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Ed McCabe wrote ads, he sold things.

In the days before planners, when creatives could think.

He worked out what the product was, what the market was, what the problem was, and he solved it.

But the solution doesn’t work if the ads are invisible.

So Ed made sure his ads were in the 4% of ads that get remembered positively by consumers.

The one out of 20.

He did this by the lost art of thinking.

Ed had a motto “You can’t do anything until you know everything”.

The answer is always in one of two places: either the product or the consumer.

So Ed would find out about everything about those two things.

Like the time Frank Perdue gave Ed his account.

Chickens were a commodity product, there were no brands.

Just supermarket chiller-cabinets full of chickens.

To grow Perdue as a brand, Ed’s job was to take market-share.

So he needed something that couldn’t be copied.

Something that would make Perdue unique.

Frank Perdue was constantly talking about the quality of his chickens.

What they ate, how they were kept, how they were packed, why they were plumper, why they were all-round better.

And the more he talked the more he reminded Ed of a chicken.

So Ed made Frank Perdue the spokesman in all the advertising.

And so began a series of hard-hitting, funny commercials.

Like this one:



(Frank Perdue straight to camera):

“Government standards would allow me to call this a Grade A chicken, but my standards wouldn’t.

This chicken is skinny, it’s got scrapes, it’s got hairs.

The fact is, my graders reject 30% of the chickens government graders accept as Grade A.

That’s why it pays to insist on a chicken with my name on it.

If you’re not completely satisfied, write to me and I’ll give you your money back.

Who do you write to in Washington?

What do they know about chickens?”

(Cut to pack shot and VO):

“Perdue: It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”



After just one year sales more than doubled.

Perdue became the first branded chicken in America.

And “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” became one of the most famous straplines ever.

The advertising was so successful it ran for more than two decades.

Proof that hard-hitting product-based advertising is not incompatible with building a brand.

Quite the reverse.

Having a great product and talking about it can build a great brand.


Because product is what you say. Brand is how you say it.


In 2001 the twin towers collapsed.

What was the effect on the average person?

Not the publicised shock, anger, and grief that the entire nation felt.

How did it affect the behaviour of the individual?

People became scared of flying.

Because that day, four planes crashed killing everyone on board.

So many people stopped flying.

How did they travel instead?

Gerd Gigerenzer researches this in his book “Risk Savvy”.

Instead of flying, people switched to driving.

For the previous five years, driving grew at around 1% a year.

In the twelve months after 9/11 it grew by 5%.

The increase was greatest on rural interstate highways, the sort used for long distance travel.

Something else happened during that twelve-month period.

Road deaths increased by 1,600.

Gigerenzer says the average yearly death toll on American roads is around 35,000.

So the increase in deaths is roughly the same as the increase in driving.

That’s 1,600 people who would have been alive if they’d flown instead of driving.

How can he know this?

In the five years after 9/11, over 2 billion passengers flew and not one died in a major plane crash.

Gigernzer’s point, which is interesting for us, is that the real focus of terrorism is to control the mind.

It’s not the initial act which is important.

It’s everything that act provokes the target into subsequently doing.

It’s a very useful area of study for us.

Given that we don’t just want to make advertising that’s forgotten as soon as it’s finished running.

We want to provoke a change in the behaviour of the target audience.

We don’t just want people to notice our ad.

We want it to have an effect in the market.

We want people to be provoked into doing something.

In most cases, into buying our product.

Either trying our brand, or buying more of it, or buying it instead of something else, or buying it for someone else.

To do this we need to have advertising that lasts beyond it’s media.

Advertising that gets into people’s minds.

Osama Bin laden understood this.

He said “We spent half a million dollars on that event. While it cost America, according to the lowest estimate, more than five hundred billion dollars.

Therefore every dollar we spent defeated a million of their dollars”.

So the real issue isn’t just the act.

The real issue is what the act provokes.

