Posts By: Jim Reade

NEW IS THE ENEMY OF GREAT

All advertising agencies prioritise the urgent over the important.
We can’t help it, it’s instinctive.
What must be done ‘right now’ takes precedence.
And the truly important has to wait until it’s also urgent.
In the same way we tend to prioritise anything new.
Novelty takes precedence over the familiar.
Whatever it is.
I’ve lived in London all my life.
So I barely even see it anymore.
I take it for granted, like water to a fish.
For instance, the CST offices are next to Tower Bridge.
So every morning I walk past The Tower of London and hardly notice it.
Most of us live our lives like this.
We never notice anything unless our attention is drawn to it.
A few years ago, my wife’s sister was visiting us from Singapore.
I took her to a small concert in The Tower Of London.
It was on a Friday evening after it was closed.
The Tower has a very different feeling when it isn’t packed with tourists.
When you’re alone in it.
Suddenly you can feel the history seeping out of the walls.
Especially at twilight.
It was a tiny concert, to celebrate the memorial where beheadings took place in The Tower grounds.
Strangely, there are less than a dozen of these.
Commoners were beheaded on nearby Tower Hill.
Only nobility were executed inside The Tower itself.
First we looked at the place where they’d had their heads hacked from their bodies.
People like Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey.
It was right in front of the tiny Tudor houses where they’d spent their last days.
We walked where they must have walked, between the houses and the chopping block.
And we stood where they spent their last moments on earth.
Then we went into a small nearby chapel, built by Henry VIII.
This is where the concert took place.
It was sung by The Queen’s Choir, just acapella voices, no instruments.
The intricate, mournful harmonies echoed against the stone walls of the little chapel.
And under our feet, in the chapel, were buried the bones of those who’d been beheaded.
As their crime was treason, they weren’t allowed formal graves.
And the music we were listening to was what they’d written immediately before their executions.
Their death songs.
One was written by one of Henry VIII’s Queens.
Proclaiming her loyalty to him, and asking his subjects to love him.
Written while Henry was signing her death warrant.
Another was written by the brother of one of his Queens.
Who Henry accused of incest with his sister.
As an excuse to behead both of them.
In the same place, Henry had imprisoned the mother of a Bishop.
The Bishop fled to France rather than swear loyalty to Henry over The Pope.
So Henry had his mother beheaded.
But the mother tried to run.
And she was hacked as she ran, and beheaded where she fell.
Another was Sir Thomas Moore.
Who also refused to recognise Henry’s authority over The Pope.
After his beheading he was sanctified by The Catholic Church in Rome.
So, under our feet were the bones of, amongst others, two Queens and a Saint.
We were listening to their music, their last creative act on earth.
Walking where they last walked.
Breathing where they last breathed.
And then we came out into the Tower at night.
And we walked around and through the dark and empty place.
The history crackled like electricity.
Cruelty and torture and death everywhere.
I tried hard to imagine what it must have felt like.
I tried to put myself in their place.
But of course, I couldn’t.
And it reminded me of the title of Damien Hirst’s shark in a tank.
“The Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living”
Eventually we left The Tower of London, and went out into the bright lights of the city.
The next morning I was walking to work again, past the Tower.
The sun was up and it was a tourist attraction again.
Parents dragging children round an old building they didn’t want to see.
Trying to find ice cream and cola.
And I passed a group of Japanese tourists outside their hotel.
A big, anonymous, modern brick building opposite the Tower of London.
They were smiling and posing for a photograph.

The photographer had his back to The Tower of London, and was taking their picture in front of their hotel.

