Posts By: Jim Reade

One man’s fish is another man’s poisson

I once got a phone call from The South African advertising association.
They wanted to know if I’d fly down there to give a lecture.
The man on the phone was very pleasant.
He said, “We’ll fly you and your wife down here and put you up at the best hotel. You’ll have a great time.”
This was in the days of apartheid.
So I said, “My wife is Chinese, will that be a problem?”
He said, “Ah, hang on a minute.”
He put the phone down.
I could hear him rustling through some papers.
He came back and said, “Well, if she was Japanese she’d count as white, and she could stay in the same hotel as you.”
I waited.
He said, “But as she’s Chinese she counts as non-white. So she couldn’t stay in the same hotel.”
Later that night I told my wife.
She was furious.
But not about what I expected.
Not that South Africans counted her as non-white.
She knew that was stupid.
She’d lived in multi-racial Singapore until she was 17.
She’d lived in London ever since.
She says she’s never encountered racism in either place.
So she considers anyone who’s racist too stupid to be worth bothering with.
She wasn’t upset that we were expected to stay in separate hotels.
She knew we’d never go under those circumstances.
So again, that wasn’t even worth bothering with.
No, what really upset her was that the idea that the Japanese could be considered superior to the Chinese.
That made her furious.
See, people react differently to issues of race.
When we were about to open Gold Greenlees Trott, a German agency called Lurzer Conrad wanted to back us.
I went to Frankfurt to have lunch with them.
It was all very pleasant, everyone smiling.
Then one of them said to me, “By the way, how do you feel about working with a Jew?”
I stopped for a minute because I wasn’t quite sure what he meant.
Who was he talking about?
Then it clicked.
He must mean Goldie: Mike Gold.
Was Mike Jewish?
Well apparently Gold is a Jewish name, so maybe he was.
But he’s not very Jewish.
See, I’m from East London and I was educated in New York.
Both very Jewish places.
You don’t notice who is or isn’t Jewish because it’s everywhere.
In fact, when I went to New York, Americans kept asking me how come I knew so many Jewish words.
But I didn’t know they were Jewish words: schmuck, nosh, klutz, bagel, matzos, schlep, schmatter.
Where I grew up it was just cockney slang.
Then, when I got to New York, there was a whole new bunch of slang: zaftig, tukas, bubala, maven, kibitz, plotz, borscht, chutzpah.
So asking me how I felt about working with a Jew was like asking me how I felt about working with a Pisces, or someone with ginger hair.
Pretty irrelevant, why would you even ask?
If they’re good, they’re good.
Why would anything else count?
But the next thought through my mind was, blimey he means it.
This is Germany.
Germans don’t do jokes.
He’s asking a serious question.
So I went back and told the two Mikes.
And Goldie decided we didn’t need German backing to open the agency after all.

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There’s an old Jewish joke.
An old man can’t satisfy his beautiful young wife.
So he goes to the Rabbi and asks him what he should do to help her achieve an orgasm.
The Rabbi says he should get a muscular young man.
Then ask him to stand naked by the bed, waving a towel, while they make love.
The next day the old man comes back.
He tells the Rabbi he did what he suggested, but his wife still didn’t have an orgasm.
The Rabbi says he should try it the other way round and see what happens.
So that night, the husband stands by the bed waving a towel.
While the young man makes love to his beautiful young wife.
And the wife has a room-shaking orgasm.
When they’re finished, the old man leans over and whispers in the young man’s ear.
He says, “Hey shmuck: that’s the way you wave a towel.”

For me that’s the same way a lot of advertising confuses what you do with how you do it.
WHAT you say is content.
HOW you say it is brand.
Most advertising doesn’t work because people confuse the how with the what.
Don’t just tell me you’re a comedian.
Tell me a joke.
Make me laugh.

Waving the towel nicely helps.
But, on its own, it’s not enough.