In our terms, it’s ultimately a business problem not a communication problem.

The act must lead to a business solution, not stop at a communication solution.

So the real media isn’t where it runs.

The real media is where it runs after it runs.


The real media is the human mind.



Recently I spent an afternoon with one of my heroes, Ed McCabe.

Ed was, after Bill Bernbach, one of the most influential advertising people in New York.

Bill Bernbach introduced charming, intelligent advertising.

Ed introduced aggressive, intelligent advertising.

Two different schools, but both great.

One of the most powerful advertising campaigns of all time was DDB’s campaign for Avis, done by Helmut Krone.

Briefly, Hertz was by far the biggest car rental company.

Avis was just one of many smaller competitors.

Avis attacked Hertz by making a virtue of being smaller.

Avis portrayed Hertz as complacent.

The fat cat of car rental.

Avis were smaller so they couldn’t afford to be complacent.

“We Try Harder” became one of the greatest lines of all time.

It soon made Avis the second biggest car rental company in the US.

And it scared the daylights out of Hertz.

So Hertz changed ad agencies.

They went to Carl Ally, where Ed McCabe was working.

Ed’s ads took the same approach as Bill Bernbach’s: use your competitor’s strength against them.

DDB had managed to turn being the biggest into a negative.

Ed McCabe would turn being smaller into a negative.

Ed ran ads like: “For years Avis has been telling you that Hertz is number one. Now we’re going to tell you why”.

And: “If you had fewer cars, in fewer locations, what would you promise? Right: we try harder”.

And: “It’s the little dog that’s keeping the big dog on top”.

I recently saw a documentary about what happened when that campaign ran.

Bill Bernbach walked into Helmut Krone’s office.

He dropped the Hertz campaign on his desk and said “Look at this, as of today our Avis campaign is dead”.

And that was the real result of Ed McCabe’s advertising.

It managed to scare the daylights out of two of the greatest creatives who ever lived.

It scared them into scrapping the Avis campaign.

From then on they did “We Try Harder” without attacking Hertz.

When I was talking to Ed, he said he’d spoken about it afterwards to Helmut Krone.

He said to him “Why did you drop that campaign? You dropped it too fast, there were still years of life left in it, that was a great campaign”.

It was a relief to hear that, because that’s what I’d always thought.

But, because Krone and Bernbach were two of my heroes, I thought I must be wrong.

They must know something I didn’t.

Ed McCabe said “No, they were just wrong.They got scared”.

The Hertz campaign made the staff at Hertz feel good.

But it didn’t have anything like the traction with ordinary people that the Avis campaign had.

The Hertz campaign was appreciated by people in advertising.

But the Avis campaign was loved by people in the real world.

The power in Ed’s campaign was in scaring his competition into dropping a campaign that was working so brilliantly.

With power and aggression, he’d frightened the daylights out of Helmut Krone and Bill Bernbach.

And that’s a valuable lesson about advertising.


The target market isn’t always the target market.



It doesn’t happen every time we’re stopped at the traffic lights.

But it happens often enough.

My wife is driving, so she has her foot on the brake.

We’re talking, but I’m watching the traffic lights.

Suddenly the car next to us starts to move off, so all the other cars around us start to move off.

So my wife starts to move off.

I yell “What are you doing, the lights are red?” and my wife stops.

And all the other cars stop too.

What’s fascinating is that I’m the only one watching the lights, and I’m not even driving.

All the other drivers are just watching each other.

When one moves they all move, whatever colour the lights are.

Daniel Kahneman calls this behaviour ‘Social Norms versus Injunctive Norms’.

In other words, copying the behaviour of our peers, the need to be part of the crowd, is much more powerful than the instructions of an authority.

So whatever the traffic lights say, we do what everyone else does.

We see this in every walk of life.

This is the problem over e-cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes generate a vapour, like steam, that dissipates really fast into the air.

It’s far less harmful than tobacco, to the user and the bystander.

