Hydrogen versus Bernoulli

People often wonder where ideas come from.

I like to think that all ideas are just sitting there, waiting to be discovered rather than created out of thin air as one might suppose.

Creative people just spend more time looking for them.

We’re like those people who suddenly got obsessed with Pokemon-Go and were out walking round parks at 2am.

The thrill of finding one is addictive and you get better at it, the more you do it.

And by creative people I mean inventors, research scientists and entrepreneurs too.

Ideas tend to be the meshing of two seemingly disconnected concepts to make a third new one.

Shop mannequins and suicide. Ear inspecting devices and human trafficking, country citizenship and trash.

(And in the case of Pokemon, gaming and treasure hunting.)

When you see a really great idea, one that you’ve either done or wished you’d done, it’s partly a feeling of elation but also recognition that makes it so thrilling. Like, damn, of course, it had to be that idea.

Like that moment on Long lost family, when a daughter finally finds her mother who gave her up as an infant. It’s kind of instant and overwhelming.

In advertising our particular species of idea usually rely on a universal insight, which are similar in that we recognise something familiar in it. When a comedian remarks on something about your life in a way that you’d never considered before but had seen every day and a thousand times, its partly funny because you recognise it, but also because you hadn’t recognised it.

They didn’t invent it, they just found it by looking through a different lens to yours.

Which brings me to flying, boats and hydrogen.

When I was a child my parents great friends, David (RIP) and Carolyn Ezekiel, owned a yacht which they kept in Chichester.

They’d sail around the Solent, the stretch of water between Portsmouth and The Isle of White, most weekends and would take longer holidays in it down to the Mediterranean in the summer and when they eventually retired they would live in it six months of the year in warmer climbs.

My recollection of it was always on a cold, wet weekend in March.

My father loved being invited to spend weekends on it, my mother hated anything that floated apart from possibly the ice in her Bacardi and Coke, so Dad would often take me or my brother or sister.

I do like boats and the sea, but unfortunately they won’t tolerate me. I would usually be a queasy shade of green before we got out of the harbour.

But I remember one weekend when I was about twelve, sat in that small cabin moored up to all the other yachts somewhere in the Cowes marina, listening to the mast ropes clang in the wind, when David asked me if I knew how they discovered flight?

The Marina at Cowes, Isle of white

No, I replied.

Basically it’s sailing.

Wait, what?

The same principle that drives a boat forward, (Sails and keels, like airplane wings, exploit Bernoulli’s principle), is exactly the same principle that lifts a Jumbo jet in to the air, albeit with more thrust.

Don’t quiz me on details.

This was an idea that had been sitting there for thousands of years, obvious really, but nobody- not Columbus, the Vikings or the great British Naval fleet or De Vinci had figured it out.

Because they weren’t looking the right way at the problem. That is to say, the wrong way.

The scientists got to air-ships filled with Hydrogen, because hydrogen is lighter than air, then helium took over, before they got to the principle of a sail turned on its side.

They realised hot air was lighter than cool air and that could maybe get us round the world in 80 days. That was pretty clever.

But not so much flying like a bird as a weather balloon.

It took the invention of the combustion engine combined with Bernoulli’s principle to get man off the ground like a bird.

This revelation completely blew my mind.

How could we not have seen what was right in front of our eyes for centuries?

That’s how we need to think of creative solutions. People often say ‘look at it sideways’, in the case of flying that was literal.

The problem is we too often settle for hot air balloons, or huge inflammable zeppelins for our concepts. They’re not a bad solution to being in the air, but they don’t have that sublime simplicity of flying like a bird.

And clients can be wary of bird flight, they prefer the scientific certainty of a balloon filled with helium.

So the question is, is that idea sat on your desk going to get your brand to soar or tootle your way round the world in a top hat?

 

 

 

How you see the Gillette ad is like how you see Ferris Bueller. Kind of.

I love an online furore, me.

Have you see the new Gillette advert? Boys will be boys? It’s been hard to miss.

After all the campaigns empowering our mothers, sisters, and daughters – from This girl can to Like a girl to Blood normal us chaps finally have our own bonafide ‘purpose’ campaign.

Except this one is for Gillette and the other campaigns were for um…bodyform? I dunno.

But let’s leave aside whether purpose based campaigns are worthwhile for now. In Healthcare we take a brands purpose as a given, improving lives, saving lives, but in consumer it’s still a point of contention.

Either way, Gillette has 50% of the razor market, which ordinarily would make this kind of decision – to get stuck in to a political arena – unthinkable, because why risk that massive brand leadership position to virtue signal?

Which makes their decision all the more brave, stupid or smart, depending on whether you see the ad as half full or half empty.

Because whether you identify with the men being ‘corrected’ or the men doing the ‘correcting’ determines how you see the film.

If you don’t see how identifying with characters makes a difference to your interpretation (of anything) try watching a favourite film from your youth, thirty years later. When I first saw it I, like you I dare say, thought Ferris Bueller was the coolest kid ever. Thirty years on and all I can feel is the horror of a father whose precious Ferrari is trashed by some spoilt kids who aren’t taking their education seriously.

I was first made aware of this new Gillette campaign over my porridge when an incensed Piers Morgan had a tantrum on ITV, here on UK breakfast TV.

It’s my own fault, but BBC breakfast is quite the snore-fest.

