was wrong.
An elegant Asian woman with a long white cane walks to the podium.
She’s obviously blind.
She reads from her notes, in Braille.
Her name is Sheena Iyegur and her lecture is about choice, and the assumptions we make about it.
1) We think choice is a good thing.
2) We think the more choice the better.
3) We think we should always choose for ourselves.
She begins challenging those assumptions, one by one.
One by one she shows that our assumptions aren’t infallible.
1) Choice isn’t always a good thing.
2) More choice isn’t always better.
3) Sometimes we’re better off not choosing for ourselves.
In fact, choice itself can be an illusion.
Not a fact at all.
She said sometimes the most interesting examples of choice happen to her because she’s blind.
This makes her an outsider in a sighted world.
Which makes her better able to observe it.
She was at a cosmetics counter trying to choose a shade of nail varnish.
She asked two sighted women which shade of red they thought went best with her skin tone.
One said she thought a colour called ‘Adorable’ was best
The other said she preferred a colour called ‘Ballet Shoes’.
The blind professor asked them to describe the difference.
Both women agreed they’d describe ‘Adorable’ as more glamorous and ‘Ballet Shoes’ as more elegant.
So it would depend on what mood she was in, what clothes she was wearing, whether it was evening or daytime, and what sort of occasion she was wearing it to.
The professor found this intriguing.
Because she couldn’t see either of the colours, she found herself being influenced by the names.
She wondered if that was true of sighted people, too.
She decided to conduct an experiment.
She got her team, at Columbia University, to recruit a group of women.
They removed the labels from the nail varnish and asked the women which they preferred.
An interesting thing happened.
Straight away fifty per cent of the women accused her of asking them a trick question.
They were convinced the bottles were the identical nail varnish.
So she got her team to reattach the labels to the bottles.
When they brought them back, roughly half the women chose ‘Adorable’ and the other half chose ‘Ballet Shoes’.
So she got her team to take them out, switch the labels and bring them back.
This time the same women chose the same name, even though it was now attached to the other bottle.
The interesting thing for me is what it shows us about how the mind works.
Not just the consumers’ minds, our minds.
We already know that, in a parity situation, brand can influence choice.
We know, everything else being equal, brand is often the only differentiator.
We know. when there’s nothing to choose between two products, consumers will choose brand.
We all know that.
But the three key phrases there are “in a parity situation”, “everything else being equal”, and “when there’s nothing to choose”.
That’s usually when the name (the brand) makes a difference.
In our business we have a prejudice that people always, and only ever, buy brands.
That nothing else is ever important.
We don’t even need to look at the product being sold, just the brand.
Just like the ladies in those groups, we don’t bother looking at reality.
We don’t question reality the way the blind professor could.
Lack of eyesight made her use her brain instead.
Because she couldn’t see what the others saw, she couldn’t be complacent.
And she saw something much deeper.

She saw that people, and that means us, choose what’s in their head not what’s in reality.

Read more on REALITY IS IRRELEVANT…

WE COULDN’T EVEN GET ARRESTED

When he was young, my dad joined the police.
On the first day, all the new recruits went into a big classroom.
A police Inspector walked to the front of the class.
He told everyone to take out their exercise books and copy down what he was going to write on the blackboard.
As he was writing, another man entered the class and handed him a message.
The Inspector put the message in his pocket and carried on writing.
When he’d finished, he turned to the class.
He said “Let’s see how observant you are.
A man just came in and handed me a message: how tall was he?”
Silence.
The Inspector said “Nobody? Alright, how old was he?”
Silence.
The Inspector said “Okay, how much did he weigh?”
Silence.
He said “Was colour was his shirt?”
Silence.
He said “Did he have a tie, if so was it patterned or striped?”
Silence.
He said “Did he have stubble, or was he clean-shaven?
What colour were his shoes?
When he gave me the message, was he right or left handed?”
No one said a word.
The Inspector slammed his chalk on the table.
He said “You all say you want to be police officers.
That means you cannot behave like ordinary citizens.
You cannot go around oblivious to what’s happening.
You cannot afford to switch off.
You must be aware, AT ALL TIMES, of everything that’s going on all around you.”
Of course none of those recruits had noticed the man giving the Inspector a message: that was the idea.
The inspector knew they’d still be acting and thinking like civilians.
Only capable of concentrating on one thing at a time.
That’s why he told them to write in their books.
To make the point that people don’t notice what’s going on around them.
Of course, that affected my dad’s behaviour from that point on.
As a policeman, it became his job to be aware of everything.
Especially things other people didn’t even notice.
It became his job to notice everything.
Now, unfortunately, in our job we don’t deal with policemen.
In our job we deal with ordinary people.
People who don’t notice anything.
People who are only interested in one thing at a time.
People who are conditioned to filter out distractions.
People who are doing the opposite of what policemen are trained to do.
And yet we treat consumers as if they were all policemen.
Trained to notice every detail of every ad.
The brand personality, the subtle messaging, the ironic sub-text, the typeface, the style of animation, the nuances of the humour, the relevance of the music, the casting, the lighting, the editing.
When, in fact, they aren’t even looking.
They don’t care, and they don’t want to care.
They’re not trained policemen.
They are sleepwalking civilians.
See, the real issue isn’t, is our advertising saying the right things?
The real issue is, how do we even get noticed?
£18.3 billion spent yearly in the UK on all forms of advertising.
4% remembered positively, 7% remembered negatively, 89% not noticed or remembered.
The worrying number isn’t the 7% (advertising doesn’t always have to be liked to work).
The worrying number is the 89%.
Because it means 9 out of 10 ads are as invisible as the man who gave that message to the police Inspector in front of the class of new recruits.
And, unless we want to be part of that wasted £16.5 billion, we need to change the question we’re asking about our advertising.
Because the question we should really be asking isn’t, is it right?