Read more on NEW IS THE ENEMY OF GREAT…

PRECONCEPTIONS DICTATE REALITY

Jack Stevens is a copywriter.
He’s a funny guy.
He used to work at Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow.
This was London’s most fashionable agency at the time.
(Think of Fallon, Wieden, Mother, that sort of thing.)
Like all of these, it was surrounded by mystique.
Because Jack was there, all his friends wanted to know what it was like.
So, sitting in the pub, they used to cross-question him.
What were Mark Denton and Chris Palmer really like to work for?
They’d heard they were a couple of crazy creatives.
Was the whole agency weird and eccentric?
What really happened there?
So Jack told them.
“Mark and Chris have a big fish tank in the centre of the creative department.
When we have a brief to crack, we all sit in a circle round the fish tank.
They give each fish a number.
Then they write all the numbers on a sheet of paper with a different word by each number.
Then Mark and Chris point to a fish at random.
Whatever number that fish is, that’s the number of the word that the department has to work on, that’s the brief.”
I said to Jack, don’t tell me your mates fell for that.
He was laughing his socks off.
He said, “They lapped it up mate. Couldn’t get enough of it.”
Hard to credit anyone would believe that isn’t it?
And yet.
Murray Chick had been working at Ogilvy.
He was one of the best planners in London, and he joined GGT as Head of Planning.
When he joined he hadn’t met me.
But he’d heard a lot of stories.
I was a Buddhist, a vegetarian, a teetotaller, with a group of brain washed followers, generally a bit of an all-round nutcase.
Naturally, he was a bit wary.
So he waited a few days before coming down to the creative floor.
When he did, he came round the corner and stopped.
Murray saw us holding a séance in the middle of the creative department.
Standing silently, in a circle, with our heads bowed and our hands clasped in prayer in front of us.
That proved everything he’d heard.
So he backed away and didn’t come near the creative department for weeks.
Eventually he found out what we’d actually been doing.
We were playing ‘Spoof’.
The same thing we did every morning.
Spoofing to see who went out to the Italian café to get the cappuccinos.
In Spoof, everyone gathers in a circle.
Then you hold your closed hand out in front of you.
You can each hold between 0 and 3 coins in your hand.
One-by-one, you each have to guess the total number of coins everyone is holding.
After each round the one who guesses correctly drops out.
The last one left in is the loser.
They have to go and get the cappuccinos.
We took it fairly seriously.
Well, no one wants to walk through Soho carrying up to a dozen cappuccinos.
Especially not when the entire creative department is hanging out the window, watching and jeering.
And playing Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking” on loudspeakers.
So we were each concentrating really hard on working out the answer.
Part calculation, part intuition.
A bit like poker.
But not quite the same as a séance of brainwashed followers.
But of course it didn’t look like that to Murray.

The mind makes the evidence fit its preconceptions.

Read more on PRECONCEPTIONS DICTATE REALITY…

QUESTION THE QUESTION

Look at the top row of letters on your keyboard.
Reading from the left they are Q W E R T Y.
Have you ever wondered why they aren’t A B C D E F…etc?
Well, it’s all because of the way typewriters were invented around 1870.
The keys were connected to long pieces of metal that each had a letter on the end.
When you hit a particular key it raised that letter.
The letter banged onto an inky ribbon and onto the paper.
And that letter got printed.
Now originally typewriter keys were arranged alphabetically.
The problem was that some typists were really fast.
This meant the metal arms were flying up too quickly and getting jammed.
Fast typists were constantly having to unjam their keys.
So the people who made typewriters looked for a solution.
They couldn’t find a mechanical way to speed the typewriters up.
So they did the opposite.
They found a way to slow the typists down.
They put the most commonly used letters in the hardest to get places.
They actually designed the keyboard to be as inefficient as possible.
Which is why your keyboard starts QWERTY and not ABCDEF.
And it worked.
Typists were slowed down.
And typewriters stopped jamming.
But.
As the technology improved typewriters became electric.
In fact, with the IBM ‘Golfball’, there were no individual arms with keys on.
There was nothing to jam.
But the keyboard always stayed QWERTY.
Even though we don’t even have typewriters anymore.
We have laptops.
No keys, no ink, no moving parts at all.
So now we don’t need to slow anyone down.
Now everyone can type at top speed without fear of anything jamming.
But the keyboard is still QWERTY.
Why is that?
Why don’t we have the most efficient keyboard layout on our modern laptops?
Why do we still have a purposely inefficient layout, designed over a hundred years ago to slow typing down?
I think it’s because we can’t be bothered.
No one’s ever questioned it, so one ever questions it.
In fact no one even notices it.
Everyone just goes along with it.
How much of that do you think there is in our lives?
Things that we don’t question.
We accept them because that’s the way they’ve always been.
So it must be right.
Meanwhile we all, me included, carry on typing on our metaphorical QWERTY keyboard.
Take what we’re given.
At best we might grumble.
But that’s about it.
Our life is like sitting in a restaurant being shown the menu and choosing from the range of options available.
We never question the options.
We never decide what we want without looking at the menu.
We let our choices be dictated to us.
Whether by other people.
Or by circumstances.
Or complacency.
It could be a lot of things.
But one thing it isn’t.

Creative.

