Posts By: Jim Reade

Bernbach on how life works

Bill Bernbach said “In this very real world, good doesn’t drive out evil. Evil doesn’t drive out good. But the energetic does displace the passive.”
Although he was referring to advertising, it’s analogous to all life.
We all learned in science class, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”
Imagine an empty space, and nearby a very full space.
It’s pretty obvious that whatever’s in the full space will be attracted to the empty space.
So some of it will move across until there’s the same amount of stuff in both places.
Things will be attracted (sucked) from the area of higher density to the area of lower density.
At the level of molecules, this is called The Venturi Effect.
And it affects every single part of our lives.
Something as basic as drinking through a straw.
By sucking air out of the straw we create a low pressure in the straw.
This attracts liquid from the higher pressure part at the bottom of the straw.
And liquid flows up through it.
A car engine starts when it sucks air in, across the top of the carburettor nozzle.
When air is moving, the molecules are farther apart so their density is lower.
The petrol molecules at the bottom of the nozzle aren’t moving.
So their density is higher.
They get sucked up into the engine, and it starts.
When David Beckham wants a ball to curve he kicks it on the opposite side.
This makes it spin as it flies.
The side of the ball spinning forwards will force the molecules to be more crowded.
The side of the ball spinning backwards will allow them to spread out.
So the ball will be sucked towards the less dense molecules.
A golf ball has dimples to accentuate this effect.
When a golfer wants the ball to have lift, he strikes it so that the bottom spins forwards.
The denser air underneath the ball creates high pressure.
The less dense air on top creates low pressure.
The ball is sucked upwards.
A plane uses a similar effect.
If we cut the wing in half, we’d see it was curved upwards on top, but flat on the bottom.
So, as the plane moves forward, the molecules on top of the wing have to cover a greater distance, and are consequently more spread out.
The molecules underneath the wing are denser.
High pressure is sucked towards low pressure, and the plane flies.
A yacht is the same.
The sail is curved so that the air has to move faster over the outer part.
But the air gathers in the bulge of the inner part.
So the denser air is sucked towards the less dense space.
And the boat is pulled forwards.
Which is how a yacht can sail into the wind.
So moving things (energy) can have a profound effect on static things (passive).
Thus proving Bernbach’s maxim.
But there’s a second part to Bernbach’s maxim: “In this all too real world, good doesn’t drive out evil.”
In other words, having right on your side isn’t enough.
In fact it’s irrelevant.
Whatever we want to happen, we have to make it happen.
In order to make it happen, we have to understand how things work.
How things work is energy.
The universe is simply energy.
“In this very real world, good doesn’t drive out evil. Evil doesn’t drive out good. But the energetic does displace the passive.”
That’s how life works.
That’s how advertising works.
Or to put it another way, existentialism.
This is the Albert Camus version of Bill Bernbach’s quote.
“The weak man believes in luck. The strong man believes in cause and effect.”

