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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?


I’ve just seen the freshest piece of advertising I’ve seen in years.

But it wasn’t advertising.

At least not in the sense the new media gurus mean: mobile-optimised, content-curation, storytelling, native advertising, big data, multi-screen experience, video-play platform.

Nope, it was about as old-fashioned and traditional as you can get.

It was just some buskers standing in the street singing.

Two blokes and a girl with guitars and another bloke with an upturned bucket, singing to people walking by.

You can’t get much more traditional than that, can you.

We had minstrels singing before we had marketing, before we had technology, before we even had electricity.

So how could that possibly be fresh?

Well, just listen to the lyrics:

(Verse 1)

“I don’t give to the Big Issue seller, cos he’s probably on heroin.

I just walk past him with a grin, and if I can I kick his dog.

And I don’t give to the busker, Cos he’s talentless and lazy.

He’s ruining the country, I think he should get a job.”


“Instead I give my money to:

Walmart for their tax evasion.

Primark for its child labour.

Texaco for their next invasion.

And I don’t give a fuck about you.

I give my money to billionaires.

I give my money to billionaires.

I give my money to billionaires.

And I don’t give a fuck about you.”

(Verse 2)

“I don’t give to the beggar, that’s what I pay my taxes for.

The government should shove him through the door of a prison cell or a hospital.

I don’t give to the homeless piss-head,

cos he’ll blow it all on booze instead.

Such a waster doesn’t deserve a bed.

Waddya mean: welfare is dead?”


“Instead I give my money to:

Starbucks in case they get hard up.

BP, making a living ain’t easy.

Barclays, they look after me.

And I don’t give a fuck about you.

I give my money to billionaires.

I give my money to billionaires.

I give my money to billionaires.

And I don’t give a fuck about you.”

What we see here is product, brand, and message in complete harmony (pun intended).

You have the media mix, awareness through to point-of-sale, reach to penetration, working seamlessly.

Context and content complementing each other.

All the consumer insights about why people don’t give to buskers are addressed in the lyrics.

The chance to prove you’re not like that is right in front of you.

The song is about choosing sides.

Of course some people won’t even listen.

That’s okay.

You don’t waste time talking to core non-users.

But, given the choice, most people would rather not give money to corrupt billionaires.

So that’s what these buskers do: they present the argument and give you the choice.

At exactly the place you can vote with what’s in your pocket.

That’s what makes it great advertising.


Chris Blackwell was born in Jamaica and went to school in England.

When he went home to Jamaica he tried various jobs, but didn’t like any of them.

The only thing he loved was Jamaican music.

So in 1958, at age 21, he decided to start recording it.

He formed his own record label called Island.

But he couldn’t sign the big Jamaican names because they wouldn’t sign to a small label.

Blackwell knew he had to offer something different.

He knew in England there were lots of Jamaican immigrants who couldn’t buy the music they loved from home.

So Blackwell asked the Jamaican stars if they’d let him distribute their records on his label in London.

They had nothing to lose, so they agreed.

Blackwell came back to London and drove his Mini round the record shops where the Jamaican immigrants lived.

He began selling Ska records to the shops from the boot of his car.

Which helped make something else happen.

At that time the fashion was Mods, who thought West Indians were cool so their music must be, they began buying it too.

And Blackwell helped Ska cross over into white English culture.

But he wanted to start recording his own artists.

One singer he’d heard had a strange high-pitched voice, a fifteen-year-old girl called Millie Small, she was different.

Blackwell signed her, and got her to record My Boy Lollipop.

It sold six million copies worldwide.

Then Blackwell heard about a band above a pub in Birmingham, he said “The lead singer sounded like Ray Charles on helium”.

They were so different Blackwell signed them.

The singer was Steve Winwood, and Blackwell got him to record a rock version of a Ska song “Keep On Running”.

Their record pushed the Beatles out of the number one spot.

Then Blackwell heard a group called the Wailers playing reggae.

They wanted to move towards the current American black sound: slick and smooth like disco.