Read more on QUESTION THE QUESTION…

WE COULDN’T GET ARRESTED

Imagine if we were trying to smuggle something past customs.
What’s the first thing we’d do?
We’d try to look as inconspicuous as possible, right?
We wouldn’t want to stand out.
We wouldn’t want anyone noticing us.
So we’d find out what everyone else was wearing.
Then we’d buy something similar.
Similar jacket, trousers, shoes.
Maybe give ourself a similar haircut.
Also similar luggage.
Check what everyone else is likely to be carrying.
Make sure ours fits in with that.
Not too expensive, not too cheap.
Not to shoddy, not too flashy.
If we’re lucky we can get through without being noticed.
We can blend in with the crowd and get away without being spotted.
Because if we’re smuggling something, the one thing we don’t want to do is be noticed.
Because, if we’re noticed, we might attract attention.
And if we attract attention, we might be stopped.
And, if we’re stopped we might be investigated.
And, if we’re investigated, they might find out what’s going on.
And then we’ll get arrested.
So, if we’re smuggling something, standing out isn’t what we want.
But hang on.
If we’re doing an advertisement that’s exactly what we do want.
We do want to be different so we stand out.
We want to stand out so we’ll be noticed.
We want to be noticed so people will be interested.
We want them to be interested so they’ll want to know what we’re about.
What’s going on.
We want to get arrested.
We want exactly the opposite of what we’d want if you were smuggling.
So why do we do advertising as if we were smuggling?
Why do we try NOT to stand out?
Why do we try to copy what everyone else is doing?
Why do we try to find out what the rules are for our sector, so we can obey them?
Why do we find out who are the most fashionable directors that everyone else is using, and use them?
Why do we make sure to find out what the awards juries voted for last year, and do that?
Why do we try to find out who are the voice-overs everyone likes, and use them?
Why do we ask panels of people to tell us what they expect the ads to look like?
Why do we try to fit consumers’ preconceptions?
Just the way all our competitors are doing.

Are we trying to get through unnoticed?
Do we want to get past without them spotting us?
To escape their attention?
Is it a result if no one sees us?
If so, why are we advertising at all?
Why don’t we just save all that money?
That way nobody will notice us and we won’t have to take any chances at all.
We can escape with no one ever having even seen us.
We can run our ads without ever having to worry or feel uncomfortable.

We can be absolutely certain we won’t get arrested.

Read more on WE COULDN’T GET ARRESTED…

YOU CAN’T NOT HAVE A BRAND

I love to go into Muji and look around.
It feels like the design shop at a museum.
I’ve seen their stores in London, Tokyo, New York, and Paris.
The cool people go to Muji.
They like to shop there.
They like other people to know they buy stuff at Muji.
Because Muji is a very cool brand.
But is it?
Do you know what the name Muji means?
In Japanese, it’s short for ‘Mujirushi’.
Which actually means ‘no brand’.
There are no branded goods in Muji.
That was why it was founded.
That’s what makes it different.
Muji is for people who are not impressed by brands.
Muji is anti-brand.
And, that’s the brand it’s become.
See, brand is just another word for image.
And you can’t not have an image.
Even if your image is no-image, that’s your image.
We all learned in school that ‘nature abhors a vacuum’.
As soon as there’s a space with absolutely nothing in it, something rushes in to fill it up.
That’s how it is with our minds.
That’s all a brand is.
It’s whatever rushes in to fill the space.
We can’t be aware of something and have no image of it.
So awareness is image.
And image is brand.
So we can’t not have a brand.
That’s how it is with Muji.
Muji became a non-brand brand is for people who see themselves as too intelligent to be impressed by brands.
For instance, one of the first things Muji sold was U shaped spaghetti.
It was the same quality as the best straight spaghetti, but much cheaper.
This is because the U shaped pieces are usually cut off straight spaghetti and thrown away.
Muji repackaged them in simple cellophane wrappers with hand written labels.
The quality was identical at a fraction of the cost.
So they weren’t ‘cheap’ products, they were quality products for smart people.
And that became their image.
Discerning, confident, minimalist.
Anti-bling.
The diametric opposite of the WAG culture.
In fact minimalist pretty much describes every aspect of Muji.
Basic, no frills, understated.
This became a style of its own, cool and confident.
Very Bauhaus.
Form follows function.
Less is more.
The Japanese version of this is called ‘Kanketsu’.
Which means calm.
And that’s exactly the sort of feeling Muji has.
They started with just 40 products, now they have over 7,000.
They have nearly 300 stores in Japan alone, with nearly 4,000 employees.
You can find the Muji non-brand either selling or associated with: clothing, stationery, music, food, watches, flowers, furniture, phones, yoga, campsites, cars, and house construction.
All when conventional marketing wisdom says you can’t launch anything without a brand.
And you certainly can’t be successful without a brand.
When most marketing conversations are about the brand.
When most research is about the brand.
When most advertising is about the brand.
Muji not only started with ‘no brand’.
It also started with ‘no marketing’.
And continued with ‘no advertising’.
Because Muji observed a basic truth.
When everyone else is all doing the same thing, don’t follow them.

