Imagine we were electing a new world leader from three candidates.

Based on the following information, which one would you choose?

Candidate a) He’s been known to associate with crooked politicians. He’s consulted astrologers for help with decisions. He chain smokes, and drinks 8 – 10 martinis a day.

Candidate b) He’s been kicked out of political office twice. He stays in bed until nearly noon. He used opium in college. He drinks copious amounts of whiskey and champagne. People accuse him of being a warmonger.

Candidate c) He’s a decorated war hero. He doesn’t smoke, and only drinks an occasional beer. He’s a vegetarian and he’s never committed adultery. He’s a charismatic leader.

Now, based purely on that evidence, who would you vote for?

a)   The chain-smoking crook.

b)   The drunk warmonger.

c)   The clean-living leader and hero.

It does look like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

If we were trusting our future, our children’s future, to someone from that list, it would have to be candidate c) wouldn’t it?

On that evidence, that’s how I’d vote anyway.

But of course real life is never that simple.

Those descriptions are limited.

They’re taken out of context.

And look what happens when you judge anything out of context.

You get a totally distorted picture of reality.

In reality the candidates were as follows:

Candidate a) was Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Candidate b) was Winston Churchill.

Candidate c) was Adolf Hitler.

Once we know who they were, our entire view changes.

Because the context dictates the reality.

But if we only choose myopically, from selected facts, it looks very different to the reality.

And yet that’s what we do all the time.

We judge the big picture from selected facts.

We ignore context.

We judge commercials based on what they look like in the edit suite.

We judge posters based on what they look like on the boardroom table.

We judge press ads based on what they look like laid on the art director’s desk.

We judge radio ads based on what they sound like on massive speakers in a recording studio.

We judge advertising out of context.

That means we judge things as they’ll never appear.

Because in the real world they’ll never be out of context.

Recently, at a pitch, we presented some posters to a client.

We placed the layouts, one at a time, on the boardroom table.

The client wasn’t impressed.

The client said “We like the words a lot. But the visuals are just flat. They posters look sort of……..empty really.”

So then we showed them photographs we’d mocked up, of the same posters in situ.

On poster sites on busy roads.

With traffic going by and people walking past.

Amongst lots of other posters, road signs, buildings and trucks with logos on.

In the busy, overcrowded environment, the cluttered, over-communicated context they’ll actually run in.

The client’s eyebrows went up.

The client said “They look much better there don’t they? They really stand out. They’re very different to everything else around them.”

And they weren’t disappointed anymore.

They bought the campaign.

Because now they were judging the work in context.

Just the way real people will see it.

See, in the real world our ads are just another bit of everything else.

To have a chance we have to stand out from that clutter.

If we’re as busy and cluttered as everything else we just blend into everything else.

And then we become invisible.

Of course we could try reversing the process.

If we can’t judge our advertising the way it runs, we could run it the way it’s judged.

Paste it in the middle of a great big empty boardroom table.

Then invite all the consumers in, one at a time, to look at it carefully.

Just the way we do.


I bet, in that context, most advertising would work.