Digital Journeys 2016: Dave Trott

Blog | 27 Sep, 2016

Are smart marketers over complicating strategies and not addressing simple matters?


Advertising Creative, Author and Agency Founder Dave Trott talks about how to outsmart the competition, whilst remembering that your customer IS your media – regardless of the ever changing trends in marketing.


Understand how impact, communication and persuasion form the three key stages in any successful marketing campaign.

Video transcript

There's a guy called Atul Gawande who's the Professor of Surgery at Harvard. And the World Health Organisation asked him to help them put down the number of deaths from surgery, a lot of people were dying from surgery. And they asked him if he could find out what was wrong, investigate hospitals worldwide, find out what was wrong and help reduce the number of deaths. They gave him eight hospitals worldwide, you know, America, India, Africa, Australia to sort of experiment with.

And so what he did, what all smart people do, I think, before you start looking at your own problem, you figure everybody's loops in your area and it's over fished. So what you do is you look in somewhere where everybody else isn't looking. Stupid people look where everybody is looking because they find comfort in there. Smart people look where nobody else is looking because they know they'll have it to themselves.

So Atul Gawande, he didn't look in medicine for the problem, for the answer to the problem. He went to the aviation industry, another high-risk industry. And he talked to the Chief Safety Officer at Boeing and he asked him, "What have you done to reduce deaths in airliners?" And the guy said, "Okay, first, what we did is you go right back to the beginning and you start again, you don't start solving a thing until you define the thing and you keep it simple. " He said, and it is an absolute thing I know for definite is smart people know simple works, stupid people think complicated works. So stupid people are impressed by complicated things. They use complexity to why a squid uses ink.

Smart people, now you can't really move until you've scanned beyond complexity to simplify things and that's difficult. It's simple but it's not easy. Anyway, so Atul Gawande talks to the Chief Safety Officer at Boeing and the Chief Safety Officer at Boeing said, "What we found in the airline industry is three main problems. There's problems of ignorance, problems of technology and problems of ineptitude." So he said, "We looked at that, and everybody tries to solve the first two of those. Everybody tries to solve problems of ignorance by training, they train the crew and they train the crew and they make the training periods longer and they make them more intense and they train, but it didn't really have a lot of effect. So we did number two, problems of technology. We had more computers and we had more things, more technology we could stuff in every orifice of the plane and in every orifice of ground control and just more technology everywhere. But it really didn't make any difference. "

He said, "And eventually the only place left for us to look was problems of ineptitude, and problems of ineptitude is smart people doing stupid things. People who think they're too smart to do simple things, people who've learned the language, learned the jargon, learn all the long words who now think we are sophisticated and we don't have to do the simple things anymore." So he said, "We looked at that, problems of ineptitude and we made people do simple things. They hated it, but we made them. We made the flight crew before every flight, the pilot, the copilot, the engineer, would all have to do a call and response with each other before the plane took off. So the pilot would look down and he say, 'Brakes set,' and the copilot would say, 'Brakes set.' And he'd say, 'Elevate is set,' he'd say, 'Elevate is set.' The pilot would say, 'Radar set,' copilot would say, 'Radar set.' He'd say, 'Fuel mixture rich,' he'd say, 'Fuel mixture rich.' Flaps set."

They'd go through 30 or 40 of these things and they hated it because it was so basic. But this went down, plane deaths went down. And the Chief Safety Officer at Boeing said, "We found that was the biggest difference, problems of ineptitude made a much bigger difference than the other two."

So Atul Gawande took that back to the hospitals he was working on and he thought, "I'm gonna use that there." We can't have any's not commonly a problem of ignorance, we can't train surgeons any more than we train them. It's already 12 years. It can't be problems of technology, we've got more kit involved in surgery that it's possible to cram into a room. He says, "It must be problems of ineptitude, smart people doing stupid things."