Do the opposite.

Read more on YOU CAN’T NOT HAVE A BRAND…

Guardian readers

I was recently talking to someone who was asked to work on a skin-whitening product for India.
The people at his agency were horrified.
They thought it was an example of racism and white supremacy.
And, for Guardian readers living in the UK, that makes sense.
But hang on a minute.
Does that apply to people living in India?
Maybe they want lighter faces.
But that doesn’t mean they want to be Caucasian.
It doesn’t mean they want to copy us.
It probably just means they want to be what they are, but with lighter skin.
Why shouldn’t they?
Why can’t they be allowed to do what they want?
I want to get a suntan.
It doesn’t mean I want to be a Negro.
It means I want to be what I am, but with a darker skin.
In Jane Austin’s day, well-off English people wanted fairer skins.
It was called the English Rose complexion.
It was a sign of being well off and not having to work outside.
People who worked outside were rougher and course and indelicate.
So young ladies didn’t want to look like that.
Nowadays we don’t think whiter-than-white skin is attractive.
We think it looks pale and sickly.
In Vanity Fair there’s an ad with Tilda Swinton looking like an albino.
White skin, white hair, white eyelashes.
To me it looks like a corpse.
But someone must think it’s attractive because it’s advertising diamonds, and pearls, and gold jewellery.
So what looks good to me doesn’t look good to everyone.
It’s the same in the Far East.
My mother-in-law is Singaporean.
Racially she’s Chinese.
In the sun she always carries an umbrella.
When we go on holiday, and I’m lying in the sun trying to get a tan, she’s under the umbrella trying not to.
My father-in-law is also Chinese.
He owned a large plumbing contractor’s.
He was always proud of having dark skin on his face, forearms, and legs.
Because it showed he was always outside in the sun, on the job with the workers.
My father-in-law enjoyed being dark, my mother-in-law didn’t.
None of this is racial.
People want to be what they are, with alterations.
What’s wrong with that?
People dye their hair, so the grey doesn’t show.
Is that age-ist?
People wear contact lenses because they don’t want to wear glasses.
Is that sight-ist?
People diet because they don’t want to be overweight.
Is that fat-ist?
It used to be a sign of prosperity to be fat.
Nowdays it’s the opposite.
One of our senior account handlers, Sonia Sheeta, is half Anglo-Indian, half Egyptian.
Some of her relatives were visiting from abroad.
They said to her “What a strange country this is: the poor people are fat and the rich people are thin.”
It’s just the opposite way round where they come from.
So just notice how intolerant Guardian readers are of other cultures’ differences.
How they expect everyone to have the same values as them.
Currently they are outraged because, in India, Facebook even has an application to allow people to lighten their skin for their profile picture.
Is this really any different from applying makeup before you have your passport picture taken?

I bet Guardian readers do that.

Read more on Guardian readers…

PRINCIPLES ENDURE, FORMULAS DON’T

There was a very smart client in New York, in the early 60s, called Bob Townsend.
He took over at a struggling little car rental company called Avis.
4,000 years before, Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoism) said: “The wise man knows he doesn’t know. The fool doesn’t know he doesn’t know.”
Well Bob Townsend was a wise man.
He knew he didn’t know about advertising.
But he knew he needed a great agency to help turn Avis round.
So he contacted a dozen or so of the top agencies on Madison Avenue.
He asked them a simple question: “Who are the two best advertising agencies in New York?”
All twelve agencies gave him the same answer.
“The two best agencies are ourselves, and Doyle Dane Bernbach.”
So, since everyone agreed that DDB was one of the best agencies in town, Bob Townsend gave them the account.
What happened next is probably the best advertising campaign ever.
And it revolutionised Avis’s fortunes.
Like most of DDB’s work it was revolutionary, iconoclastic, ground-breaking.
My generation grew up on Bill Bernbach.
He was the man who invented good advertising.
Before Bernbach, and DDB, advertising was just about billing.
The winner was the one who had the biggest agency making the most money.
So what if the ads were crass and patronising?
Who cared as long as you were getting rich?
Bernbach changed all that.
He made it about creativity.
The winner was the one who did the best work.
Work you were proud of.
Work that treated people with intelligence.
Work that everyone in the agency was thrilled to be a part of.
We hoovered up every word Bill Bernbach said.
But I’m aware lots of youngsters today just think he’s an old dinosaur.
Part of the dim and distant past.
The other day I saw a photocopy of some hand written notes from Bill Bernbach.
See if it looks like a dinosaur wrote it.

