Latest Posts



“Sine qua non” means “without which, nothing”

One of the things every planner knows is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

It’s a simple chart: a pyramid.

It describes what a human being needs for survival at various stages.

First is the bottom layer: ‘Physiological’.

This is the basics, which most charts list as: Food. Water. Shelter.

After they’ve got that they move to the second layer, ‘Safety’: Security. Freedom from fear.

After that, they move up to the next layer, ‘Belonging’: Friends. Family.

Once they have that they go to the next layer up, ‘Self-esteem’: Recognition. Respect.

Finally, after they’ve got everything else, they reach the final level, Self-actualisation: Fulfilment.

According to Maslow, that’s the final goal.

But of course you can’t just jump to the top of the pyramid, you have to work your way up.

You can’t have Self Actualisation unless you have Self Esteem.

And you can’t have Self Esteem unless you have a feeling of Belonging.

And Belonging isn’t important until you have Freedom From Fear.

And Freedom From Fear can’t happen without the basics, usually listed as: Food, Water, Shelter.

So the first row, the most basic, is the ‘sine qua non’ – without which nothing.

If you don’t get level one handled you can’t move up to level two.

So that seems pretty obvious, a no-brainer.


In most versions of that chart I’ve seen, level one is listed as: Food, Water, Shelter.

The most basic physical requirements for life.

It’s typical of the academic mind to make an assumption.

To assume something is so obvious it’s taken for granted.

But when my kids were born I did a St John’s Ambulance course.

I learned basic first aid so that, if I needed to, I could keep my kids alive until I could get them to hospital.

The main thing they taught me was: attend to their breathing before anything else.

You’ve got a chance of keeping them alive as long as they’re breathing.

If they’re not breathing it doesn’t matter how many bandages or splints you put on.

No breathing = no life.

But most versions of the chart I’ve seen don’t have breathing as the first, most basic, level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Most versions I’ve seen just assume breathing, it’s taken for granted.

Making assumptions is what academics do.

There are a lot of academics working in advertising.

They make the assumption that people will notice whatever ad we run.

They take it as given.

So they only ever focus on the stuff higher up the pyramid.

But if the advertising doesn’t get noticed nothing else can happen.

Everything has to happen inside the consumers mind.

And if we don’t get noticed we won’t get into their mind.

And we know most advertising doesn’t get noticed.

So all that academic work higher up the pyramid is wasted.

That’s why I think the creative dept should leave the strategy to the marketing dept, the strategists.

I think the creative dept needs to remember its job: to make sure the advertising gets seen and noticed.

Sine qua non.


As a boy, Richard Feynman and his father used to go for walks in the woods.

One day he went with a friend instead, they saw a bird on a tree.

The boy asked Richard if he knew what the bird was called.

The young Feynman said he didn’t.

The boy said it was called a Brown-Throated Thrush.

The boy said Feynman’s father hadn’t taught him anything.

Feynman repeated the conversation to his father.

His father said “I could have told you that bird was called a Brown-Throated Thrush in English. I could have told you it was called a ‘Honto La Pero’ in Portugese, a ‘Chutera Pikita’ in Italian, a ‘Chong On Tok’ in Chinese, and an ‘Apatara Kupudecha’ in Japanese. And after all that, what would you know about that bird? Nothing. All you’d know is what different people call it. You wouldn’t know how it managed to fly, or where it came from, or where it went in winter, or how it built a nest and raised its young. You’d know nothing except what people called it”.

And that was the distinction that turned Richard Feynman into one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers.

That distinction he says was responsible for his Nobel Prize.

That learning words isn’t the same as learning.

Feynman developed a test to prove the difference between real knowledge and simply parrot-learning words.

The test is for us to talk about our subject without using the new word we’ve learned.

To prove we haven’t just memorised a word instead of really learning what it means.

Try it, have a discussion about a subject without using that word.

A good example for us, might be the word ‘brand’.