The question is, will anyone even notice it?

Read more on WE COULDN’T EVEN GET ARRESTED…

WHEN STRENGTH BECOMES WEAKNESS

One day, when I was at art school in New York, I was sitting in the canteen
and a guy sat down opposite me.
He was older than most of us, clean and tidy, pressed clothes, short hair.
He nodded “How you doing?”
I said “Fine, just on a break between classes. You?”
He said “First week here, I only just started.”
I said “Really, how come?”
He said “I’m here on The G.I. Bill of Rights.”
Now this was interesting.
The G.I. Bill of Rights was a way for ex-servicemen to go to college.
You did your time in the military and, when you got out, the government paid your tuition fees.
I asked him what branch of the military he’d been in.
He said he’d been a captain in the artillery, in Vietnam.
Mainly his job was guarding the DMZ.
The DMZ was the De-Militarised Zone: the strip of land between the North and South that was no-man’s-land.
No one was supposed to be there, and anyone who was, was killed.
He said the main weapon they used was called Lazy Dog.
Lazy Dog was an artillery shell: a massive amount of explosive, around which was packed millions of needles.
Lazy Dog would burst in the air over the target.
Then anything underneath was shredded as if it had been put in a blender.
He said the entire DMZ had listening devices planted in the ground.
Whenever they heard a noise, they fired off a few Lazy Dogs.
Next day they’d go out and investigate.
Most of the time all they’d find was just some blood and fur.
Because it had usually just been an animal rooting around.
I said it didn’t sound a very effective way to spend millions of dollars fighting a war.
He agreed, he said it was the weakness of the US military that they couldn’t do anything without vast amounts of technology.
He said the Vietcong knew that.
As long as US soldiers had access to their expensive technology, they’d be superior.
But they knew that if they could get to them without their technology, they could beat them.
He asked me if I knew the Vietcong ‘Rule-Of-Thumb’ for shooting down helicopters.
I said I didn’t.
He said “Shooting something with small-arms fire just depends on how far away it is.
In the US Army we have complicated range-finding technology to tell us if something is close enough to hit.
The Vietcong don’t have any of that stuff.
When they hear a helicopter they look up, stretch their arm out, and hold their thumb over it.
If the chopper is bigger than their thumb, it’s close enough to shoot down with pretty much anything.
If the helicopter is smaller than their thumb, it’s too far away.”
How brilliant is that?
Range-finding technology that the simplest peasant can carry in their head.
So there you have two views of technology.
On the one hand we can spend millions upon millions of dollars doing something that makes us feel reassured, but is totally ineffective.
Just because we have a belief that technology must always be superior.
As long as we’ve got the newest, most expensive, most complicated technology.
On the other hand we can spend no money at all.
We can use what’s around, combined with a great idea, to do something really effective.
An idea so good it will go viral among the entire population of a country.
Even without any Internet or a single computer.
Can you see any parallels with the world we work in?
On the one hand we can worship technology for itself.
We can believe in it like a religion.
We can trust that it’s always the answer to every question.
Then our strength becomes our weakness.
On the other hand we start from the point of having a great idea.
Then use technology to propagate that idea.
When and where it’s relevant, according to the job that needs doing.

Because technology is a tool.
And, like any tool, we can either hold it by the handle or the blade.

