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I’ve just seen the freshest piece of advertising I’ve seen in years.

But it wasn’t advertising.

At least not in the sense the new media gurus mean: mobile-optimised, content-curation, storytelling, native advertising, big data, multi-screen experience, video-play platform.

Nope, it was about as old-fashioned and traditional as you can get.

It was just some buskers standing in the street singing.

Two blokes and a girl with guitars and another bloke with an upturned bucket, singing to people walking by.

You can’t get much more traditional than that, can you.

We had minstrels singing before we had marketing, before we had technology, before we even had electricity.

So how could that possibly be fresh?

Well, just listen to the lyrics:

(Verse 1)

“I don’t give to the Big Issue seller, cos he’s probably on heroin.

I just walk past him with a grin, and if I can I kick his dog.

And I don’t give to the busker, Cos he’s talentless and lazy.

He’s ruining the country, I think he should get a job.”


“Instead I give my money to:

Walmart for their tax evasion.

Primark for its child labour.

Texaco for their next invasion.

And I don’t give a fuck about you.

I give my money to billionaires.

I give my money to billionaires.

I give my money to billionaires.

And I don’t give a fuck about you.”

(Verse 2)

“I don’t give to the beggar, that’s what I pay my taxes for.

The government should shove him through the door of a prison cell or a hospital.

I don’t give to the homeless piss-head,

cos he’ll blow it all on booze instead.

Such a waster doesn’t deserve a bed.

Waddya mean: welfare is dead?”


“Instead I give my money to:

Starbucks in case they get hard up.

BP, making a living ain’t easy.

Barclays, they look after me.

And I don’t give a fuck about you.

I give my money to billionaires.

I give my money to billionaires.

I give my money to billionaires.

And I don’t give a fuck about you.”

What we see here is product, brand, and message in complete harmony (pun intended).

You have the media mix, awareness through to point-of-sale, reach to penetration, working seamlessly.

Context and content complementing each other.

All the consumer insights about why people don’t give to buskers are addressed in the lyrics.

The chance to prove you’re not like that is right in front of you.

The song is about choosing sides.

Of course some people won’t even listen.

That’s okay.

You don’t waste time talking to core non-users.

But, given the choice, most people would rather not give money to corrupt billionaires.

So that’s what these buskers do: they present the argument and give you the choice.

At exactly the place you can vote with what’s in your pocket.

That’s what makes it great advertising.


Chris Blackwell was born in Jamaica and went to school in England.

When he went home to Jamaica he tried various jobs, but didn’t like any of them.

The only thing he loved was Jamaican music.

So in 1958, at age 21, he decided to start recording it.

He formed his own record label called Island.

But he couldn’t sign the big Jamaican names because they wouldn’t sign to a small label.

Blackwell knew he had to offer something different.

He knew in England there were lots of Jamaican immigrants who couldn’t buy the music they loved from home.

So Blackwell asked the Jamaican stars if they’d let him distribute their records on his label in London.

They had nothing to lose, so they agreed.

Blackwell came back to London and drove his Mini round the record shops where the Jamaican immigrants lived.

He began selling Ska records to the shops from the boot of his car.

Which helped make something else happen.

At that time the fashion was Mods, who thought West Indians were cool so their music must be, they began buying it too.

And Blackwell helped Ska cross over into white English culture.

But he wanted to start recording his own artists.

One singer he’d heard had a strange high-pitched voice, a fifteen-year-old girl called Millie Small, she was different.

Blackwell signed her, and got her to record My Boy Lollipop.

It sold six million copies worldwide.

Then Blackwell heard about a band above a pub in Birmingham, he said “The lead singer sounded like Ray Charles on helium”.

They were so different Blackwell signed them.

The singer was Steve Winwood, and Blackwell got him to record a rock version of a Ska song “Keep On Running”.

Their record pushed the Beatles out of the number one spot.

Then Blackwell heard a group called the Wailers playing reggae.

They wanted to move towards the current American black sound: slick and smooth like disco.

But Blackwell wanted them to go the other way: be different.

He pushed them towards rough and raw: a black rock band.

Rock music had guitar solos, reggae didn’t.