“Merely to let your imagination run riot, to dream unrelated dreams, to indulge in graphic acrobatics, is NOT being creative.
The creative person has harnessed their imagination.
They have disciplined it so that every thought, every idea, every line they draw, every light and shadow in every photograph they take, makes more vivid, more believable, more persuasive the original theme or product advantage they have decided they must convey.”

“It is ironic that the very thing that is most suspect in business, that intangible thing called creativity, turns out to be the most practical tool available to it.
For it is only creativity that can compete with all the shocking news events and violence in the world for the attention of the consumer.”

“Principles endure, formulas don’t.
You must get attention to your ad.
This is a principle that will always be true.
HOW you get attention is a subtle ever-changing thing.
What is attractive one day may be dull the next.”

“Logic and over-analysis can immobilise and sterilise an idea.
It’s like love: the more you analyse it the faster it disappears.”

Personally I think we can still learn a lot from Bernbach.
As he says, “Principles endure, formulas don’t”
Today that could read, “Technology changes, people don’t.”
We still have to out think the competition.
That’s why, whatever field you’re in, you can learn from the greats who went before.
Isaac Newton described it as “Standing on the shoulders of giants.”
The way an artist can learn from studying Caravaggio.
Or a musician can learn from studying Mozart.
A writer can learn from studying Shakespeare.
A director can learn from studying Orson Welles.
A footballer can learn from studying Cruyff.
A boxer can learn from studying Ali.
A military man can learn from studying Rommel.
The philosopher George Santayana said,
“Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Maybe that’s what’s happened.
No one wants to learn from the past, which is why we’re repeating it.

Read more on PRINCIPLES ENDURE, FORMULAS DON’T…

WE’VE NEVER SEEN SUCH CHANGES BEFORE

People are always asking me where advertising is headed.
Well, there are big changes happening in advertising right now.
We’ve never known anything like it before, have we?
New media gurus saying traditional advertising is dead.
The only possible future is social media.
Brand planners who know the only possible answer to any and every problem is to redefine the brand.
Creative directors who know that a new visual technique is the essential ingredient for any new ad campaign.
Everyone’s got a formula.
Everyone’s got a foolproof answer to what we should all be doing.
And yet, everyone knows we’ve never faced such uncertainty before.
In fact, I recently got hold of this letter.
It’s from the creative director of an ad agency, to the board of directors.
See if you can guess who.

“Dear ———,

Our agency is getting succesful,
That’s something to be happy about.
But it’s something to worry about, too.
And I don’t mind telling you I’m damn worried.
I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of worshipping techniques instead of substance.
That we’re going to be drowned by superficialities, instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals.
I’m worried that hardening of the creative arteries is beginning to set in.
There are a lot of great technicians in advertising.
And unfortunately they talk the best game.
They are the scientists of advertising.
But there’s one little rub.
Advertising is fundamentally persuasion.
And persuasion happens not to be a science, but an art.
It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency, and that I’m so desperately fearful of losing.
I don’t want academicians.
I don’t want scientists.
I don’t want people who do the right things.
I want people who do inspiring things.
In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people, writers and art directors.
Many of them were from the so-called ‘best’ agencies around.
It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative.
Sure they had advertising know-how.
Yes, they were up on the latest techniques.
But look beneath the techniques and what do you find?
A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas.
All this is not to say a technique is unimportant.
Superior technical skill will make the good better.
But the danger is in a preoccupation with technical skill.
Or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability.
The danger lies in the temptation to employ people who have a formula for advertising.
The danger lies in the natural tendency to go after people that will not make us stand out in competition, but rather make us look like all the others.
We must emerge as a distinctive personality.
We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed upon us.

Yours Respectfully”

All the problems in that letter are the same problems we all face.
The over-reliance on formulas.
The proliferation of people who call themselves creative but aren’t.
The ability to talk a good game succeeding over actual ability.
It could have been written last week.
But it wasn’t.
It was written by Bill Bernbach when he was creative director of Grey Advertising.
Two years before he opened Doyle Dane Bernbach.

In fact, he wrote that letter the week I was born.