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A LITTLE LEARNING

Nicole Yershon sent me a link to a website called ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’.
One of my favourites is about two Jews walking down the street.
They pass a Church.
On the notice board outside is a sign saying “£10 for anyone who converts to Christianity”.
One of them stops.
He says, “£10, that’s not a bad deal.”
The second one says, “You’re going to convert to Christianity?”
The first one says, “Who has to convert? You go in, you drink the wine, you eat the biscuit, you get £10.”
The second one says, “You can do it if you want. I’ll wait here.”
So the first one goes in to the Church.
After a half hour he comes out.
The Second one says to him “Well, did you get the money?”
The first one looks down his nose at him and says “Is that all you people ever think about?”
That’s kind of how I feel about people in advertising.
Before they get into advertising they’re normal people.
They watch stuff on TV.
They go on the internet.
They read newspapers.
They walk round a supermarket, take things off shelves and buy them.
Then they get into advertising.
Now they’re not ordinary people anymore.
Now they’re ‘experts’.
Now they study ordinary people in a detached manner.
As if they are an alien race.
A race no one can possibly understand without being trained.
A race that needs to be observed with sophisticated technology.
I went to a Rory Sutherland talk in the week.
He talked about ‘clock thinking’ and ‘cloud thinking’.
Karl Popper coined those terms for this dichotomy
Cloud-thinking is what ordinary people do.
Clouds are big, amorphous, constantly changing, and unpredictable.
A cloud has mass, but it comes and goes.
It has shape, but it changes.
We know it’s there, but we can’t measure its dimensions exactly.
Cloud-thinking is intuitive.
But of course you can’t pin it down like that.
And ‘experts’ need to be able to pin things down.
So clock-thinking is what ‘experts’ do.
A clock is regular, predictable, repetitious, pedestrian.
Exactly the same every time, tick tock.
No variation.
Obviously, people who are trying to analyse things prefer clock thinking.
It seems dependable and trustworthy.
One problem.
You can’t use clock thinking to tell us how to make a cloud.
We’ll end up with a clock.
If we want a cloud, we have to use cloud thinking.
Intuition.
But clock-thinkers aren’t comfortable with that.
It’s unpredictable, uncontrollable.
So they’d rather cling on to the security of clock thinking.
Which is why 90% of advertising doesn’t work.
Because how we reacted to advertising before we got into it, was cloud thinking.
Intuitively.
We simply ignored most of it.
We didn’t analyse advertising using clock-thinking.
See, clock thinking looks at every tiny detail under a microscope.
Takes it apart, examines it, reassembles it.
And that works for other people in advertising.
But.
Our audience doesn’t work in advertising.
And cloud thinking doesn’t do details.
Cloud thinking does big picture.
Cloud thinking ignores everything that doesn’t force itself onto our radar.
If we’re going to be successful we need to rediscover cloud thinking.
We need to reach back into our memories and see if we can still remember what we thought about it when we were ordinary human beings.

Before we became members of a superior alien intelligence

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THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS IN ONE OF TWO PLACES.

John Locke said we were born ‘table rasa’.
In other words a blank sheet of paper.
We know absolutely nothing, we have to learn everything from the beginning.
But we can’t learn everything.
So we learn what applies to us.
Then we think that is everything.
I thought the advertising debate about product versus brand was about a decade old.
But I’ve just seen a piece of film from the 1950s that proves it’s about 60 years old.
Apparently Rosser Reeves, who ran Ted Bates, was the father of the USP.
The unique selling proposition.
You find, or manufacture, something different about your product.
A reason consumers should buy it rather than your competitor’s product.
Then make that the basis of all your advertising.
So far so good.
That makes perfect sense.
Demonstrate a reason to purchase and build a brand around that.
The problem was, this being the fifties, the advertising was pretty dire.
Just repeat the USP again and again.
Until it becomes like a bad Eurovision song you can’t get out of your head.
So the thinking was good.
But the execution was bad.
The other side of the coin was Norman B. Norman, who ran NCK.
He was the father of ‘emotional’ advertising.
Never mind what the product actually did.
Find out what the consumer wanted, and sell it back to them.
This was the start of Planning (or ‘motivational research’ as it was called then) looking for ‘insights’.
On the film, Norman B. Norman gave 3 examples.
Ajax Laundry Detergent claimed to wash whiter than other detergents.
The problem was everyone was saying the same thing.
So, rather than find a better way of saying it, Norman B. Norman looked for a consumer insight.
He said, “Of course the housewife wants a whiter wash. But what she really wants is no laundry at all. She’d like someone to make the problem disappear.”
This lead to an advertising campaign for Ajax where a white knight galloped along the road on a charger.
He tapped the dirty washing with his lance and magically transformed it into piles of clean, pressed laundry.
His contention was that women would associate their fantasy with Ajax, and buy the brand.
Another example he gave was for Handi-Wrap cling film.
The product benefit was, it kept food fresh, conveniently.
But Norman B. Norman found this dull and unmotivating.
The consumer insight he found was “What’s a woman really wants is her husband’s approval. She doesn’t want him to open his lunch at work and find it dry as a bone. She doesn’t want him to be disappointed in her.”
So the brief became ‘a husband’s approbation’.
And the execution became a Dracula-like character called ‘The Spoiler’.
He shrivelled-up the husband’s food unless it was wrapped in Handi-Wrap.
The third example he gave was for Ajax Floor Cleaner.
This was apparently the most powerful modern cleaning powder.
But Norman B. Norman decided that was too dull.
So he looked for a consumer insight.
And again found that women would really rather not clean floors at all.
They secretly wished they could get it all get done as if by magic.
So the advertising vehicle became a wizard who tangoed through the kitchen with the housewife.
Everywhere they danced the kitchen was magically sparkling bright.
I remember when advertising was done by people like Norman B, Norman.
And I disagree with pretty much everything he stands for.
For a start, I don’t think women are that stupid.
I think promising the impossible is patronising and demeaning.
Secondly, I think he’s taking research and misinterpreting it.
It’s like cutting the back legs off a grasshopper.
Then shouting at it and noticing it doesn’t jump.
And taking this to prove that grasshoppers hear through their legs.
Because cutting them off makes them go deaf.
That’s how not to use research.
But just because one agency does it badly, that shouldn’t invalidate an entire discipline.
Norman B. Norman is the ‘brand’ route done badly.
Rosser Reeves is the ‘product’ route done badly.
But what’s really wrong is thinking there’s one magic formula in all cases.
There isn’t now.
There never was.
We still have to think.
We can’t just kneejerk into a quick fix.
Because the deeper truth is, the answer will always be in one of two places.
Either in the product.
Or in the consumer.
And we have to be prepared to use our brains to see which solution is right.
Then, most importantly, we have to brilliantly bring it to life.

