I was talking to an American the other day.He was a big, loud, funny guy and he had on a nice suit.

He was Jewish, and he was from Brooklyn.

He was in the oil import/export trade, and I asked him how business was.

He said, “It’s really interesting: these WASPY guys from the CIA came to see me.”I asked him what they wanted.He said, “These super-straight, buttoned-down guys came to my house.They said they’d noticed that I did a lot of travelling to the middle east.They wanted to know if I’d gather intelligence for them.”I said, “What did you say?”He said, “What do you think, I’m crazy? I told them I wouldn’t actively go out of my way, but if I saw anything I thought they could use, I’d let them know about it.”I said, “What did they say to that?”He said, “They asked what sort of thing I thought I could spot that might be useful.”I said, “What did you tell them?”He said, “Usually when the main fuel dump is half full they call up one of my tankers to come in and top it up.Supposing the fuel dump is completely empty, and they want the tankers to come and refill it? That could be because they’ve just filled up all their military vehicles ready for an invasion. I said I could tip them off about that?”I said, “What did they say?”

He said, “They were very impressed. They said that was really clever thinking and where exactly were these oil dumps?

And that’s when I realised, the CIA is never going to be any good until we get some guys from Brooklyn running it.”

I feel the same way about advertising.

Everybody’s studying marketing, reading the case histories, learning the rules.Everyone’s heads are full of what they are and aren’t allowed to do.So everyone is doing pretty much the same as everyone else.

One of the things you learn in Brooklyn is not to do that.Not to play by the rules.In the poorest part of a big city the rules are the toughest guy wins.So if you’re not the toughest guy how can you win?You learn to use your brain instead of your fists.You learn to out think people.You learn to turn things to your advantage.

And that’s exactly what we should do in advertising.

How can we out think the competition?How can we turn what looks like a problem into an advantage?An unfair advantage.Because all advantage is unfair.

Otherwise it wouldn’t be an advantage.

I was walking through Hampstead this morning on the way to work.A father was helping his son into school with his sports kit.“May the best team win” he said as he waved goodbye.

I thought, you wouldn’t hear that in Brooklyn.

  • http://www.haimediagroup.com Lisa Devaney

    Brooklyn rules! I miss it and the hilarious people it produces.


    Reminds me of something I read about how leading professors had mathematically proved in the mid ’70’s that Warren Buffett’s ability to outperform the market every year had to be luck – nobody could consistently beat the average, especially some guy from Nebraska not Wall Street. They didn’t see that Buffett wasn’t playing by market rules.

  • http://www.withus-recruit.com Andy Knell

    An over-regulated industry and numbingly conservative clients have provided the ideal cover for the middle-of-the-road creative output that often goes for work around here. Rather than focusing on brave new thinking that pushes or indeed ignores these boundaries, we are being left behind by the emerging creative markets in reputation and awards.

    I subscribe to spending some time immersed in other communities and surrounded by different cultures and mindsets – South American and Asian work spring to mind. London is not the creative centre of the universe anymore and we can certainly learn a thing or two from our International neighbours. I’ll be in the Middle East, Central Europe and South America this year doing just that.

  • http://davidwatts1978.tumblr.com/ David Watts1978

    I just moved back from living in Brooklyn for 2 yrs, it is an exciting place, brimming with life and characters……. London could learn much from Kings County, most of it unprintable here sadly. Settling back into England right now is interesting, I saw Stephen Fry on Jonathan Ross describe the phrase “only in America” as celebrating hope, possibility, excitement and pride and the phrase “only in England” of course celebrating moaning, despair, problems and recently the snow….. in Brooklyn of course they (we) say “only in Brooklyn” and it means the same as “only in America” but at “11”.

  • Dave Trott

    It’s true what you say David.
    My art school was in New York and it was a revelation going there.
    In England, my schools had concentrated on finding out what I was bad at, and trying to get me up to an acceptable level.
    In New York, my college concentrated on finding out what was good at and making me great at it.
    So I got turned down by 7 art schools before I went to America,
    When I came back those same art schools paid me to go and lecture there.
    As you say, America has a ‘can do’ culture, we have a ‘can’t do’ culture.

  • Max Harrington

    What a refreshing blog. More Dave. Lots more.