So he said, "What we're gonna do is copy the airline industry. We're gonna get a surgeon, we're gonna get anaesthetist, we're gonna get the head nurse, and we're gonna make them do a call and response before the operation." So before every operation with the patient there, they have to do the identity of the patient, an identity, the procedure we're about to do, the procedure, the body area we're operating on, the blood loss. What instruments are we using? What known allergies? Call and response like that." And they hated it because they're sophisticated trained people. They hated what they thought was demeaning until the numbers came in.

And after a year, deaths were down 41% across those hospitals after surgery. And Atul Gawande said if that had been a drug, you would have called it a wonder drug and worldwide, everybody, it would have been on every news program worldwide.

So learning for us from that in my business is in advertising particularly, well, I think in everywhere, but certainly, in advertising, we've got smart people doing stupid things. That's why you've got ad blocking, that's why most advertising doesn't work, most of it is crap, most of it washes over you like wallpaper. Because it's small people doing stupid things. Smart people, people who think they're smart want it to be as complicated as possible because that means they're clever. Whereas the really smart people know you've got to go beyond complicated to get to simple.

Einstein said if you can't explain it to an 11-year-old, you haven't really understood it. And we've got a huge industry today of people who can do it but can't explain it to an 11-year-old because they're doing it like robots. They're learning the words, they're not learning the thinking, so they're not capable of outthinking each other. They're all just desperately crying to copy each other like a hood which is why everything looks like everything else and everybody has missed the basics of what we're supposed to be doing. Nobody knows what the basics are anymore.

If you go into an ad agency now, into a creative department in an ad agency, and you ask them what's their job, they will tell you it's content curation, it's heuristics, it's algorithms, it's big data, it's native advertising, it's storytelling, is mobile optimised, wearable tech, cross-platform, rich media. Or they might tell you it's SEO, CRM, CSR, CTR, CMS, UGC, KPI or ROI. For me, the only three missing is WTF.

Now, Bill Bernbach who is the man who invented good advertising. See, I'm old enough to remember, when I was a kid, I remember advertising in the '50s and advertising in the 1950s when I was still at school is exactly like advertising now. Everybody thought there was some gimmick, if we could find that gimmick, we could make it work and people stopped thinking and they just talked to other people like other people were units and numbers. And Bill Bernbach was the first guy in the '60s when I started out...when I was a kid at our school, in the '60s to talk to people like they were human beings and to treat them like they were as intelligent as we were and to use what we do to realise we're talking to 55 million units just exactly like us out there. And if it makes us laugh, it'll make them laugh, and what works with us will work with them.

Bill Bernbach was the first guy to do that. That's why you even got that Mad Man show will is all 1950s. Bill Bernbach was the guy who invented good advertising. And they asked Bill Bernbach about what creativity was and Bill Bernbach said at the time, it may well be that creativity is the last time fair advantage we're legally allowed to take over the competition. It may well be that creativity is the last time fair advantage we're legally allowed to take over the competition.

So creativity properly defined is a legal unfair advantage. It's not our direction. It's not copyrighting. It's not any of that lank. It's actually whatever area you're in a legal unfair advantage. Now, Edward de Bono said there are a lot of people calling themselves creative who are actually merely stylists. What you call a creative department is actually merely stylists. What you call art galleries is actually merely style. It's not really creativity. If you want to read about real creativity, read Steve Job's biography that Walter Isaacson wrote. There's about 30 great creative ideas in there from Steve Jobs. Ways to outmaneuver the competition, ways to outthink other people, ways to revolutionise four complete industries, if you really wanna learn creativity.

So, anyway, if advertising is illegal unfair advantage, whatever area you're in in creativity as de Bono, Edward de Bono talks about it, is an adjective, not a noun. So you can do whatever job you do creatively and if you're gonna be any good, you do whatever job you do creatively. Another word for that is entrepreneurial and another word for that is street smarts. I got an advantage, I grew up in east London, another advantage, my high school was in New York. So two out of two, I learned street smarts. So I know outthinking other people. That's where I live, that is creativity. And it is a competition and that is the fun. That's not a problem, that's the fun.