Which neither Rosser Reeves nor Norman B. Norman had the brains to see.

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I THINK THE POPE IS RIGHT

I was listening to the radio last week.
Apparently The Pope has come to the UK with a message.
The general theme seems to be that religion will give us a better society than secularity will.
Straight away that made me think.
That’s a market-growth message.
Is that a smart thing to be telling the people of the UK?
See market-growth is what you do in a market you dominate.
You grow the market so you get the biggest share of any growth.
But Catholicism doesn’t dominate the UK market.
Forget atheists (core non-users) and the pious (core users).
No point in talking to either of those groups.
They are locked-off and pretty much incapable of persuasion.
That leaves the rest of us.
Mainly we are all don’t care, never thought about it, only when I need it, agnostics.
People who were maybe Christened/Baptised/ whatever, then forgot about it.
Lapsed users.
In the UK, my guess would be the Catholic share is around 20%.
I’d guess C of E about 50%.
All other religions, 30%.
So, if The Pope sees his job as getting lapsed users to re-ignite their faith, he’ll only be getting 1 out of 5.
For every five people he encourages to rediscover their faith, four will rediscover something other than Catholicism.
Is this what he wanted?
I doubt it.
I thought the problem with his strategy is he’s looking on a global level, not a local one.
On a global level Catholicism may well be market leader.
For a start they must be the biggest religion in South America.
Brazil, Argentine, Uruguay, Paraguay, that’s got to be a billion people.
Plus Central America: Mexico, etc.
Plus The Philippines, Ireland, France, and obviously Italy.
So probably a quarter of the earth’s people were born and brought up Catholic.
Now for those people it obviously makes sense to have a market growth message.
Encouraging retrial amongst lapsed users.
A general message about religion being better than secularity makes sense here.
If you can get people back into religion, Catholicism will automatically be the one most will choose.
But how about the rest of the world?
In the USA, UK, and Northern Europe, Protestantism is market leader.
So a brand-share strategy would make more sense.
A strategy explaining how wonderful Catholicism is.
The frescoes of Uccello and Piero Della Francesca.
The paintings of Raphael and Da Vinci,
The sculptures of Michelangelo and Bernini.
The music, the architecture of The Renaissance.
Catholicism could have a very powerful emotional appeal.
But then how many people are actually likely to switch?
We can enjoy everything about the Catholic Church without being Catholic.
The Duomos of Tuscany, the Chiesas of Umbria, the Scuolas of Venice.
So they would have little chance of brand-switching in Protestant dominated markets.
And there would be next to no chance with a message like that in the rest of the world.
India, over a billion people but mainly Hindu.
The Middle East, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia.
Another billion people, but mainly Moslem.
Thailand, which is Buddhist.
China and Russia, getting on for two billion people.
But both recovering from communist-enforced atheism.
So, looking at the possible market from the Pope’s angle, I’d guess it breaks down like this.
Building market share by converting people from other religions is a non-starter.
The return wouldn’t justify the massive resources necessary.
Many years ago, however, in an undeveloped market, this kind of thinking worked.
The ‘Conquistadore’ strategy of the 15th and 16th centuries and the brand-share strategy of the Spanish Inquisition.
But in terms of religion this is now a saturated market.
So The Pope’s new strategy makes much more sense.
It always makes sense to go for the low-hanging fruit, the easy win.
Because of Catholicism’s market dominance in so many regions, that means encouraging retrial amongst lapsed consumers.
If it works, and done properly it should, this will eventually lead to increased market share amongst those who actually practice a religion.
I think The Pope’s got it right.

