A really good young team had just started at the agency: Mary Wear and Damon Collins.
The agency was working on Marlboro and we needed a new campaign.
We got all the teams together and briefed them.
Afterwards Damon and Mary came to see me.
They said they didn’t want to work on cigarettes,
I said, “You’ve put me in an awkward position.
Let me explain my problem.
Is it fair to make everyone else work on cigarettes while you don’t?
What’s the knock-on if everyone sees you choosing what you do and don’t want to work on?
Should we let everyone in the agency choose what they want to work on?
And what if everyone chooses not to work on cigarettes?
Marlboro makes up around 10% of the agency’s income.
Should we fire the client and ask everyone to take a 10% salary cut?
Do you feel strongly enough about it that you’re prepared to take a 10% salary cut?
Or is fair that other people should work on cigarettes to subsidise your salary?
Should you only work at agencies that handle clients you approve of?
Or are you willing to take money from the income of products you disapprove of, but just not work on them?
And what good does this passive disapproval do anyway?
If you feel strongly why aren’t you working on anti-smoking advertising outside the agency, in your free time?
You could offer your services for nothing.
That would do more good than just refusing to work on it.”
Damon and Mary said they didn’t feel strongly enough to do any of those things.
They wanted to work at our agency, they just felt bad about working on cigarettes.
They were a good team and I didn’t want to lose them.
I said, “I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but there’s a simple solution.”
They said, “We’re listening.”
I said, “How does a husband avoid doing the washing up?”
Damon said, “Break a plate, so his wife never asks him again.”
I said, “Right, so what would that look like in this situation?”
Damon said, “Do such a bad job that you don’t pick any of our ads?”
I said, “Right, and if you do a really bad job I’ll probably think you can’t do cigarette advertising, and never ask you again.”
Damon got it straight away, but Mary still wasn’t happy.
She didn’t like the idea of doing bad ads on purpose.
She thought she shouldn’t have to.
I said, “I know it’s not perfect, but in a compromise everyone gives a little.
This way, you get most of what you want: you don’t have to work on cigarettes.
And I get most of what I want: the rest of the department sees you did some work and had it turned down.
So they’re still motivated because you didn’t get preferential treatment.”
And that’s what happened.
Everyone got most of what they wanted.
See, I think pragmatism gets a bad rap.
People take pragmatism to mean ‘the course of least resistance’.
I think it means finding a way around the problem rather than confronting it head on.
So for me pragmatism is creative.
I won’t make a moral judgement on what you should or shouldn’t want.
That’s your business.
But I will make a judgement about how you go about getting it.
That’s my business.

If I set the game up right, in order for me to win, no one else has to lose.