At BMP we had a planner called Steve Harrison.
Steve had played football to quite a high amateur level.
He was a goalkeeper.
I was talking to Steve about West Ham’s goalkeeper, Mervyn Day.
He was a big favourite with the crowd because he constantly made spectacular saves.
Steve said that wasn’t the sign of a good goalkeeper.
Steve said the fact that you had to constantly make spectacular saves, to fling yourself acrobatically across the goal, meant you were out of position.
Steve said the great goalies were the ones where the ball just seemed to come to them.
Goalkeepers like Gordon Banks.
Of course they’d occasionally have to make spectacular saves.
But most of time they made it look effortless.
They’d be constantly reading the game, covering the angles, and they’d be in the spot the ball was most likely to end up.
It didn’t look like a great save because they’d done all the work beforehand.
So they didn’t have to fling themselves across the goal.
It reminded me of an interview Jonathan Pearce, the football commentator, had with Bobby Moore.
Bobby Moore was captain of the only English team ever to win the World Cup.
Jonathan Pearce said he’d played a lot of football himself before becoming a commentator.
Bobby Moore asked him if he’d ever fancied turning professional.
Pearce said “There was no point: I couldn’t head the ball, I couldn’t run much, in fact I never crossed the halfway line.”
Bobby Moore said “Leave off, you’re talking about my career.”
Jonathan Pearce said that stopped him dead.
He thought, he’s right.
One of the greatest players in the world and he didn’t run around doing spectacular things.
But wherever he was, the ball just seemed to come to him.
Because Bobby Moore was known as perhaps the greatest reader of the game, ever.
Watching the attack develop, watching the players running off the ball, not just the player with the ball.
Seeing which of the opposition was most likely to receive the ball.
Getting into position before they did.
So the ball just seemed to come to him.
In marketing terms, he was running a constant SWOT analysis on the game for the full ninety minutes.
SWOT is a marketing tool that’s fallen out of fashion.
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.
More fashionable formulas have taken over.
But it seems to me most of these fashionable formulas are just flashy gimmicks, crowd pleasers.
Because a lot of marketing is out of position.
We’re not constantly reading and anticipating the game as it develops.
So we’re surprised by what crops up.
And we have to do something spectacular to try to save the situation.
But that’s not the way the great practitioners in any sport or business behave.
Worrying about the latest flashy gimmicks instead of concentrating on the fundamentals.
We should be reading the game, analysing what’s developing, and we should be in position.
Like all the greats, we should constantly be doing a SWOT analysis.
Then there wouldn’t be any surprises.
Then we wouldn’t be out of position.
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One of my favourite films is The Third Man.
It features one my favourite film speeches, from Orson Welles.
If it came on TV I’d watch it without question.
I’d make sure I caught the very start.
I wouldn’t miss a minute.
And I’d think that was a great night’s TV.
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Years ago my mum was worried about putting on weight.
She asked my wife what she ought to do.
Cathy said “Well for a start, what do you have for breakfast Mum?”
Mum said “Well the usual: bacon, eggs, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, and fried bread.”
Cathy said “You should try having two Weetabix for breakfast. Just have them in a bowl with some skimmed milk and a tiny little bit of sugar. That’ll help you lose weight.”
Mum said she’d give it a go.
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Julie Burchill has a high pitched voice with a heavy Bristol accent.
An interviewer asked her what class she considered herself.
She said working class.
The interviewer said, “You’re one of the most famous journalists in the land, how can you be working class?”
Julie Burchill said, “I’m like a pools-winner, I’ve got a lot of money but I’m still working class. If I wanted to be middle class I would have changed my accent wouldn’t I?”
And it reminded me of Alf Ramsey.
The only English football manager ever to win The World Cup.
He came from Dagenham, and in order to be taken seriously he took elocution lessons.
He had to make himself sound middle class.
A while back a client asked me to do a talk to a group of his senior marketing people.
