When I was at art school New York was a pretty scary place.
They had an average of 8 murders a day.
Too many to report on the news.
So usually they just picked the best two or three.
As a kid, in that situation, you feel very vulnerable.
So, just like kids do today, I did a really stupid thing.
I bought a flick-knife.
A flick-knife is different to a switchblade.
A switchblade works on a spring.
You press the button and the blade pops out.
A flick-knife is what they call a gravity-blade.
You have to start it off with your thumb, then flick your wrist.
If you get it right, the blade snaps out and locks into place.
The shops that sold all the knives were on 42nd Street.
It was quite surreal going in to buy one.
The guy behind the counter demonstrated it to me.
All the other customers were amused that a white guy was buying one.
I couldn’t work out how to get the blade to flick out.
So they were all trying to be helpful.
“No man, you gotta snap your wrist like this. No, not like that, snap it like this. There you go, now you’re getting it.”
The ridiculous thing was that we all knew if we met on the streets ten minutes later it would be a very different encounter.
Luckily I never had to use it.
Later, in that environment of fear, Rudolph Guilliani became Mayor.
He knew the biggest problem was that the city felt out of control.
He had to change it fast.
So he installed a new Police Commissionaire.
Who had a policy called Zero Tolerance.
This was based on turning conventional thinking upside down.
Previously what happened was, as the murder rate went up, police were told to concentrate on serious crimes.
To ignore minor misdemeanours.
What happened was ‘The Broken Window Syndrome’.
It works like this, a kid breaks a window in an apartment block.
The janitor is too busy to fix it.
The window doesn’t get repaired.
It looks like no one cares, it’s no big deal.
So, after a week or two, the kid breaks another window.
That doesn’t get repaired either.
Pretty soon it becomes apparent that anyone can break all the windows they want.
The public see all the windows broken, and realise there is no law and order.
They develop a siege mentality.
They lock themselves away and have nothing to do with anyone.
There is no community.
Which makes law enforcement even more difficult.
So Giuliani’s Commissionaire decided to reverse that situation.
He told the cops to arrest people for even minor infringements.
The Police Commissionaire said something like, “At first, my guys hated it. They couldn’t work out why they were wasting their time on dipshit offences like fare dodging.
But when they ran the perp’s rap sheet, they’d find outstanding warrants for gun possession, bail-jumping, robbery.
It became like opening a Crackerjacks box, you never knew what prize you were gonna get inside.”
They caught so many criminals, it became a problem.
Calling out a squad car to take them all the way to the precinct house could waste hours on each arrest.
So, instead of the cops having to go to the precinct house, they decided to take the precinct house to the cops
They turned a bus into a mobile police station.
It would travel round New York, all night long, visiting subway stops.
So the police would handcuff the criminals to the pillars in the subway while they waited.
Which meant they could carry on catching other criminals.
There would often be a line of criminals cuffed together when the bus arrived.
The public began to see the police taking charge again.
Which meant they felt safer.
So they begin to help the police, with information and tip-offs.
And crime went down.
In fact, last time I was in New York they were celebrating the fact there were less than 1,000 murders that year.
If that doesn’t sound much to be proud of, remember it’s down from 2,500.
Zero tolerance is another way of saying Mies van der Rohe’s line, “God is in the detail”.
Which is where I think art directors live.
John Hegarty once told me, “A great ad is 80% idea, and 80% execution.”
I read that to mean, you can’t walk away once you’ve had the idea.
Execution is by no means the most important part.
But a mediocre execution will let down a great idea.
That’s why, after the copywriter has written the script, or the headline and body copy, great art directors won’t let go.
As Helmut Krone said, “I can’t wait for the copywriter to go home at night and leave me alone with the ad, so that I can experiment.
When he comes in next day, it’ll still have the same words we talked about, but he won’t recognise it.”
That’s why the best art directors are so unreasonable.
They have zero tolerance.