Upstream Creativity

Chris Wilkins used to tell me Jeremy Bullmore was the cleverest person he’d ever met.
I asked Chris to give me an example.
He said, in the 1970s Jeremy was giving a speech in front of assembled advertising bigwigs.
It was at a fund raising dinner in support of a charity.
Jeremy asked everyone for a donation.
In fact he asked everyone to put their hand in their pocket and give £10 to the charity.
There were the usual groans.
Everyone moaning they couldn’t afford it.
Jeremy said he wasn’t asking anyone who couldn’t afford it to contribute.
He only wanted £10 each from those who could afford it.
He said the test of whether or not you could afford it was your bank balance.
Did you know your bank balance to the nearest £10?
If you didn’t, that was proof that you could afford it.
How brilliant is that?
Hardly anyone knew the balance of their bank account to the nearest £10.
And the charity got its biggest donation from a single fund raising event.
For me it’s a proof that the answer always lies in one of two places.
The product or the consumer.
The thing being sold, or the person buying it.
Most charities assume the answer lies in the product.
They tell you what is important about themselves, and why you should contribute.
Jeremy decided to reverse accepted wisdom.
He assumed the answer lay in the consumer.
He anticipated their objection.
He observed a simple, unnoticed human truth.
And he came up with an intelligent, unexpected answer.
That’s real creativity.
No visuals, no headlines, no YouTube, no latest technique.
No Frank Budgen or Jonathan Glazer, no social media, or rebranding.
No iPhone apps, or ambient, or viral, or flash mobs.
Just thinking about a way to come at the problem from a different angle.
Before you get anywhere near doing an ad.
That’s upstream creativity.

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Ockham’s razor

William of Ockham was a priest in Yorkshire in the 13th Century.
At the end of the middle ages he constantly taught a principal which became known as Ockham’s Razor.
It roughly translates from the Latin as follows.
“Do not multiply possibilities beyond necessity.”
Or, to put it simply:
“The simplest explanation is usually the right one.”
Don’t over-complicate things.
That doesn’t seem too controversial does it?
But that statement was influential in ending the dark ages and ushering in The Enlightenment.
Suddenly knowledge wasn’t the exclusive preserve of religion.
The most complicated, esoteric explanations didn’t work anymore.
Everything was now open to question.
Everything could be boiled down to reason.
And so rational mind took over from religious belief as the Gold Standard for knowledge.
Everything we take for granted, started from that sentence, 700 years ago.
And it’s so obvious we don’t even think about it.
Let’s see how we live up to it.
“Do not multiply possibilities beyond necessity.”
Is that truly our everyday experience in the business we’re in?
With marketing plans?
With strategy?
With research briefs?
With research debriefs?
With executions?
With media plans?
With thinking?
Three of my heroes agreed with William of Ockham.
Brian Clough, Bill Bernbach, and Ron Greenwood all said the same thing.
“Simplicity is genius”.
They all understood that complicated isn’t clever.
It just looks clever to stupid people.
To really be clever you have to go through complicated to get to simple.
You have to keep stripping everything back until you get to what’s essential.
The real genius isn’t adding more.
That keeps you stupid.
The real genius is to keep cutting away, and cutting away.
Until you can’t cut anymore.

That’s why it’s called Ockham’s Razor.

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The hard choices

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin said there are two kinds of liberties.
Positive Liberty, and Negative Liberty.
Positive Liberty is the freedom to DO things.
Go where you want, with who you want, when you want, etc.
Negative Liberty is the freedom FROM things.
Freedom from fear, from hunger, from exploitation, etc.
Both these freedoms are undoubtedly good things.
But people refuse to face the truth about them.
The more you have of one, the less you have of the other.
On the one hand:
If you give everyone the freedom TO carry a gun.
You take away someone else’s freedom FROM fear.
If you give everyone freedom TO make money however they want.
You take away someone else’s freedom FROM exploitation.
On the other hand:
If you give everyone freedom FROM homelessness, the state must pay for housing.
Which means higher taxes.
Which means someone else loses the freedom TO spend their money how they want.
No one wants to face these hard choices.
If you want more of one, you have to have less of the other.
Remember science class at school?
The most basic rule: nothing can be created or destroyed.
It can only change state.
We can heat a block of ice, and it turns into water.
We can heat the water, and it turns into steam.
A solid, to a liquid, to a gas.
But the same amount of matter remains in existence.
That’s the essence of the zero-sum game.
Nothing new magically appears.
If you want it, it has to come from somewhere else.
How come we don’t know that in our business?
If we want more sales, if we want to grow the market, if we want to increase brand share, it has to come from somewhere else.
When was the last time you saw a brief that identified where we’d be taking sales from?
When was the grubby subject of money mentioned?
Who would be putting their hand in their pocket and deciding not to spend the cash on that, but on this instead.
How about never.
We talk about branding and hope it will act like a magnet.
Magically attracting people from somewhere.
Like moths to a flame.
No one wants to identify exactly where they’re coming from.

