My dad was a policeman, an old-fashioned east-end copper.

Growing up, I used to ask him about his job, did he just enforce the law like a robot?

One of the most important lessons I learned from Dad was how he explained it to me:

“The spirit of the law, not the letter of the law.”

I said that sounded a bit too complicated, how could a policeman hold that in his head all the time, constantly weighing it up?

Dad said it wasn’t complicated, it was matter of what you saw the job as: stick to the fundamental job and don’t get distracted by details.

He said he saw the basic job of the police as holding society together, so that was the spirit of the law.

For instance, if he was doing his rounds at 2am (policeman walked the streets then without mobile phones) he’d be trying all the shop doorways to see if they’d been tampered with, suppose he found a baker’s door open.

Suppose he went in and there was a bloke filling a sack with bread.

The first thing dad does is take out his truncheon and ask the bloke what he’s doing.

Supposing the bloke says he’s got no job and no money and he’s stealing bread to feed his wife and kids.

Dad said he’d put the truncheon away and say he’s going outside for a smoke, when he comes back in 5 minutes he’s going to discover the shop was broken into, some bread was stolen and the thief has scarpered.

Dad told me he’d turn a blind eye because the bloke wasn’t breaking the law for greed, he was looking after his family which is what a man should do, however he can.

Dad saw turning a blind eye as better for society than nicking the bloke.

But, he said, supposing I go inside the shop and there’s a bloke emptying the safe, then you can bet I’m going to nick him, because he’s just stealing money for greed, and that isn’t what society is supposed to be about.

So Dad saw it as not just going unthinkingly by what’s written down in a book, the letter of the law, but by using your own common-sense and moral judgement as to what the spirit of the law is.

By working out what’s in the greater good, what’s the fundamental purpose of your job.

Then using your loaf in the way you apply it.

I think advertising could benefit from ‘the spirit of the law not the letter of the law’.

Suppose we ask advertising people, what is the purpose of advertising?

Most people’s kneejerk response is, “To sell stuff”.

Is that it, we’re paid to cram goods down consumer’s throats any way we can, regardless?

I don’t think that’s much of a job, much of a contribution to society.

Carl Ally described what we do like this: “The purpose of advertising is to deliver useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way”.

Surely that would contribute to a society more than just “selling stuff”.

Take Carl Ally’s first part ‘deliver useful consumer information’ for a start,

How about telling people why what we sell is worth buying, instead of manipulating them with cod-psychology?

How about letting people choose whether to buy?

Take the second part “delivered in an executionally brilliant way”.

How about presenting the facts with style and humour so people can enjoy the process?

I think doing work that people can enjoy, whether or not they’re in the target market, would be a good place to start.

Rather than force-feeding them with ads, like making pate de foie gras from geese.

Let’s imagine advertising done in ‘the spirit of the law not the letter of the law’.

Let’s use our brains and do the job in a way that would be a benefit to society.