At GGT, Gordon and I had a super-posh secretary called Nicola-Jane.
She’d been to a Swiss finishing school.
Nicky was always trying to be really helpful.
One day I was about to go to the hardware shop in Brewer Street, Soho.
The toilet cistern at home had jammed and I had to get a new ballcock valve.
As I was going out the door Nicky called to me.
She said “David, you’re needed in the boardroom now for a new business meeting.”
I said “Alright Nicky, tell them I’ll just be five minutes.”
She said “No, they need you now-now.”
I said “I’m only popping over to the hardware store for a ballcock valve.”
She said “You go along to the boardroom and I’ll go and get the ballcock valve.”
I said “You can’t get a ballcock valve Nicky.”
She said “Don’t be silly, of course I can.”
I said “Alright, what sort of ballcock valve are you going to get?”
She said “The prettiest one of course.”
Now I don’t doubt Nicola-Jane would have got me the prettiest ballcock valve.
But I do doubt that it would have been the right one for what I wanted.
She would have liked it.
But it probably wouldn’t have done the job.
Because Nicky wasn’t interested in what the job was.
She was interested in whether or not she liked it.
Consequently she never even asked me if it was for a three-quarter inch supply or a half-inch supply.
It didn’t matter to her.
Just so long as she liked it.
For me that’s how most advertising people are about what we do.
We think the job is to get advertising we like.
We automatically assume that if we like it everyone will like it.
We don’t think any further than that.
Do I like it?
But that isn’t necessarily the job.
For a start, what if I’m not in the target market?
How important is it then that I like it?
Isn’t it more important what the target market thinks?
And the most important part of the job is surely, does it work?
In which case, whether anyone likes it may have nothing to do with it.
What about an anti-smoking ad?
Or a ‘don’t drink-and-drive’ ad.
Or a headache cure.
Or healthy eating.
Or an energy supply company.
Or a rail-travel website.
Or a price comparison website.
In any of those cases, why is it important that I like the ads?
Surely it’s more important that the ads work.
Sometimes they work by shocking you.
Sometimes they work by worrying you.
Sometimes they work by persuading you emotionally.
Sometimes they work by convincing you rationally.
Because a lot of advertising is about changing behaviour, not just changing attitudes.
They don’t just need you to like something.
They need you to actually do something.
So whether you like it or not may well be irrelevant.
Because it isn’t the job.
I’m not saying we should never try to do advertising we like.
I’m just saying we shouldn’t start off assuming that’s always the entire job.
Often it isn’t.
A lot of the advertising we like doesn’t work.
Because it isn’t persuasive.
So it doesn’t change behaviour.
Like the ballcock valve, advertising has to do a job.
It’s not decorative.
So being liked isn’t its primary function.
There’s nothing wrong with being the prettiest ballcock valve.
Everything else being equal, in a parity situation, I’d probably choose the prettier of two ballcock valves.
But first I’d choose the one that does the job best.