Everyone accepts this.

But the government wants them restricted like cigarettes.

They want them banned in indoor public places, like pubs.

They want e-cigarette smokers to be forced to smoke outdoors like tobacco smokers.

This is because the government worries that e-cigarettes may normalise smoking.

Seeing everyone else doing it around us may encourage us to take up smoking again.

Whereas the opposition uses the same argument to advance the opposite view.

They don’t want e-cigarettes subject to the same restrictions as tobacco.

Their view is that if people are forced to smoke outside with tobacco smokers they won’t see any advantage to e-cigarettes.

So they may as well go back to smoking tobacco.

The interesting part is that in each case everyone involved accepts that e-cigarettes are less harmful.

Each argument hinges on the interpretation of the fact that people are more influenced by the behaviour of those around them.

The arguments aren’t based on the fact that people will smoke e-cigarettes for their health.

The arguments are simply based on the fact that people feel comfortable doing what they see other people doing.

The urge to do exactly the same as everyone else is stronger than the urge to rationally work out what our own behaviour should be.

We need to fit in, above everything else.

We resist being different.

When it comes to advertising, we know what the numbers are: 4% is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively, 89% isn’t noticed or remembered.

This is simply because roughly 90% looks the same and 10% doesn’t.

Rationally we know that we have to be different to stand out.

But the urge of agencies and clients to fit in is stronger than logic.


Because most of us would rather copy the other cars than watch the traffic lights.


Barry Hearn was one of the youngest people ever to become a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

But Barry Hearn was from east London.

So that added something else to his ability with numbers.

Call it creativity, call it predatory thinking, call it good old-fashioned street smarts.

He knew the numbers told you the way things are.

They didn’t tell you the way things could be.

So when Barry Hearn saw an opportunity, he didn’t just rely on the numbers.

For instance, a chain of snooker halls was going cheap, because snooker was a dying sport.

Barry Hearn bought all the halls.

In the seventies, television was changing to colour.

He was one of the first people to recognise what seems obvious now.

Colour would revolutionise sport.

Until that point all televised sport had been in black and white.

That made it hard to follow for ordinary people.

Barry Hearn realised that snooker was perfect for TV.

Because with colour, everyone could follow the game.

But the summer of 1976 was hot, no one wanted to play snooker.

So he announced a big competition, with a large cash prize and a trophy for the winner.

With the grand final in September.

Suddenly his halls were full in June, July, and August with people practicing for the tournament in September.

Barry Hearn learned you have to give people a reason to compete, a reason to care.

There has to be a winner and a loser.

He sold his snooker tournaments to the TV companies.

Then he decided he could sell boxing the same way.

It wasn’t about the skill of the sport, it was about the competition, having a reason to care.

He began creating and packaging big events to sell.

He did the same with golf.

Then he realised he could do the same with any sport.

Even darts.

No one wanted to watch a man simply throw a dart at a board.

But turn it into a sporting competition, with winners and losers, and he could package it and sell it.

With the advent of satellite and cable the need to fill TV airtime just increased.

He began to create sporting events around all sorts of pastimes that had never been considered spectator sports.

Bowling, rowing, fishing, even poker.

Simply by creating a knockout competition with winners and losers.

Ordinary people might not know anything about the skill involved, but everyone understood winning and losing.

Suddenly sports that no one cared about became watchable.

Because of the tension and the drama of competition.

You didn’t need to know the rules to get caught up in the tension.

And now Barry Hearn’s company sources forty thousand hours of TV globally each year.

Now it all seems obvious.

But it wasn’t obvious until Barry Hearn saw it.

As Bill Bernbach said “We’ve been studying the statistics for so long we forget that we can create the statistics”.



Florence Nightingale was born in 1820.

At that time women weren’t allowed to go to university.

It would be a waste, their job was to marry and look after their husband and children.

But Florence Nightingale’s father thought differently.

Not being able to send her to university, he educated her at home.

