When I was young I had bronchitis.

Every winter I’d get it so bad, for a fortnight I could hardly walk.

I’d have to stop every single step to get my breath.

When I grew up the doctors rediagnosed it as asthma.

I was given an inhaler to use when it got bad.

I always carried it with me wherever I went.

I just accepted I’d have it for life.

Then, about ten or so years ago, my Chinese mother-in-law went to an oriental doctor in Singapore.

She asked him about my asthma and he recommended certain roots.

She took them home and ground them to powder.

Then she put the powder into little capsules.

She sent them to me, and told me to take two a day.

I did as I was told and nothing much seemed to happen.

But, to keep the peace, I kept taking them anyway.

As I say, nothing much happened.

Except, about a year later I noticed I’d stopped using the inhaler.

In fact I’ve never used it since.

I don’t have asthma anymore.

Or an inhaler.

It didn’t happen fast, like western medicine.

But very slowly the cause of the problem disappeared.

In fact it happened so slowly I didn’t notice it.

Because, like most westerners, I’m used to medicine that provides a quick fix.

You’ve got a headache, take a painkiller.

It won’t solve the cause of the headache, but it will stop it hurting right now.

This is short-term thinking.

Western medicine deals with the symptoms.

Chinese medicine deals with the cause.

It takes longer to work but, when it works, when you cure the cause and the symptoms disappear.

It seems to me that most advertising thinking is like western medicine.

We treat the symptoms not the cause.

We don’t get upstream and treat the real problem.

So what is the real advertising problem?

The work.

The problem is always the work.

The quality of the advertising that’s running.

Okay, let’s get upstream.

What is the cause of that problem?

IMHO Rory Sutherland summed it up best.

He said “Creative people have a fear of the obvious, and they have to constantly present their work to people who have a love of the obvious.”

If we’re looking for the root of the problem, I’d say it’s right there.

We love exciting, creative ideas.

It’s so obvious to us we automatically assume it’s obvious to everyone.

We think the whole world thinks like we do.

But they don’t.

And we never bother explaining it.

Not one of us has ever bothered explaining to clients why they should want exciting, creative ideas.

I’m not sure most of us could even explain it if we had to.

Why is an idea that makes them feel uncomfortable a good thing?

Why is an idea that looks like everything else a bad thing?

These are people who have to bet their jobs on our work.

They’ve got a mortgage and a family to protect.

They look around and see the smart thing to do is play it safe.

Do what everyone else is doing.

In any other area of advertising we’d explain to the consumer why it makes sense to buy what we’re selling.

We’d explain it in their language.

Why don’t we do that with clients?

Why don’t we explain in their language why exciting, surprising, unusual creative work works better than the obvious?

Instead of carrying on watching our best work crash and burn.

Why not stop treating the symptoms and start treating the cause?

But we don’t do that.

We still confuse the symptoms with the problem.

Clients aren’t buying our great work, so let’s just do something they’ll buy.

Just take the money.

It’ll make the pain go away in the short term.


But it won’t change anything because it doesn’t treat the cause.