Later on I met one of the people who’d been at that talk.
He said he hadn’t liked me at first.
It irritated him that I put on this cockney barrow-boy act.
East London accent, crude language, etc.
But despite that, he thought everything I said made a lot of sense.
He asked me if I’d do the same talk to the people who worked for him.
I didn’t know what to make of that.
I talk the way I’ve always talked, but he thought it was an act.
He thought I was putting it on.
While I was thinking about this, a different client asked me to do a talk for his senior people.
I said pretty much the same things I’d said to the other group.
The basic, common-sense facts of life and advertising.
And again, some time later I met someone who’d been at the talk.
He said, “We all loved you Dave and thought you were great, we even buy your cockney-geezer act.”
There it was again.
If I talked in a cockney accent I must be putting it on for effect.
I tried to work it out.
Was the white collar world of marketing and senior management made up exclusively of middle class people with middle class accents?
Did they think everyone, everywhere was exactly like them?
Because here’s a funny thing.
Where I grew up everyone had cockney accents.
Around three million people.
And I’d lived my whole life without anyone ever commenting on it, until I started doing talks to people in marketing.
People who, apparently, never hear anything but middle class accents.
But marketing isn’t the entire world.
In fact nothing is.
And we’re in advertising, mass-communication, we should know better.
We can forgive people who don’t work in mass communication.
For instance, my Uncle Mick was a welder at Fords.
He lived all his life in East London.
He once said to me “How’s yer new agency going Dave?”
I said, “Very well thanks Uncle Mick.”
He said, “What about the blokes you work wiv, wot are they like?”
I said “They’re good guys. They come from all over England, so we’ve all got different accents.”
Uncle Mick looked puzzled.
He said, “But you ain’t got no accent, you talk normal like wot the rest of us do.”
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As I write it’s February 7th and I’m sitting at the laptop.
I got up this morning thinking I must remember to send my wife some flowers for Valentine’s Day.
Being a bloke I forgot.
I meant to remember yesterday.
I meant to remember the day before that.
Being a bloke it keeps going straight out of my mind.
Then five minutes ago the phone rang.
It was one of flower shops I’d been meaning to call.
One of the four I’ve got listed in my Filofax.
A very pleasant young lady said “Good morning Mister Trott, Wild At Heart here. I’ve just noticed that last year you sent your wife some flowers for Valentine’s Day, and I just wondered if you wanted to do the same again this year.”
How brilliant is that?
Look at the simple facts.
Every year Valentine’s Day falls on exactly the same date, February 14th.
Every year millions of men send flowers to wives and sweethearts.
Only men you notice, not women.
Now what men have in common is that they do it because they have to, not because they want to.
This is a distress purchase.
That’s why they have trouble remembering things like flowers.
It’s not something men are into.
But they know the Mrs is, and they know they’ll be in terrible trouble if they forget.
This is a terrific predatory opportunity for a smart flower shop.
Instead of worrying about how many customers will phone up wanting flowers this year, pre-empt it.
Make the calls to a soft target, the men who called you last year.
You know men will leave it to the last minute.
You know that means you won’t know exactly how many flowers to order.
So make the calls a week or so early.
Before the men have had time to forget about it, panic, and call up at the last minute.
That way you can get their orders before the men have a chance to call any other shop.
You’ll know well in advance exactly how many flowers you’ll need on the day.
You can stagger your orders from your suppliers rather than having to risk ordering too many and being left with more than you can sell.
Or worse still, not ordering enough and having to turn away last minute callers to your competitors.
This is an example of really smart predatory thinking.
Getting the jump on your competitors by making life easier for a massive group of regular customers.
Just by picking the low hanging fruit: men.
The people who you know want flowers and will be massively relieved that you’ve taken the problem off their hands.
You take all your competition out of the game by getting to the customers before they do.
Because you’re active while they’re passive.
