Many years ago I saw a girl in Berkeley Square standing next to a Mini, looking upset.
I asked if she needed any help, she said her car wouldn’t start.
The first thing is always identify the problem before you start offering solutions.
So I got her to open the bonnet then turn the engine over.
It’s usually one of three problems: it’s fuel, or it’s electrics, or it’s mechanical.
If it won’t even turn over at all, it’s probably mechanical (unless it’s a flat battery).
If it turns over, you at least know the electrics are working, so that’s good.
If it turns over and catches then stops, it’s probably the fuel.
Maybe a blocked carburettor or fuel line.
That wasn’t the case here, it turned over but it wouldn’t catch.
So, as Sherlock Holmes said: “Once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever’s left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
So she’s got electrics, but they’re not working properly.
This was an old original Mini, so it was possible to get at everything.
I thought the first and easiest thing to check was the contact-breaker.
Unclip the rotor-arm cover, lift it up, and the contact-breaker is underneath.
As she turned it over I could see the contact-breaker wasn’t actually breaking contact.
This was lucky, if that’s the problem it’s an easy fix.
Obviously, I don’t have feeler-gauges on me, but I know it’s roughly the width of the cardboard on a fag-packet (give or take).
So I got her to turn it over a few more times, until it got to where it should be fully open.
Then I got a screwdriver (or 5p piece, or penknife, I can’t remember) loosened the contact breaker, slipped in a piece of fag-packet, tightened it back up and took out the fag packet.
Then I put the rotor-arm cover back, closed the bonnet and said, try it now.
It started, and I said that’s only a bodge but it’ll get you to a garage, and off she went.
Now the whole point of that story was the bodge.
I’d had a motorbike when I was sixteen, and at seventeen a couple of old cars, and I’d had the engines all over Mum’s front garden.
So I knew the basic principles, and basic principles are transferable knowledge.
You may think a bodge is just old-fashioned thinking, and not relevant today.
But actually, today the bodge is very fashionable, only now it’s called a ‘hack’.
Take NASA, pretty much every Apollo mission has needed at least one hack (bodge).
In 1969, Apollo 11 couldn’t have lifted off from the moon without Buzz Aldrin using a non-conductive, plastic pen to hack (bodge) the circuit-breaker.
In 1970, Apollo 13 needed a hack (bodge) requiring duct-tape and a sock, to make enough air so that three men could breathe instead of just two.
In 1985, the space shuttle Discovery hacked (bodged) plastic bags and a metal pole together, with duct-tape, to release the stuck aerials on a satellite.
In 1997, Russian astronaut Vasili Tsilliyer used a dinner knife to hack (bodge) an air leak aboard the Soyuz.
None of these hacks (bodges) could have happened unless those people understood the basic principles behind what they were doing.
We need to do that with advertising.
Instead of just following the latest fashion, we need to know the purpose of advertising, the basic principles of how it works, what part causes a reaction – where, why, and how.
If we don’t know that, all we do know is the latest formulas and we’re helpless when they don’t work.
We won’t have any options, which means we’ve got no chance of thinking creatively.
You can’t do a hack (bodge) unless you understand the basic principles.
That’s why Bill Bernbach said: “Principles endure, formulas don’t”.
We should be teaching principles, not formulas.