In advertising terms at least, I’m a convert.

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The hinge goes both ways

One of my favourite books is by Eric Durschmied, it’s called ‘The Hinge Factor’.
It’s about small events, that changed the course of history.
One of the chapters is called ‘Der Haltebefehl’.
In English that’s ‘The Order To Stop’.
It happened in France in 1940.
The Germans had beaten the French, and the British retreated to Dunkirk.
They sat on the beaches, defenceless, vulnerable, ready to be destroyed.
Guderian’s panzer army was about to kill or capture half a million men.
But, in desperation, a small force of British tanks attacked the German’s flank.
(The flank is the vulnerable part on the sides of an attack.)
Hitler remembered the First World War.
The terror of leaving the flanks exposed to counter-attack.
He ordered his entire army to stop and regroup.
To allow the flanks to be strengthened before they moved on.
So the German army waited.
While they waited the British army was evacuated from Dunkirk.
The army was re-equipped and sent to the Middle East.
Where it beat the Italian army.
So Hitler had to divert an entire German army to the Middle East, to support the Italians.
He also diverted one of his best generals, Rommel.
Equipment and men that would otherwise have been fighting the Russians.
Resources that might have changed the outcome of the war.
But instead, they were sent to fight the army that he let escape at Dunkirk.
So “Der Haltebefehl” is remembered by history as a bad judgement.
A small event that much bigger events hinged upon.
Made by a man who wasn’t looking at the overall picture.
Just allowing one tiny piece to influence his decision, and assume a value out of all proportion to its actual importance.
Because, if we just look at a tiny part of what’s happening through a jeweller’s eyepiece, we miss the big picture.
And if we misunderstand what’s really going on, how it all fits in, we make bad decisions.
That’s how I feel about advertising.
We need to constantly keep the big picture in mind.
Nothing does the entire job on its own.
But if you listen to the new-media gurus, that’s what you’d believe.
That you never need any other form of advertising except online, digital, social-media, anything that comes over your laptop or iPhone.
But is that true?
See, for a successful sale you normally need three things
Awareness. Footfall. Conversion. (Whether actual or metaphorical.)
First off, advertising itself is usually about awareness.
It lets people know your product or brand exists, it piques their interest.
And people can’t buy it unless they know it exists.
Next comes footfall.
Retail is footfall.
If we don’t have a sales outlet, people can’t find it.
So we need to put the customer in the vicinity of the product.
And, once they’ve found it and tried it, the third thing needs to happen.
Conversion.
Point of sale, packaging design, product design, is conversion.
That’s where the rubber meets the road.
Everything up to that point is foreplay.
But new-media advocates don’t see it that way.
They think everyone does the entire process online.
You never need to move from in front of your laptop.
A popup ad makes you aware of something.
So you research it.
You go to Twitter, you go to blogs.
When you’re intrigued you go to the website.
If you’re convinced you click on the ‘purchase’ button.
Then just sit and wait for the your purchase to arrive.
Well, maybe that’s true for Amazon.
I certainly buy books there.
But I buy a lot more books walking around Waterstones.
So not all traditional retail outlets are dead.
Undoubtedly, online is like a virtual shop.
But you still need advertising to make you aware of what’s in the shop.
To drive you there in the first place.
That’s two things advertising does very well in conjunction with online.
Awareness and footfall.
Used intelligently they work very well together.
And understanding how everything fits together allows us to make the best decisions.
The digital revolution will change everyone’s life the way Caxton’s printing press did.
But Caxton’s printing press didn’t stop the need for thinking.
Creativity suddenly had more possibilities than ever.
Advertising was born once the printing press happened.
And advertising grew when newspapers and posters happened.
And grew even more when film, radio, and television happened.
Digital, online, social-media won’t be the death of advertising.
It just means there will be more than ever.
We don’t quite know how we’re going to use it all yet.
But we’ll discover that.
The one great advantage new-media has over traditional media is, it’s free.
The only cost is brains.
If you’ve got brains you can generate massive media coverage from very little.
But that’s always been true.
So we need to stand back and take a look at the big picture.
See where it all fits in, how it works together.

