Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Non-Heroic Deeds.

As humans, were inclined to like adventure stories. 

We always have. Since the first stories. Like Gilgamesh. 

We like reading about heroes vanquishing foes, overcoming obstacles and scaling precipitous peaks as they fight their way to their one true love or to complete some monumental quest.

The Twelve Labors of Heracles were not a fill-in-the-blank quiz. And Odysseus had to fight his way past Scylla and Charybdis, not just reset his GPS and find a route around them.

James Thurber once wrote that "The majority of American 
males put themselves to 
sleep by striking out the batting order of the New York Yankees." That's probably not true today. Maybe it's catching a winning pass from Patrick Mahomes or dunking over LeBron James. But you get the point.

We like the idea that we're accomplishing something great, even epic.

However, in life sometimes the most daring thing you can do--the smartest, the bravest, the most inclined to result in a win is the obvious thing.

It takes bravery to be obvious.

About 30 years ago I was working at an agency that lost the Mercedes-Benz pitch to Scali McCabe Sloves.

Mercedes in those days was a New York, LA, SF and Chicago brand. I think they sold around 60,000 cars a year and had around 300 dealers. (Today they sell about 250,000 cars.) 

I remember hearing how a young Scali account person visited all 300 Mercedes dealerships. "Why even bother to present," I said. "They've already won." 

Visiting all the dealerships. Obvious. Brilliant.

When I worked for IBM in pre-Cloud days, servers ruled the roost. Uptime was the goal with the most reliable servers claiming five-9s, that is, 99.999% availability. I remember reading that 70% of server outages happen because someone trips over a plug.

Stopping 70% of server outages: obvious. Brilliant.

About 30 years ago, the CIA built a forward surveillance station in Pakistan to spy on the Soviets, who were at the time in Afghanistan. The complex was built to be impregnable. Nothing could get in--no malware, no bots, no Trojan horses, nothing. The designers had even built-in air-locks so malicious code couldn't jump from one machine to the next. 

All attacks no matter how complex, failed.

At the time, if you can remember back that far, we used to transfer files on USB thumb drives. There was a shortage of these $3 devices in Pakistan--they couldn't be had anywhere.

The Soviets brought thousands in, loaded them with malicious code and practically gave them away at the newsstands that were located around the American surveillance site.

Before long, those thumb drives were inserted into just about every USB orifice. Just about everyone wanted to take Snood or Tetris home for their kids. And before long, the impregnable surveillance station was ruined--destroyed not by technology but ingenuity and human nature.

There's an advertising point in all this.

In keeping with the Adventure Theme I started with, we can call it the Proboscis Caper. It's all as obvious as the nose on your face.

Often in advertising, we build castles in the sky. Ornate plans like something Pinky and the Brain would hatch. Campaigns with ten thousand moving parts and ten times the dependencies

They're beautifully designed and they gleam in the sunshine like a fortress made of meringue.

They make great deck.

But, if you believe as I do in a bit of Jeremy Betham, you might take a different tack. If you want to do the greatest good for the greatest number, sometimes--most times--the obvious pays.

A clarifying line that people remember. 

TV commercials that people talk about.

In-store signage that enhances the message.

Staff briefed on the idea.

In baseball parlance, it's putting wood on the ball. It's fundamentals. It's the solidity of the ten commandments not the vapor of an award-seeking stunt.

As above, we'd all like to be too-clever by half. 

We'd all like the strike out the Yankees or rob a trillion dollars like Rififi, or Alain Delon in "Le Cercle Rouge." We'd all like to swagger like heroes, subdue the bad guys and carry the day.

Sometimes the best way to do that is to do the basics.

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