So Blackwell had Bob Marley add guitar solos and make the lyrics harder, more political.

Bob Marley’s album Exodus stayed in the charts for 56 weeks.

Blackwell found another group that couldn’t find a label.

He signed them simply because they were different and had “spirit and force”.

Their first albums failed and they thought it was all over.

But Blackwell thought they were different enough to be worth sticking with.

Their fourth album, Joshua Tree, went to number one around the entire world.

That group was U2.

Amongst the artists on Chris Blackwell’s Island Records were:

Amy Winehouse, Tom Waits, Roxy Music, the Cranberries, Cat Stevens, The B 52s, Pulp, Paul Weller, Nirvana, Ultravox, Tricky, Keane, Grace Jones, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Traffic, Free, King Crimson, John Cale, Jim Capaldi, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Toots & The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Robert Palmer, The Pogues, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Florence & The Machine, George Michael, Robbie Williams, Georgie Fame, Malcolm McLaren, Bon Jovi, Jamie Cullum, Elkie Brooks, The Slits, and Derek & Clive.

Over 300 artists, and all they had in common was they were different.

Chris Blackwell built Island Records into “The most diverse independent record label in history”.

In 1989, he sold it for £200 million, around £1 billion today.

Because of something we could all learn: different is worth more than the same.


Economic Progressivism sounds like a difficult concept.

It sounds complicated but, like anything, it needn’t be.

Not if you put it in plain language.

Like anything it just needs explaining in terms your audience can understand.

Economic Progressivism just means wealth redistribution.

Taking a bit more from the people who have the most and giving it to the people who have the least.

But to Americans that sounds like socialism.

And, particularly to Americans, that’s a dirty word.

It sounds like taking money away from people who’ve worked hard for it and giving it to layabouts who won’t work.

But Elizabeth Warren saw it differently.

She wanted to be elected Senator for Massachusetts.

She was a Democrat so, unlike the Republicans, she didn’t believe in massive wealth just for the few.

In America, the top 1% has more than the entire bottom 90%.

She didn’t think that was fair.

But she knew a logical appeal using numbers wouldn’t work.

It was cold and remote.

She needed to put it in her audience’s language.

So she explained it like this:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody.

You built a factory out there – good for you.

But I want to be clear, you moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for.

You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.

You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.

You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea – God bless.

Keep a hunk of it.

But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Suddenly everyone could see that no one got rich on their own.

Entrepreneurs could only become successful because of what everyone else had contributed.

If entrepreneurs were willing to take advantage of what everyone else had contributed it was only fair they help pay for other people to have that chance too.

Elizabeth Warren put it in her audience’s language.

Suddenly, it not only became understandable it became commendable.

It summarised the good things America was about.

Free enterprise and the chance to make a fortune, but also fairness.

Recognising who gave you the break and paying it back.

That’s something we all need to learn about communication.

Whatever we’re talking about, whoever we’re talking to, we need to put it in their language, not ours.

Not just make sure we explain it in a way that we think makes sense.

But make sure that they get it.

Shortly after making that speech, Elizabeth Warren was elected the first female Senator for Massachusetts.


