Friday, July 31, 2015

Advertising lessons from Jonas Salk.

In about 1952, Dr. Jonas Salk had pretty much developed a vaccine against poliomyelitis. No one today realizes how horrible polio was.

It struck indiscriminately, killing about 40,000 mostly children a year and crippling three or four times that number. The summer months were months of dread. Parents worried--with good reason--that their child would be struck down by the disease.

Like I said, Salk had the vaccine pretty much ironed-out and tested by 1952.

But a lot of people didn't like Salk.

They didn't like his methods.

They didn't like that he used inactive virus serum not killed serum. They didn't think he tested thoroughly enough. They didn't think he had screened against TB, kidney damage and other side-effects.

Rather than rolling out the vaccine--the largest clinical trial in the history of the world--in 1953, many scientists urged delaying the trial--the vaccination of millions of children, to 1954.

Salk replied that waiting meant 40,000 deaths.

Over vehement protests, they went ahead with the trials.

Which proved that the drug, while not perfect, prevented polio.

Lives, tens of thousands of them, were saved.

Too often in life, even when the stakes are high, we chicken out.

We prefer another round of research. We prefer another few months of perseveration. We say to ourselves 'it's not yet perfect.'

Our world of marketing is not as black and white as Salk's was.

No one will die if our Triscuits campaign spends another few months in the can.

But there's too much fear of being wrong. Fear of not being perfect. Fear, really, of action.

Sometimes perfection comes from doing and trying.

Not being actually perfect.

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