Susan Blakemore wrote ‘The Meme Machine’.
She says a meme isn’t simply something that occurs on the Internet, like LOL-cats or hashtags.
In Wikipedia it’s defined as follows:
“A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through, writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena.”
Put simply, a meme is something that catches on.
Susan Blackmore gives an example of a meme in everyday life.
She shows a photo of a toilet in a backpacker’s hostel in Malaysia.
The toilet is very basic of course, tatty, well worn, but clean.
We don’t notice anything unusual until she points out the toilet roll.
The corners of the first sheet have been folded over.
She shows various photos of the same thing, the first sheet of toilet paper with the corners folded.
In a hostel in Shanghai, in a toilet on a Japanese train, in an outdoor toilet in Thailand,
Why is it happening everywhere, what does it signify?
Well to most of us it signifies that we will be the first person to use that toilet since it was cleaned.
But when did that become a sign?
Personally, I first noticed it several years ago.
At home, we had a cockney cleaning lady called Carole.
Her sons paid for her to have a holiday in a nice New York hotel.
Carole noticed that every day after the cleaning staff had finished, they folded the corners on the first sheet on the toilet roll.
Carole had never seen that before.
But she liked it and remembered it.
She thought it looked professional even though it cost nothing.
When she came back, she began doing it to our toilet rolls.
It was Cariole’s way of signifying that she’d done her job: that room was now clean and ready to use.
I didn’t know it had caught on until I saw Susan Blackmore’s talk.
But that’s exactly how a meme works.
No one tells us what it means, but we see it and we get it.
We like it so we use it.
Then, other people do the same and it gets into the language.
Without ever being explained, or discussed, or taught.
Another meme would be the heart symbol.
We see it everywhere, especially on Valentine’s Day cards.
But in medieval times it was a heraldic device used on shields and banners.
At some point it became the universal symbol for love.
Then it was carved into trees.
And now, it even substitutes for the word itself: “I (heart) NY”.
The extended middle finger would be another meme.
It’s believed to be an ancient Italian gesture, indicating homosexuality.
Immigrants took it to New York with them.
It was adopted as a universal insult and spread across America.
And spread, via American films, across the world.
That’s what a meme is, a symbol that catches on and communicates.
That’s how semiotics works, that’s how language works.
That’s how all communication works.
If we want our work to catch on, we need to study memes.

Read more on I HEART MEMES…


A while back, a man went into a Target supermarket in Minneapolis.
He asked for the manager.
He said “I find this offensive. Your store has sent this leaflet, personally addressed to my teenage daughter.
Coupons for maternity clothing, nursery furniture, baby-clothes, baby milk, diapers.
My daughter is still in school, what are you trying to do, encourage her to get pregnant?”
It seemed like a mistake so the manager apologised.

Read more on BIG DATA v SMART DATA…


BBH won the Audi account, so John Hegarty went on a factory visit.
All car factories are pretty much the same.
Robots moving body panels around, partially assembled cars on production lines, men tightening screws with airline power tools.
A production line is a production line.

Read more on SHAKE THINGS UP…


In 1977, Concorde began flying London to New York.
The big benefit was flying at double the speed of sound, more than twice as fast as any airliner.
So you got there in half the time.
The problem was Concorde was very expensive to run.
It was losing money.
It had been financed by the government and, as usual, they were looking for ways to cut costs and save money.
So they decided to scrap Concorde.



Aitthipat ‘Tob’ Kulapongvanich was a teenager in Thailand.
Tob had started a small business selling dried seaweed.
Everyone loved it, but he needed distribution to get trial.
How to get it?
Then he happened to see a TV programme, an American businessman was talking about his success.
He said the secret was a strategy of gorilla marketing.
And a lightbulb went off in Tob’s head, that was it: gorilla marketing.
In the town where he lived were lots of 7-Eleven shops.
Sometimes even two on the same street.
If he could get distribution through the 300 branches of 7-Eleven, he would be like a big gorilla, distributing his seaweed to everyone.
He managed to see the 7-Eleven buyer, Mrs Pu.
He persuaded her to try his seaweed, she said they would take it, on one condition.
They needed 400 boxes to distribute to the 3,000 branches.
This was a shock for Tob.
3,000 branches? He had thought they only had 300 branches.
The most boxes he could produce in a month was 280.
But he knew he must behave like a gorilla to do gorilla marketing.
So he said he’d do it.
The effort nearly killed him, but he and his staff just made it in time.
Then he visited as many of the stores as he could.
His seaweed depended on trial.
But it was just stacked up on the shelves, it wasn’t getting trial.
Tob decided, in food, the cheapest form of advertising is free trial.
So he began giving away free samples, but only to women.
If he gave it to men, they’d just eat it.
But if he gave it to women they’d share it, and they’d talk about it.
Reaching the most people possible, that was thinking like a gorilla.
And Tob’s gorilla marketing worked.
In 3 months, 7-Eleven sales went from 600,000 Baht to 2 million Baht.
Tob moved to a bigger factory, like a gorilla would.
Sales grew from 10 million Baht to 250 million Baht.
And Tob began to export to over thirty countries.
Including the UK, the USA, China, Mexico, Holland, Vietnam, Korea.
Sales are now 2 billion Baht a year, and he has 2,000 employees.
All thanks to a lecture he heard on gorilla marketing.
Just one small point.
When Tob heard the lecture he got it wrong.
It isn’t gorilla marketing, it’s guerrilla marketing.
They sound the same but mean completely different things.
Guerrilla comes from the Spanish word ‘guerra’ meaning war, and ‘guerilla’ means a little war.
Guerilla tactics are about doing the things the big guys can’t.
Guerilla marketing is about speed, agility, surprise, innovation.
Not about behaving like a gorilla.
But Tob didn’t know that.
He believed gorilla marketing was the secret, he believed it and it worked.
It worked because it gave him energy, and belief, and passion.
See, it’s not important to learn the correct things.
It’s not important to memorise what’s in marketing books.
It’s not important to be right.
It’s important to be excited and inspired.



