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.
Read more on THE SUPREME COURT ON CREATIVITY…
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.
Read more on STRATEGY v THE REAL WORLD…
There are 55 million users of illegal drugs in the USA.
America accounts for half the world’s consumption, $60 billion annually.
Roughly the same revenue as Microsoft.
So this is a big market with a big demand.
And, in classical economics, demand creates supply.
So the supply of drugs from Mexico to the USA is big business.
In the last 6 years, around 100,000 people have died in violence related to this big business.
Because the supply side of this equation is very competitive.
I’ve just seen a Yale professor lecturing about this.
Putting the drugs trade into language his audience can understand.
Explaining it as a business model.
He says “an effective organisation requires an integrated strategy including good organisational structure, good incentives, solid identity and good brand management.”
Breaking that down for non-marketing people, what is he saying?
For a start, what is their “business strategy”?
He says “It requires that they guarantee to their producers that their product will be reliably placed in the market where it’s consumed, via absolute control of geographic corridors.”
In other words, they will get the drugs to the people who want them, no matter what.
Nothing and no one will stop them, which explains why 100,000 people die.
Okay, so what does he mean by “good incentives”?
This refers to the choice that underpaid police officers are offered “Plata o Plomo?”
(In English that’s “silver or lead?” – take a bribe or take a bullet.)
And as an incentive, it’s been very effective.
So what then is their “organisational structure”?
He says it is a “perfectly structured chain of command with clear hierarchy and a clear promotion path, that allows them to supervise and operate across many markets”.
The first part seems to mean if you disobey the boss you die, and someone else gets your job.
The second part he himself describes as “diversifying into kidnapping, prostitution, and human trafficking”.
So, in marketing terms, profitable line extensions of the brand.
That just leaves “solid identity and good brand management”.
He describes the brand management as “terror” and the brand strategy as “violence”.
He finishes by saying “They currently run a franchising business and, like any multinational, they protect their brand by outsourcing the more questionable parts of their brand model”.
In non-marketing terms, that means they use local gangs for drug distribution, and murder where necessary.
Which, again, explains why 100,000 people die.
So now you know.
We can understand the way drugs, crime, and human misery work.
We can understand it because he’s put it in language that marketing people (us) speak.
It’s comfortable. It’s detached, it allows us to distance ourselves from the real world.
Read more on OUR LANGUAGE DOESN’T COMMUNICATE…
In 1941, Mavis Batey was the youngest decoder at Station X.
This is where they tried to decipher the Enigma code.
This had an infinite number of possibilities and was considered uncrackable.
Mavis said one of the main things Station X had going for it was her supervisor, Dilly Knox.
He taught them to always think from the other person’s angle, not their own.
One of his questions was “Which way round do the hands on a clock go?”
When you answered “Clockwise” he said “Not if you’re inside the clock”.
Mavis said she always held onto this when trying to crack the code.
Get inside the other person’s mind.
One particular time, they’d intercepted a test message.
Mavis looked at the message and thought “I wonder what this chap’s thinking”.
Then she noticed the entire message didn’t have a single letter “L”.
She knew one feature of the Enigma was that it would translate a letter as anything but itself.
Mavis thought “I bet this chap’s bored. I bet he’s been told to send this test message, then he’s lit up a fag and sat there bored, pressing the key at the end of the row: the letter L”.
So she wired up the Enigma machine that way.
And it worked.
And a 20-year-old girl cracked the code that helped win the war.
By thinking like the other person.
I used to watch John Webster do that when I was a junior at BMP.
He’d get a planner to sit down with him over a cup of tea, and tell him about the people he was writing the ads for.
Not in the usual A,B,C1,C2,D,E demographics way.
But what TV programmes did they watch?
What made them laugh?
What did they have for tea?
Where did they buy their clothes?
What did they enjoy doing for hobbies?
And John would get inside that person.
It was like watching an actor taking on a role.
Learning everything he could about who he was supposed to be.
So that when he responded he would respond like them.
He would assume that character.
So he wouldn’t have to guess what they found funny, because he’d find it funny.
And when he was in that role, what he found motivating would be what the audience found motivating.
And that’s why John did most of the best-loved, best-remembered, most effective advertising in the country.
Because, unlike the rest of us, he was looking at the clock’s hands from the other side.
Read more on GET INTO THE PART…
Jesus wasn’t actually born on Christmas Day.
Even devout Christians accept this.
At the time of his birth, no one bothered keeping exact records.
No one knew it was going to be important.
In fact no one knew just how important it was going to be until a long time after his death.
By then he had become the basis for a new religion.
The very first of the Gospels, Mark, wasn’t even written until AD70.
Forty years after Jesus died.
So nothing was written during his lifetime.
Everything else was written about a hundred years after the event.
But that’s what marketing is.
It’s selling a brand.
And, as we know, brand isn’t necessarily truth.
Brand is belief.
What we can accept as true.
And that’s how religion is sold.
Belief or, another word for it, faith.
Something we are prepared to accept as true, even though we can’t prove it.
So why do we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th even though that wasn‘t his birth date?