First he taught her to read and write.

Then he taught her history, philosophy, Latin, Greek and, most unusually, mathematics.

Florence was an attractive young woman and had several offers of marriage.

But she didn’t accept any of them.

Instead, during the Crimean war, she took medical training.

Then she formed and trained a unit of 38 volunteer nurses.

And in 1854 she took them to the war.

What Florence Nightingale found at the military hospital horrified her.

Wounded soldiers were dying in droves.

Death in war is to be expected, but ten times more men were dying from disease than from battle wounds.

Typhus, Typhoid, Cholera, Dysentery, and Malaria killed over four thousand soldiers in her first year.

Most of it caused by defective sewers, malnutrition, overcrowding, and lack of ventilation.

As an educated woman, she decided to change things.

She came back to London to lobby Parliament.

But she knew that whatever she wrote, most MPs wouldn’t bother reading it.

It would be too long and detailed for them and their civil servants.

She was an intelligent woman.

She knew her audience.

She needed to show facts and figures, but she needed more than that.

She needed impact.

She needed communication.

She needed persuasion.

So Florence Nightingale argued her case using information graphics.

The basic Pie Chart had been invented fifty years before.

But if she hadn’t been taught mathematics she wouldn’t have known about it.

Florence Nightingale invented a new form of pie chart.

A simple, visual presentation of facts anyone could understand.

It was so powerful that it swept through Parliament like a bolt of electricity.

Brunel was briefed to design a new hospital immediately.

The staff were trained according to Florence Nightingale’s methods.

And the death rate was cut from 42% to 2%.

Thousands of men lived who otherwise would have died needlessly.

Thanks to Florence Nightingale, the Crimean war was the last war where more British soldiers died from disease than enemy action.

Mainly because she was an intelligent woman.

Mainly because she understood her audience.

Mainly because of her powerful, simple, graphic presentation of data.

It’s not enough to have to have the right statistics, the best strategy, the correct marketing.


You have to have the best way to present it.


One day at GGT I opened a letter.

It was on very stylish notepaper and it was from David Abbott.

David said he was running a spread in Campaign that week featuring my name in the headline, and he hoped I didn’t mind.

The headline on the ad said “Why it will never be David Trott and Dave Abbott”.

It was a jokey reference to GGT mainly doing working-class ads while AMV mainly did middle-class ads.

It was very nicely written  copy, as you’d expect.

Charming, witty, intelligent.

But what I couldn’t get over was that David Abbott was asking me if I minded.

If I minded having my name next to his.


I’d have paid for the ad myself if he’d asked.

David was a hero to my generation of creatives.

He fought harder for creative standards than anyone else.

He was more intelligent and better at writing ads than we were.

He was the agency head we all wanted to work for.

The only working creative with his name on the door.

On the door of an agency that consistently did the best work.

And he wrote most of it.

And he was asking if I “minded” him putting my name next to his.

I honestly didn’t think I deserved it.

I don’t think anyone else did either.

But I wasn’t going to say that, I tried to be cool and thanked him for letting me know.

Then went out and bought every copy of Campaign.

It was better than winning a D&AD award.

To have one of my heroes do that.

David didn’t know that he was one of my heroes, that’s not the sort of thing blokes say to each other.

I’d just try to write ads that I hoped he’d notice.

David had worked in New York before I had, but we both understood Bill Bernbach’s teaching.

Tough, hard-working ads handled with wit and intelligence.

Mine were probably tougher.

David’s were certainly wittier and more intelligent.

But his ads always had a hard core of professionalism, not just showboating, not cleverness for its own sake.

David’s ads were always about selling.

But selling done with respect, and style, and intelligence.

And wit.

Wit is always the word everyone used when talking about David.

David loved football, so he’d understand this.

I always felt like Billy Bonds to his Bobby Moore.

Billy Bonds captained West Ham.

But Bobby Moore not only captained West Ham, he captained England and won the World Cup.