(From ‘THE OTAGO DAILY TIMES’ – New Zealand.)
“We were trapped for thirteen hours in our own car” Brian Smith explained to reporters in Alexandra, “and the emergency services told us that we’d have died if we’d been there for another half hour.
It’s a keyless car, so when the door was shut and we didn’t have the transponder key, we couldn’t get out.
We tried to smash the window with a car jack, and we sounded our horn, but it was Guy Fawkes Night and nobody noticed it, due to fireworks.
We were trapped.
By morning, my wife Molljeanne was unconscious and I was struggling to breathe, when neighbours finally rescued us and took us to hospital.
I’ve since been shown that I could have opened the door manually with the door handle, but I didn’t know that then.
I thought the doors would only work with the transponder, so I didn’t try the handle.
I think all owners of keyless cars need to educate themselves in how to operate their car.”
So let’s get this right.
This guy and his wife sat in their car for thirteen hours and nearly died because it didn’t occur to them to try the door handle.
That sounds pretty stupid, we’d never do that would we.
And yet we do it every day.
We are so overwhelmed by how complicated we’ve made everything we’ve lost the ability to use simple plain old common sense.
No wonder creative departments are confused.
What exactly is their job?
Is it: native advertising, content curation, storytelling or ideation, big data or hyper local, demographics or psychographics, semiotics, neuro-linguistics, or behavioural economics, choice architecture, cognitive dissonance, loss aversion bias, the sunk-cost heuristic, hyperbolic discounting, or confirmation bias, CRM, SEO, KPI, RPI, or CSR?
In fact they’re expected to know about all of these.
And yet.
Recently, Tim Bell was giving a talk on political advertising.
He and Saatchi helped Thatcher win three elections in a row.
They know all about the complicated world of political advertising.
Tim said this:
“There are two strategies in political advertising.
Either: It’s time to change.
Or: It’s not time to change.”
Tim and Saatchis won Thatcher three elections in a row by keeping it simple.
One of the simple things Tim understands is the difference between advertising and marketing.
Advertising isn’t marketing.
Advertising is the voice of marketing.
But most advertising people don’t know that.
Consequently a lot of advertising looks like a marketing mood film with a two second logo on the end.
It keeps everyone in the client’s marketing department happy.
It ticks all the boxes.
And it’s bland and invisible to the consumer.
Because everyone forgot the simple job.
Will ordinary people notice it?
Why should they buy it?
We don’t ask those questions because everything is too complicated.

It never occurs to us to try the door handle.


In 1957, a billion Chinese were going hungry.

Mao Zedong couldn’t admit this was because of the failings of his communist agricultural policies.

The reason must be something else.

He heard that sparrows were eating lots of grain.

That must be the reason.

So began ‘The Great Sparrow Campaign’.

The people must do whatever was necessary to rid China of sparrows.

That way the people would have plenty to eat.

It became everyone’s responsibility to help wipe out sparrows.

Masses of schoolchildren were taken on outings to destroy nests, to smash eggs, to kill chicks.

Everyone with any kind of gun was told to shoot sparrows wherever they saw them.

Poison was put wherever sparrows lived.

The Chinese organised in thousands to visit the areas where the sparrows gathered.

They did anything to stop them landing in the trees.

They made vast amounts of noise: sounding horns, thumping drums, even banging old pots and pans.

Propaganda films of the period show entire villages participating right across China.

They wouldn’t let the sparrows land and eventually the sparrows exhausted themselves and dropped to earth dead.

All over China, towns and villages were given recognition for the amount of sparrows they killed.

One day alone, in Shanghai, they killed 198,000.

Eventually, sparrows in China were eradicated, around two billion birds.

So that was the end of the problem, now food would be plentiful.

Well not quite.

What Mao Zedong hadn’t allowed for was what else the sparrows ate, besides grain.

They ate locusts.

Without the sparrows, the locusts had nothing to stop them.

They multiplied on a massive scale.

And locusts were many times more destructive than sparrows.

Plagues of locusts took over huge areas of Chinese farmland.

Each swarm covering hundreds of square miles made up of trillions of locusts.

It resulted in the Great Famine.

Which resulted in thirty million people dead from starvation.

Which created a new problem: what could be done to control the locusts?

The only solution was for China to import millions of sparrows from Communist Russia.

To try to put everything back the way it had been.

Because the solution had been worse than the problem.

Which is pretty much what’s happened to advertising.

Advertising was good, but we were looking for a way to make it better.

So we had to replace intuition and normal common-sense.

We had to make everything rational and verifiable, measurable and accountable, sensible and scientific.

And what happened?

We killed off the intuitive, the common-sense, the fun.

Advertising became formulaic, dull, invisible and predictable.

We killed off the sparrows and the locusts were worse.


Lindsey Stone had a joke going with a friend on Facebook.

They used to post cheeky, irreverent photos of themselves challenging authority.

If they saw a NO SMOKING sign they’d take a picture standing next to it with a cigarette.

If they saw KEEP OFF THE GRASS they’d take a photo on the grass in front of it.

