There’s an old joke about a man who crosses the border every day with a wheelbarrow full of sand.

Every day the guard stops him and searches through the sand, every day he finds nothing.

For years the man crosses the border with the wheelbarrow full of sand, the guard knows he’s smuggling something but he searches in the sand and finds nothing.

After many years, the guard says he is retiring, can he ask the man one question?

As it’s his last day, the man agrees to answer it.

The guard says, “Every day you cross the border with a wheelbarrow full of sand and every day I search the sand and find nothing. I have to ask you, what are you smuggling?”

The man replies, “Wheelbarrows”.

That is the principle of Hiding in Plain Sight.

In 1942, the allies lost the Battle of the Java Sea, the Japanese sank almost the entire fleet.

A small Dutch minesweeper, the Abraham Crijssen, managed to escape.

It was slow and poorly armed and in seas now controlled by the Japanese navy.

The only chance was to get to Australia, don’t stop just keep going and pray.

But they were in waters constantly patrolled by the Japanese navy.

The captain decided instead to hide in plain sight.

He disguised his ship as a jungle island.

The crew covered it with every bit of foliage they could gather, and they painted every bit of metal to look like sand and rock.

The ship only travelled at night, during the day it moored next to a similar looking island.

Japanese planes passed over, looking for a ship but all they saw was small islands.

After 8 days, the Abraham Chrijssen arrived safely in Australia.

Edgar Allan Poe was the first person to write about hiding in plain sight, in 1844 in The Purloined Letter.

The entire French police force search a flat for an incriminating letter.

The flat they are searching belongs to a criminal mastermind, so they know it must be in the most devious of hiding places.

They search for secret compartments, they search behind the wallpaper, they search inside the legs of furniture, they poke needles into cushions, they find nothing.

Eventually Poe’s detective, the precursor to Sherlock Holmes, says that he has found it.

The police are gobsmacked and ask him what they missed.

He says they missed the obvious, it was crumpled up and dirty on a table by the door.

The place that the master criminal knew was far too obvious for them to even consider.

We are like those policemen.

We have entire research and marketing departments dedicated to finding the most complicated solutions to brand problems.

Clients change agencies based on these different complicated strategic insights.

But all the sophisticated marketing types ignore the basic problem.

The numbers are: 4% of advertising is remembered favourably and 7% is remembered negatively.

These are the only numbers we seem capable of understanding.

We totally miss the biggest number of all which is hiding in plain sight: 89% of advertising isn’t noticed or remembered.

While we are looking for more complicated solutions, we miss the fact that guarantees the failure of whatever we do: 89% of advertising isn’t noticed or remembered.

Just like the border guard, or the Japanese navy, or the French police force, we miss the real problem because it is hiding in plain sight.

As Bill Bernbach said, “If no one notices your advertising, everything else is academic”.