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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.

The inside.


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?
Again, marketing.
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.”

1,300 years later, that’s still a great lesson for anyone in marketing.


Andrew Haldane is the Bank of England’s Executive Director for Financial Stability.
Big title.
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.
Paralysis even.
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.

We’re smarter than a dog, and yet more 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.

Plain, old fashioned, using your loaf.


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.”
Sound familiar?
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.”
Sound familiar?
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.”
Sound familiar?
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.”
Sound familiar?
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.

Otherwise, as the philosopher George Santayana said, “Those that do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


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.

Rather than just pumping loads of ideas out and hoping one of them might hit the target.


Years ago I was a junior at BMP.
‘Suits’ had just begun to stop wearing suits.
Planners and account men began to dress in ‘smart-casual’.
Our managing director, David Batterbee, had long hair and a beard.
He also wore jeans, denim shirts and cowboy boots.
One day he took us to the car park to show us his new car.
It was something called a Range Rover.
It had just been launched and we’d never seen anything like it before.
It was a jeep on the outside but a car on the inside.
We couldn’t figure why anyone would want to buy something like that.
If you wanted a jeep you had Land Rover.
Tough, strong, versatile, go anywhere.
If you wanted a car you had hundreds to choose from.
Why would anyone pick something that wasn’t one thing or the other?
At the time it didn’t make any sense.
Years later of course, it’s obvious.
It was the automotive equivalent of what our managing director was wearing.
Nice clean, well-pressed denim and shiny, clean cowboy boots.
Not cowboy boots you could ride a horse with.
Not real cowboy boots.
Just the look of cowboy boots made for a more comfortable urban lifestyle.
The brilliance of Range Rover was in spotting the opportunity and capitalising on it.
The original Range Rover had just two doors and the interior was designed to be washed out with a hose.
It soon became obvious this wasn’t where the sales opportunity was.
The real sales opportunity was like those cowboy boots.
Looking as if you did rough, tough things, while driving around town and staying nice and clean.
Taking the Range Rover to the opera, the theatre, the school sports day, the office, shopping in Bond Street.
And gradually Range Rover moved the car in that direction.
Adding four doors, a leather interior, state-of-the-art stereo, heated seats, walnut dashboard, air-conditioning, electric sunroof, darkened windows.
The Range Rover became as luxurious as any limousine.
It became the car of choice for rap artists, royalty, visiting dignitaries, billionaires and film stars.
It was made in high-speed, turbo-charged versions.
It was made in sleek low profile versions to make it more attractive to women.
Victoria Beckham even designed a line, and the biggest-selling model is now called ‘The Vogue’.
Range Rover is a great example of the product following the market.
An example of the brand dictating the product.
Last year Range Rover sold a third of a million vehicles worldwide.
Sales were £13.5 billion, and profits £1.5 billion.
Range Rover is a triumph of intelligent marketing.
Everyone seems happy except the man who designed it, Spen King.
He said it was “never intended as a status symbol but later incarnations of my design seem to be intended for that purpose.”

But then Spen King was a designer, not a marketing person.


When Terry Leahey was 23 he joined Tesco as a junior marketing executive.
By age 36 he was on the board.
Largely because of what he’d done, Tesco became the largest retailer in the UK.
At age 39 he was made CEO.
At age 44 he was voted the UK’s Businessman Of The Year.
The year after that, he was named European Businessman Of The Year.
The year after that, Tesco recorded £2 billion annual profit.
By the time he retired, aged 54, Tesco was the third largest retailer in the entire world.
One pound in every eight spent in the UK was spent in Tesco.
This is the advice Sir Terry Leahey recently chose to pass along:
“Be more tolerant of the difficult people.
They’re the creative ones.
They’re not happy with the status quo”
So one of the most successful businessmen we’ve ever had recommends we learn to value troublemakers.
Of course he does.
People who are satisfied will never change things.
All change comes from dissatisfaction with the way things are.
Every artistic movement, every scientific discovery, every business innovation starts with a desire to change.
Helmut Krone was one of the greatest art directors ever.
He did two of the most important campaigns in the entire history of advertising.
Volkswagen and Avis.
Helmut Krone said “My entire life has been a fight against logos. A logo says ‘I’m an ad, turn the page.”
I recently read something that I never knew.
The Avis campaign has no logo.
Not on any of the ads.
All these years I’ve admired it and I never noticed.
Helmut Krone said “I said to the copywriter, put the name Avis in every headline, that way we don’t need a logo.”
And I just checked and it’s true.
The name is in every headline and there isn’t a logo.
That’s a man who isn’t satisfied with the way things are.
Everyone else accepted that an ad must always consist of 4 elements.
Picture. Headline. Copy. Logo.
Every other advertising person accepted it unquestioningly.
Until Helmut Krone questioned it.
And Helmut Krone did the advertising that helped turn Avis into a $12 billion company.
Think about Helmut Krone and Terry Leahey the next time you do something unquestioningly.
The next time you must have five alternative campaigns to show the client.
Instead of just one brilliant campaign.
The next time you double-guess the client and change the ad before he sees it.
The next time your goal is not to make waves.
Not to upset anyone.
Not to be unreasonable.
Not to go against the accepted way that everyone does things.

Because according to Sir Terry Leahey, you’re not creative.


Portsmouth is a small club with small resources, they didn’t really belong in the Premier league.
But Portsmouth wanted to be in the Premier League.
So they hired Harry Redknapp as manager, for two reasons.

