Thursday, January 22, 2009

Looking at the world in three dimensions.

Right now I am reading "With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain" by the great historian Michael Korda. Naturally, the story of the battle of the free world versus Hitler's tyranny set me thinking about advertising.

One of the heroes of the Battle of Britain almost 70 years ago was Hugh Dowding. Dowding was the first person in history to see an aerial battlefield completely. He understood that if the Brits were to prevail over the better-armed Nazis it was more than a matter of more planes, more guns and more pilots.

What Dowding constructed was a network that allowed him to see and chart (via rudimentary radar) incoming enemy planes. He was also able to see ships on the sea, anti-aircraft guns on the ground and communicate with dispersed squadrons of RAF pilots.

What Dowding did is what clients, agencies and holding companies don't do. We look at our work alone and perseverate over minutia like the difference, say, between the word "although" and the word "but." What we fail to do is create a big board like Dowding did. A big communications board would not only map communications in all the channels a client uses, it would do the same for the client's competition. Responses could be (and this was Dowding's real breakthrough) in real-time, not in client time.

Essentially, this is how the Obama campaign worked. Clear direction guided from above and immediate response to threats and opportunities.

No matter what client you work for--and I've worked for some of the biggest--you are pretty much always out-gunned. As Dowding showed, greater intelligence is the way to stare down and prevail in the face of greater weaponry. Advertisers need to get out of their conference rooms and powerpoints and find a way to get smart.
P.S. "Smart" in the context I am writing of is not listening to a lady in a focus group in Bridge Mix, New Jersey. Smart is accurately seeing the world in all its tectonic complexity.


Anonymous said...

This is smack-on George. It's so hard to coordinate multi-agency efforts beyond the constraints of narrow self-interests. Some of these limits are certainly ego-based, but far too many arise due to conflicting business compensation plans.
That said, I gotta read up on old Hugh...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, that lady in New jersey's got a lot of clout these days. With one of our clients, we're in an era of "let's make it focus-group proof!". So you can guess how exciting our spots are after Ms. NJ gets her hands on them.

Dave Trott said...

Great book and great post George.