Ben Kay and Bob Hoffman recently wrote interesting blogs about ‘Moneyball’.

The book is about baseball.

How a coach with a small team managed to beat the big guys.

He did it using a computer.

He found that most teams chase the big expensive players.

The players who get all the press write ups.

The ones who get the glory.

They spend absolute fortunes buying these players.

But, when he ran the stats, it was a different story.

Most of the actual work was being done by players who didn’t get the glory.

Players who were consequently, much cheaper.

Using this stats-based analysis, he was able to put a successful team together much more cheaply.

And achieve more than the bigger, more expensive teams.

Because a computer isn’t distracted by perceived talent.

It just crunches numbers.

And they tell a different story.

How experienced coaches get seduced by high profile athletes.

How, in reality, statistics beat perception.

How logic beats emotion.

How left brain beats right brain.

How careful data analysis beats reputation.

How cost and wages don’t reflect the real impact on team performance.

Ben Kay then asked the question, “Is it possible this is happening in our business. Are we being seduced by perceived brilliance instead of real contribution?

If we crunched the data instead of spotting talent, would ad agencies get different and better results?”

It’s an interesting question, but for me there’s a simple flaw.

The difference between baseball and advertising.

In baseball the criteria are simple: you win the game.

No discussion, that’s success.

The team that scores most runs wins.

So you can apply measurable data to that.

In advertising, achieving success isn’t the difficult part.

The difficult part is establishing and agreeing the criteria for success.

In my experience that’s why good agencies fall apart.

People stop agreeing on the criteria for success.

And if we’re not agreed on what it is, how can we achieve it?

Should the single-minded criteria for success be doing good work?

If so how do you measure that?

Is it high profile ads that win awards?

Or is it effective ads that sell lots of product?

Is it ads that create controversy?

Or is it ads that are liked?

If so, by who?

Our peers, industry gurus, ordinary people?

Is it campaigns that build brands?

Or is it advertising that gets into the language?

Is it keeping clients happy?

Is it lots of publicity, fame, word-of-mouth?

If so, what sort?

Famous inside the advertising community, other agencies, Campaign, etc?

Or famous in the marketing community, clients, Marketing Week, etc?

Or famous in the business community, Financial Times, etc?

Is it growth?

If so, is it winning new business?

Or is it getting more business from existing clients?

Or is it tying up your suppliers and diversifying?

Is it profitability (revenue against costs)?

Is it keeping the shareholders happy and the share-price up?

Or is it personal: lots of money and possessions?

What is the single-minded criteria?

Because you can’t analyse the statistics until you decide what you’re measuring.

And I think that’s the problem.

We can’t decide what the single thing we want most is.

Which, funnily enough, is also the reason most advertising doesn’t work.

This is what Maurice Saatchi calls ‘Marketing Darwinism”.

Evolution is a process of being brilliant at one single thing.

Being better than everyone else at something.

Not trying to be vaguely okay at lots of stuff.

That way you end up extinct.

That’s why Maurice reduced M&C’s philosophy to ‘Brutal Simplicity”.

If we have to be great at just one thing, what is that one thing?

We have to keep working until we find that one thing.

The thing that will deliver success.

Remember science class at school?

Where you put a liquid solution in a container on a Bunsen burner.

Then heat it, reduce it and reduce it.

Until you’re left with a very small, very concentrated amount of liquid.

This is the absolute essence.

This is the distillation of everything you want to say.

You don’t keep going back and changing it.

Rethinking it.

You retain that essence as the single thing you must deliver.

Any criticism or change is judged against that.

Will it dilute the essence?

If it will then it’s harmful and should be ignored.

The rules for good advertising are the same as the rules for a good agency.

Don’t get sidetracked.

Decide on a single, simple criteria and stick to it.

Then you can measure it.