Disruption Takes Flight

24 Jul

In 1941, the fortunes of war improved slightly for Britain.

In late 1940, the RAF had narrowly won the Battle of Britain, buying the country some time.

The Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe were still just 25 miles away across the Strait of Dover but at least they were no longer banging on the door.

What the British badly needed was a way to take the fight to the enemy.

The de Havilland Aircraft Company had a revolutionary idea — a lightning fast unarmed bomber.

But with the German navy prowling the Atlantic and merchant shipping being lost at a terrible rate, the steel and aluminum to build such an aircraft were hard to come by.

The concept of a bomber that was so fast it didn’t need to carry cannon or machine guns made sense in theory.

The weight of armaments took away from an aircraft’s ability to carry a larger bomb load on the same amount of fuel.

As a theory it was all very well, but this was the era of the heavily armed B17 Flying Fortress.

Even if the theory proved correct, it didn’t solve the practical problem of how to obtain enough material to build an aircraft in large numbers.

The project was in jeopardy but de Havilland proposed a radical solution.

They would build the aircraft out of wood.

Not surprisingly the idea of an unarmed bomber with a wooden airframe and doped fabric skin didn’t convince everyone.

Surely wood simply wasn’t strong enough for a modern combat aircraft.

The Minister of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook tried to close the project down more than once.

But de Havilland was a privately owned company and the project had support from Air Marshal Freeman who had flown de Havillands during the First World War and strongly believed in the idea.

And fortunately wood was not deemed an essential wartime supply.

As a result, in October 1941, a small group of onlookers gathered at RAF Boscombe Down in Wiltshire to see a prototype W4050, equipped with the latest Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engines go through its paces.

The sleek twin engine aircraft recorded a maximum speed of 437 mph and the Mosquito was on its way into production and aviation history.

For over 2 years it would be the fastest operational aircraft in the world with the added bonus of a range long enough to reach Berlin.

Its wooden construction meant piano makers, furniture manufacturers and cabinet makers could quickly be re-trained as sub-contractors.

While spruce, birch ply and balsa wood were plentiful enough that over 6,700 Mosquitoes were built during the war.

Over 30 different variants of the aircraft were produced including many armed as fighters.

But it was as a marauding raider, bombing targets like the Gestapo’s Oslo headquarters with pinpoint accuracy that the Mosquito gained its reputation.

On January 30th, 1943, the commander of the Luftwaffe Herman Göring, was about to speak on the radio in Berlin.

At precisely 11am as he was introduced, three Mosquitoes from 105 Squadron dropped bombs nearby.

The sound of the explosions could clearly be heard on air disrupting the broadcast which had to be postponed..

Göring had once boasted to Berliners “If one enemy bomb falls on Berlin, you can call me Meyer.”

Now the city had been bombed in broad daylight.

And its inhabitants began referring to air-raid sirens as Meyer’s Trumpets.



That’s Simple, not Simplistic

19 Jun

Within the industry it’s generally accepted that the best advertising is crafted around the simple expression of a brand.

If you’re not convinced you only need look at some great advertising.

Say, Ad Age’s top 15 campaigns of the 21st century, for example.

These campaigns are invariably built on simple insights and beautiful execution.

That’s no coincidence: simple gets results.

For one thing, simple ideas have a greater chance of being remembered, by our over-cluttered brains.

But somewhere, something got lost in translation.

The word is simple, not simplistic and in advertising terms, there’s a massive difference.

Simple, to borrow from McCann is: truth well told.

Simplistic, borrowing from no one is: fake truth formulated by committee.

Sadly the mark of simplistic is everywhere: cookie cutter benefits and implausible claims delivered via lazy thinking and hackneyed language.

Strategic box checking is its raison d’être and if that results in muddled thinking, so what? It ticked all the boxes.

As a result simplistic is mind-numbingly ordinary.

And being ordinary is rarely good for business.

But it’s a lot easier than being extraordinary.

Because, being extraordinary means getting to simple, and getting to simple is not easy.

It doesn’t just take hard work, it takes a spark of inspiration.

And there’s no guarantee this spark will occur, which in turn takes an act of faith.

And faith (even in itself) is not part of every organization’s DNA.

But you can encourage it.

You can work at it.

You can resist being simplistic and strive to be simple.

And even if you don’t crack it 100%, your advertising will be better for it.

There’s a caveat: simplicity is scary. It takes courage.

There’s nowhere to hide, no padding, and no protection.

No waffle, no box-checking, no dubious claims, just a message that says something real enough to make people care.

And that’s why most brands can’t do it.

However much they try, most brands can’t resist cramming more into their advertising whereas simplicity means single-mindedly stripping everything back, until you find the simple expression of a brand.

Of course getting people to care doesn’t guarantee they’re going to buy what you’re selling.

But it will certainly tip the odds in your favour.

It’s a straightforward choice.