  • gotnoteef

    a ‘can’t do attitude’ – not sure about that (and I was pretty-much with you up to that point) – but an over-eager rush towards doing ourselves down: I can see where that idea came from.
    Me, I’m havign none of it. This is a great country with a good many things to be positive about and I quite like it.
    No, London is not the creative centre of the universe; but when was it?
    It’s bull to think that creativity can be condensed in to one city, or district (Brooklyn or wherever) – open you eyes and look around you – creativity and inspiration are everywhere, you just have to get a different angle on things and open up. Take a lead from latin ideas, from emerging economies, from the wealth of history, from design, architecture, sounds, nature and experience and then do something unique with it. Twist. (running close to sounding like a nutty-evangelist)
    Attitude has nothing to do with where you were born – I can be just as much of a bolshy R-sole creative-type as anyone from NY, E2, Buenos Airies or wherever – and I live in CV33 (a creative hot-spot?) – 3 miles south of the middle of nowhere!
    Self belief, self esteem and a will to take things on – to stand against the staus-quo (and other 3-chord rock) – to take his own view – that’s what the big-guy from Brooklyn has – and it ain’t in the water, it’s in the soul. Your geography has nothing to do with it – other than something to blame.

    ** And no, I’m not an agency award winner with gongs or medals or decorations for my mantle-piece – that stuff doesn’t really matter to me – but I’m good at my job and I take a creative approach that gets results – so life is sweet: even in dear old Blighty.

  • Dave Trott

    Hi Gotnoteef,
    Some people think it’s not just a matter of were someone’s from, but also what religion they are..
    Check out this quote I just got from a French article on advertising.
    She’s explaining why US and UK ads are better than French.
    “We’re not a Protestant culture,” said Stéphane Martin, director of the French union for television advertisements. “So we have difficulty accepting successful people and embracing advertising as a means of selling.”
    Does this mean Anglo=Saxons are cruder and more venal?

  • john woods

    Hi Dave
    I’m guessing you don’t mean literally and are talking an attitude of mine?
    Do you think part of the problem has been that, in our desire to try something new and exotic from foreign climes, we’ve lost sight of what we are really good at? Don’t get me wrong I’m not completely knocking the influence ‘outsiders’ such as Juan Cabral and his ilk have had. I thought the Sony work was great but unfortunately everybody wants to get on the same bandwagon. Somehow all this artsy stuff has become de rigeur and I don’t think it is in touch with the great British public. I am reminded of that sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as they ate their sandwiches in an Art gallery. Their conversation wasn’t esoteric it was mocking in nature. “Bloody Greta Garbo. You could see the whites of her knuckles.” We Brits love to mock. It’s what we are good at. It’s in our dna. Something advertising once tapped into and I think needs to again if we are to truly bring back the good old days of British advertising that truly connected with it’s people.

  • John W.

    Ha. Perhaps that was a freudian slip. I meant attitude of mind.

  • Dave Trott

    Hi John,
    Here’s an interesting thing I just looked up.
    The Guardian sells 350,000, the Sun sells 3,000,000 (over 8 x).
    Guardian readership is 1.2 million, Sun readership is 8 million (over 6 x).

  • gotnoteef

    I like your posts Dave – some of them flirt with random, but that just keeps you thinking and looking for the angles – all good food for the mind.

  • John W.

    As ever you have summed it up in a nutshell. Advertising has to be in touch with the common man.

  • Dave Trott

    I was talking to Peter Cook once (we were shooting an ad) and he read every newspaper every day.
    I asked him if he could only get one newspaper what would it be,
    He said The Sun and The Guardian.
    Interesting thing, The Sun is the biggest selling paper.
    But The Mail is the biggest selling paper anmongst people who only buy one paper.
    About a quarter of The Sun’s sales are people who buy a serious paper, and buy The Sun for a laugh.
    I think taht’s where advertising is at today.
    All Guardian and no Sun.

  • John W.

    It is the time of Aquarius. I reckon we should let the sunshine in.

  • John W.

    Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser. – Vincent T Lombardi

  • Dave Trott

    My favourite Vince Lombardi quote is when the Green Bay Packers were losing and they were sitting in the dressing room dreading the team talk.
    They waited and waited and Lombardi never came.
    Eventually their door opened and he stuck his head in.
    He just said, “Oh, excuse me ladies, I’m looking for the Green Bay Packers’ changing room.” And he shut the door.

  • John W.

    Excellent Dave,

    I must admit I came to the loser quote via John McEnroe though.

    The coach (creative director) can succeed in getting his players to regularly commit acts which are the physical and psychological equivalents of racing a car at full speed into a brick wall — not once, but over and over again, month after month — by building belief. The belief of indestructibility, the belief of moral superiority, the belief of Divine favor. Also without a large dollop of Barnum in his makeup, the football coach is nothing more than a teacher who has taken a disastrous career detour, as Lombardi’s successor at Green Bay, Phil Bengston, discovered.

  • Dave Trott

    Funny you should mention a brick wall John.
    When Jack Charlton was manager at Middlesborough they were a really good team, and everyone said the players would run through brick walls for him.

  • John W.

    I guess that some would ask what was the trick to such displays but I would always say the trick is not minding.

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