That way we’ll get the right result from the hinge factor.
Not the wrong one.

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HOW MUCH FREEDOM IS TOO MUCH?

Recently I went to lunch with a client.
This is an energetic, intelligent, unconventional person.
We had a really good time exchanging views and ideas.
The only road bump was when we came to discuss The Sun.
And especially page 3.
I’ve always seen The Sun as a bit of harmless fun.
Sort of a grownup comic.
You read it for the jokes but don’t actually take it seriously.
It’s wittier than The Mirror, The Star, The Sport, The News of the World.
And it’s not so whiny or negative as The Mail.
Once or twice a week I’ll find a really good headline in it.
I usually find NEWS IN BRIEFS funny.
This is the little caption over the page 3 nude photo.
It will say something like “Tracy, 23, from Essex think the chancellor’s fiscal policies must take into consideration the viability of necessary levels of debt reduction.”
Obviously the girl herself doesn’t write them.
It’s just standard schoolboy humour: cognitive dissonance.
But the person I was talking to got quite upset.
He said he’d been at a dinner where the Sun’s editor, Rebekah Wade, had been giving a speech.
Talking about how much better things were for women now they had equal opportunity.
He said she couldn’t see how laughably at odds that was with what she was doing in her newspaper.
Showing naked women on page 3, whose sole function was ‘wank material’ for blokes.
He said the ‘News In Briefs’ comments poked fun at women.
Readers were encouraged to laugh at their stupidity.
It made me stop and think.
I never saw it like that.
But it made me check my view of The Sun against my own moral position.
I’ve always believed anything is okay as long as it takes place between the following:
1) Consenting.
2) Adults.
3) In private.
If you tick those three boxes, nothing you do is anyone else’s business.
If you only tick two, that’s not enough.
If you’re both consenting, and adults, but it’s not in private, then that won’t do.
Other people may not want to see whatever you’re doing.
Get a room.
If you’re both consenting, and it’s in private, but you’re not adults, then that won’t do.
You have to be old enough to take responsibility for your actions.
Children can’t do that.
If you’re both adults, and it’s in private, but one of you doesn’t consent, then that won’t do.
That’s called rape.
How does The Sun’s page 3, and ‘News In Briefs’ stack up?
Well, I guess everyone’s consenting.
The girls are being paid, and they’re obviously proud of their bodies.
They want to do it.
And the person looking at it wants to, or they wouldn’t have bought the paper.
Which brings us to the second point.
Is it in private?
Well, to see it, you have to buy a copy of The Sun.
You have to actively choose to participate.
If you don’t want to see it, you buy a different paper.
But you can’t do that with a poster site in the street.
Posters are broadcast media.
So posters have to have a stricter control.
That’s why there are controls on TV programmes, liked the nine o’clock watershed.
So you have a choice.
If you don’t want your children exposed to rude language or bad taste, don’t let them watch TV after nine o’clock.
Which brings us to the third point.
Adults.
Can we be sure everyone who reads The Sun is an adult?
Well no, not really.
So should The Sun be sold on the top shelf, where only adults can reach?
Well, that’s a point for discussion I guess.
Personally I don’t know anyone who buys The Sun for page 3.
Before they started to write ‘News In Briefs’ I don’t know anyone who even looked at it.
If you want naked women there are publications with many more of them in.
Printed in full colour on glossy, easy to wipe clean, stock.
So where does that leave us?
Personally I think The Sun offends Guardian readers.
I don’t quite know why.
The Mail seems to me to be more the Yin to the The Guardian’s Yang.
Both of them see themselves as the protector of moral rectitude.
The Sun is just a bit of fun.
And consequently, sells more than both of them put together.
So is The Sun really responsible for perpetuating a stereotype of women that is actually harmful?
On the one hand, you have a powerful female editor.
And a paper that actively supported Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister.
On the other hand, you’ve got nudes on page 3.
I think the truth is that people who read The Sun don’t really think that deeply.
That’s why they read The Sun.
So maybe the real question is: should people who don’t think deeply be allowed to buy what they want?
I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this.
Jeremy Bentham’s definition of Utilitarianism was “The greatest happiness for the greatest number”.
John Stuart Mill’s problem with this was that, left to their own devices, ordinary people may be happy living like pigs.
And his view was, “It’s better to be Shakespeare and miserable, than a pig and happy.”
Which doesn’t really answer either of the questions.
Point one: is The Sun’s page 3 (and ‘News In Briefs’) really harmful?
Point two: if it is, should something be done about it?