In 1895, Emily Davison got a first class degree at Oxford.
Except she didn’t.
Because women weren’t allowed to graduate.
There weren’t any jobs for women, so they didn’t need education.
In fact the only job Emily Davison could get was a governess.
A sort of posh nanny.
Well, children were all women’s brains were capable of understanding.

Read more on ENOUGH WORDS…


Rory Sutherland says the best way to make people perform charitable acts is not to appeal to their philanthropic nature.
It’s to appeal to their self-interest.
In other words: never mind anyone else, what’s in it for me?
Understanding that’s how people work is predatory thinking.



John McGovern first played for Brian Clough at Hartlepool.
John McGovern liked to dribble the ball past opponents.
He kept it under close control.

One day, in training, Brian Clough called the youngster over to the touchline.
He dropped a ball at his feet.
He said “Run with that ball son, over to the corner flag, round the flag, and back here as fast as you can.”
McGovern did as he was told.
Keeping the ball ahead of him but always in control.
He kept it tight, all the way across the field and back to Clough.
Clough picked up the ball.
He said “Right now do it again without the ball.
Run over to the corner flag, round it and back here as fast as you can.”
McGovern didn’t see the point, but he knew enough not to argue.
He ran as fast as he could.
Arms pumping, legs pounding, feet flying.
He was round the flag and back in no time.
He waited, puffing.
Clough said “Now which was faster, you running with the ball or without the ball?”
McGovern said “Without the ball of course.”
Clough said “Right, now I want you to remember that because that’s how I want you to play.
Pass the fucking ball and run, don’t dribble it.
Pass the fucking ball and run. Have you got that?”
McGovern said it was the best lesson he learned in his career.
Embarrassingly simple, maybe.
Sure, Clough could just have said it.
But it stuck because it hadn’t just been said, it had been demonstrated  with all the subtlety of an air raid.
And that’s why it stuck with McGovern for the rest of his career.
And what about the rest of his career?
McGovern said he owed his career to Clough
He followed Clough when he went on to manage a little Second Division club called Derby.
Under Clough, Derby were promoted and won the First Division, the equivalent of today’s Premiership.
Making Derby the best team in England.
McGovern followed Clough when he went to Nottingham Forest.
Like Derby, Nottingham Forest were in the second division.
Like Derby, under Clough, they won promotion.
Like Derby, under Clough, they won the First Division.
Which made Nottingham Forest the best team in England.
Then little Nottingham Forest went on to win the European Cup.
Making them the best team in the whole of Europe.
And the next year Nottingham Forest won the European Cup again.
Making them the best team in all of Europe, two years running.
As McGovern said, Clough liked to keep it simple.
Because everyone understands simple.
Simple sticks in the memory
That’s why simple works.
Stupid people think complicated is clever.
Smart people know better than that.

Read more on SIMPLE DOESN’T LIE…


In 1953, Robert Kearns was getting married.
As he opened the champagne, the cork hit him in the eye.
For the rest of his life he was partially blind in that eye, and it always wept with tear fluid.
A year or so later, he was driving through a light drizzle.
He noticed the windscreen wipers only had one speed: on or off.
Either the wipers kept wiping even when the windscreen wasn’t wet.
Or he had to switch them on and off, as it needed wiping.
He thought about his bad eye.
It filled up with tear fluid, and he had to blink it away.
But he didn’t keep blinking all the time.
He needed wipers that worked the way his eyelid worked.
Only wipe when it’s wet.
So when he got home he set about inventing exactly that.
An intermittent windscreen wiper.
A wiper that could be adjusted to the amount of rain.
Wipe…..long pause……wipe……long pause……wipe…..long pause.
Just the way an eyelid works.
After ten years of experimenting, Kearns took his invention to Ford.
Between 1962 and 1965 he had several meetings with their engineers.
Then Ford stopped returning his calls.
And in 1969 they came out with their own version.
The first intermittent windscreen wiper on a production car.
Naturally, Robert Kearns sued Ford.
He was confident he would win because he had the patent.
But Ford were confident they would win because his design used only existing parts.
There wasn’t an original part in it.
And this, for us, is where it gets really interesting.
This is where we separate creativity from plagiarism.
The main test for an exclusive patent is called “non-obviousness”.
Does the ‘invention’ do any of the following 3 things:
1) Combine prior elements according to known methods to yield predictable results.
2) Simply substitute one known element for another to yield predictable results.
3) Apply a known technique to a known device to yield predictable results.
Ford said that Kearns had used only “known methods, known elements, and known devices” so his invention was not original.
But Kearns maintained that his device did not “yield predictable results” so it was original.
The United States Supreme Court agreed with Kearns.
Their ruling was as follows.
“It is idle to say that combinations of old elements cannot be inventions.
Substantially every invention is such a ‘combination’.
That is to say, it consists of former elements in a new assemblage.”
Ford had to pay Robert Kearns $30 million.
Later, Chrysler had to pay Robert Kearns $21 million.
Today every car uses his intermittent windscreen wiper system.
And the rule for creativity is now written into law.



1972 was just ten years after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Ten years after the world came the closest it’s ever been to blowing itself up.
1972 was still the height of the cold war.
Into this situation came Bobby Fisher, 29 years old and a chess phenomenon.
He seemed to effortlessly beat all opponents.
He was to chess what the young Mohammed Ali was to boxing.
Loud, cocky, obnoxious, and a genius.


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