Of course, Piers spectacularly missed the point of the commercial and thought it was about not being masculine. He was in the glass half empty camp and only saw men being corrected. How very dare they.

In terms of identifying, make of that what you will.

Because Piers (and quite a lot of other online-people too apparently) clearly thinks evolving from a pre #metoo male in to any kind of aware human being means being all weedy and not beating up softy types and not being able to pinch girls bottoms, catcall and mansplain all over the place.

Clearly some of his favourite things to do and a definitive mark of a man* (*Old Spice strapline 1970’s BTW)

I quickly started scanning twitter responses. The anger was pretty substantial, it must be said.

“I will never use Gillette products again!”

“it’s an attack on manhood and masculinity”

Were just some of the comments I’ve made up, but accurately sum up the reaction.

But does that mean it was universally hated?

Have you been on twitter recently? As someone in my office pointed out, the kind of people who get incensed about this kind of thing all live on Twitter and the comment section of Youtube.

So is there a silent majority who would actually champion this kind of brave and purpose driven marketing – or at least the message at its heart – but who just don’t tend to bother shouting in to the internet’s infinite void about it?

Maybe.

Going online this morning (the day after) and the tide seems to have changed. The supporters have come out in force. Yesterday it was 10 attackers to every 1 defender in terms of thumbs up or down on Youtube. This morning it’s down to 2:1.

Not a knock out punch but a definite bounce back. (assuming there’s not been any shenanigans with the numbers)

So, call me controversial, but I want to show Gillette some love.

They’ve taken a sensitive issue and been brave enough to nail their colours to its mast. Good for them. What better brand to do this?

And what better time?

Three years ago this campaign would have been unthinkable. Today it’s controversial, in twenty years time it will seem quaint.

I mean think of how far we’ve come since the 50s.

Advertising has always reflected our society. Always made semi political statements, even without knowing. After all, there was a time when these ads were perfectly acceptable and seen as funny even.

When brands realised they were out of step, they changed. Perhaps this is what Piers thinks appeals to real men and mourns these campaigns?

I doubt it.

Okay, the Gillette ad is a little cheesy for my British palette, it looks a little like the agency presented the mood reel for the strategy and the client pointed at the screen and said let’s run it!

And I found parts of it a little patronising. Plus I wish it had been handled with a lighter touch. It is quite a blunt instrument with no nuance or subtlety.

But I must admit I identified with the men trying to do the right thing more than the men who weren’t.

But it wasn’t always so.

In my youth I’m not sure I was as aware of what I said and did as I am today, more through ignorance than malice. Age, experience and this whole movement has made some of us question our actions, but more importantly see what we hadn’t seen before.

Maybe I won’t comment on what she’s wearing. Maybe I won’t make a dick joke. Maybe I will listen more and not interrupt.

Most men try to do the right thing. But also most men are a product of their upbringing.

I grew up in the seventies, when it really was a man’s world, admen were men, clients were men, and so were the women (to paraphrase an 80’s Leagas Delaney Timberland ad). Today’s young men have the benefit of a somewhat more balanced media world and have been exposed to opinions and messages that emanate from a more diverse range of voices.

The seventies and eighties style Gillette ad, glossy women fawning over square-jawboned men would simply not resonate with our sons today. They’re as outdated as those 50s print ads.

And literally nobody ever talked about Gillette ads back then. They were sometimes parodied or spoofed, but as advertising campaigns they were like toilet roll or cat food, just something glossy to reassure you they worked well enough.

Now suddenly Gillette is relevant. Topical and has purpose.

Suddenly it’s the number one trending topic on Twitter.

As any adman will tell you, getting noticed is the first and most important thing any ad has to do. Without that, everything else is meaningless.

So are the predictions of brand suicide without merit?

Mark Ritson in Marketing week:

“…But in Gillette’s case there is a bigger price to pay. There is a special place in marketing hell for companies that not only waste their marketing budgets but actually invest that money into things that ultimately make their situation much worse. That’s going to be the cost of this foray into brand purpose for Gillette.

It has spent its own money to make its still excellent commercial situation indelibly less positive at a time when it can ill afford the misstep, given the many alternatives vying for its sales. And for that we should stand back and appreciate what might turn out to be the worst marketing move of the whole year.”

It’s an interesting article and I can see his point, but I for one will be renewing my purchase of their blades. They work well enough, so what’s not to like?

We’ll see how Gillette sales do over the coming weeks and months.

But bear in mind this:

People always hate change, when Heineken famously dropped doing beer campaigns with ‘busty barmaids’ ( a phrase that’s all but died out it’s just occurred to me) their research groups were up in arms. Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach??? what a load of bollocks, they said, bring back our barmaids!

And yet, it became one of the greatest ad campaigns of all time – at least in the UK.

So, if the Gillette ad makes someone think twice before saying or acting inappropriately and link that action back to the brand, then all well and good.

And so what that it’s a mere razor brand who is doing that. Their brand relies on ‘The best a man can get’ and if that meaning has to change from adoring women and fast cars to a higher standard of behaviour, then that’s moving positively with the times.

And I suspect that the customer base that Mark Ritson worries will desert Gillette on point of principle will un-ruffle their feathers soon enough when they realise that not being an asshole is actually an ok thing to be.

Apart from Piers Morgan obviously.