Wing Commander John Cunningham was in charge of a night-fighter squadron.
During the Blitz, his squadron shot down twice as many aircraft as any other night-fighter squadron.
Everyone knew the secret.
Cunningham had exceptional eyesight, because he ate a lot of carrots.
Carrots have a lot of vitamin A.
This helps improve perception of light on the retina, and helps it recover quickly after a flash of bright light in darkness.
In those days ordinary people hadn’t heard about vitamins.
So this was big news, in all the papers.
Cunningham became a celebrity.
He also wore dark glasses in the daytime.
He only took them off at night, to fly.
This was to maintain the sensitivity of his night vision.
Obviously his eyes would be sharper than other people’s, who’d been exposed to bright light all day.
So exceptional eyesight made Cunningham a really effective night-fighter pilot.
Well not quite.
His squadron did shoot down twice as many bombers as any other squadron.
But it had nothing to do with his eyesight.
That was just propaganda.
The RAF had actually developed a combined radar system.
One half based on the ground, that would guide night-fighters to bomber formations.
And one half in the plane, that would guide the pilot to an individual bomber.
It was the first of its kind in the world.
And Cunningham’s squadron was the first to be equipped with it.
If the enemy found out, obviously they’d take counter measures.
So the longer the RAF could keep it quiet, the better.
Cunningham became a national hero.
Enemy spies reported back to Germany that the reason they were losing so many bombers was the deadly ‘Cats Eyes’ Cunningham.
And for a long while the Luftwaffe bought that story.
They lost a lot of bombers to radar before they discovered the truth.
Because a simple lie is often more powerful than a complicated truth.
At least when it comes to mass communication.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true.
All that mattered was, did the target market want to believe it?
And, for most people, something that captures the imagination is more powerful than something that just captures reason.
Maggie Thatcher was a master at this.
That’s why she won three elections in a row.
I once heard her on TV, talking about The Economy to a BBC interviewer.
He asked her exactly why she overrode her cabinet’s advice on financial policy.
She said something like, “Well you know, when it comes to money, we women have always had to take charge of running the household. So I think we are rather better at handling money than men.”
Of course, you could hear Guardian readers groaning in disbelief at how crass that statement was.
But you could hear many, many more housewives up and down the country nodding vigorously in agreement.
And there are a lot more housewives with votes than there are Guardian readers.
And those housewives understood what Mrs Thatcher was saying.
Again, it didn’t matter whether or not it was true.
What mattered was whether the target market wanted to believe it.
That’s a big problem we have in our business.
We’re too clever.
And we think clever will always work.
We’re all university grads, so we all come up with solution we believe will make sense to an intelligent person.
A person like us.
Outside Soho, in the real world, most people aren’t like us.
They don’t work in the media, they don’t aspire to drink in trendy bars and eat in the latest restaurants.
They aren’t interested in the little world of the London media scene.
And, what’s more, they couldn’t care less.
So, if we want to do something that works for them, we need to forget about what works for us.
We need to do something that penetrates their world.
Not something we can believe.
Something they want to believe.