Read more on WHEN STRENGTH BECOMES WEAKNESS…

ALL COMMUNICATION IS OVER-SIMPLIFICATION

Years ago Leagas Delaney did a great Christmas card.
But they didn’t do it for their own ad agency.
They did it for Lewis Silkin, a firm of solicitors.
On the front was printed a very simple message.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR.”
Then next to each word was a handwritten comment.
Each one in different solicitor’s handwriting.
Next to MERRY was written:
“Could have connotations of over-indulgence, possibly drunkenness. Risk of encouraging irresponsible behaviour.”
Next to CHRISTMAS was written:
“Definition too specific, potentially confrontational. Risk of offending other religions or even the secular.”
Next to AND was written:
“Presumes both occasions only exist as a pair, precluding possible enjoyment as individual celebrations.”
Next to A was written:
“Non-specific about which New Year: western, Chinese, Hindu, pagan. Consequently not time specific or relevant to season.”
Next to NEW was written:
“Strictly speaking we can’t claim New. This is simply a modification of previous years. At best a variation, potentially a repeat. ”
Next to YEAR was written
“Years vary according to measurement: lunar or atomic. Need to define terms, also address leap-year issue.”
I love that card because it’s an extreme version of how lawyers think.
And, because it’s extreme, we can laugh at it.
But actually it demonstrates something much more important.
Without simplicity we can’t have communication.
Everything would get too complicated.
If we tried to define, to refine, to address every possible variant in meaning, we’d never get past the first word.
We couldn’t even say “Good morning.”
First we’d have to define ‘good’.
Do we mean good in the sense of moral rectitude?
Or good in the sense of well made?
Or good in the sense of nourishing?
Or in the sense of value-for-money, or well behaved?
And in relation to what?
Better than yesterday, better than tomorrow?
How can we know?
Who’s to judge?
By what right do we presume to be the authority?
Does ‘good’ mean better than we expected?
Better than some people are having in other parts of the world?
Better than we deserve?
Or exactly right?
In which case, is good the same as ‘perfect’ or merely ‘not as bad as it could have been’?
We could go on for a day about the word ‘good’ before we even start on the word ‘morning’.
And we would have accomplished nothing by being too pedantic.
See, in the real world, we don’t need to define every single term before we use it.
We don’t need to be so accurate in our language.
Because we all actually know what ‘good morning’ means.
‘Good morning’ is actually the verbal equivalent of a nod and a smile.
That’s all.
So we don’t have to analyse it.
That’s how most people live their lives.
And, in our business, that’s who we deal with: most people.
Because the world we work in is mass communication.
Not one-on-one.
We’ve got a split-second to get noticed.
A split-second to be relevant.
A split-second to be remembered.
Even if we have all day to debate it, the public don’t.
They don’t know, they don’t care.
Even the people in advertising, who spend all day splitting hairs about every dot-and-comma of every sentence in advertising.
When they leave the office they revert to being normal human beings.
And they ignore 90% of all the advertising around them.
Just like everyone else.
Unless we know how it works, we can’t do it properly.
It’s called Semiotics.
The science of signs: of language.
Because that’s all language is: signs.
It isn’t the actual thing itself.
Language is just something we all understand, pointing us towards the meaning.
That’s what Magritte meant with his famous painting of a pipe with the words “This is not a pipe”.
Our mind looks at it and thinks “How can he say that’s not a pipe? Of course it’s a pipe.”
But of course it isn’t a pipe: it’s a painting of a pipe.
That’s what Magritte meant.
Language isn’t the thing.
As Seneca said “The word ‘dog’ never bit anyone.”
There is a place of course for extreme accuracy in language.
Science, medicine, the law.
In those fields people need to take infinite pains to be totally clear to each other.
Not roughly, but exactly.
But the field we work in isn’t that.

To do our job effectively, we must stop confusing the two.

Read more on ALL COMMUNICATION IS OVER-SIMPLIFICATION…

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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Having some skin in the game

Max Forsyth is a photographer.
He was telling me about the time he flew from Israel to Cairo, on El Al.
He went to the airport to check in.
A young woman checked his luggage.
She was very thorough, but Max expected that.
Israel knows it’s surrounded by hostile states.
Being wary of terrorist bombs is almost second nature.
And so she was perfectly pleasant, friendly and chatty, as she went through his luggage.
When she’d finished Max said goodbye.
The young woman said “Oh, I’ll see you on board.”
Max said “Are you flying to Cairo?”
She said “I have to, it’s El Al policy.”
Max said “Why? Do you live in Cairo?”
She said “No, I live here, in Israel.”
Max said “How come you’re flying to Cairo?”
She said “Standard El Al procedure. If you check the passengers’ luggage, you have to fly on the plane.”
How about that?
The person who inspects the passengers’ luggage for bombs has to bet their life on how well they do their job.
That’ll concentrate your mind.
Imagine if we had to do our job like that.
Like it was really, really important to us.
As they say in New York “Having some skin in the game”.
Maybe not our life, that would be silly.
But how about our house?
If we had to bet our house on our decisions, would we make the same decisions?
Would we make them the same way?
Would creatives be fighting for the latest esoteric/trendy technique just so they could win an award?
Knowing that if the ordinary consumers didn’t understand the ad they’d lose their house?
Would planners be recommending changing the advertising based on what a couple of focus groups said?
Knowing they were betting their mortgage on the result?
Would account men be willing to change whatever the client wanted to change, just to keep them happy?
Knowing they were betting their house on the client’s whim?
Would clients be quite so eager to get their own way, just because they could?
Even if getting their own way might cost them their house?
Or would everyone take their decisions a bit more seriously?
Would they weigh all the implications before they acted?
Would they carefully consider everyone else’s point of view?
Put their ego aside.
Look at everything from every possible angle.
Make sure nothing is left to chance.
Instead of just getting their own way.
Of course, everyone has some skin in the game.
People can lose their jobs.
But you can get another job.
Unlike El Al, no one bets their life.

Which is the reason El Al has a reputation as the safest airline to fly if you’re worried about terrorist bombs.

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