In 1986, Libya and Chad were fighting over a strip of land.
Libya had the more modern, well-armed forces: 7,000 troops, 300 tanks, 60 aircraft, even helicopters.
Chad didn’t have any tanks, but they had something the Libyans didn’t have: Toyotas.
They fitted machine-guns and RPG-launchers in the back of these.
A battle between SUVs and tanks should be no contest, and so it proved.
In 1987, at the battle for Fada, the Toyotas crushed a Libyan armoured brigade, the Libyans lost 100 tanks, repeat 100 tanks, the Chad forces lost 3 Toyotas.
The Toyotas then attacked the Libyan Ouadi Doum airbase, defended by 5,000 troops and surrounded by densely packed minefields.
The Toyotas destroyed the airbase because, travelling at 100kph, they were too fast and too light to set off the mines.
They then attacked an airbase 200km inside Libya, arriving undetected they destroyed 70 tanks, 30 other armoured vehicles, and 30 aircraft.
The Toyotas ran rings around the slow, cumbersome tanks.
And even when the Toyotas were damaged, there were mechanics in every village that could fix them, they’d keep going no matter what.
Whereas if a tank lost part of a track, it couldn’t move, it was useless.
The Toyotas of Chad won the war against the tanks of Libya.
The lesson is that sometimes speed and mobility can beat superior forces.
Years ago the UK government made the rules for cigarette advertising so strict, every single word on every ad was vetted.
CDP’s B&H Gold Box account depended on aspirational imagery.
Frank Lowe briefed Al Waldie that the government would hardly let them say anything.
So Waldie thought “If they won’t let us say anything, we won’t use any words” and he did the strangest campaign anyone had seen until that time.
He knew Art was aspirational, and surrealism was what most people thought of as art.
So he did huge 48 sheet posters with photographs inspired by the surrealism of Magritte and Dali.
With absolutely no words, the headline was the government Health Warning making it clear it was for cigarettes, and the only clue to the brand was the consistent use of gold in the pictures.
The fact that you had to work it out made it aspirational, not just a crass poster shouting at you, this was only for the intelligent, the discerning, not for the masses.
The agility of their response created a totally new kind of advertising.
Every surreal ad you see today is a direct descendant of that original B&H campaign.
And it was all due to the mobility of their response to government restrictions.
Apple has always been fast and agile, able to pivot at speed.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple there were no products worth advertising, so he ran brand-only ads (“Here’s to the crazy ones”) until new products came on stream.
Then, when Apple had definite product advantages, he switched to a hard-sell campaign: 70 ads targeting the market leader (“I’m a Mac” “I’m a PC”).
And when Apple moved into entertainment, they switched to a graphic campaign for their iPod based mainly on silhouettes with a white headphone lead.
Mobility isn’t always the way to go. Toyotas won’t always beat tanks.
But the start point must always be to work out what you’ve got, and how to turn it to advantage.
Mobility doesn’t always mean changing the campaign.
But it does mean getting out in front of the situation so you’re in control of it.
As Buddha said “Act don’t react.”