If you wanna be any good, people like Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, you know the competition is the fun. Now, how do you beat other people if that's the fun, you're not gonna do it as I said by doing what everybody else does. You're not gonna solve a problem at the level you created it. You're gonna need to move upstream and solve a problem before you get to that level. Upstream thinking. You're gonna need to change the problem in order to solve it. So, what I mean by that?

A simple example, two explorers walking through the jungle and hear a tiger roar and they hear the tiger running towards them and one explorer gets down and starts putting on a pair of running shoes. And the other explorer says, "You're crazy, you'll never outrun a tiger." And he says, "I don't have to outrun the tiger, I just have to outrun you." That's what I mean by creativity. You never solve a problem of outrunning a tiger, but if you change the problem, get upstream of the problem, if the tiger has got someone to eat, it doesn't have to be me. Get upstream of the problem, I've changed the problem and solved a different problem, so that problem didn't occur.

In advertising, if we're gonna be competitive, what does the problem look like in advertising terms? Every year in the UK, and by the way, you like everybody else all knew more about advertising before you got into advertising. What everybody does is immediately they get into marketing or advertising, they start to forget they're human beings and start to think they are marketing scientists dealing with data and numbers. So you've lost your ability to actually deal with your raw material, which is people.

But if we look at the problem where the opportunity exists for unfair advantage, in the UK every year, £18.3 billion pounds is spent on all forms of advertising and marketing. Of that, 4% is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively, 89% isn't noticed or remembered. So, what do we think the problem might be? The 4% that's remembered positively? Nope, it can't be that, that's working. The 7% that's remembered negatively? That's what stupid people think the problem is, but it actually isn't because it's remembered. It can work, go compare. We don't like it, but it can work.

What about the 89% that isn't noticed or remembered? What chance is that goal working? The square root of fuck all, 17 billion quid pissed away by so called experts. Now, we don't understand obviously how the media works. So let's go back to basics and take a look at what the media is and how the media works. Sorry, you got to look at my back, but I gotta draw this down here.

All right. That's the punter. Let's take a look at the history of...I did this talk in Germany about a year back and all these Germans are seriously taking notes. And afterwards, one of them came to me and said, "You have used this new demographics that we have never heard of over here. What is a punter?" And I forgot London isn't necessarily English. So by the way, it sounds like I'm angry. I'm not angry, that's just how I talk.

So here is the punter. The first way you tried to talk to the punter was cave paintings. Cave paintings at Lascaux 60,000 years ago or something like that. Then it evolved and it changed and it became oil paintings, frescoes, the Renaissance, things like that. Then it evolved and it changed and it became photography. Then it evolved and changed it became film. Then it evolved and changed and it became digital. Then evolved and changed again and became social, and pretty soon it's going to evolve and change into whatever the next thing is that old and new media gurus tell us will change the world and it will never be same and everything stayed.

Do you notice one thing on there that isn't changing? One thing on there that hasn't changed, one thing on there that will never change, one thing on there that's unchangeable. It's the punter. That's the media. This isn't media. This is just ways to get to media. Where do you use a pen, a cool pen, a paint brush? Where do you use digital? Where do you use stuff we haven't even heard of yet? It doesn't press itself and pass itself on to more down the supermarket and buy whatever you're selling. All happens here. If that doesn't pass it on, it doesn't get passed on.

When I was a kid, you could see what clients call viral media happens here. This is just triggers to get to it. Clients will come in and say to me, "We want some viral media." You want something to go viral. You can't buy viral media. What happens is he likes something, he passes it on to him who likes something and passes it on to her, who likes something and passes it on to her, who likes something and passes it on to him. That's how it goes viral. Brain to brain to brain to brain, 55 million little units of that.

People think viral is technology and this is what screwed everybody up. Everybody is scared stiff of being left out of the technology and they've ignored the thinking about what Bill Bernbach calls simple, timeless, human truths. Behavioural economics is described as human understanding for business advantage. Okay, you want business advantage? You need human understanding. You need human understanding, that simple, timeless, human truths. It's there, it's not here. This is just the latest fashion. All everybody is desperately keeping up with at the moment is scared stiff, FOMO, fear of missing out, scared stiff to be left out of the latest fashion.

