In 1917, Germany was fighting a war on two fronts.
This is always a bad idea because their forces were split.
The problem was simple.
Germany could win against the British and French, but not while fighting the Russians.
The German Foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmerman, had a brilliant plan.
He knew the Czar was deeply unpopular.
Russian soldiers were dying at the front while civilians starved at home.
If there was a Russian revolution it would mean civil war.
And while the Russians fought each other they would have to stop fighting Germany.
All those soldiers would be released to fight the British and French.
Zimmerman knew the revolutionary, Lenin, was in Switzerland.
He arranged for a sealed railway train to pick up Lenin and transport him across Germany to Russia.
Zimmerman would finance Lenin to create a revolution and make peace with Germany.
Which is exactly what happened.
In 1917, Lenin overthrew the Russian government.
He made peace with Germany and a million German troops were freed to fight Britain and France.
That part of Zimmerman’s plan was genius.
But the next part wasn’t.
Zimmerman wanted to stop France and Britain getting extra troops.
That meant preventing America entering the war.
So he sent a secret telegram to the German ambassador in Washington DC.
It told him to make an offer to Mexico.
If Mexico declared war on the USA, Germany would offer its full support.
Mexico could reclaim Texas, and Germany would provide the weapons and money.
Zimmerman knew a war with Mexico would keep America occupied and out of Europe.
Unfortunately, the British intercepted the telegram.
Of course, they made sure the Americans saw it.
And America immediately declared war on Germany.
Which meant a million American troops came to fight on the British and French side.
This cancelled out all the German troops that had been freed-up by the Russian revolution.
Zimmerman’s first plan, for Russia, was genius and could have won Germany the First World War.
Zimmerman’s second plan was stupid and lost Germany the War.
The difference was in Russia, Zimmerman capitalised on a situation that was already happening.
Discontent and revolutionary fervour.
He identified the mood of the people and used money and intelligence to accelerate it.
In America he tried to create a situation that didn’t exist.
Mexico wasn’t even remotely contemplating a war with America.
That’s why the second plan was a ridiculous failure.
That’s what we can learn from Zimmerman.
Listening to the people should always be the start point, that’s a no-brainer.
If we find out, if we listen, we can use it for our advantage.
If we just carry on and ignore it, we will fail.
Advertising needs to learn Zimmerman’s lesson.