The fastest way to grow the brand was internationally.
The main opportunity for expansion was recently conquered lands.
The majority of these would have pagan gods with traditional pagan rituals.
Rather than try to confront pagan brand-loyalty head on, it made sense to convert the rituals to Christian celebrations.
To allow the same festivals on the same dates, but change the religion that was being celebrated.
This was smart.
A takeover by stealth, rather than risking outright rejection through confrontation.
Consequently many pagan festivals and traditions were absorbed into Christianity.
Yule logs, carol singing, Christmas trees, feasting, gift giving, even Easter eggs and bunny rabbits,
In fact the name Easter came from the Anglo Saxon goddess Eostur.
Elsewhere, it’s named for the festival of the Passover: Paschua (Latin), Pascua (Spanish), Paques (French).
A detailed study of Christian expansion across Europe shows the smart way to convert an existing market to a new brand.
Bit by bit.
The Venerable Bede was the first Anglo Saxon scholar.
Around 700AD, he promoted the spread of Christianity by translating early Church writings from Latin and Greek into Anglo Saxon, so that people in England could actually read them.
He then wrote the first history of England.
In it, he refers to the ‘ratchet’ strategy of incremental growth.
Highlighting the resistance of ordinary people to change, and the necessity for a gradual process.
“For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface everything at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps.”
Read more on MARKETING RELIGIOUSLY…
Andrew Haldane is the Bank of England’s Executive Director for Financial Stability.
He gave a speech to an international audience about learning from the last financial crisis and avoiding the next one.
He asked a simple question.
Who is better at catching a Frisbee, a dog or a physicist?
Start with the problem.
Catching a Frisbee involves a mind-numbingly complex series of physical and atmospheric factors.
Wind direction and speed, the Frisbee’s rotation, the curve of its trajectory, the Frisbee’s weight against the force applied, the density of the air pressure.
The physicist is clearly much more qualified to work out all these equations than a dog is.
Yet we all know, the average dog is better at catching Frisbees than the average physicist.
How can that be?
The physicist knows all the answers, the dog doesn’t know any of the answers.
So how come the dog is better at catching Frisbees?
The answer is simple.
Or rather it should be but it isn’t.
Haldane says we’ve made the whole process too complicated.
Trying to apply every single detail about every conceivable piece of knowledge is the enemy of fast, effective action.
Understanding is a good thing.
But trying to apply complex, detailed understanding during the process of doing something creates uncertainty and ineffectiveness.
Haldane says this is exactly what’s gone wrong with the world’s economy.
It’s become far too complicated.
The original guide for protecting against banks going bust ran to 30 pages.
The latest version runs to 616 pages.
We have whole departments of experts dedicated to making things complicated.
Consequently we can understand in great detail why things went wrong, afterwards.
We just can’t do anything about it.
Doesn’t that remind you of what we do?
Are you old enough to remember when people used to say “the adverts are better than the programmes”.
When we kept it simple.
Kept it fun.
But everything is now more complicated than that.
Now we have many layers of people with different titles to each be an expert at some small area of advertising.
They say the old interruption model is dead.
They say it’s about permission, and interaction, and content, and conversation.
And we’ve managed to make advertising so complicated, people don’t like the ads anymore.
In fact now they really are an interruption and a nuisance.
Read more on WE’RE SO CLEVER WE’RE STUPID…
A woman got on a plane at Heathrow for a flight to Cape Town.
Before the flight took off she sent a jokey message over twitter.
Then she turned her phone off.
Unknown to her, while she was sitting on the plane eating dinner, the tweet went viral.
While she was watching the in-flight movie, it was retweeted thousands and thousands of times all over the world.
While she was sleeping, there was a huge online firestorm of outrage.
While she was eating breakfast, the tsunami of protest forced her employers to publicly sack her.
And her plane was still in the air.
She knew nothing about it until she landed at Cape Town.
And found she no longer had a job and was vilified worldwide.
She was forced to issue a lengthy public apology.
She may never be able to get another job.
How could a single message have that effect?
Especially since she only had two hundred followers.
What went wrong?
New media. New stupidity.
Not nastiness, but a whole new level of stupidity.
The tweet read as follows:
“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white.”
Which on its own is just an unfunny joke in bad taste.
Bad taste because it’s probably not a good idea to make fun of a disease that’s killed millions.
Bad taste because it’s probably also not a good idea to point out that most of those have been poor and black, so rich whites don’t have to take it seriously.
So, on its own the tweet was not a good idea.
But it wasn’t just a tweet on its own.
Because the woman, Justine Sacco, was Director of Corporate Communications at InterActive Corp.
Let’s repeat that, she was the PR Executive of a large online media company.
A company running big worldwide sites such as Vimeo, The Daily Beast, and Tinder.
Which meant the two hundred twitter followers wouldn’t just be family and friends.
They’d also be influential online media users.
And that’s what took the stupidity to a new level.
This is a person who’s supposed to be an expert in advising clients how to use online media.
Someone who’s supposed to show all the things online media can do that traditional media can’t.