But Blackwell wanted them to go the other way: be different.

He pushed them towards rough and raw: a black rock band.

Rock music had guitar solos, reggae didn’t.

So Blackwell had Bob Marley add guitar solos and make the lyrics harder, more political.

Bob Marley’s album Exodus stayed in the charts for 56 weeks.

Blackwell found another group that couldn’t find a label.

He signed them simply because they were different and had “spirit and force”.

Their first albums failed and they thought it was all over.

But Blackwell thought they were different enough to be worth sticking with.

Their fourth album, Joshua Tree, went to number one around the entire world.

That group was U2.

Amongst the artists on Chris Blackwell’s Island Records were:

Amy Winehouse, Tom Waits, Roxy Music, the Cranberries, Cat Stevens, The B 52s, Pulp, Paul Weller, Nirvana, Ultravox, Tricky, Keane, Grace Jones, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Traffic, Free, King Crimson, John Cale, Jim Capaldi, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Toots & The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Robert Palmer, The Pogues, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Florence & The Machine, George Michael, Robbie Williams, Georgie Fame, Malcolm McLaren, Bon Jovi, Jamie Cullum, Elkie Brooks, The Slits, and Derek & Clive.

Over 300 artists, and all they had in common was they were different.

Chris Blackwell built Island Records into “The most diverse independent record label in history”.

In 1989, he sold it for £200 million, around £1 billion today.

Because of something we could all learn: different is worth more than the same.


Economic Progressivism sounds like a difficult concept.

It sounds complicated but, like anything, it needn’t be.

Not if you put it in plain language.

Like anything it just needs explaining in terms your audience can understand.

Economic Progressivism just means wealth redistribution.

Taking a bit more from the people who have the most and giving it to the people who have the least.

But to Americans that sounds like socialism.

And, particularly to Americans, that’s a dirty word.

It sounds like taking money away from people who’ve worked hard for it and giving it to layabouts who won’t work.

But Elizabeth Warren saw it differently.

She wanted to be elected Senator for Massachusetts.

She was a Democrat so, unlike the Republicans, she didn’t believe in massive wealth just for the few.

In America, the top 1% has more than the entire bottom 90%.

She didn’t think that was fair.

But she knew a logical appeal using numbers wouldn’t work.

It was cold and remote.

She needed to put it in her audience’s language.

So she explained it like this:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody.

You built a factory out there – good for you.

But I want to be clear, you moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for.

You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.

You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.

You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea – God bless.

Keep a hunk of it.

But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Suddenly everyone could see that no one got rich on their own.

Entrepreneurs could only become successful because of what everyone else had contributed.

If entrepreneurs were willing to take advantage of what everyone else had contributed it was only fair they help pay for other people to have that chance too.

Elizabeth Warren put it in her audience’s language.

Suddenly, it not only became understandable it became commendable.

It summarised the good things America was about.

Free enterprise and the chance to make a fortune, but also fairness.

Recognising who gave you the break and paying it back.

That’s something we all need to learn about communication.

Whatever we’re talking about, whoever we’re talking to, we need to put it in their language, not ours.

Not just make sure we explain it in a way that we think makes sense.

But make sure that they get it.

Shortly after making that speech, Elizabeth Warren was elected the first female Senator for Massachusetts.