If you want advertising to deliver maximum bang for your buck, be simple, not simplistic.

Simple is powerful.

Simple sells.

Trumpy McTrumpface

6 May

Recently the democratic process has been rigorously tested and failed severely on both sides of the Atlantic.

This failure has highlighted what cynics have suspected all along: a game that is rigged long before play begins.

In the USA the nomination process may not be the greatest show on earth but it is surely The Longest Show on Earth.

The process has always been arcane.

There are primaries, delegates, super delegates, PACs, Super PACs and other stuff they love dissecting on CNN.

Surely the whole shebang could conceivably be decided online, in a two week period, prior to a party’s convention?

Apparently not, and the current Republican nomination process has shown not only is it arcane, it’s antiquated beyond belief and open to scurrilous manipulation.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Trumpster, surely any fair-minded person would have to admit that ganging up to stop the guy with the most votes is hardly democratic.

Even if the regulations allow such shabby goings on, surely the whole point of democracy is that it manifests the will of the people, and not just the people able to pull a few strings.

Alas, tragically even the green and pleasant land of Magna Carta is not immune from such sleazy shenanigans.

The UK’s Natural Environment Research Council asked members of the public to vote on a name for their new polar research ship.

The winning name attracted 124,109 votes, four times as many as the runner up.

It was: Boaty McBoatface.

However in another blatant slap in the face for democracy the vessel will be christened the RRS Sir David Attenborough, in honour of the environmentalist.

Despite his name polling just 10,284 votes and coming fifth.

The science minister Jo Johnson, excused the volte-face by explaining the poll was only for suggestions.

I have not read the small print but I repeat, surely the point of democracy is that it manifests the will of the people and not just the people with strings to pull.

As a sop to the people with no strings to pull, the remote sub the ship carries will be given the name of Boaty McBoatface.

I can’t help thinking this somehow makes things worse and culture minister Ed Vaizey agrees, saying the decision should “respect the will of the people”.

At any rate the whole messy stunt is now the subject of a Parliamentary Inquiry in keeping with another fine democratic tradition, namely throwing good money after bad.

Of course choosing a name for a ship is trivial in comparison to choosing a possible leader of the free world.

However, democracy like justice, is predicated upon transparency.

The electoral process is built on numbers.

And only the numbers.

It’s supposed to be as simple as that.



The Spaces in Between

1 Apr


A mate started a gig at a company that bigs itself up as innovative.

After he’d been there a few weeks, I asked him what he thought and he said, “I think they confuse innovation with novelty.”

For some reason his answer came to mind after the death of Johan Cruyff.

Cruyff was a football genius who died last week following a battle with cancer.

One of the first and probably the best exponent of total football.

Circa 1970, total football was revolutionary because it treated space as an element that’s just as important as the ball.

As a player and later a manager, Cruyff thought about football almost in terms of design thinking.

Today every team tries to create space when they have the ball and close it down when the opposition has it.

At the 1974 World Cup, Holland was playing Sweden.

In the 23rd minute Cruyff, was one-on-one with Swedish defender Jan Olsson.

Feinting to pass, he gently touched the ball behind his own standing leg, swivelled 180 degrees and accelerated in a blur of orange.

A collective gasp swept around the stadium as Olsson flailed backwards into a space, which surely hadn’t existed a moment ago.

The move was more like a magician’s trick and the crowd was stunned.

It was promptly christened the Cruyff Turn.

And swiftly became mandatory for any aspiring top-flight footballer.

You could say it marked the beginning of modern football.

Just as surely as DDB’s Think Small ad, marked the beginning of modern advertising.

Helmut Krone famously devoted 80% of the page to white space and the result was equally simple and brilliant.

Both Cruyff and Krone saw where others couldn’t see, they worked in the spaces in between.

As Bill Bernbach said, “Creating advertising is very simple but creating simple advertising is the hardest thing there is.”

Actually Bernbach never said that.

Cruyff said it, but about football, “Playing football is very simple but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”

It probably fooled you because it feels like something Bernbach would have said.

And one thing he most definitely did say was, “Good advertising builds sales. Great advertising builds factories.”

Which is echoed by Pep Guardiola’s comment referring to Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium, “Cruyff built the cathedral; our job is to maintain and renovate it.”

There was advertising pre-and-post Think Small.

There was football pre-and-post the Cruyff Turn.

Nothing would—or could, be the same again.

You couldn’t confuse either with novelty.


The C-Word

9 Mar

A woman shouts, ‘’Fire!’’ in a crowded theatre.

The audience stampedes for the exits and in the ensuing panic two people are crushed to death.

The theatre burns to the ground and the woman is acclaimed as a hero.

A woman shouts, ‘’Fire!’’ in a crowded theatre.

The audience stampedes for the exits and in the ensuing panic two people are crushed to death.

There is no fire and the woman goes to prison.