Because, like politicians, no one want to make the hard choices.

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Singaporean choice architecture

Singapore is a tiny island. One quarter the size of London, with one quarter the population. Singapore has no natural resources.

They depend on trade for their existence. Ships in, ships out. When I first went to Singapore, they were the fourth largest port in the world.

But they work hard. And now they are the largest port in the world.

Singapore is also the only country in S.E. Asia where every citizen has drinkable tap water, flushing toilets, and electric light.

So this is a country that works. In all senses of the word. But it’s not quite to western tastes.

It’s a bit too clean, a bit too law-abiding, a bit too unexciting. For visitors who want to romance of the exotic Far East.

The jungle, the huts, the dirt roads. But the locals, the people that live there don’t want all that.

They want it clean, and safe, and modern. And that’s the dichotomy.

Do you go for dirty, and risky, and exciting? Or do you go for nice, and safe, and unexciting?

It’s that way with creativity. No pain, no gain.

The more you try to iron out the risk, the more you iron out the excitement.

Of course, from Lee Kuan Yew’s point of view, this is exactly what he wants.

Nice, safe, clean, prosperous, and predictable. Singapore is a democracy.

But the Singaporeans are a practical people.

What exactly do you get from democracy?

Freedom. Yes but freedom to do what?

Live in corrugated iron huts on dirt roads in the jungle.

That may be Hollywood’s idea of freedom, but it’s not theirs.

Lee Kuan Yew understands his people.

They like democracy in name, but they don’t want it getting in the way of getting things done.

So, in the interests of stability, he sees it as his job to make sure the opposition gets as few votes as possible.

The last time I was there, I read his party’s manifesto. He said, PAP policy was to renovate all the public housing.

They would know how popular this policy was by the number of votes they received.

In the areas where the PAP received most votes, it would mean this policy was most popular.

Therefore those areas would be renovated as a priority.

In the areas where the PAP received fewer votes, it obviously wasn’t a popular policy.

So these areas would be the last to be renovated.

So here’s the choice architecture.

You’re free to vote for who you want.

You don’t have to vote to have your housing estate renovated.

But how will your neighbours feel if you vote against it?

And so entire neighbourhoods organised to get the most PAP votes.

So their area would get renovated first.

Lee Kuan Yew set up the choice so the voters were competing with each other.

They were doing his canvassing for him.

That’s choice architecture.

Another simple piece of choice architecture is the duty-free at Singapore airport.

It’s vast, like Harrods.

But it’s not on the way-out, as it is at most airports.

It’s on the way in.

And every Singaporean knows this.

So, when they’re coming home, they don’t bother shopping at the airport they’re leaving from.

They know there’s a better duty-free at Singapore airport.

Bigger, cleaner, with more choice.

And it saves them carrying their purchases on the plane, too.

So all that money comes in to Singapore, instead of going somewhere else.

Another example was donor’s cards.

Because it’s only a small island, Singapore had a problem with lack of organs for transplant.

Like people everywhere, Singaporeans couldn’t be bothered carrying donor’s cards.

So the Singapore government changed a problem into an opportunity. By changing the law.

Organs were automatically donated unless you carried a ‘non-donors’ card.

Again most people couldn’t be bothered.

