I was discussing this philosophical problem with Jeff Stark.

Nothing controversial I thought.

“If a tree falls in a forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, is there a sound?”

I didn’t think it was controversial because it’s obvious there’s no sound.

A sound is an experience.

So without any ears to experience it there can’t be any sound.

I thought it was obvious.

But I was wrong.

Jeff thought exactly the opposite.

He said “Of course there’s a sound, whether there’s anyone around to hear it or not is irrelevant. The tree makes a sound as it falls”.

This took me back.

When a tree falls it makes the particles in the air move.

When the particles move inside the ear, the ear creates what we experience as sound.

Without the ear it’s just moving particles of air.

No ear, no sound.

The dictionary defines sound as “The sensation perceived by a sense of hearing”.

So it’s the ‘hearing’ that creates the ‘sound’.

This is pretty fundamental to philosophy because it identifies two separate realities.

One outside the mind, one inside the mind.

The one outside the mind is the basic, physical reality.

Something happens, it’s experienced by one of the five senses.

That’s the only way we can know any external reality.

Then our mind interprets what the senses just experienced.

And that’s our reality.

So all we can ever experience is what our mind tells us.

If there are no ears to hear it, there can’t be a sound.

That was the discussion Jeff and I had.

But ultimately, so what?

What’s that got to do with anything?

Well, that’s the way we do advertising.

Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to run posters at the North Pole or in the middle of the Sahara Desert?

Because there’s no one there to see them.

If there’s no one there, how can they possibly work?

So we wouldn’t do it.

But that’s exactly what we expect advertising to do.

We expect it to work simply because we run it.

We don’t have to worry about anyone noticing our ads or not.

Of course they’ll notice it, just because we ran it.

So all our concentration is on focussed on subtlety and nuance.

But making sure our advertising is noticed ought to be the most fundamental of all our jobs.

We know that every year £18.3 billion is spent in the UK on all forms of advertising.

And we know that 4% of that is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively, and 89% isn’t noticed or remembered.

So 89% of advertising might as well not have run.

That’s roughly £17 billion wasted every year.


£17 billion falling in the forest with no one around to hear it.