IT WORKS IN PRACTICE, BUT DOES IT WORK IN THEORY?

Years ago we started an agency called BST.
Me, Paul Bainsfair and John Sharkey got a big French agency, BDDP, to back us.
Their creative head was Jean Marie Dru and he wanted to meet me to discuss advertising.
The two of us sat in a room and he explained his theory to me.
His theory was called ‘Disruption’.
Basically, advertising should be different to its category.
In other words it should stand out from the advertising around it.
I nodded.
And I waited for the rest.
But that was it, the rest was just examples of how advertising worked better if it was different to what was around it.
I kept waiting for the next bit.
After about half an hour I realised there wasn’t going to be a next bit.
That was it.
Advertising had to be different to what was around it.
I gradually realised that, to Jean Marie Dru, this seemed an amazingly original thought.
In fact, he even wrote a book about it.
In the book, he backed up the theory with examples from all the great New York agencies.
Showing again and again that advertising worked better if it broke the category rules.
If it stood out from the advertising around it.
I sat there fidgeting.
In my head I’m saying the following: “Of course it bloody works better if it’s different. Does anyone, anywhere, expect it to work better if it’s the same? If your advertising looks exactly like everyone else’s advertising how the hell does it stand an earthly chance of even getting seen?
Being different is just the start point. We all know that.”
But that’s where I was wrong.
His brilliance was in spotting that we didn’t all know that.
In fact, outside the creative department, hardly anyone knew that.
Being different was seen by most marketing people as risky, even irresponsible, behaviour.
At the time I couldn’t see it.
At the time it was just too obvious for me.
Without being different you wouldn’t even get noticed.
And as Bill Bernbach said “If no one notices your advertising, everything else is academic.”
So of course, to me that’s just the start point.
But many years later I heard Rory Sutherland explain the brilliance in that theory.
Rory said “Creative people have a fear of the obvious, but they must sell their work to people who have a love of the obvious”.
And in my head it went ‘ping’.
I hadn’t seen the problem, that marketing people distrusted anything different.
They thought creative people just wanted to be different for different’s sake.
They didn’t understand the reason creatives constantly fought not to be part of the wallpaper.
The brilliance of ‘Disruption’ was that it gave legitimacy to being different.
Suddenly ‘standing out from the environment’ had credibility, because it had a theory: case studies, numbers, evidence.

And, in marketing, theory is often more important than practice.

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