Pablo Escobar was the richest criminal ever, at his peak he controlled nearly 80% of the global cocaine market.

His personal fortune was worth the equivalent of $64 billion today.

He founded the Medellin cartel and built a sophisticated network to transport 70/80 tons a month to the USA, the other cartels were paying him 25%-30% just for shipping.

But how did he do it, what made him different?

Escobar knew the power of violence of course, he murdered rival cartel members as well as policemen, judges, and politicians.

But real power doesn’t just come from killing people, it comes from getting people to do what you want them to do.

So Escobar developed a marketing strategy with a simple, memorable strapline that acted as a call-to-action.

Bribing people in authority, he would always offer it with the simple line: “Plata o plomo?”

‘Plata o plomo’ is Spanish for ‘Silver or lead?’

It’s a very simple option for you: silver (money) or lead (bullets)?

But the line “Plata o plomo?” will stay in your mind.

Imagine you are an underpaid police officer, would you prefer some money just to look the other way, or would you prefer to be gunned down, who will look after your family then?

Of course, none of that was said, it wasn’t needed, just the line “Plata o plomo?” and everyone knew exactly what it meant.

Like all the best lines, it got into the language as a cliché, a piece of common sense.

That simple memorable line helped Escobar build the biggest drugs network in the world.

A line won’t do all the work on its own of course.

But it does coalesce the thinking, the complexity, into a simple, memorable promise.

Of course, it must be founded in the truth, or it won’t work.

Several years earlier, Bill Bernbach did a campaign for Avis rental cars.

He investigated the company thoroughly, he found they were very good, but that’s not enough, everyone claims to be good, on its own it’s meaningless.

The only truth that stood out, was that Avis was smaller than Hertz (the market leader).

If Bernbach had just claimed “Avis – We Try Harder” there was no reason for anyone to believe him, no truth to stake a claim in.

So Bernbach made the claim: “Avis – We’re Only Number 2, So We Have To Try Harder”.

Now there was a truth that was believable because it made absolute sense.

Number 1 (Hertz) was repositioned, by inference, as the lazy fat-cat, they didn’t have to try as hard as Avis.

Now there was a reason to believe ‘Avis – We Try Harder’.

The campaign worked so well that all over America people began wearing the Avis badgeand line, and putting the Avis sticker on their bumpers.

Everyone wanted to identify with the little guy who worked harder.

Today, Avis has 11,000 offices worldwide and is the Leading Car Rental Company in 74 countries including USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Singapore, Denmark, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic and Argentina.

That line worked by making a claim that’s based in truth, not just an empty claim.

For instance: ‘Ford – We Try Harder’ wouldn’t mean anything, nor would ‘Coca Cola – We Try Harder, nor would ‘Nestle – We Try Harder’, nor would ‘Samsung – We Try Harder’.

A line isn’t good just because it’s catchy, it only works when it’s specific to a brand, and it only works then because it’s delivering a brand truth, not just an empty feel good claim.  

Judging by current advertising, that’s too difficult for a lot of marketing people.

They can’t seem to get their heads round that.