Have a discussion about brand without using that word.

Have a discussion about what it means, and what it can do for any client, without using that word.

That will show you whether you’ve understood what the word ‘brand’ means, or whether you’re just repeating it like a parrot.

If all we’ve learned is the word, then Feynman says we haven’t learned anything.

In the excellent Farnam Street blog, Shane Parrish quotes Montaigne: “We take other men’s knowledge and opinions upon trust, which is an idle and superficial learning. We must make them our own. We are just like a man who, needing fire, went to a neighbour’s house to fetch it, and finding a very good one there, sat down to warm himself without remembering to carry any back home. What good does it do us to have our belly full of meat if it is not digested, if it is not transformed into us, if it does not nourish and support us?”

Feynman won The Nobel Prize.

He didn’t do it just by parrot-learning words he’d heard others use.

He did it by understanding the thinking behind the words.

This made him able to take the thinking apart and rearrange it.

Which he couldn’t have done if he’d just learned the words.

That’s why he sees merely memorising and repeating words as the opposite of thinking.

Something we could all particularly do with learning.


Genesee Suicide

Mary Miller, a 35-year-old blonde, went up to the 8th floor of the Genesee hotel, opened a window and climbed onto the ledge.

She sat on the ledge.

A crowd gathered and when the police arrived, everyone assumed they’d talk her down.

But they didn’t.

A press photographer describes what happened:

“I snatched my camera from the car and took two quick shots as the young woman seemed to hesitate.

As quickly as possible I shoved the exposed film into the case and reached for a fresh holder.

I no sooner had pulled the slide out and got set for another shot than she waved to the crowd below and pushed herself into space.

Screams and shouts burst from the horrified onlookers as her body plummeted toward the street.

I took a firm grip on myself, waited until the woman passed the second or third story, and then I shot.”

There are two parts I find chilling about his account.

First is the way he waited.

Not taking the shot too early, waiting to get it just before she hit.

Not pressing the shutter at the fifth or sixth floor but making himself wait until the second or third floor.

Knowing it would make a better picture.

The other part I find chilling is the woman’s reaction.

She acknowledged the people who had turned up to watch her.

She politely waved goodbye, it would be rude not to.

She didn’t want people to think she was rude.

But something else should make the picture chilling for ad people.

When 100 people were shown that photo 96 didn’t see the woman.

They saw HOTEL, they saw FREE PARKING, they saw COFFEE SHOP, they even saw the striped barber’s pole.

But unprompted, they didn’t notice a woman falling.

Some, at a quick glance, thought it was a sign on the building.

They weren’t looking for anything unusual, so they didn’t see it.

They just saw what they expected: the obvious.

That reaction is a lesson for everyone in the communication business.

People aren’t waiting to interpret our clever messages.

People’s minds are concentrating on their own lives.

Before we can communicate with them we have to penetrate their world.

People aren’t waiting to engage with us and carefully decipher our ever-so-subtle wit.

They’re not waiting to work our ads out like a crossword clue.

We have to do the work of making them notice, otherwise they won’t.

It’s our job to make them notice.

It’s not their job to notice.


On May 8th 1945 Germany surrendered.

Japan was still fighting so World War Two wasn’t over.

But with the war still in progress, Britain held an election.

Everyone would vote whether Winston Churchill should stay as Prime Minister.

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion of course.

After six terrible years, it was Churchill who’d led Britain to victory.

When all seemed lost, he’d made speeches that gave everyone hope.

It took three weeks to count all the votes because the troops were still fighting abroad.

That didn’t worry Churchill and the Conservative party though.

They knew they’d be elected with a massive majority.

Except they weren’t.

They lost.

The Labour party got twice as many seats as the Conservatives.

Even though the war wasn’t over, Churchill was voted out.

It was called “the khaki election” because it was the armed forces vote that swung the result so dramatically.

At home, Churchill was seen as a hero.

But abroad, the troops didn’t see it like that.

