In 1942, Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote a book called The Little Prince.
In it, he explains to children how adults think.
An asteroid, B-612, was discovered by a Turkish astronomer in 1909, but the Astronomical Society wouldn’t believe him, because he was dressed in flamboyant Turkish clothes.
11 years later, in 1920, he again presented his evidence for asteroid B-612, but this time he was dressed in conservative western clothes, so they believed him.
Because adults are blind to anything not presented in the dullest possible way:
“ When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you questions about essential matters.
They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?”
Instead, they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?”
Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.
If you were to say to the grown-ups: “I saw a beautiful house made of rosey brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof,” they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: “I saw a house that cost $20,000.”
Then they would exclaim: “Oh, what a pretty house that is!”
Saint-Exupery tells of the Little Prince visiting Earth and trying to make sense of it.
He meets two people: the first is a railway switchman who tells him how passengers constantly rush from one place to another place aboard trains, never knowing where they were and not knowing what they were after, only the children among them ever bothered to look out of the windows.
The second person is a merchant who tells him about his product, a pill that eliminates the need to drink for a week, saving people 53 minutes.
The Little Prince says Earth makes no sense, just like people on other planets he’s visited.
Such as the narcissistic man who only wants the praise which comes from admiration and being the most-admirable person on his otherwise uninhabited planet.
Or the businessman who is blind to the beauty of the stars and instead endlessly counts and catalogues them in order to ‘own’ them all.
But Saint-Exupery wasn’t talking to children, he was explaining us to us.
We don’t care how we make anyone feel: do they laugh, do they remember it, can they sing it, would they watch it again?
All we care about is: did we tick all the research boxes, did we get the ratings, did we get an award, will we get mentioned in Campaign, will we get a raise?
Last night I was watching Sky TV, there were 4 ad breaks an hour, each ad break had 13 commercials – that’s 52 ads, around 20 minutes, an hour.
The ads were targeted, so I saw the same ads over-and-over-and-over-and-over.
It’s not only boring, it’s suffocating.
Because we do our jobs the way Antione de Saint-Exupery described adults to children.
We can’t judge good ideas, just facts presented in the dullest way.
Numbers and rules win every argument, anything else is considered trivia.
I felt this was particularly poignant this weekend.
Alan Parker died, he’d been an advertising giant when I was a junior, before he went to Hollywood.
Everything the public loves and remembers from the great days of advertising was done by Alan and half-a-dozen others.
He did his final interview before he died, with Dave Dye, and his last answer struck home.
Dave Dye asked his what he thought of the present state of advertising.
Alan Parker said: “When I see a Banksy on a wall I think: “Advertising used to be clever like that.”