At the supermarket in the BASKETS ONLY line, they’d take a photo with a fully loaded trolley.

Not hysterically funny maybe, but relatively harmless.

Then one day Lindsey saw a sign that said SILENCE AND RESPECT.

She took a photo of herself screaming at the word SILENCE and giving the finger to the word RESPECT.

Again just a harmless bit of fun.

Only this time it wasn’t a harmless bit of fun.

Because she hadn’t noticed what else it said on the sign.


Arlington Cemetery is where the USA’s war dead are buried.

Soldiers who’ve been killed fighting for their country.

And the photo didn’t look like a cheeky little dig at authority.

It looked like Lindsey was abusing the memory of all the people that had died defending America.

On Arlington’s website it says it the cemetery “serves as a tribute to the service and sacrifice of every individual laid to rest within these hallowed grounds”.

And Lindsey Stone was giving the finger to all those brave men and women.

Except of course she wasn’t.

All she saw was the words SILENCE AND RESPECT, an opportunity for a joke.

But all everyone else saw was the words ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY.

And two sets of people interpreted her photo completely differently.

Lindsey thought it was a bit of fun, and sent it to her friend’s Facebook page.

Which didn’t have any privacy settings.

So a lot of people saw it who weren’t in on Lindsey’s joke.

They were disgusted and they shared their disgust all over the Internet.

Because no one else was in on Lindsey’s joke the photo went viral and she became a national hate figure.

One response was a ‘Fire Lindsey Stone’ page set up on Facebook, it immediately got 12,000 likes.

Among the milder responses were “Lindsey Stone needs to be fired, she isn’t American” and “Send the dumb feminist to prison” and “Fuck you whore, I hope you die a slow and painful death”.

For a year Lindsey wasn’t even able to leave her house.

She was eventually fired from her job.

Which is ironic, because her job was caring for adults with learning and intellectual disabilities, and Lindsey was apparently very good at it.

In fact on that particular day she was taking twenty patients on a trip to visit Arlington Cemetery to show them where heroes are buried.

Lindsey Stone is a valuable lesson for all of us.

With any media: communication is everything.

And in all communication it’s not enough to take responsibility for speaking correctly.

We have to take responsibility for being heard correctly.


In 2006 Apple’s revenues were $19 billion.

The iPod alone was $7.7 billion of that, it had 90% of the personal music-player market.

Things were looking good.

So why did Steve Jobs wake up in a sweat?

Why did he start writing numbers down, making phone calls, rushing into work the next day arranging meetings and cancelling projects?

Why did Steve Jobs think he had to avert a crisis?

Well precisely because things were looking good.

The previous day, Steve Jobs had seen the new Nokia mobile phone.

No big deal, just another mobile phone: It had the usual range of trivial features.

One of the gimmicks was you could download six tunes onto it.

Not very useful, no one cared.

But something at the back of Steve’s mind nagged away at him.

And he woke up in the middle of the night thinking “If they can download six tunes what happens if they can download sixty tunes? Or six hundred tunes? That’s the end of the iPod – that’s fifty percent of our business gone – It’ll be too late to worry then, we won’t have a company.”

And he started writing down numbers, doing calculations, and as far as he could see there was only one answer.

So he started making phone calls, organising meetings and cancelling projects.

The next morning he got his people together and he said “We’re getting into the phone business”.

Naturally they thought he was crazy, he was being paranoid.

But he explained they had no choice.

Either they ate Nokia’s lunch, or Nokia would eat theirs.

So in 2007 Apple launched the iPhone.

By 2009 the iPod still made up $8 billion of their revenue, but the iPhone was nearly $7 billion.

By 2013 the iPod had dropped to $2.3 billion of revenue, but the iPhone had grown to $91 billion.

Apple is now the world’s largest smart phone manufacturer.

Nokia, who Steve Jobs was scared stiff of, barely exists anymore.

Mainly because he was frightened and they weren’t.

He knew that fear is the most valuable tool an entrepreneur can have.

Fear will give you an edge on the competition.

Recently I was reading that fear is one of the great strengths of species that evolve.

Suppose you can’t tell the shape of a bear from a rock.