The message is the same in both cases.

Only the context is different.

So clearly context is every bit as important as content when it comes to delivering a message.

They’re really two sides of the same coin.

Given that the effectiveness of one is inextricably tied to the other, I find this next statistic odd.

Google “content marketing” and you get 19,400,000 hits.

Google “context marketing” and you get 37,900.

Does this huge disparity help explain the repetitious drivel, inane listicles and dull platitudes that make up so much of what passes for content?

It’s hard to believe there’s no connection, data usually means something.

What I Have in Common With a Legend

10 Feb

I don’t wear tweed suits or smoke a pipe.

And my real estate holdings may not run to a chateau in the South of France.

But I still have one important thing in common with David Ogilvy.

We both worked in sales before we worked in advertising.

At fifteen I worked Saturdays at the local department store selling bedding.

Before university I spent a year selling wine at a 300 year old London wine merchant.

These two jobs taught me basic sales techniques.

How you never lead with a closed question.

(I’m amazed how many retail salespeople still get this wrong.)

It’s never, “Can I help you?”

It’s always, “How can I help you?”

The first question can be answered with a No!

And if you don’t want to hear No!—don’t make it easy for prospects to say it!

The more open-ended your questions, the more you find out what’s on a prospect’s mind.

That’s how you get inside their head.

And once you’ve poked around in there and made some sort of connection, you ask the obligation question.

If I throw in a sheet set with this deluxe mattress you like, would you buy it today?

After university I talked my way into Advertising.

And what I’d learnt in sales was useful in a couple of ways.

First, I was comfortable presenting, internally or to clients, and I could usually sell the work I wanted to sell.

Second, because I’d spent a few years selling to different people, I could empathize with them.

Selling to people face to face is much easier than selling to people you never meet.

Selling to people you’ve never met is akin to a thought experiment.

And I had a better idea how to think my way into the head of a mum with 2 kids, or a 19 year old bloke going out with his mates or whoever the target was.

I had a better idea of what they would respond to, because I had a better idea of who they were.

Einstein used thought experiments to understand the universe.

A famous one had him imagining a man floating in a box in zero gravity.

I never fully understood it.

But there was one I could understand and I used it to write ads.

I’d imagine the target in a shop so I could talk with them one-on-one.

And I could usually visualize this quite well because I’d spent a lot of time talking with prospects in shops.

John E Kennedy, another advertising legend described advertising as, “salesmanship in print.”

How exactly do you write that if you’ve never really sold anything?

It’s hard enough when you have.


Blank is Dead!

11 Jan

Pundits love death.

They’re forever proclaiming the death of this or that.

It’s dramatic and authoritative.

So over the last decade we’ve been told:

Newspapers are dead.

Books are dead.

TV is dead.

Advertising is dead.

Of course all these industries have undergone radical change over the last 10 years, but name an industry that hasn’t.

And radical change is far from death but nowhere near as dramatic.

Newspapers generated an estimated $179 billion in circulation and advertising revenue in 2014, according to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. That’s bigger than the film or music industry. Yes, many papers have closed or consolidated but a $179 billion death? Bring it on!

Book sales in the UK totalled 245 million in 2014 (up from 237 million back in 2008). True, 63 million of these were e-books, but there are still 2,500 bookshops serving the country. Furthermore e-book sales appear to have plateaued. Makes sense to me. Who wants to spend more time looking at a screen?

TV may get beat up the most of these examples. Mobile video is eating its lunch in spite of being dogged by scandal. Netflix is eating its dinner but it’s not a horrible dinner guest because it’s also paying the networks millions for rights to shows.

With everyone taking their bite you’ll probably be surprised to hear TV revenues are still growing to $71.1 billion this year and $81 billion projected in 2019. TV may be a mess but reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

Global Advertising revenues increased from $438 billion in 2009 to $611 billion in 2015. That’s a tad under a 40% increase in 6 years. Yes, much of the spending is going into digital and lots of traditional agencies got caught out but if this is death, bring it on!

It’s not what Keats had in mind, but the line fits: “Now more than ever seems it rich to die!*”

I imagine there were people around 1950 watching the ascendancy of television convinced that radio was dead.

Which will come as news to Howard Stern who just signed a new 5-year contract with Sirius XM worth a rumoured $400 million plus.

And many people have proclaimed the death of the buggy-whip industry, which has long been used as an example of failure to adapt to a changing marketplace.

But guess what, if you need a buggy whip you can still buy one!

From which we can surmise that while the industry may have been in a coma it cheated death.

And if the buggy whip industry still has a handhold, however tenuous, it would seem very few industries die completely.

Not that you’d know it from the Blank is Dead brigade.

It’s not the hyperbole I object to, it’s the lazy bandwagonism masquerading as thought leadership.

Guess there really is a sucker born every minute.

It’s the circle of life!


* I added the exclamation…