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Flying Seraph

‘What Is’ Versus ‘What Could Be’

There’s an inspiring story told of a shoe company that wanted to sell its products in the South Pacific Islands. So long ago that the only means of communication was telex. The story predates even fax machines. (I recall reading it as a University student – not as far back as this story, though)

They sent a sales guy to the islands to try and sell their shoes. After a while, he sent a telex back saying: ‘Bad news, these guys don’t wear shoes’.

Not satisfied, the company recalled him and sent their most ambitious sales rep out to the islands. He sent back a very different message: ‘Great news. These guys haven’t discovered shoes yet’.

The late, great Bill Bernbach – for those who don’t know, the B in the highly regarded DDB – had a very similar message for us. He said:

“We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it. We are so busy listening to statistics we forget we can create them.”

Nice in theory, but is it true in the real world?

If you were to look at the Press headlines and research into prevailing beliefs and behaviour in Australia in the late 1990s, red meat was the second biggest evil. Behind cigarettes. If cigarette smoking didn’t kill you, red meat would.

My client at the time – David Thomason – was one of the most visionary marketers I’ve met. With his vision, belief and courage, we rehabilitated Red Meat within 5 years. Together, we won the Grand Prix of the Effectiveness Awards (now the Effies) and had the bulk of consumers and medicos telling people to eat a Red Meat Meal 3-4 times a week. And doing so themselves.

That was not a task for the faint-hearted. Admittedly, it’s a rare person who is prepared to take on such bad odds. David was not one to shy away from a (monster) challenge.

If you can’t bring yourself to listen to Bernbach, then at very least take it from David.

Interrogate statistics. Treat them as guilty until proven innocent. Spend most of your effort imagining what could be. And do all you can to see beyond what is.

Then, go out and make new statistics. Numbers that suit you far better.


*A tribute to the late David Thomason. Gone far too young.

Please follow me on Twitter: @MarkSareff

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