At the end of World War One, the main armament for fighter planes was two machine guns.

That was more than sufficient when planes were slow and made of wood and fabric.

But twenty years later, as the next war approached, planes were faster and made of metal.

Obviously they’d need much more powerful armament.

So the British went for more machine guns on their Spitfires, first four guns, then more: six, then even more: eight guns.

Eight machine guns was lots more than they’d previously had, that was true.

But they were still the same sort of guns firing the same sort of bullets .303 inches (7.6mm).

It was old fashioned thinking: more not better, quantity over quality.

The Germans meanwhile equipped their Messerschmitt 109s with a totally new type of gun, 20mm cannons.

The 20mm (0.78 ins) cannon shell was more than twice the size of the British .303 machine gun bullet.

But more than that, the cannon could fire either armour-piercing or high-explosive shells.

Plus it had a range of 1,000 yards (meters) against the machine-gun’s 400 yards (meters).

German statistics showed it took an average 5 cannon-shells to bring down a plane as opposed to 20 machine gun bullets.

So, although it fired less rounds, each round was 4 times more effective at more than double the range.

Eventually the RAF had to learn the lesson and began converting all its Spitfires from machine guns to 20mm cannons.

The lesson was: Fewer-but-Smarter beats More-but-Dumb.

Humankind has had many opportunities to learn this throughout history, but we never do.

The lure of believing that more must always be better is too strong.

In the Korean War in the early 1950s, the Chinese and North Korean forces were poorly equipped compared to the Americans, but they had many times more troops.

So they decided on the tactic of the ‘Human Wave’.

Their soldiers would simply charge the Americans, weight of numbers must win.

When the war was over this tactic had cost the Chinese and North Koreans 2.5 million dead, and the war ended in stalemate exactly where it started 3 years earlier.

They learned the hard way that Fewer but Smarter beats More but Dumb.

In advertising we thought we’d learned that lesson during what they called the ‘Golden Age of Advertising’ when consumers actually loved the ads.

Fewer but Smarter beats More but Dumb.

We thought we’d learned it but we hadn’t, because dull, boring ads are repeated on a nightly basis in a ‘Human Wave’ media blitz.

It’s the same as the Chinese and North Koreans believing that sheer weight of numbers must swamp the enemy (sorry audience) and beat them into submission.

Years ago, David Putnam says he learned this when he was an account-man at Collett Dickenson Pearce.

Clients everywhere were running quarter page ads every week.

John Pearce made his clients put the money into running a single whole-page ad once a month for the same cost, no one else was doing it.

Putnam said the move made CDP’s clients dominate their markets.

No one noticed the weeks when they didn’t run quarter-page ads, but EVERYONE noticed the week when they did run a whole page ad.

So although they ran less ads each ad was many times more effective.

CDP’s clients were able to dominate the market by realising a simple truth.

Fewer but Smarter beats More but Dumb.