Which means Singapore had all the organs for transplant they needed.

They rearranged the architecture so that apathy worked in their favour. Instead of against it.

As Ray Kroc said, “The art of salesmanship is letting people have it your way.”

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Choice Architecture

Rory Sutherland gave me a brilliant example of choice architecture.
At a school in the USA, the girls in their early teens had just discovered lipstick.
They would go into the female toilets to apply it.
Then, giggling, they’d leave the imprint of their lips on the large mirror.
This made a lot of extra work for the cleaning staff.
The head teacher asked the girls to stop.
Of course they ignored her.
So she took the girl’s to the female toilets for a demonstration.
She said, “It takes a lot of work to clean the lipstick off the mirror.”
She said to the janitor, “Please show the girls how much work it takes.”
The janitor put the mop in the toilet, squeezed off the excess water and washed the mirror.
Then put the mop in the toilet again, and repeated the process.
From that day on there was no more lipstick on the mirror.
That’s choice architecture.
You don’t try to force or nag people into doing what you want.
You accept that they are free to choose.
But you set up the choices to help them choose what you want.
The girls could still choose to kiss the mirror.
But now they know, and everyone else knows, their lips will be touching water from the toilets that everyone uses.
Suddenly it’s not quite so attractive.
No one wants to be kissed by lips with water from public a toilet on them.
Of course they’re still free to choose.
But the architecture of the choice encourages them in a certain direction.
Just the way architecture encourages people to use buildings in a certain way.
You design the building the way you want people to use it.
That way you don’t have to nag people.
At the National Portrait Gallery the problem was very few people visited the upper floors, while the ground floor was always packed.
People couldn’t be bothered climbing flights of stairs.
So they borrowed an idea from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim building in New York.
And they changed the entrance.
They installed a large escalator right by the entrance, taking visitors straight up to the top floor.
The exhibition now started at the top floor, and worked its way down to the ground floor.
The stairs were now for walking down not up.
Quite literally, choice architecture.
Recently, M&S had been running a campaign about environmental responsibilities.
Their strapline was, “Plan A, because there is no plan B.”
One of the ads they ran said that instead of throwing your old M&S clothing away, you should give it to Oxfam.
And, when you did, you’d get a £5 M&S voucher.
Think about that.
M&S found a way to get customers to feel good about buying more clothes.
Firstly, they needed them to create more room in their closet.
To get rid of some clothes.
But don’t just throw them away, recycle them.
And when you do you get a voucher to encourage you to come back to M&S.
Look at the way the architecture of choice was set up there.
You’re free to choose.
You can either hang on to your clothes or throw them away if you want.
But no one else will benefit.
If you give them to Oxfam other people will benefit, and so will you.
You’ll get a £5 voucher.
Of course you can only use the voucher at M&S.
But you don’t have to use it, no one’s forcing you.
And incidentally, look how environmentally conscious it makes M&S look.
A writer at our agency, Rob DeCleyn, found another great example in his local paper.
A particular village in Kent had a problem with litter.
Sweet wrappers, crisp packets, soft drink cans and bottles.
So the local shopkeeper didn’t complain or nag the children.
He just wrote the their name on the crisp and sweets packets when they bought them.
That’s all, just the child’s name.
And the litter problem cleared up almost immediately.
That’s choice architecture.
The children could still choose to throw their wrappers in the street when they’d finished with it.
They didn’t have to put it in the litter bin.
The only difference was that now everyone would know whose litter it was.

See you don’t have to threaten, or restrict or dictate anyone’s choices.
If you’re clever, you can just rearrange the architecture.

