In 1981, a Russian military aircraft was waiting to take off from Pushkin airbase.
It was a Tu104 airliner and on board were 16 admirals.
That was the entire command structure of the Pacific fleet.
These were amongst the most powerful people in Russia, their word was law.
They had flown across the country from east to west to a conference near Leningrad.
Russia spent nearly all its money on its military which meant two things:
- Ordinary Russians were starved of consumer goods
- These admirals had lots and lots of cash
(This is exemplified by the fact that in 1969, when Russia had more nuclear weapons than America, and had launched the world’s first satellite – Sputnik, and put the first man into space, it was also the year Russia opened their first factory making toilet paper.)
After the conference was over the admirals went shopping, lots and lots of shopping.
Then they loaded everything they bought onto the plane.
The head of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Spirodonov, had crates and crates of fresh fruit loaded aboard, he also had furniture, a refrigerator, a washing machine, and spare parts for his car.
The other Admirals followed his lead with their purchases.
The pilot was Lt Colonel Anatoly Inyushin, he had 8,000 flying hours on this aircraft and had previously complained that high-ranking officers routinely overloaded the planes.
This time, because there were so many Admirals, it was even worse, he told them they were exceeding the safe flying weight by many tons.
They shouted at him: “drivers should know their place” and told him compared to them he was “just an insect”.
Against 18 admirals, the pilot had to shut up and do what he was told.
There were two reasons the admirals ignore the pilot’s advice:
- The admirals had been drinking heavily at the end of their conference
- In Russia, rank dictates the law, not logic
Just before take-off, Admiral Spirodonov had two huge 500kg rolls of paper loaded on board (another half a ton).
The TU104 began to taxi down the runway, picking up speed.
But all that weight slowed it down, 220kph was minimum lift-off speed, but it began to take off at 180kph, 40 kph too slow.
It rose into the air, climbed at an alarming rate, then simply fell out of the sky.
As it hit the ground 30 tons of jet fuel exploded and 16 admirals, the entire command structure of the Pacific fleet, ceased to exist.
The worst of the pilot’s fears was realised because the excess weight in the cargo bay shifted the plane’s centre of gravity rearwards.
As it gained speed the weight lifted the nose, which made the wings angle upwards giving them lift, which made the plane take off before it was going fast enough.
The upwards angle made the heavy rolls of paper roll backwards which pointed the nose even further upwards.
The plane rose without enough speed or power until the Tu 104 just fell out of the sky.
16 admirals may have been able to command the laws of the Russian navy, but they couldn’t command the laws of physics.
Which is what we find all the time, clients outrank us and they can make us do whatever they want, but that doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t mean it will work.
Like those admirals, clients can make us change the ads until they like them.
But clients are specialists in marketing not advertising, that should be our job.
Just as the admirals should have let the pilot fly the plane, marketing should let us do the advertising.
Marketing should be about WHAT we do, advertising should be about HOW we do it.