Years ago I studied Kung Fu for a while.
I wasn’t very good at it, but one lesson stuck with me.
The master always said you should punch beyond your target.
If you’re trying to break a plank of wood for instance, you need to aim about six inches behind it.
This means your fist will still be accelerating as it hits the target.
Which gives it a lot more power: energy is still being released at point of contact.
That’s a good metaphor for a lot of things.
Nowadays, in the new brand-speak, it’s called ‘over-commitment’.
Doing more than you think you need to.
This is a really good lesson for everyone.
Students do exactly what they’re told to do by their tutors.
This is dumb.
Because every other student is being told exactly the same thing.
And if you all do the same thing you’ll all end up looking exactly the same.
So you won’t stand out.
And, in advertising, this is not a good idea.
Whatever your tutor has told you should be the start point for what you do.
Not the finish point.
You need to over-commit.
You need to go beyond what’s reasonable.
Vinnie Warren was a young Irish guy who went to New York to get a job in advertising.
He knew who he wanted to work for, Ed McCabe.
Now Ed is also one of my heroes.
His work is powerful, confrontational, unforgettable, and effective.
He built Volvo and Perdue as massive brands from virtually nothing.
Anyone who wants to learn how you do great advertising would want to work for Ed.
But Ed wasn’t hiring anyone.
So, if Vinnie was reasonable, he’d give up and try to get a job elsewhere.
But Vinnie wasn’t reasonable.
He got a job driving a horse and carriage around Central Park at night.
Then, during the day, he pretended to be a student at Pratt Institute so he could study their library of advertising annuals.
And he learned everything he could about Ed McCabe.
He learned where he lived, how he travelled to work, what brands he liked, and what he didn’t like.
Then he’d stalk Ed.
He’d follow him through the streets and on the subway.
He’d watch what he did and where he went.
And Vinnie found out that Ed had one particular hate.
Another New York ad agency called Kirschenbaum and Bond.
So Vinnie put together a deliberately bad portfolio and sent it to them.
Just so he could get a rejection letter from the agency Ed McCabe hated.
The he sent his real portfolio over to Ed.
With the rejection letter pasted onto it.
Above it he wrote, ‘DEAR ED McCABE, I HOPE YOUR TASTE IN ADVERTISING IS BETTER THAN KIRSCHENBAUM & BOND’S.”
Now Vinnie’s behaviour raises a few questions.
Was it illegal?
Was it unreasonable?
But actually there’s really only one important question.
Did it work?
Well Vinnie got the job with Ed McCabe.
One of the most difficult and talented people in advertising.
He worked with him and learned from him.
He’d already learned the value of over-commitment.
And he’d had it reinforced by working with Ed, who demanded it.
Vinnie brought that over-commitment into his advertising.
Eventually Vinnie left Ed’s agency and started doing the advertising for Budweiser.
His campaign featured the single word “WASSSUUUUP” repeated over and over and over again throughout the commercials.
Was it repetitive?
Was it unreasonable?
Did it work?
Like gangbusters, as they say on New York.
That’s probably the single most viewed advert on YouTube around the world.
It did more for Budweiser’s sales than the previous decades of advertising.
Vinnie now owns and runs his own agency in Chicago.
He’s picking up more accounts and awards all the time.
All by being unreasonable, and over-committing.
I always tell students it’s pretty simple.
Think of it as a game of darts.
Once you’ve thrown the dart, gravity will always pull it down.
So you have to aim above what you actually want.
If you want the bull, aim for treble twenty.
If you want treble twenty, aim for double top.
You have to over-commit.
Or, to put it another way.
You’ll always get less than you go for, so go for more than you want.