What makes a pronouncement difficult is something else Mill said, “Your freedom to do as you please ends one inch in front of my nose.”

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Advertising is the Discovery Channel

My wife likes to relax watching the Cookery Channel.
When I get the remote, I switch to Discovery.
Or the History Channel, or the Military Channel, or How Things Work.
One of us ends up watching TV in the front room.
The other one has to watch the TV in the kitchen.
Unless they make a programme called, ‘Great Meals Cooked In Panzer Tanks’ we can’t watch TV together.
She can’t understand why I watch so many documentaries.
The thing is, like most blokes, I love to learn stuff.
Blokes love information.
It’s the male version of gossip.
Listen to blokes in pubs.
Whatever the subject they’re talking about, at least half the conversation will start, “Did you know….”.
It’s like the scene in Gregory’s Girl.
Two young guys are waiting at a bus stop discussing how to chat up girls.
Eventually a girl comes along to wait for the bus.
One of the guys turns to her and says, “Did you know that, when you sneeze, the air comes out of your nose faster than the speed of sound? That’s why you make a noise, it breaks the sound barrier.”
The girl is bored and turns away.
Whereas I’m thinking, “I didn’t know that, that’s really interesting.”
What I love about advertising is it’s like The Discovery Channel.
You get paid to find out new stuff.
I’ve worked on loads of beers and talked to lots of head brewers.
Did you know that every beer in the world must chemically recreate one of 4 water sources before they can brew it?
If it’s stout, it’s Liffey.
If it’s dark lager, it’s Munchen.
If it’s pale lager, it’s Pilsen.
If it’s ale, it’s Burton.
Isn’t that fascinating?
I’ve worked on lots of cars and talked to lots of different technical guys.
Did you know a boxer engine is the only engine that can give you a 4WD in-line drive train?
Because it’s low enough to go in front of the front axle.
An upright or V-engine would make the bonnet too high.
I’ve worked on loads of confectionary and talked to the guys who taste and buy the raw materials.
Do you know English people prefer their chocolate to have slightly ‘cheesy’ taste?
So that’s what buyers look for when they buy cocoa beans.
Which is why our chocolate tastes sweeter than other countries’?
And that’s just the client end.
How about planning?
If you haven’t got a massive P&G size budget how do you reach the massive target market?
Did you know the difference between demographics and psychographics means you can use opinion formers to create a trickle-down effect.
It’s not as hard as it sounds.
Like anything on Discovery Channel, it’s just about lifting up the bonnet and seeing which bit goes where.
Even the most complicated engine works on the same basic principles.
How about the film production process?
Did you know a movie camera uses the same 35mm stock that you use in a standard SLR?
But, instead of going through the camera sideways, it goes top down.
So every frame is half what it would be on a stills camera.
Which means every lens is half what it would be on a stills camera.
When you know that it’s simple.
If you want the effect you’d get with a 28mm lens on your camera, you use a 14mm lens on a film camera.
All this is stuff you wouldn’t learn in any other job.
Because no other job gives you access to so many different disciplines.
And the right to question everybody about their job.
Because the more you learn about their job, the better you can do your job.
With any other job, you just do the same job ever day.
Here, you’re writing a script, doing a voice-over recording, choosing music, going on a photo shoot, overseeing a film set, learning about editing, learning animation.
And all of that is before you come anywhere near learning all the other disciplines in our business.
Strategic thinking, planning and research, traditional media, social media.
All of which is before you come anywhere near learning anything about clients’ business for new business pitches.
Technology, fashion, retail, charitable, financial, medical, automotive.
And learning about how people work.
Sexual differences, racial differences, social and class differences, regional differences, attitudinal differences.
All you need is an enquiring mind.
And the desire to take complicated things and make them simple.

