The largest sea battle ever was fought at Cape Ecnomus, just off the coast of Sicily, between Rome and Carthage in 256 BC.

The Carthaginians were the world’s greatest naval power, they had 350 ships and 150,000 men.

But the Romans had been preparing for this battle, they had 330 ships and 140,000 men.

So both sides were evenly matched as far as numbers go.

But the numbers didn’t tell the whole story.

The Romans knew nothing about naval warfare, all their battles had been fought on land.

The Carthaginians, on the other hand, knew everything about naval warfare.

In those days, ships were powered by men on oars and the main weapon was a huge ram on the bow.

The Carthaginians knew how to outmanoeuvre the enemy so that the ram crushed their oars before ramming and sinking their ship.

The Romans knew they could be easily beaten in a naval battle.

So they didn’t play to the Carthaginian’s strength, they changed the game.

They invented a device called a Corvus.

The Corvus was a hinged wooden bridge, 4 feet wide and 36 feet long, fitted to the front of each ship.

It dropped onto the enemy ship and a huge spike dug in and held it in place while Roman troops rushed on board.

The Romans knew if they could get their troops aboard the enemy ships they could turn a naval battle into a land battle.

At Cape Ecnomus the two sides met and the half the Carthaginian fleet immediately attacked the rear of the Roman fleet.

But the Roman ships retreated and formed a line side-by-side, backed up against the coast.

The Carthaginians couldn’t get behind them, they couldn’t ram them from the side, and they dare not attack the front because of the Corvus.

So half the Carthaginian fleet was stuck, unable to do anything.

Meanwhile the other half was being attacked and boarded by Roman soldiers who boarded them using the Corvus.

By the end of the battle, the Romans had lost just 24 ships and 10,000 men.

The Carthaginians had lost 95 ships and 40,000 men.

They were no longer the world’s greatest sea power.

They had been beaten by the Romans who weren’t a naval power at all.

But the Romans changed the game to one that they were good at.

They changed the sea battle into a land battle.

Playing to your strengths is the smart way to go, rewriting the rules in your favour.

In 1979, AMV won the Sainsbury’s account.

All the other supermarkets put most of their media money on TV.

But David Abbott wasn’t a TV writer, he was a great press writer.

So David did a huge press campaign for Sainsbury’s.

He ran double-page spreads in the Sunday supplements and treated everything Sainsbury’s sold like a jewel.

Sainsbury’s looked like the gold standard for quality.

The ads won every award there was, and sales went through the roof.

Other supermarkets were desperate to catch up, but they couldn’t.

Because David didn’t compete on TV.

He changed the game to be about the medium he was best at.

Sainsbury’s completely dominated the Sunday supplements and people have been trying to copy that campaign for thirty years.


Because David didn’t play someone else’s game, he changed it to a game he knew he could win.