Now, I'll give you an example of what I mean. Can you play that video, please? Just watch this, not the pictures, just this little sound talk.


All right, thanks. Right. That's just a picture of an ice cream van in the street. We've all seen it. We all know that track, it's on every ice cream van. Does anybody know what is called?

Audience: Greensleeves.

Dave: Greensleeves, excellent. Does anybody know who wrote it?

Man: Henry the VIII.

Dave: Supposedly Henry the VIII either wrote it or had it written for him for Anne Boleyn when he was trying to pull Anne Boleyn. The words he wrote are, "Alas, my love, you do me wrong, to cast me off discourteously, for I have loved you so long, delighted in your company. Greensleeves is all my joy, Greensleeves is my delight. Greensleeves is my heart of gold and who but my lady, Greensleeves." Apparently, she had this dress with Greensleeves on that she wore around court and he liked a lot.

So roundabout 1530, 1540s, somewhere in there, he wrote it. Five hundred years later, we all still know it, we can all still sing it and it's on ice cream trucks all over the country and everybody knows it. Where the fuck was Twitter? Where the fuck was YouTube? Where the fuck was any social media, viral media without which you can't go viral? How come before 1990, before there even was an internet, how come everything went viral? How come people, all new jokes, all new songs, Shakespeare, Beowulf, before there even was any printing or electricity? Stuff survives because it goes from human mind to human mind. If it doesn't, you'll know what the numbers are. Every minute on YouTube, 24 hours of video gets downloaded. Now, most of that is just garbage so it's never seen again.

As David Abbott said, "Shit that arrives at the speed of light is still shit when it gets there." If we know that's our media now, the human mind, and that's our proper area of study, let's have a look at how that works remembering that there's power in simplicity and weakness in complexity. Every interaction, people, you know, old or new media gurus have just discovered that advertising is a conversation. Well, congratulations. Everything is a conversation and every conversation you'll ever have works exactly like this from the moment you're born to the moment you die. You must have impact. You must have communication, and you must have persuasion, and it must work that way round.

If you haven't got those three things, nothing happens. If you haven't got impact, nothing happens at all because nobody knows you there and nobody knows nothing's going on. If you've got impact but nobody knows what you want, it's like an explosion going off. I know something is happening, but I don't know what it wants. Someone just yelling in, you know, I don't know what you want. I know you're there, but I don't... But if you speak in the language I understand, we've got impact, we've got communication, right. Now how do you get me to do what you want?

Well, always, always, and you knew this before you got into advertising. It's always, "What's in it for me? Why should I do it?" Now, you know, we'll have working degrees in this stuff, but you knew it before you got into advertising. People go to college to learn, take degrees in this, but you knew it before you got into advertising. You knew it before you got into advertising and it's everything you'll ever have in your life.

If I'm at home on a Wednesday night watching a midweek match on a telly and I wanna a cup of tea, but I don't wanna get out and go to the kitchen in case I miss a goal. But the wife is sitting there and she's not watching the football, so she can make me a cup of tea. So what are your odds? If I sit there and wait and hope, determined that she should make's only fair she should make me a cup of tea. Nothing happens.

I've gotta get on the radar. I say, "Cath, Cath, Cath?" And then in the end she goes, "What?" I've got impact, I'm on the radar. Now, according to how most advertising currently works, I'd say to her, "Smooth, warm, the slopes of India, gentle fragrant flowers." Anything but ask her for a fucking cup of tea. But being that we are real human beings, I say to her in a language she understands, "Make us a cup of tea." I've got impact, I've got communication. She now knows what I want, but she doesn't know what's in it for her yet.

So she says, "Why don't you make it yourself?" And I think, "All right." What can I do? What's a good swap here? I know it's Wednesday night, the garbage man comes on Thursday, she doesn't like putting the black bin liners out so I'll say, "All right, I'll tell you what. If you make us a cup of tea now, after the game is over, I'll go and put the garbage out."