Bob Paisley said something that summed it up for me.

He was once asked what sort of youngsters he was looking for at Liverpool.

He said “The sort of youngster we’re looking for will try to nutmeg Kevin Keegan on the training ground, then stand aside for him in the corridor”.

That’s exactly how I felt about David.

He was world class.

I’d always stand aside for him in the corridor.


My favourite David Abbott story is about the Economist campaign.

Actually, the Economist campaign we all remember was the third one Abbott Mead Vickers did.

The first was a TV ad featuring an animated head that opened up and things went into it.

Nice animation, nothing memorable.

The second campaign won lots of awards, but you have to remind people what it was.

It featured a man on a plane and Henry Kissinger sat next to him.

The VO said “What if Henry Kissinger sat next to you, would you know what to talk to him about?”

It won lots of advertising awards because no one could believe they got Henry Kissinger.

But people remembered it as ‘the Henry Kissinger ad’ not ‘the Economist ad’.

This worried David, he was an advertising purist not an awards junkie.

He had higher standards than the rest of us.

One evening after work, he was chatting to Ken New, AMV’s media director.

The Economist campaign was nagging away at David.

He had a pad on his lap and he was doodling a poster.

He said to Ken New “It’s a pity we have to do TV for The Economist.

It’s a pity we can’t do posters.

The proportions of a 48-sheet poster are exactly the same as the masthead on The Economist.

If we did posters we could use the exact same typeface with witty headlines, nothing else.

Just white type out of a red background.

We’d have massively powerful branding all over town and every poster would look exactly like the product.

Pity we can’t do posters.”

Ken New said “Of course we can do posters David, if you’ve got a great idea I can make the numbers work.”

Now at most agencies, they wouldn’t do the poster campaign because it wasn’t on brief, the brief was for TV.

But at the agency David Abbott built, the idea came first.

And the idea was always about selling the product in the most intelligent, effective way.

Not fitting the idea to the brief, not keeping the client happy, not winning awards.

Doing the best, most effective advertising.

And that discussion is where the Economist campaign hinged.

Ken New made the numbers fit and David wrote the posters.

And it became the greatest poster campaign for the next two decades.

The one everyone else is jealous of.

As soon as it started, Stevie Spring called me from her car phone.

She said “I’ve just seen a great poster, it said “If you’re an Economist reader ask your chauffeur to honk as you pass”.

And she laughed her head off over the phone.

Imagine people phoning each other to talk about your ads.

That’s the sort of response we’d all die for.

My wife is an art director, she worked for David at both his agencies: French Gold Abbott, and Abbott Mead Vickers.

I asked her what he was like to work for.

She said he wasn’t just a great writer, he was also a great art director, a great account man, and a great planner.

In fact he was a one-man agency.

The last time I saw David, he told me something I never knew.

As a junior, he was trained by both David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach.

I don’t know anyone else who can say that.

He was a giant trained by two giants.

No wonder it feels like the end of an era.


