Jamie Oliver was giving a TED talk.
He delivered statistics on American children and obesity.
He gave numbers for various diseases caused by unhealthy diet.
He showed slides with bar graphs of life expectancy.
He talked in detail about the additives in foods.
The statistics were impressive.
The trouble is, impressive as they are, they’re still numbers.
They’re abstract.
Then he walked over to a wheelbarrow on stage.
He said “The milk they drink in school has to be flavoured. It’s got as much sugar in it as a can of Coke.”
He dipped a spoon into the stack of sugar in the wheelbarrow and started throwing spoonfuls over the stage.
He said “That means this much sugar every day.”
He grabbed a glass and started scooping up sugar and emptying it onto the stage.
He said “That means this much sugar every week.”
Then he tipped the entire contents of the wheelbarrow over the stage.
It spilled everywhere, even into the audience.
He said “Over the first five years of elementary school they get this much sugar just from their free school milk.”
The audience gasped.
The wheelbarrow full of sugar did more than all the statistics.
It stood out, it got their attention.
They’ll remember that.
When Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air he had lots of statistics. About speed and capacity, pixels, RAM, processors, weight, size.
Probably impressive, but repetitive and dry.
So he didn’t use them.
Instead he said “Ladies and gentlemen, the MacBook Air is the thinnest laptop in the world.”
And he popped it into a manila envelope.
A computer in a little paper envelope?
Everyone gasped.
They got it: this was revolutionary, amazing, unbelievable.
It hit home in a way none of the numbers could have.
Richard Branson started Virgin Records recording arm on the back of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.
He hired the Queen Elizabeth Hall for a live concert to launch it.
This was so important he even drove Mike Oldfield there himself, in his Bentley.
Suddenly Mike Oldfield had a panic attack.
He started hyperventilating, he said they had to stop the car.
He couldn’t go onstage.
Richard Branson had a theatre with an audience of thousands, plus musicians, the world’s press, and television cameras.
He could have read reams of statistics to Mike Oldfield.
About money spent so far, manufacturing and distribution costs, probable future income, worldwide sales, gross and net profits.
He didn’t do any of that.
He took the keys out of the ignition.
He held them up to Mike Oldfield and said “If you go ahead with this concert, the Bentley’s yours. Think about it”.
Mike Oldfield didn’t take long to think about it.
He took the keys and did the concert.
Tubular bells became one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
And Branson built a recording empire on the back of it that he sold to EMI for a billion dollars.
Numbers and facts aren’t anything until you bring them to life.

Until you find a way to make them real, to real people.


    You’re spot on Dave.  Rule 19 of the Rules of Magic states ‘People put more reliance on something they have worked out for themselves’.  Steve Jobs and the MacBook Air is one of the prime real life examples of that principle.  He gives us all the measurements, together with a nice little comparison diagram.  It appears very thin.  But seeing it coming out of the envelope is the convincer – the audience can work out for themselves just how thin it really is. 

    • Dave Trott

      Exactly Nick.
      Houdini is someone else advertising can learn a lot from.
      Like Jobs he knew the tension can be more important than the reveal.

Campaign Jobs