One of my mates at art school, Tom, was on a football scholarship.

This was America, so it wasn’t what we call football, it was American football.

But Tom crushed his knee, and was told if he played anymore he’d never walk again.

That was the end of his football scholarship, but he still talked a lot about the game.

As I remember it, the team that had the ball had 4 chances to make 10 yards.

Each team had two squads, defence and attack: if you had the ball you fielded your attack, if you lost the ball you switched to your defence.

Tom was on defence, so lots of tackling was how he’d ruined his knee.

I asked him how many plays there were, he said about 75 offensive plays and about 125 defensive plays.

But you didn’t have to remember them all, you knew who you were playing next week so you practiced about 20 plays that would combat their style: if they were a running team you practiced contact plays, if they were a team that threw the ball you practiced interceptions.

So a lot of the game was played before the game was played.

It’s the same everywhere, the mental game comes before the actual game.

Take chess, there are dozens of moves to learn: The Queen’s Gambit, the Sicilian Defence, the Catalan Opening, the Italian Game, the Poisoned Pawn, the Dutch Defence, the Centre Game, the King’s Gambit (declined), and so on.

The more moves you know, the more chance you have of winning, that’s common sense.

But one place we don’t observe this rule is advertising.

In advertising, we are desperate to learn one rule and have it apply in every instance.

A while ago the answer was always Big Data and AdTech, then it was QR Codes, then it was Pokémon Go, then it was Influencer Marketing, then it was Behavioural Science.

I don’t have a problem with any of those, but one answer is not the answer to everything.

Like football or chess or anything else, the more moves you know the more options you have, the more adaptable you are, the less predictable your thinking.

So for us, the debate might be market-growth v market-share, or consumer durable v FMCG,or brand-awareness v brand-purpose, or fashion v durability, or brand v product, or distress purchase v Veblen goods, or a dozen other basic marketing options.

The point being, if you don’t know all of these, you won’t have the options.

You just have one kneejerk answer to every problem.

Rosser Reeves invented the USP, Unique Selling Proposition, it was very good but it was the only answer his agency ever seemed to have.

Similar to the current fixation with brand as the only possible answer, ever.

That is simply coming up with the answer before you even know what the question is.

For instance, I hear people arguing that TV is better for advertisers than online, and for proof they will cite the big brands that use TV.

Personally, I prefer working in TV but it can’t always be right for everyone.

What if you don’t have the budget of the big brands?

A small budget will disappear on TV but might work much better online.

What if brand isn’t even the issue?

What if you’re launching a new category and you need to change consumer behaviour?

How will brand preference help in a market that doesn’t exist yet?

A fixation with one kind of thinking will keep you paralysed.

Which is the same as a football player or a chess player having just one move.

That’s why the best players in any game or business learn as many options as possible.

They don’t just learn the current thinking, what everyone else knows.

They learn the principals, the foundations, because knowledge is always an advantage.