Now, if she thinks that's a good deal, I've got a sale. I've got impact, I've got communication, I've got persuasion. We all knew that virtually from the time we could talk. We all know that's how human interaction works. Can you think of any reason every advert wouldn't want that? Can you think of any reason you'll be doing an advert that says, "I don't want impact or communication, but I want...I don't want anybody to see it, I don't want anybody to know what it is saying, but I want them to be persuaded. I want the people who don't see it and don't know what it said to be persuaded. You're gonna write down a brief? I don't think so. You're gonna write on a brief, "We don't want persuasion or communication but we want impact. We want the ad to go off and everybody to see it and jump, but we don't wanna know what we're saying."

I don't know. Nobody writes that on a brief. Everybody says this is like your airplane is crashing because pilots wouldn't do call and response or surgeons. Clever people, people who think they're clever won't do simple things. So this doesn't happen. So 89% of advertising isn't noticed or remembered, because people don't do that. And what happens is here's the checklist that you should run. Simple thing you used to do before you ever got in your advertising is here's the checklist that you should run on all work that is shown to you, on all work that you brief, on anything that you're doing. Have we ticked those three boxes? Oh, that's too simple for us, we won't do it. So then you're part of the 89% that doesn't get it because this is all too simple for you. So nobody does it because everybody is down here doing focus groups, doing new thinking, rewriting strategies, rewriting briefs, having insights.

Everybody is down here and nobody does this. So as we know, 89% dies here, 17 billion quid dies because it has no impact, because nobody sees it and nobody notices it. That's how simple that is. Clever people won't do simple things, so it dies.

Okay, so if that's where the real creative opportunity is, how does that work? How can we simplify that so we can get a handle on it and make it work? It's actually called...the way the human mind works is called gestalt. That's the software we all function on. And what that means is the mind is a pattern making machine.

If you know anything about Freud, when you're born, you're in a state called Id. If you've got any children of your own, you watch this, you watch them for the first few months of their life. When they're born, little babies, they're in this state called Id. They are just receivers of stuff, they don't know anything about anything except stimulus. They don't know there is a "them" that's separate to everything else. They just know noise, sound, smell, everything coming out and gradually you watch their mind over the first few months of their life, programming itself into sorting this out.

They bite everything. They bite their fingers, they bite their toes, they bite their blanket, they bite their crib, they bite their toys. This is their mind programming itself to learn that if I bite it and it hurts, it's me. If I bite and it doesn't hurt, it's not me. That's why I can move this but I can't move that, because this is me and that's not me. That's moving from Id to ego. Ego just means who I am, me is separate to the world. The mind, this binary software. Binary, black white, left right, up down, hot cold, fast slow, opposites. You saw opposites. That's the only way your mind can work at that speed.

So gestalt, the mind is a pattern making machine. It sorts everything really fast. If I do that, how many digits did I hold up? You probably know 10, but you didn't have time to count them. One, two, three, four, five, six. You went, "Two ends, five on each, two five is 10." Mind does it like that. Your mind sorts out major groups, major groupings. Less than 50 is one thing, over 50 is another, and that's how the mind work.

So now, what you see is that to us. Why should we care about that? Here is your average...I'll give you two answers here. I'll give you the punter's version and I'll give you one you can talk to clients about. Rory Sutherland said creative people have a fear of the obvious, but they must sell their work to people who have a love of the obvious. That's why this is really obvious with clients, explaining why you don't want to do the obvious to a client who thinks why not, everybody else is doing it. This is explaining why you don't, so a client knows there's actual monetary value in doing the opposite of everybody else rather than safety in just clinging on, doing the same as everybody else.

Imagine if this was a commercial break. First commercial, second commercial, third commercial, fourth commercial, fifth commercial, sixth commercial, seventh commercial. Now, the break is over. You go to bed. Tomorrow morning, you get up, go to the supermarket. Which one of those commercials is most likely to have survived that erosion process in your mind? Is it the first circle, which won at the Cannes last year? Or is it the second circle which has got a great soundtrack? Or the third circle which has got a famous actor in? Or the fifth one which is very pretty or this which was shot by Ridley Scott? Or which commercial are you most likely to remember out at that low?