Well she certainly showed that.
Her single, simple tweet went massively viral all round the world in just a few hours without costing a penny.
If she’d got results like that for a client, her company would have written an award-winning case study.
Proving online media was faster, cheaper, more effective than old-fashioned media.
But they didn’t do that.
They fired her.
And they’re still trying to undo the damage she did.
You see effectiveness isn’t just about what media you use.
Effectiveness is about what it’s always been about.
Read more on NEW MEDIA, OLD PROBLEM…
I’ve been reading Mary Wells’ book.
Mary Wells was the highest paid advertising creative in America.
Then she started her own agency.
Wells, Rich, Greene did some unbelievably great advertising.
For Braniff she painted every single plane a completely different colour: either all yellow, or all purple, all green, or all turquoise.
She revolutionised the airline industry.
For Benson & Hedges she made fun of the product’s extra length.
By cutting it off in lift doors, burning through newspapers, getting bent by electric windows.
She had fun with the products, so did consumers.
So where did Mary Wells learn to do brilliant advertising?
The same place as all the other great creatives.
Bertrand Russell said “All philosophy is footnotes to Plato”.
We can paraphrase that as “All advertising is footnotes to Bernbach”.
How could one man make so much difference?
Mary Wells talks about Bill being the only one who stood against the patronising rubbish being pumped out by Madison Avenue in the 1950s.
That’s why she wanted to work for him.
“He said advertising had become dishonest, boring, insulting. Worse, it didn’t sell anything to anybody.”
Bernbach said advertising didn’t have to be about churning out mindless dross just in order to make money.
“He called for advertising to be honest and candid, smarter and more interesting. He demanded bolder language, humour, wit, and stylish design.”
Of course the people producing the bad advertising were making lots of money because they’d found a plausible way to sell it.
“Those agencies defended themselves saying they made ads scientifically with sophisticated research.”
So does the advertising it produced.
“There was never any direct personal communication, never any interesting information. But those ads based on spurious ‘research’ had been touted so long as scientific that Bill was considered seditious by criticising them.”
Marketing departments liked to appear sensible and logical.
They would judge the quality of the advertising based solely on the ‘research’ results .
“Bill said the bad agencies were stupid, their pitiful ‘research’ reduced advertising to one tired ad that was repeated over and over again.
He said they were turning their creative people into Xerox machines.”
Most people in advertising and marketing nowadays are too young to remember Bill Bernbach, what he did and why.
But it’s worth finding out everything you can about him.
And exactly what his creative revolution was about.
Read more on PLUS CA CHANGE…
For 200 years Britannia ruled the waves.
Because we had something no one else had: a better rate of fire.
Our captains made their crews practice speed over accuracy.
With wooden ships and cannons the most important thing was to get in close and hit the other boat more times than they hit you.
Accuracy wasn’t so important because when you were only few hundred yards apart, you couldn’t really miss.
So it was all about getting in as many shots as possible.
And that’s how it stayed for 200 years.
Up until steam power changed everything: ships made of steel, and guns that could fire explosive shells accurately from ten miles away.
But the Royal Navy ignored the changes and in 1916, the navies of Germany and Britain lined up against each other.
Each had a different strategy.
The British were determined to destroy the German navy by sticking to the traditional faster rate of fire.
The German navy were determined to destroy the British ships with the latest improved accuracy.
The battle began and three of the biggest, most powerful ships in the Royal Navy exploded and sank.
How was that possible?
Actually the British beat themselves.
The magazine is the place where all the ammunition is stored deep below decks.
To keep it safe the shells are brought up to the turrets one at a time.
There are fireproof doors all the way between the turrets and the magazine.
To allow one shell to pass through, then close again.
But that’s a slow process.
In order to allow a really fast rate of fire they decided they couldn’t keep opening and closing the doors.
So they left them open.
That way they could get the shells to the turrets faster.
But when the German shells hit the British turrets there was nothing to stop the explosion reaching all the way to the magazine.
And one by one the ships blew up.
HMS Queen Mary exploded: 1,266 men died, 18 survived.
HMS Indefatigable exploded: 1.019 men died, 2 survived.
HMS Invincible exploded: 1,026 men died, 6 survived.
You would have thought that after that the Royal Navy would have learned its lesson.
Accuracy is more important than rate of fire. But they didn’t.
In the next war, when HMS Hood took on The Bismark, they still kept the fireproof doors open for a faster rate of fire.
The Bismark’s shells hit the Hood’s turret.
As the fireproof doors were open the explosion went straight to the magazine.
HMS Hood exploded: 1,425 men died, 3 survived.
You’d think we’d learn.
The rate at which we do things, simply doing more for the sake of it, isn’t always the right answer.
Sometimes it’s better to do less, but to do it better.
To concentrate on being more accurate, like the German Navy.
For instance, it might be better not to waste all your energy doing three or four or five alternative ideas for every client presentation.
It might be better to put all that energy into working on one really accurate, really effective, really well targeted idea.
The right idea.
Read more on HOW TO HIT THE TARGET…