The movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’ is based on a true story.
It was 1944, General Montgomery was angry that General Eisenhower was placed above him in overall charge of Allied armies in Europe.
He was also stung by constant criticism from General Patton that he was too slow as a commander.
So Montgomery devised a risky attack on nine bridges, using 30,000 airborne troops,
He planned to show how dynamic he was as a strategist, superior to Eisenhower or Patton.
This was a plan dictated by emotion, from the top down.
But for me, the most insightful scene in the film is when two officers are discussing the radios the troops will be taking.
The first officer says there’s a problem: the radios don’t have the range, the troops won’t be able to communicate.
The second officer looks shocked, he says he must tell his superiors immediately.
The first officer says absolutely not.
The second officer can’t believe he won’t warn everybody.
The first officer says, look this operation has been ordered from the top down, it’s going ahead no matter what. Anyone trying to stop it can say goodbye to their career, simple as that. If you want to do that, go ahead be my guest.
The second officer swallows, sees the point, and decides to shut up as well.
The operation goes ahead and, as predicted, the radios don’t work properly.
The troops are out of range and can’t communicate, the battle is a shambles, thousands of men die or are captured.
The operation is a failure, and Montgomery’s reputation is stained.
We may think that scene in the film is incredible, surely it couldn’t happen in real life.
But what makes that scene so credible is it’s exactly what happens in real life.
We see that all the time in our business.
Creative: “This brief is nonsense, the advertising won’t work”
Account handler: “Never mind, it’s what the client wants.”
Creative: “But we should tell them it won’t work.”
Account handler: “We’ve been told this is the strategy they want, their boss has bought it, we have to do it.”
Creative: “But it’s a waste of money.”
Account handler: “If we don’t do it, we lose the account. Do you want to be the one responsible for losing the account? If so, go ahead, be my guest.”
And of course, no one wants to do that, so no one tells the client.
Maybe, the client even suspects it’s wrong, but they also know their boss wants it.
So whether it’s right or not is irrelevant.
If it runs and it doesn’t work, no one gets singled out for blame.
But if someone tries to stop the whole process they get the entire blame focussed on them.
So no one says anything and it goes ahead, even though they know it’s wrong.
Because, if it’s going ahead anyway, there’s nothing you can do.
No point in sacrificing your career for no reason.
So we have advertising that’s done to keep the person above you in the chain happy.
Creative pleases planning, planning pleases client, client pleases client’s boss.
Unless the boss actually cares about the consumer, ordinary people don’t come into it.
And usually the boss is surrounded by people telling him what a great decision he made, which is proof he must know best.
And that’s how the whole process works, that’s how careers get made.
Keep everyone happy, don’t rock the boat just go along with it.
Or, as they say in America: “Go along, get along”.