We all know it. In real life, we all know it before we go into advertising. Now, if I asked a bus driver or a housewife this, they'd say, "Don't be a prat." But we're sophisticated advertising people so we don't think like that. We never have that. We don't do that because we're all too busy doing that.

Creative people have a fear of the obvious so they do that. You show it to the client, the client says, "Fuck off, no one's doing it now, look stupid." So the client holds hands with all the other clients in his sector, "That doesn't look like my sector. That's what everybody else in this sector is doing." And now, which one is your client? You don't know, nobody knows. He might as well have kept the money in his trousers.

Now, why does that work? In real life, you know that works. Now knowing about gestalt, you know the mind is a pattern making machine. The mind picks everything that looks like one way and everything that looks another way, that's why that stands out. Because what happens in the real world, if this was a commercial break, is your mind and first commercial, second, third, fourth, fifth. If there's 20 commercials, let's call it 20 commercials and I had another one same as the rest, what share have I got? One out 20. Anyone doing numbers? One out 20, what's that as a percentage?

Audience: Five.

Dave: Right. But knowing what we know now about gestalt and seeing it how you just saw it as a punter sees it, we know if I do that, I haven't got 5% because my mind sorts all the stimulus into everything that's like that and everything that's not like that. So now what share have I got? It's not scientific, but just as a rough guide, without doing anything else, I've got half of your mind just because I've turned to everything else in your mind. Really good book called Positioning by Ries and Trout .

When you position yourself, you reposition the competition. There's an example of it. Correctly position yourself, you reposition the competition. If you can do that with a client, if you can tell them, "This is really the strategic, the big strategic issue is that," not talking about executional issues. The big strategic issue is giving yourself a position. When you position yourself, you reposition everyone else. So when Volkswagen positioned itself as a small reliable sensible car, it repositioned Detroit as worn-out silly tin and then you see what happened.

If you study your history with Avis, if you study what Steve Job's did to PCs, if you study...go back and see how great marketing people were positioning themselves, they repositioned the competition. Now, clients don't wanna do this because this is scary. To position yourself, you have to separate yourself off from everybody else. Otherwise, you haven't positioned yourself. And for clients, that's very scary to separate yourself off.

I'll give you a for instance of what I mean, final thing. Anybody here do American history unit? Okay, this is not for you, this question. Anybody here know a lot about American history? Okay, not for you either. For all the rest of you, standard ordinary English people who don't know much but you know a bit. Well, we know a bit, but we don't know it in detail.

Hold your hand up if you know the answer. Don't shout out, just hold your hand up because you'll spoil it if you shout out. But just hold your hand up if you know the answer. Who was the 44th President of America? The 44th. Just hold your hand up if you know the answer. Obviously, those two guys who know, but the rest of you...okay, we don't know the answer. Let me ask you a different question. Hold your hand up if you know who was the first black president of America. Now, that's the same block. What I did was in positioning myself, I repositioned the competition or repositioned the competition as one mass around white guys.

By positioning myself Hillary Clinton would do it. Maggie Thatcher did the same over here with women, Hillary Clinton maybe will do the same women over there. By positioning yourself in a way to differentiate yourself off from everybody else, you reposition everybody else with just one mass. Once I do that, think Clinton is the same as Bush is same as Abraham Lincoln is the same as FDR is the same as...there's just a lot of all white guys. I'm the only black one.

Now, very hard for a client because you know a client's gonna be saying to you, "Oh, I don't know if we wanna mention that he's black." Well, I think they might spoil it. So I think you really got to take that decision. Do you either wanna get yourself another candidate who's white or if you wanna go with this guy, take that and turn it into a massive fucking positive? Now, that's the kind of difficult conversation you have with your clients when you position yourself and reposition them. But if you do that, you owning the question, you own the context, by owning the context, you own the mind. And if you do that, you do what Obama did. You reposition all of history as I get 50% and all of history gets 50%.

Now, you do that for your clients, it's what Steve Jobs did for Apple, and you look study different marketing guide, that's the big upstream strategic issue.

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