They saw Churchill as a member of the ruling classes.

They remembered the previous war.

Five million men had volunteered to fight, and a million had died.

They’d been promised they were fighting for better lives.

But when they came home things were worse than ever.

There were no jobs, families were living in hovels, children were dying from starvation and disease.

These soldiers weren’t going to go through that again.

They’d done the fighting and dying, not Churchill, not his class.

The ruling class were happy Britain had won because things could go back to the status quo.

But the working class didn’t want to go back to the status quo.

This time they wanted real change.

The Labour party offered housing for everyone, a government that looked after the poor, the old, the sick and the unemployed.

That’s what the working class wanted.

But Churchill wasn’t having any of that.

That was Socialism, which for him was next to Communism.

Churchill hated the Communists more than the Nazis.

He made speeches telling the working class why they should steer clear of Socialism at all costs.

He was booed and jeered.

But Churchill and the Conservative party took no notice.

They had won the war and that was all anyone should care about.

Except it wasn’t, because there was a world outside their bubble.

Churchill in 1945, Kinnock in 1992, Milliband in 2015.

Each time these people were talking to themselves and their followers.

Each time they assumed their bubble was the world.

Each time they kept telling everyone what they thought they SHOULD want.

Rather than bother finding out what they DID want.

That’s bad marketing.

That’s misunderstanding what marketing does.

Marketing isn’t about selling people something, whether they want it or not.

Marketing is finding out what people actually want.

Then finding a way to match what they want with what we have to sell.


Nate Bolt is Research Manager at Facebook.

He says he learned a great lesson at college about the use and the mis-use of data.

Nate’s class was in the ‘Distributed Cognition Human Computer Interaction Laboratory, Department of Cognitive Science’.

Nate says the most influential lesson he was taught was the story of Abraham Wald.

Wald was a mathematics professor.

During World War 2, he was asked to work on a military problem.

The United States Air Force was losing too many bombers to enemy fire.

The planes obviously needed more armoured protection.

But they couldn’t armour the entire plane, it would be too heavy.

So data was collected from all the damaged planes that made it back.

The obvious reaction was to put the armour over the areas that were most damaged.

That was the obvious reaction to the data.

Abraham Wald said it was also exactly the wrong reaction to the data.

He said they were misinterpreting the data.

Where they should put the armour was around the undamaged areas.

Everyone thought he was nuts.

Wald explained the data revealed the bombers that made it back were all damaged in the same areas.

But they made it back even with that damage.

The more important data was all those that made it back were also UNdamaged in the same areas.

Which was a totally different way to look at the data.

Because it meant the undamaged areas were what allowed the planes to make it back.

The damage hadn’t stop any of those planes returning.

So the real problem must be damage to the areas that were undamaged on the planes that returned.

It felt wrong, a case of cognitive dissonance.

And yet logically it made sense.

Therefore the areas that should get the extra armour were exactly the areas that didn’t seem to need it.

This was a revolutionary way to interpret data.

It showed that data wouldn’t do the work for you.

That data was just information.

It needed a human brain to work out what it meant.

Nate Bolt said that lesson now dictates the way they use big data at Facebook.

He says “Everyone’s done data collection where you gather all the metrics but it’s easy to make the wrong inferences from data.

At Facebook, the thing we apply most is, there’s a creative part to understanding quantitative data that requires a sort of artistic or creative approach.”

So there you have it.

Nate says Facebook know data alone won’t give you the answer.

Facebook have more data than anyone on the planet.

But they know the numbers can only tell you what’s happening.

They can’t tell you why.

For that you need a human mind capable of creative thinking.


In 1963, Kit Lambert was a posh young chap making films.

He was particularly taken with French New Wave cinema.

He wanted to make films like that.

Films that weren’t just a dull, plodding, straight-line narrative.

He wanted to make dangerous films with onscreen montages that exploded over the audience.

