Years ago, Oxfam told me about the Third World Debt.

Banks made bad loans to poor countries, causing 5 million infant deaths a year.

In the UK, the four high street banks were mainly responsible.

The loans couldn’t be repaid, the banks knew this, but the countries had to keep paying the interest.

It was the interest that was killing the children.

So the purpose of advertising would be to get the banks to write off the debt.

The banks knew the loan couldn’t be repaid, they’d even set aside money so it was easy to write it off.

But for some reason the banks weren’t doing it.

I thought, before I did any ads, I needed to do some research to get the brief right.

So I got an appointment to see the chairman of one of the big banks.

He seemed a pleasant man.

I went through all the details with him: how much the debt was, how many children were dying, how the bank could write off the loans.

I wanted to check I’d got all my facts right, he agreed I had.

So I said: here’s the part I don’t understand, if you could save millions of children’s lives by writing off the debt, why don’t you write off the debt?

He smiled as if explaining something to a child.

He said “I can’t, it would be against the law.”

I said “How could it be against the law to save children’s lives?”

He said “It would be against the law to write it off based on my personal preference.

As chairman of the bank, my first duty is to the shareholders.

My responsibility is to maximise their investment – to make money for them.

Third World debt is good business for this bank, the interest is paid regularly.

I may agree with you about writing off the debt.

I may also want to write off a loan to the Donkey Sanctuary, but that would be my personal preference not a business decision.

Because, if I did write the debt off, our interest payments would go to our competitors.

So their shareholders would benefit, not ours.

I could be charged with delinquency in my duty to protect our shareholders’ interests.

So unless all the other banks write it off, I can’t.”

Basically, he wouldn’t do anything on his own.

Our brief from Oxfam was – if one bank wrote it off the rest would follow suit.

But the truth was, no one would do it alone.

Unless it was shown to give shareholders a business advantage over their competitors.

Otherwise each bank would only do what their competitors did.

And that, basically, is how most marketing people behave.

Which answers the question: why is everyone still hypnotised by online advertising?

Given that it’s been proved to be ineffective.

Given that it’s been proved to be largely fraudulent and a waste of money.

Why do marketing people still spend billions on it?

The answer is, they use it because everyone else is using it.

They are frightened to do something different, to miss out.

No one wants to break lockstep.

It may well be a mistake, but as long as everyone is doing it, there’s no risk.

No risk – no blame.

For marketing people, the risk isn’t in wasting millions of pounds of marketing budget.

The risk is in doing something different.


And that is the main operating principal of most marketing.