(From ‘THE OTAGO DAILY TIMES’ – New Zealand.)
“We were trapped for thirteen hours in our own car” Brian Smith explained to reporters in Alexandra, “and the emergency services told us that we’d have died if we’d been there for another half hour.
It’s a keyless car, so when the door was shut and we didn’t have the transponder key, we couldn’t get out.
We tried to smash the window with a car jack, and we sounded our horn, but it was Guy Fawkes Night and nobody noticed it, due to fireworks.
We were trapped.
By morning, my wife Molljeanne was unconscious and I was struggling to breathe, when neighbours finally rescued us and took us to hospital.
I’ve since been shown that I could have opened the door manually with the door handle, but I didn’t know that then.
I thought the doors would only work with the transponder, so I didn’t try the handle.
I think all owners of keyless cars need to educate themselves in how to operate their car.”
So let’s get this right.
This guy and his wife sat in their car for thirteen hours and nearly died because it didn’t occur to them to try the door handle.
That sounds pretty stupid, we’d never do that would we.
And yet we do it every day.
We are so overwhelmed by how complicated we’ve made everything we’ve lost the ability to use simple plain old common sense.
No wonder creative departments are confused.
What exactly is their job?
Is it: native advertising, content curation, storytelling or ideation, big data or hyper local, demographics or psychographics, semiotics, neuro-linguistics, or behavioural economics, choice architecture, cognitive dissonance, loss aversion bias, the sunk-cost heuristic, hyperbolic discounting, or confirmation bias, CRM, SEO, KPI, RPI, or CSR?
In fact they’re expected to know about all of these.
And yet.
Recently, Tim Bell was giving a talk on political advertising.
He and Saatchi helped Thatcher win three elections in a row.
They know all about the complicated world of political advertising.
Tim said this:
“There are two strategies in political advertising.
Either: It’s time to change.
Or: It’s not time to change.”
Tim and Saatchis won Thatcher three elections in a row by keeping it simple.
One of the simple things Tim understands is the difference between advertising and marketing.
Advertising isn’t marketing.
Advertising is the voice of marketing.
But most advertising people don’t know that.
Consequently a lot of advertising looks like a marketing mood film with a two second logo on the end.
It keeps everyone in the client’s marketing department happy.
It ticks all the boxes.
And it’s bland and invisible to the consumer.
Because everyone forgot the simple job.
Will ordinary people notice it?
Why should they buy it?
We don’t ask those questions because everything is too complicated.

It never occurs to us to try the door handle.


In 1957, a billion Chinese were going hungry.

Mao Zedong couldn’t admit this was because of the failings of his communist agricultural policies.

The reason must be something else.

He heard that sparrows were eating lots of grain.

That must be the reason.

So began ‘The Great Sparrow Campaign’.

The people must do whatever was necessary to rid China of sparrows.

That way the people would have plenty to eat.

It became everyone’s responsibility to help wipe out sparrows.

Masses of schoolchildren were taken on outings to destroy nests, to smash eggs, to kill chicks.

Everyone with any kind of gun was told to shoot sparrows wherever they saw them.

Poison was put wherever sparrows lived.

The Chinese organised in thousands to visit the areas where the sparrows gathered.

They did anything to stop them landing in the trees.

They made vast amounts of noise: sounding horns, thumping drums, even banging old pots and pans.

Propaganda films of the period show entire villages participating right across China.

They wouldn’t let the sparrows land and eventually the sparrows exhausted themselves and dropped to earth dead.

All over China, towns and villages were given recognition for the amount of sparrows they killed.

One day alone, in Shanghai, they killed 198,000.

Eventually, sparrows in China were eradicated, around two billion birds.

So that was the end of the problem, now food would be plentiful.

Well not quite.

What Mao Zedong hadn’t allowed for was what else the sparrows ate, besides grain.

They ate locusts.

Without the sparrows, the locusts had nothing to stop them.

They multiplied on a massive scale.

And locusts were many times more destructive than sparrows.

Plagues of locusts took over huge areas of Chinese farmland.

Each swarm covering hundreds of square miles made up of trillions of locusts.

It resulted in the Great Famine.

Which resulted in thirty million people dead from starvation.

Which created a new problem: what could be done to control the locusts?

The only solution was for China to import millions of sparrows from Communist Russia.

To try to put everything back the way it had been.

Because the solution had been worse than the problem.

Which is pretty much what’s happened to advertising.

Advertising was good, but we were looking for a way to make it better.

So we had to replace intuition and normal common-sense.

We had to make everything rational and verifiable, measurable and accountable, sensible and scientific.

And what happened?

We killed off the intuitive, the common-sense, the fun.

Advertising became formulaic, dull, invisible and predictable.

We killed off the sparrows and the locusts were worse.

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