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A good idea today is better than a great idea tomorrow

Colin Powell was the first black Four-Star General.
Four-Star is the highest rank you can achieve in the US Army.
Powell was subsequently Head of the Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff.
The Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff is made up of the most powerful people in the Navy, Army, and Air Force.
And Colin Powell was in charge of it.
He has held the highest, and most powerful, military positions in the entire USA.
So this is an intelligent man.
He didn’t get to the top by being flippant, or rash.
He got there by being thorough, careful, and dependable.
One of Colin Powell’s main maxims was his “40-70 Rule”.
That was the rule by which he felt all decisions should be guided.
“You never make a decision with less than 40% of the information.
But you never wait until you have more than 70% of the information.”
Now I think everyone can agree on the first part.
You need information.
It’s ridiculous to make any decision based solely on intuition.
But most people wouldn’t think 40% was enough information.
Most people would want more.
And Powell agrees.
More is better.
Up to a point.
The point at which it becomes counter-productive.
The point at which he feels it harms the ability to act.
He felt that was 70%.
But, in our business, most people would want more than 70%.
They’d need at least 90%.
Or better still, closer to 100% if they could get it.
In fact they’d wait, and research, and worry, and debate, and discuss, and worry some more, and do some more research.
And that was Powell’s point.
By the time you’ve waited to get more than 70%, the opportunity’s passed.
In Economics, it’s called “The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns”.
Draw a simple graph with the horizontal axis marked ‘Effort’ and the vertical axis marked ‘Return’.

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I want to be different, just like everyone else

Alcatraz is an absolutely
amazing place.
It was where people who
couldn’t be allowed to escape ended up.

People like Al Capone.

The worst of the worst.

A prison on a piece of rock,
surrounded by water.

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Research is the dashboard

Jack Brabham was Australian.
In the 1960s he was one of the best Formula One drivers.
In one particular race, his fuel gauge showed he was running out of fuel.
He knew he should pull into the pits.
But he didn’t want to lose the time it would take.
He calculated that it was better to keep going.
He noticed the information from the fuel gauge.
Then he made his own decision.
He kept going.
In the final straight, just before the chequered flag, he ran out of fuel.
He got out of the car and pushed it.
With all the other cars whizzing around him.
He pushed it across the finish line.
That was the season he won the Formula One World Championship.
He didn’t let the fuel gauge dictate to him.
He took the information on board, and he made the decision.
Years later, Michael Schumacher was at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Everyone knows the lighter a racing car is, the faster it goes.
So at Monaco, all the teams started with the lightest fuel load, allowing for three refuelling stops.
Schumacher started with a heavier fuel load.
It made him slightly slower at the start.
But it meant he only needed two fuel stops.
Schumacher calculated that being slower at the start would cost him 4 or 5 seconds.
But a refuelling stop would cost him 15 to 20 seconds.
So while all the cars that had been ahead of him were in the pits, he roared past.
Schumacher won.
It’s the same in our job.
We should use information to help us take better decisions.
Not to take the decisions for us.
For us, research is like a fuel gauge.
A fuel gauge just tells you what’s in the tank.
It doesn’t tell you what to do about it.
You have to decide that.
Years ago, I had a conversation with a planner called Francis Richardson.
She left BMP to work freelance, and she’d been working at CDP.
CDP at that time was the best agency in the UK.
They didn’t have a planning department.
But BMP had a planning dept that was twice the size of the creative dept.
I said to Francis, “You must hate it working at CDP.”
She asked why.
I said, “Well you’ve come from BMP where planning is King, and gone to CDP where creative is unquestionably King.”
Francis said, “On the contrary, I’m really enjoying CDP.”
I asked her, how come?
She said, “At BMP, I dreaded it when I had to come back and debrief on an idea that had researched badly.
I walked in, and the creatives would look at me to see whether it was thumbs up or down.
They looked to see whether I was smiling or frowning, because planning had the power of life and death over their work.”
I asked what the difference was.
She said, “At CDP, they regard me as giving them consumer feedback, that’s all.
Based on what was said in the groups they’ll take a view about where they go from there. They are very polite to me.
They say, ‘Thank you very much for all your work. Now we’ve got to decide what we do about it.’
It’s so much less stressful for a planner.”
So there you have it.
When CDP was the best agency in the UK they used research like a dashboard.
For information, not a decision.

(I’m on holiday for the next two weeks, so no new posts. But I’ll be checking in to see if there are any comments that need answering.)

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