You pick up the phone and dial while they’re sitting waiting for it to ring.
And with that thoroughness and attention to detail I know they’ll do a better job on the actual flowers as well.
I can relax.
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I’ve just been watching a 1979 documentary.
John Pilger’s “Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia”.
It’s about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
And how they wiped out 2 million people out of a population of 8 million.
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At the time of their civil war, many Americans lived on farms.
When they were conscripted, it was the first time they’d been away from home.
They were shoved into large groups and told to march.
“Left. Right. Left. Right.”
That’s when the drill sergeants first noticed a problem.
They couldn’t march, they were all over the place, treading on each other’s feet, bumping into each other.
They couldn’t march because they didn’t know their right from their left.
The sergeants couldn’t send them into battle like that.
They had to work out a way to turn this rabble into an army.
Just about the only thing these country boys did know was crops.
So the sergeants stuck a piece of hay into each farm boy’s left boot.
Then stuck a piece of straw in each one’s right boot.
They tried again “Hay foot. Straw foot. Hay foot. Straw foot.”
And all the country boys marched perfectly well together.
The sergeants had turned an abstract concept (left and right) into something simple and practical (hay and straw) and it worked.
Now they had an army.
But how come these boys were old enough to be considered men and serve in the army but didn’t know something as basic as their right and their left?
Well the answer is, they’d never needed to know.
All they needed to know was what happened on their farm.
How to raise livestock, how to grow crops, how to ride horses, butcher pigs, build fences, dig ditches.
They didn’t need any theoretical knowledge, just practical experience.
Because we take left and right for granted, that seems strange to us.
But if that seems so strange, consider zero.
A thousand years ago, no one outside a few scholars knew about zero, much less used it.
Ordinary people had no need for it.
You didn’t need to symbolise something that wasn’t there, only what was there.
Why would you need a number for a lack of something?
If you had a sheep that was one sheep, so that was where you started counting.
You didn’t need to start with a number for not having any sheep.
You only counted what you had, not what you didn’t have.
Because knowledge started out as practical, not theoretical.
People who have to work to survive only learn what they need to know to do their daily job.
But nowadays, we all think having the number zero for nothing is perfectly normal.
In fact we can’t imagine a world without it.
And that’s the way it is.
Until we know something, it doesn’t exist.
Once we know it, we can’t unlearn it.
We believe it’s always been that way and we can’t conceive of it any other way.
Ignorance is like that, you can’t imagine it, and once it’s gone, you can’t recapture it.
Which is why, whenever we first worked on a new account, we always made a complete list of everything we knew about it before we started finding out about it.
While our heads were still in the same place as the consumer.
Once we started to learn about it, it would be too late.
We couldn’t go back.
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Historians generally agree the most important battle in our history happened in 480 BC.
The Battle of Salamis determined the course of western civilisation.
But it wasn’t a land battle, it was a naval engagement.
At that time the Persian Empire was the largest in the world, it had overrun everything.
The only thing left to swallow up was Greece, and the Persians had already captured Athens.
Their massive army was unstoppable.
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When I first met Graham Bednash he was a young account man.
He’d just left Lowe Howard Spinks to work at GGT.
He came into my office and asked me to read a brief he’d written.
I said “I’m the creative director, why would I want to read your brief?”
He said “Because it’s about to go into the creative department.”
I said “Okay, put it into the department and I’ll see the work when it comes out.”
Je said “But you won’t know if my brief’s any good.”
I said “Yes I will, by the work that comes out.”
He said “But what if the work’s not right?”
I said “Well then I’ll look at the brief.”
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In 1917, Britain was just six weeks away from starving to death.
We have the same population as France, but only half the landmass.
So we can’t grow enough to feed ourselves.
Which means most of what we eat must be imported.
And Germany had worked out that the best way to win World War One was to cut Britain’s jugular.
The constant supply of food from the USA and Canada.
And the most efficient way to do that was with U boats.
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