But he was working at Shepperton and the sort of films he was working on were exactly the sort of films he didn’t want to make.

Then he met someone who felt the way he did.

Chris Stamp came from a totally different background, east London, but he also wanted to make dangerous films.

They decided a good place to start was a rock and roll group.

Chris Stamp said “Our idea was to find a group that would be rebellious, anarchistic and uniquely different from the established music scene.”

So they looked all over London for a dangerous band.

And eventually they found four unknown youngsters playing in The Railway Hotel at Harrow.

And Kit and Chris began shooting the film.

But they began having ideas about how the band could be even better, even more dangerous.

And the more unconventional the ideas, the better they worked.

Kit suggested the lead guitarist should swing his arm like a windmill, bashing the guitar instead of just strumming it.

It was unconventional but it looked spectacular.

Kit suggested they smash up their instruments on stage.

It was barmy, outrageous, incredibly wasteful.

But it drove the audience wild, they couldn’t get enough.

The group became so successful, Kit and Chris dropped the idea of making a film and just managed the group.

And the more dangerous they were the more famous they became.

Because they were totally different to everyone else around.

Eventually Kit came up with his craziest idea of all.

The guitarist should write an opera.

An opera, for a rock and roll band, what kind of a stupid idea was that?

But the lead singer said “We thought, at least it’s dangerous. Kit and Chris made us believe that if we made it dangerous anything would work.”

So they wrote the first rock and roll opera.

The guitarist who wrote the opera was Pete Townshend.

The opera was Tommy.

The band of course was the Who.

The album of that opera sold twenty million copies worldwide.

After Tommy, the Who became one of the biggest rock and roll bands of all time.

And it all started by trying to be dangerous.

Dangerous is another way of saying it hasn’t been done before.

It hasn’t been done because it’s a big risk.

And risks are dangerous.

It feels dangerous because you’re out of your comfort zone.

You stand out, you’re different to everyone else.

And, as we all know, it’s always more comfortable to do what everyone else is doing.


Potholes are a real drag for motorists, they ruin your tyres and your suspension.

For pedestrians they fill up with rainwater, so you get splashed.

But probably worst of all is for cyclists.

They can destroy your bike’s front wheel, you can land face first on the gravel, you can even end up under a lorry.

Everywhere potholes are a problem, everywhere councils ignore them.

Sure they’ll fix them, eventually, when they get around to it.

Which usually means months, sometimes a year later.

One cyclist in Bury, decided to elevate potholes up the council’s list of priorities.

He knew the council couldn’t be bothered about potholes.

But the council were red hot on covering up graffiti.

Graffiti left on display was like advertising that the council weren’t doing their job.

It was very visible so it was covered up immediately.

He decided to use graffiti to solve the pothole problem.

Wherever there was a large pothole in the road he sprayed a set of genitals round it.

Badly drawn – just balls and a knob, crude in every way.

But suddenly the pothole stood out.

Suddenly the potholes, which had previously been invisible to the council, were seen to be outraging public decency.

The potholes, which had been ignored for months, were repaired and the graffiti removed within forty-eight hours.

Because the council couldn’t have crude graffiti on display.

He signed his graffiti WANKSY.

And what he did worked.

Isn’t it amazing that the potholes, which were a threat to human life, could safely be ignored because they weren’t highly visible but the graffiti, which was only a threat to human decency, had to be removed immediately?

The graffiti was much more urgent than the potholes had been.

All because the graffiti was more visible.

So he used that visibility to bring attention to the problem.

In fact he brought so much attention to the problem, he even has his own fan page on Facebook.

People from as far away as Chicago and New York are thinking of copying him.

Even the Sun carried his story, under the headline: “SILLY BILLY’S ART-WILLIES HELP FILL IN POTHOLES”.

Of course the council hate what he’s doing.

But the potholes are filled in, and potentially lives are being saved.

Which is a great lesson for all of us.

What gets action is what gets attention.

What gets attention is what gets seen seen.

