Years ago, Thor Santisiri was a student of mine.
Then he became an art director at some very good London agencies.
Then he went back to Bangkok and opened his own agency.
Won lots of accounts and lots of awards.
Sold the agency to TBWA and became ECD.
After a while he felt he needed to be reinvigorated.
To reconnect with life.
So Thor became a Buddhist monk.
He put on the saffron coloured robes and lived in a monastery.
He performed the daily rituals and prayers with all the other monks.
One of these was begging for food.
The monks had to eat their last meal of the day before 11 am.
After that they fasted until the next morning.
What they ate would be whatever the people chose to give them.
Monks would take their bowls around, and households would put food into them.
I asked Thor if everything went into the same bowl.
He said yes.
I asked if the leftovers got mixed together.
He said “Oh no Dave, these weren’t leftovers, that would be disrespectful.
This wasn’t given after people had finished eating.
This was taken from what food they had before they started eating.
So it was given very willingly as a mark of respect.
From what little everyone had, they gave the best of it to the monks first.”
I said it sounded hard, having to live on just one meal a day.
Thor said it was, but that wasn’t the hardest part.
I asked what was.
He said, the monks still followed the ancient practices.
Including walking in bare feet.
He said that may have been fine centuries ago, but nowadays you have to walk on gravel and shingle, and rusty nails, and jagged metal, and broken glass bottles.
The people Thor was begging from lived in very poor conditions.
And walking in bare feet was painful.
I asked him why he didn’t just wear shoes.
He said “Dave, how can I? These are very poor people. They live in such poor conditions they have no shoes themselves. How can I beg food from them while I am walking around in shoes and they have none?”
I thought that was a really good question.
And I thought that, even as a monk, Thor understood more about advertising than most people working in it.
He thought about the audience first.
He thought about something very few people in our business ever think about.
Most of us just judge the work inside the agency.
We print it out and show it to the client in the meeting room.
And we judge that piece of paper.
We judge it in the only context it will never appear in.
On it’s own.
Which is why, when it runs, it looks exactly like every other ad.
Because all advertising is done that way.
So it all looks the same.
Where the ads actually have to work is in amongst all the other ads.
And the only way they’ll work is if they look different.
If they stand out.
Not like wallpaper.
Like a picture hung on the wallpaper.
And the only way we can judge that is to judge our ads in the environment they’ll run in.
The context they have to stand out from.
We have to experience it in the way the audience will experience it.
Instead of just thinking about ourselves.
Whether we like the ad or not.
Sitting in our offices.
Looking at a piece of paper.
Like Thor, we have to have respect for our audience.