If you always assume the shape is a rock most times you will be right, and you’ll lead a more relaxed life.

Right until the time you’re wrong and it actually is a bear.

Then you die a painful death.

But suppose you always assume that shape is a bear, and you run.

Most times you will be wrong, because it actually is a rock.

But the one time it really is a bear, you’ll survive.

So species that respect and cultivate fear are the ones that survive.

They learn to make fear their unfair advantage.

They are more aware, more attentive, and have an edge over the competition.

Like Steve Jobs, they know fear is their friend.


Marc Koska is not a doctor, yet he’s saved nine million lives.

How did he do that?

He did it by preventing doctors doing what they see as their job.

But how can that be a good thing, isn’t that harmful?

No because, amazingly, fatal diseases are being spread by doctors.

He’s preventing a great deal of that.

This didn’t happen back in history, this is happening right now.

Doctors are transmitting fatal diseases by re-using and recycling hypodermic syringes.

In India and Africa the scale of the problem is vast.

Every year 23 million cases of hepatitis are transmitted via re-used syringes.

Every year 300,000 cases of HIV are transferred via re-used syringes.

Marc Koska secretly filmed a hospital where forty patients were given injections from just two needles; whatever disease anyone had was passed along to the rest.

Koska secretly filmed doctors injecting patients suffering from syphilis and HIV, then immediately using the same needle to inject babies and small children.

Nurses tell Koska their hospital routinely uses each needle on thirty to forty patients a day.

Then it’s washed in the same luke-warm soapy water as all the other needles and they’re all used again tomorrow.

Marc Koska has invented a way to stop this happening.

He’s invented the single-use hypodermic syringe.

It’s made on exactly the same machine as ordinary syringes but after one use the plunger breaks off and it can’t be re-used.

It costs 5 cents.

The World Health Organisation estimate it’s saved nine million lives.

The problem is it seems a waste to throw away a syringe.

To doctors a needle is just a way to deliver medicine.

They don’t understand washing and re-using a syringe is doing more harm than good.

Hospital authorities estimate single-use syringes cut an average 60% off the time patients spend in hospital.

So every $1 spent on these syringes saves $200 in hospital costs.

But in India, when 495 people contracted hepatitis, the government spent $150,000 on mass vaccinations.

Each vaccination cost twenty times as much as a disposable syringe.

But 92 people died because the government saved money by re-using and recycling their hypodermic syringes.

And yet in India a bottle of Coke costs 50 cents, the same as ten single-use syringes.

The problem is that doctors have a high-status occupation.

They’ve had many years of training.

They’ve learnt to recognise the symptoms of many diseases.

They know the names of all the medicines available.

They can’t be bothered with something as trivial as needles.

How the right medicine gets into the patient is a trivial concern.

So the doctors concentrate on the complicated part of their job and ignore the simple part.

Because humans are always attracted to a complicated solution.

The more complicated it is, the better it must be.

We are all susceptible to that.

And, like the doctors, we ignore the simple solution and are seduced by the most complicated explanation available.

Which is why, like those doctors, most of what we do doesn’t work.

We never learn: simple works, complicated doesn’t.


Every year two million stray dogs are put to death in the USA.

They are taken to shelters to see if anyone wants them.

Hardly anyone does of course.

They’re dirty, often diseased, undomesticated.

No one has the time and patience to clean and train them so they die.

What’s the alternative?

If only there was a group of people that had enough time to clean and train those dogs?

They’d be much more likely to find good homes.

Then they wouldn’t have to die.

But where could you find a group of people like that?

People who would do all that work for no pay?

A group of people with that amount of time to spare?

There is one place: prison.

In prison there are lots of people with nothing but time.

So the Massachusetts Department of Correction tried an experiment.

They partnered with a rescue charity called Don’t Throw Us Away.

They asked prisoners to volunteer to train and look after dogs.

For eight weeks a dog would share an inmates’ cell.

Each inmate would keep the dog clean and handle all its medical needs.

They would feed and exercise the dog.

And they would train the dog in basic obedience, so that after eight weeks the dog could find a good home.

And they wouldn’t have to die.