So being visible, being impactful, is the most important part of any communication designed to change behaviour.

Can we think of any other sort of communication where that might be relevant?

That’s right, it’s called advertising.

Most advertising works like the potholes before the graffiti.

It doesn’t upset anyone, it doesn’t call attention to anything, it avoids any hint of controversy, it’s bland and safe.

Which is why most advertising doesn’t work.

It doesn’t change behaviour because it doesn’t even get noticed.

It can safely be ignored.

As they say in New York “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil”.


Politicians have been in a rush to use marketing.

They know marketing sells things.

They want to win an election, which is the same as selling something.

Fair enough.

But where this logic falls down is not all marketing is good marketing.

Politicians haven’t worked this out yet.

But surely that’s the whole point of being a client: knowing the difference between good marketing and bad marketing.

Like anything else: good works, bad doesn’t.

The point about marketing is, it’s not about what you want to say.

It’s about what your market (people) needs to hear.

What they need to hear are two things:

1) Clear and Simple

2) What makes you different

Bad marketing people don’t understand this.

Ed Miliband didn’t understand this.

He just said what he wanted, instead of sticking to those 2 rules.

He decided a great stunt would be to have his pledges carved in stone.

Then he fell in love with that gimmick.

He went on TV in front of a ten-foot tall block of stone.

But the important thing is WHAT you have carved in stone.

Ed had SIX pledges carved in stone.

So that’s ‘Clear and Simple’ out the window straight away.

Clear and Simple must mean a single, easily understandable thought.

Six pledges isn’t that.

It’s refusing to prioritise what is the thing that makes you different.

Which brings us to point two, ‘What makes you different?’

Identifying that is surely the whole point of a marketing department.

Otherwise what do they do, just make a list?

Well it seems the answer is yes.

They just make a list.

Here is what Ed Miliband cast in stone.

1) A STRONG ECONOMIC FOUNDATION (Okay, who wouldn’t claim that? Everyone from the Greens to UKIP would claim a strong economy, so it doesn’t make you different.)

2) HIGHER LIVING STANDARDS FOR WORKING FAMILIES (Again, everyone would claim this, it’s so bland as to be meaningless. They could have said ‘The rich should pay more” but they didn’t want to alienate anyone.)

3) AN NHS WITH TIME TO CARE (Could have been their single, clear thought: ‘Save The NHS’. But it was lost in a bland expression.)

4) CONTROLS ON IMMIGRATION (I thought this was UKIP’s position. Is it there to say “Labour does that too”, if so, how does it make you different?)

5) A COUNTRY WHERE THE NEXT GENERATION CAN DO BETTER THAN THE LAST (Again, everyone claims this, it’s vaguely about opportunity. Will you do anything different, if so why not say what that is?)

6) HOMES TO BUY AND ACTION ON RENTS (Two thoughts in one, why not “Homes for all, not just the rich”? Probably because they don’t want to alienate homeowners, so why say it if you can’t say it powerfully?)

What you are left with is a message “Carved In Stone” that tries to say everything to everyone.

It avoids differentiation in case it offends anyone.

It isn’t marketing, it’s just a list: a mind dump.

Thinking that a gimmick, like carving something in stone, is more important than what you carve in stone.

When a few simple words on paper would have been more powerful.

If they were the right words.

Which is marketing’s job.

As David Ogilvy said “The essence of strategy is sacrifice”.


When I was young, doctors recommended protein powder for OAPs.

Old people often forgot to eat, and so they missed meals.

Protein powder helped stop them wasting away.

So protein powder was for old people.

As I grew up I began seeing protein powder in health shops.

They were selling it to body builders as a way to grow muscle.

That’s quite a shift in marketing terms.

Suddenly it was being sold in a niche market to people who exercised.

But then the real Copernican shift happened.

It’s called a ‘Copernican shift’ because, until 1543, the sun had been thought to revolve around the earth.