Read more on WE’VE NEVER SEEN SUCH CHANGES BEFORE…

COPYWRITING TIPS

I’ve been asked to write an entry for D&AD’s Copy Book.
I just found this list of tips in my desk drawer.

1) Avoid alliteration. Always.

2) Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

3) The adverb always follows the verb.

4) Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

5) Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

6) Remember to never split an infinitive.

7) Contractions aren’t necessary.

8) Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

9) One should never generalise.

10) Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

11) Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

12) Be more or less specific.

13) One word sentences? Eliminate.

14) The passive voice is to be avoided.

15) Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

16) Who needs rhetorical questions?

17) Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

18) Don’t never use a double negative.

19) Proofread carefully to see if you words out.

20) And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)

21) Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!!!!!

22) Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

23) Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

24) Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; they’re old hat; seek viable alternatives.

Like most lists of rules for creativity, this one is long and thorough.
It’s detailed and proscriptive.
It’s confident and dogmatic.
And it’s about as useful.

Read more on COPYWRITING TIPS…

DON’T TRUST EXPERTS

My dad was a policeman.
One night he got a call that someone had found a dead body.
A body has to be officially certified dead, by a doctor.
So Dad went round and made sure nobody touched it until he got there.
Eventually the doctor turned up.
It was late, and he was bored, and annoyed at being called out.
He went through the motions.
He checked for a pulse.
He pulled back the eyelids and checked the pupils.
He took the temperature.
The he said, “Okay Sergeant, you can move him now.”
And he started to leave.
Dad said, “What are you going to put as the cause of death, sir?”
The doctor stopped at the door, turned round and sighed wearily.
He said, “It should be perfectly bloody obvious sergeant, even to you. It’s a heart attack.”
And he left.
After he’d gone, Dad turned the body over.
There were six stab wounds in the back.
So it wasn’t quite so ‘perfectly bloody obvious’ after all.
Which was why my dad taught me, don’t trust ‘experts’.
They get smug.
And that stops them thinking.
Their complacency makes them dependent on the systems they’ve learned.
And their systems never leave space for the unexpected.
So they’re on auto-pilot.
They can’t think for themselves anymore.
If it isn’t in the book, it doesn’t exist.
Last week we were putting a music track to a commercial.
The composer turned up late.
He said, “I’m sorry I’m late but the studio was burgled last night.
They took my wallet, my phone, car keys, credit cards.”
I asked if he was insured.
He said he was, but he wasn’t sure they’d pay out.
I asked why not.
He said, “Well, I did a stupid thing. I left a window partly open when I locked up. So they got in by yanking it all the way open, and they even broke the handle off the window.”
I asked what difference that made.
He said, “Well, the insurance company could say it’s down to my carelessness couldn’t they? Then they might refuse to pay out.”
But then he brightened up a bit.
He said, “Mind you, we’ve just had the police forensic crime detection unit round. They went over absolutely everything.
They dusted for prints and checked for strands of hair.
It was like that CSI programme on the telly.
They eventually came to the conclusion that the thief got in using a straightened out coat-hanger on the front door.
They never noticed the bloody great broken handle hanging off the open window.
And I didn’t say anything because, if the insurance company accept the police view, I’m covered.”
So that was a result for the composer.
But imagine if the police hadn’t sent the forensic crime-detection unit.
The people who already know that the answer must be either fingerprints, hair-strands, or DNA samples.
Imagine if they’d sent an old fashioned copper.
He have might have looked round the crime scene.
He might have seen a window broken open with a big handle hanging off.
He might even have put 2 and 2 together to work out how someone got in.
But the police, like advertising, don’t put 2 and 2 together.
Like us, they’re not encouraged, or possibly even allowed to.
We have to gather all the data and feed it into a system.
Which then takes over and delivers the answer.
Without imagination.
Because imagination isn’t factual like a system.
Systems are predictable, so there won’t be any surprises.
And surprises are a bad thing, aren’t they?
But are they?
The point about a system is that everyone can recognise and agree on it.
In fact, because everyone agrees on it, everyone is using the same system.
But is that really a good thing?
We’re in a competitive environment aren’t we?
As Bill Bernbach said, “The same data, the same technology, are available to all of us. If we all use them in the same way, we’re all going to end up doing the same thing.”
Which is okay if you’re the market leader, and all you want to do is maintain the status quo in the market.
But what if you want to shake things up, to take market share?
Using the same system won’t do that for you.
As Bill Bernbach also said, “It may be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we can legally take over our competitors.”

Or, as my dad used to say, “Use your loaf.”

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