If you’ve got those two things, this isn’t work.
It’s paid fun.

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ALL ADVERTISING IS TRADE ADVERTISING

When I started work as a junior copywriter at BMP, I got given the work no one else wanted to do.
That’s the way it is in any job.
You work your way up, you serve your apprenticeship.
If it was a factory, I’d have been sweeping floors.
If it was a football team, I’d have been cleaning boots.
If it was the army, I’d have been swabbing-out toilets.
There’s a good reason for that.
You learn the job absolutely from the ground up.
Later on, when you’re in charge, nobody can tell you a job can’t be done.
You know if it can or can’t be done, because you’ve done it.
If worse comes to worst, you can do it yourself.
So there’s a really good reason to start at the bottom.
For us the bottom was trade ads.
Ads that don’t run in consumer media.
Ads that your mum and friends won’t see.
Ads that tell the retailers why they should stock your client’s product.
And here’s why.
Because the most important part of the link between factory and consumer is the stockist.
If no one stocks it, no one can buy it.
It’s that simple.
But if retailers stock and display your product, it will sell.
Even without any advertising, it will sell.
Maybe not much, but it will sell.
Just by being displayed.
So the first, most important job, as far as the client’s concerned, is to get the trade to stock it.
That’s why we were given so many trade ads to do.
One of the first jobs I always got was the four-page leaflet.
This would either run in trade magazines: The Grocer, Hardware Trade Journal, Electrical Retail Trader, etc.
Or it would be carried around by the sales force.
To show to the retailer, when they tried to get them to stock the product.
The leaflet was usually divided into three parts.
The front cover was what made the product different and/or better than the competition (a reason to stock).
The inside spread was about how fast sales were growing (why the stockist would make money).
And the back cover was about how much advertising it was going to be supported by.
Usually some stills from the commercial(s) and a line about ‘Backed by our new multi-million pound TV campaign’.
Because, if it had advertising support, retailers were more likely to stock it.
They could see it would have big money behind it.
But, more importantly, they thought their customers would see it.
So the biggest part about consumer advertising was to persuade the trade to stock the product.
Usually we did these ads even before the commercials were shot.
The lead times for the magazines were a lot longer than for TV.
So we couldn’t even use stills from the ads.
We’d have to mock-up a packshot.
But it didn’t matter.
The trade didn’t care what the advertising was.
Just how much was being spent.
That was the great lesson for me.
It didn’t matter how creative the advertising was.
What mattered was that they were going to have advertising.
They were going to be supported by a multi-million pound campaign.
That’s pretty sobering isn’t it.
The main job of advertising is to get the product stocked.
Think of that while the art director is throwing a hissy fit about the client choosing the wrong typeface
While the copywriter is sulking that the client chose the wrong music.
While the director is horrified that the client chose the wrong cut.
While all that’s going on.
And while everyone knows that their personal area of skill is crucial to the success or failure of the campaign.
The most important factor in selling the product isn’t the quality of the ads.
It’s the fact that there is any advertising at all.
Because that’s what makes the stockist stock it.
If they don’t stock it, it won’t sell.
If they stock it, it will.

Kind of puts our job into a bit more perspective, doesn’t it?