Copernicus proved the earth revolved around the sun and, changing that perception in our minds, he changed everything.

So it was with protein powder.

Marketing people knew protein powder was about meal replacement.

People take it when they’ve missed a meal.

So the smart ones thought: what is the massive untapped opportunity that exists around people missing meals?


People who want to lose weight.

The way to lose weight is to cut out meals.

So exactly the reason behind selling protein powder to the elderly can be used to sell it to everyone who wants to lose weight.

A safe way to cut out meals.

Now of course protein powder won’t actually help you stop eating.

All it can do is replace the protein you may have missed.

But they can legitimately claim that protein powder “can help you lose weight as part of a weight loss programme”.

And the diet industry is a massive market.

In 2014, in the UK alone, 29 million people were trying to lose weight, and spending two billion pounds a year doing it.

Which brings us up to date: Protein World.

Protein World spent around £250k on posters on the tube.

Not a big campaign.

A shot of a girl in a bikini and the line ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?

But the posters have been defaced, and vilified across social media.

They’ve become a huge news story in the press and on TV.

Sixty thousand people were so outraged they petitioned the tube to take down the posters.

The coverage across all the media was worth millions of pounds.

In fact Protein World say it got five thousand new customers in just four days.

So controversy can be good.

But what interests me is that all the controversy has only served to target Protein World as the focus for anger at encouraging people to lose weight.

That means Protein World now has virtual ownership of the weight loss sector, in the consumer’s mind.

Even though it clearly says “Meal Replacement Supplement” on the poster.

In other words, it’s a weasel: it won’t help you stop eating.

You have to have the willpower to cut out eating yourself, this won’t do it for you.

But of course no one sees that bit.

They see: thin body, Protein World, I want some.

That’s quite a marketing coup for protein powder.

To move from old people to category ownership of beautiful bodies.


Toffs and Toughs

For most of us this famous picture represents the two sides of Britain.

On the one side, inherited wealth, enormous privilege, and smugness.

On the other side, the rest of us: a mixture of curiosity and envy.

But the interesting thing is, none of that is actually in the picture.

That’s all in our minds.

For people in the communication business, this is an example of the image-maker manipulating the viewer’s subjectivity.

The picture was taken outside Lord’s Cricket Ground in 1937.

Once a year, Eton and Harrow played a cricket match.

It was compulsory for the boys to attend and to wear formal dress.

After the match they could go home.

That’s what the two boys on the left were doing, waiting for their parents to pick them up.

The three local boys on the right had bunked off school.

Whenever there was a match at Lord’s they could make some money.

Spectators hired cushions and had to leave a three pence deposit.

If they forgot to return the cushions, the boys collected them up, and got the money.

One of the boys said “We made about two shillings that day”.

The local boys weren’t particularly interested in the boys from Harrow until a photographer called them over.

He said “You lads, come over and stand here looking at these boys, now get a bit closer” – click.

That was the end of it.

Then it appeared in the paper under the headline “Toffs and Toughs”, just a humorous shot.

But over the years it’s assumed a lot more meaning than that, it’s come to represent the arrogant superiority of the ‘ruling classes’.

And yet it wasn’t really that at all.

The sister of the boy on the far left said “When we saw the picture in the paper we laughed because they both looked so fed up. But now it’s become known for all the wrong reasons”.

The interesting thing from our point of view is that we’re never truly looking at an image, we’re looking at what’s in our mind.

And how the artist/designer/photographer chooses to dictate that.

We’re only ever looking at that interpretation.

For instance, here’s what happened to the people in that picture.

The three boys on the right went on to live long and happy lives as a warehouseman, a civil servant, and a window-cleaner.

The boy on the far left grew up suffering from mental problems, and eventually died in an asylum.

The tallest boy, in the middle, died from diphtheria a year after the picture was taken, in India, age 16.

Now you have that information, look at the picture again.

It doesn’t look the same, does it?

Campaign Jobs