The results were better than anyone expected.

Inmates couldn’t wait to get a dog to share their cell.

From hardened criminals came an outpouring of pent up emotion.

Feelings they couldn’t show in front of the other inmates.

But they could to a dog.

And prison authorities found the inmates began to open up and learn tenderness, care and companionship.

And an amazing thing happened.

While the prisoners were helping the dogs get better, the dogs were doing the same for the prisoners.

As one inmate said “When you’re in prison you put a wall up. A dog is a live being that trusts you totally, so you trust the dog. You don’t need that wall.”

More than that, the inmates felt sympathy for the abandoned dogs.

The dogs had had a rougher life than they had.

Another of the inmates said “People forget about you when you’re inside. Just like these dogs been forgot about. They have to learn to trust again.”

And for once the inmates could see the benefit of rules.

If they could teach the dogs to learn to obey simple commands, they had a chance of finding a good home.

And the inmates worked with the dogs on learning the rules.

Another inmate said “Some of these dogs have been through a lot. I’ve got to show her there’s a better life.”

And, when their dog actually gets a good home the prisoners are thrilled. It’s almost like graduation.

And gradually, without realising it, the inmates are also being rehabilitated back into the world.

They are learning about patience, responsibility and trust.

As another inmate said “I’m learning to be a dad, to be part of my family when I go home”.

It reminds me of an ad Neil Drossman wrote years ago in New York.

It was for a charity that retrained disabled people, and it showed a man in a wheelchair repairing a TV set.



Harland David Sanders was born in Indiana in 1890.

In 1903 he got a job painting horse-drawn carriages.

In 1904 he became a farm hand.

In 1905 a streetcar conductor.

In 1906 he joined the army and drove a team of mules in Cuba.

In 1907 he became a blacksmith in Alabama.

In 1908 a fireman on the railroad.

In 1909 a labourer in Tennessee.

In 1911 a lawyer in Arkansas.

In 1913 he was selling life insurance in Indiana.

In 1924, for the first time, he moved to Kentucky and got a job.

He ran a Shell station and discovered the concept of franchising.

The more he sold, the more money he, and Shell, made.

Harland David Sanders loved the idea.

He began thinking of ways to get people to choose his station rather than the one across the street.

He started selling food: country style ham, chicken, and steak.

He began by selling it from his own kitchen table.

It was so successful he eventually bought the station across the street and began serving his food there.

In 1937 he opened a motel and restaurant selling his food next door.

Trade was so good that the Governor of Kentucky made him a ‘Colonel of Kentucky’.

This was a purely honorary title given to any businessman who contributed to the good of the state.

The Governor made 5,000 ‘Colonels’ that year.

In 1952, aged 62, Sanders decided to try the franchise concept with his food.

He had a friend who owned a diner in Utah and he persuaded him that fried chicken would separate it off from the local hamburger joints.

And Sanders would get 5 cents for every chicken sold.

In order to make it a franchise he needed a brand.

He decided to call it ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ to make it sound different to ordinary fried chicken.

He used the line ‘finger lickin’ good’ to give it the feel of southern down-home quality.

And he decided that he himself would become the symbol that sold the franchise.

So he began to dress like a Southern, civil-war era, plantation owner.

He called himself ‘Colonel Sanders’ (although he’d only ever been a private in the army).

He wore a white suit and a white hat, he wore a string tie and carried a cane.

He grew a goatee, which he dyed white to match his hair.

And everyone accepted him as ‘The Colonel’.

Despite the fact that this was 1950s America, and no one had dressed like that for a hundred years.

And so no one questioned ‘the Colonel’s secret recipe’ embodied the quality of ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’.

In fact it soon became America’s alternative to hamburgers.

‘Colonel Sanders’ travelled everywhere promoting the brand.

By 1965 there were 600 franchises.

In 1969 the company was listed on the New York stock exchange.

In 1986 PepsiCo Inc bought the company.

Today KFC has 37,000 outlets in 110 countries.

And ‘Colonel Sanders’ is still on every box, every bucket, every sign, every napkin.

As Harland David Sanders knew, all you’re ever selling is yourself.

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