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THE INTUITIVE LEAP

I was listening to a journalist on the radio.
She was talking about when she just started out, in 1990.
She’d been sent to interview Richard Branson in LA.
She took lots of notes, and he was polite and helpful as they chatted by the pool.
After she finished the interview, she said, “Look I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t ask you this. But if you were young and just starting out, like me, and looking for a business opportunity, and you didn’t have much money, what would you invest in?”
Richard Branson just looked slowly around the pool.
Eventually he said, “Look at those umbrella shaped heaters there, I bet you haven’t seen many of those around?”
She said, “You’re right, I haven’t.”
He said, “Well, here’s a thought then. The weather’s a lot colder in Europe than it is in LA. I bet café owners would love to buy those. They could serve customers outdoors for another month or so every year.
They’d make more money.”
She said, “What a great thought. What should I do?”
He said, “Well, they probably only sell them in LA at present.
Why don’t you find out who makes them and ask if you can buy the import rights for Europe. They shouldn’t cost much.”
The reporter said she called up the company and, sure enough, they’d only recently started making them.
She asked how much they wanted for the import rights for Europe.
They thought for a bit and said, “How about ten thousand dollars, would that be okay?”
And she went away to think about it.
She said, “At that time ten thousand dollars was about seven thousand pounds. Which was pretty much all I had in the bank.
So I thought I’d better not risk it, and I forgot about it.
But now, whenever I travel anywhere I see those heated-umbrellas absolutely everywhere.
I asked our business correspondent what he thought the European import rights would be worth.
He said millions and millions.”
So there you go.
That’s the difference between someone like Richard Branson and the rest of us.
He can spot an opportunity, we can’t
Richard Branson made an intuitive leap.
He didn’t commission: “A Survey To Study The Possibilities And Potential Opportunities For External-Heater Sales In Various European Countries, Demarcated By Types Of Business, Location, Regional Differences, Demographic Variations, And Attitudinal Preferences.”
He didn’t do that.
He made an intuitive leap.
He used his judgement.
He figured a few thousand dollars was a fair price to pay for the potential opportunity.
If he won, he’d win big.
If he lost, he’d lose small.
So his response was the same as the title of his autobiography, “Screw It, Let’s Do It.”
People like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Rupert Murdoch don’t depend on experts to tell them what to do.
As William Randolph Hearst said, “I don’t hire expert to tell me what to do. I hire experts to tell me how to do what I want to do.”
What we call creativity is actually that intuitive leap.
And we won’t find that by running to focus groups.
Sure we can use research to check that we’re not doing anything stupid.
Research (Quant or Qual) is like the dashboard on a car.
Very useful in telling us the state of play.
Very useful in giving us information.
But it can’t do the driving for us.
It can’t take the decisions.
It’s no good looking to research for creative thinking.

As Akio Morita said, “The biggest assistance I had, in growing Sony to a worldwide brand, was the total failure of nerve on the part of western businessmen to move without research.”

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THE BATTLE OF CREATIVITY

In 1939 the German ship Graf Spee was loose in the Atlantic Ocean.
This ship was designed to sink British merchant ships.
She did it effortlessly.
The British sent 3 ships to find and attack her.
It wasn’t really a fair fight.
The three British ships were smaller and older than the Graf Spee.
Two of the British ships, The Ajax and The Achilles, had six-inch guns as their main armament.
The Graf Spee had six-inch guns as her secondary armament.
True, the elderly British cruiser, Exeter, had eight-inch guns as her main armament.
But the Graf Spee had eleven-inch guns as her main armament.
Graf Spee was bigger, faster, more powerful, and more modern.
The Graf Spee’s main guns could hit the British ships before they even got in range.
And that’s what she did.
Sensibly enough she picked off the biggest British ship first.
As the British ships chased the Graf Spee, she pounded the Exeter almost to bits.
Eventually The Exeter was near sinking and had to break off.
Now The Graf Spee was free to attack Ajax and Achilles easily.
But instead her captain took her to Montevideo.
This was a neutral port, and the ship was allowed a short time for repairs.
Meanwhile the two smaller British ships waited outside the port.
Everyone guessed they were waiting for a much larger British fleet
Obviously the British couldn’t let The Graf Spee get away.
And the Germans had a spy who intercepted a secret message.
It was from the British embassy requesting hundreds of thousands of tons of fuel oil at short notice.
Enough for a fleet of battleships and aircraft carriers.
So the German captain knew he had a choice.
Come out and be blown to bits, or surrender.
He chose neither.
He took his ship out into The River Plate.
He sank it, and shot himself.
Rather than face the massive British naval force.
What he didn’t know was that there weren’t any massive British naval force.
The message from the British embassy was a fake.
Meant to be intercepted and cracked.
What was actually waiting outside the harbour was the two much smaller British cruisers.
The ones he’d already effectively beaten before he entered Montevideo harbour.
So it wasn’t the Royal navy that beat The Graf Spee.
It was allowing someone to believe what they wanted to believe.
It was helping them to beat themselves.
It was taking advantage of a situation.
It was turning a disadvantage into an advantage.
Just the way Bill Bernbach did with Volkswagen and Avis.
The way Charlie Saatchi did with British Airways.
The way Ed McCabe did with Volvo.
The way David Abbott did with The Economist.
The way truly creative people look at a problem and see an opportunity.

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