One: Harry wanted to be in the Premier League.
He knew he was better than a lot of managers and he wanted the chance to prove it.
Two: Harry is a wheeler-dealer.
He can make things happen by cutting corners, taking chances, doing deals more conventional managers wouldn’t even think of.
In other words Harry was creative.
Just what a small club needs.
Someone who can bend the rules.
Someone who can take unfair advantage.
A predatory thinker.
Harry was always known for spotting talented players other clubs hadn’t seen and buying them cheap.
They’d win games for him, then he’d sell them off to the lazier, richer managers at a huge profit.
So the small club wins games while it’s making money.
A good example of this was a particular foreign player Harry wanted.
Harry found out he was free to sign.
The other clubs hadn’t even bothered making enquiries.
Harry invited the player’s agent to England to talk business.
But word got out, and now the other clubs were interested.
Harry went to the hotel to see the agent.
At reception he noticed a pile of faxes with the letterheads of bigger, richer clubs.
Harry said to the receptionist “He’s had a very tiring flight and he needs to rest. Could you hold all faxes and phone calls?”
Then he went upstairs to see the agent.
He said “I’m willing to sign the player right now for a million.”
The agent said he’d heard some other clubs might offer more.
Harry said “Well my offer stays open for two hours. Meanwhile we’ll wait here and see if a better offer comes in.”
So they waited together.
And after two hours there were no better offers.
Harry said “Right, well it doesn’t look like anyone else wants him, so I’m off. Are you gonna take my offer or not?”
And with no alternative, the agent signed his player to Harry.
Meanwhile downstairs were faxes offering double what Harry had just signed him for.
Harry put the player straight into the team.
The player helped Portsmouth win a lot of games.
And eventually Harry sold the player for four million.
Imagine if Harry had tried to sign the player the way we approach new business.
He would have had PowerPoint slides of a research study showing the agent his player was better off moving to Portsmouth.
He’d have had VoxPop tapes of Portsmouth players saying how happy they were at the club.
Meanwhile the agent would have seen the better offers and signed the player to another club.
The first step in predatory thinking is understanding it isn’t about getting the right answer, it’s about winning.
Saatchi learned this the hard way many years ago.
They were pitching against Allan Brady Marsh for Weetabix.
Saatchi had a massive research document prepared with tons of PowerPoint slides.
Their entire pitch was facts and statistics and thoroughness.
The clients nodded in agreement all the way through the pitch at the undeniable logic of their strategy.
Right after them Allan Brady Marsh pitched.
They built a stage for dancers in six foot tall Weetabix costumes to sing and dance, and act out the commercials.
All the clients laughed and clapped and sang along.

Guess which agency won the pitch.


When the two Mikes and I thought about opening an agency, we thought we’d give it a trial run first.
Mike Greenlees briefed me to do a pitch on Holsten Export.
I did a TV campaign and showed it to Mike.
He said “This is really good example of the sort of work everyone is doing for beer right now. I’ll have no trouble selling this. But it doesn’t frighten me. I’m not thinking ‘How the hell am I going to sell it?’ Can’t you do something like that, something that scares me?”
I could have kissed him.
Right there I wanted to open an agency and work with this guy.
So we did.
And the work I subsequently did won the pitch too.
And lots of awards.
Now let’s look behind that story to the relationship between creatives and suits.
I would never admit it, but in my heart of hearts I knew the work I had done the first time was boring.
I was even a bit embarrassed about it.
But like any creative I can’t admit that, even to myself.
What Mike could have said, which would have been equally true, is “This work is dull. It’s what everyone else is doing. Can’t you do anything a bit more exciting than that? Is that the best you can do?”
That would have been equally true, but it wouldn’t have been very likely to get the result Mike wanted.
I’d have said “Fuck off” and stormed out.
Mike didn’t say that, he didn’t put me down.
He gave me a challenge that no creative guy could resist “Can’t you scare me?”
Suddenly, instead of being deflated I’m excited, thrilled.
I can’t wait to start work on a new campaign.
Mike is doing what all the very best account men do for creatives.
He’s making me believe I’m better than I am.
Exactly what the very best football managers do for their players.
He’s making me play at the top of my game.
Most account men, clients, creative directors, planners can’t do that.
They think it’s their job to be a ball and chain.
To hold the creatives back.
To reign them in and curb their worst excesses.
They would never dare to say “Shock me” to a creative.
They’d be terrified of losing control.
One of the main reasons CDP was the best agency in London (if not the world) for two decades was Frank Lowe.
Frank was the CEO and a suit, but he was like Alex Ferguson to the creatives.
He didn’t expect you to play down to a safe, easy to sell, level.
He expected you to be amazing, outrageous, surprising.
Don’t bring him anything that wasn’t frighteningly good.
And the better it was, the harder it was to sell.
And Frank knew only the best suits could sell it.
And Frank (like Mike Greenlees, or Tim Bell at Saatchi’s) knew he was one of the best.
The worst crime wasn’t to be wrong.
The worst crime was to be dull.
That’s largely what’s happened to advertising nowadays.
We work down to the level of what the suits/planners can easily sell.
Down to the level of what clients can easily buy.
We do work that’s predictable, comfortable, unchallenging.
So that’s what runs.
Just like the campaign I did before Mike said “Scare me”.

The creatives make the great work.
But the suits make the creatives make the great work.

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