Chutzpah is a Jewish word meaning audacity.
In 1980, Eli Beer was a seventeen-year-old boy living in Jerusalem.
He wanted to do something worthwhile, so he volunteered to be an Emergency Medical Technician working on ambulances.
But the traffic in Jerusalem is terrible, the ambulance always took a minimum of twenty minutes to get to an emergency.
Once, his ambulance was called to a little girl choking, by the time they got there she was dead.
A doctor said “I was a block away, I could have saved her”.
Eli Beer went to see his boss.
He said he and a dozen colleagues all lived in the same area.
If the dispatcher would let them know when there was an emergency in their area they could run there fast, and keep the patient alive until the ambulance arrived.
His boss said “Kid, go back to school or go open a falafel stand. We don’t need your wild ideas”.
What Eli Beer did next was an example of chutzpah.
He thought “The hell with you. If you won’t give me the addresses I’ll get them myself”.
And he bought two police-band radios.
Almost immediately he heard about a nearby car crash.
He ran to the scene and found an old man bleeding to death.
He stopped the bleeding and kept the man alive until the ambulance arrived, twenty minutes later.
And he thought, in two years that’s the first life I’ve saved.
At that point he quit ambulances and started Hatzalah United.
He would listen for emergencies and broadcast the details to whichever of his volunteers was nearest.
And they kept patients alive until the ambulances arrived.
Then Eli Beer decided they could save even more lives with a little bit more chutzpah.
All the ambulances were getting stuck in traffic.
But what if the ambulances could travel through the traffic, even on the pavement?
They needed motorbikes that were equipped like ambulances, with blood plasma and defibrillators.
With more chutzpah, Eli Beer began raising money to buy them.
Now they could get to any emergency inside three minutes.
They could keep people alive until the ambulance got there.
And they began saving more lives, and more lives.
And Eli Beer raised more money to buy more motorbikes.
Currently they have two hundred medically equipped motorbikes across Israel.
Every motorbike will save, on average, 120 lives a year.
Hatzalah United saves lives regardless of race, religion, or nationality.
In fact, when Eli Beer’s own father had a heart attack, his life was saved by one of Hatzalah United’s Moslem volunteers.
So successful is Hatzalah United, it’s being copied in Brazil, India, Mexico, even Australia.
And it’s saving lives in all those places.
None of which would have happened without a seventeen-year-old boy’s chutzpah.
The dictionary defines chutzpah as:
“The personal confidence that allows one to do things that may seem shocking to others.
Gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, insolence, audacity, temerity, presumption plus arrogance”.

We could also define chutzpah as creativity.


When Henry Ford started making cars, few people had them.
Ford knew that cars were only bought by the rich.
So obviously his strategy would be market growth, not market share.
In 1908, the average car cost over $2,000.
So he launched the Model T costing just $800.
People who’d never even considered owning a car could now afford one.

Ford aimed to grow the market amongst non-owners.
The cheaper he made the cars, the more people could buy them.
It became a constant struggle to get costs down, and down.
By 1911, he realised production was one of the main costs.
If he could make the cars faster he could sell them cheaper.
But current assembly techniques were just too slow.
Ford needed to think creatively.
Think in a way other car manufacturers weren’t thinking.
So he looked outside factories and industry.
He looked at meat-packing plants.
In meat-packing plants the carcasses are loaded onto an endless belt.
The employees stand where they are while the carcasses come past.
One man takes out the innards, that’s all he does all day.
One man cuts off the limbs, that’s all he does.
One man separates the various cuts of meat, that’s all he does.
Nobody has to move, they do one simple job over-and-over.
Henry Ford thought, what if I did that in reverse?
Instead of using a conveyor belt to take something apart, I could use it to put a car together.
The Ford production line was born and the speed of making a car was halved.
Along with the cost, which Ford cut to to $360.
Model T sales rose to a quarter of a million.
Another huge cost in auto manufacturing was employee churn.
The work was dirty and badly paid.
In one year, Ford alone hired 53,000 different staff for 14,000 jobs.
This meant the constant cost of retraining, plus the lost production.
Again Ford needed to think creatively.
And in 1914, Henry Ford did the unthinkable.
He doubled his employees’ basic wage from $2.34 to $5 a day.
Every other manufacturer thought he was insane.
But none of Ford’s employees now wanted to leave.
He saved the cost and the time of constant retraining.
And, as Ford explained, he turned his 250,000 workers into customers.
They could all now afford to buy cars.
And the one car at a price they could all afford was the Model T.
By 1916, Ford sold half a million Model Ts.
By 1922, he cut the price to $269 and had half the entire market.
By 1927, when the Model T finally stopped production, he had sold fifteen million cars.
Henry Ford had turned America into a country of car owners.
He saturated the country, and the market, with automobiles.

He not only built the cars, he built the market.




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