5 questions with... Dave Trott, Author, Predatory Thinking

What is predatory thinking?

Predatory thinking is another word for creativity or being street smart or taking a legal unfair advantage. It should be at the core of everything we do. It’s about outthinking the competition and challenging accepted rules with principles that you work out for yourself. As Bill Bernback, one of my advertising heroes and in my eyes the person who invented proper advertising, said ‘principles endure, formulas don’t’.

Predatory thinking is ruthless and aggressively focused on beating the competition. It’s about being honest and being smart in turning a negative into a positive, transforming a weakness into a strength and a competitor’s strength into a weakness.

Whether it’s hypocrisy or good manners, English people are often uncomfortable with the competitive nature of selling. It doesn’t sit well with the gentile Cotswold sensibility. That's why all the best football managers are from Glasgow! In countries like the US, this isn’t a problem because everyone plays the game to win. It's  usually the boldest and most ambitious that succeed.

What campaigns have caught your eye recently?

Not many here. The best stuff is coming out of the US or elsewhere in Europe.

The Geico (US price comparison site) ‘Happier than a camel on Wednesday’ ad (20 million YouTube hits) is as a great example. It’s simple, smart and refreshing. It speaks to its target market in a way they can relate to, successfully taking the words off the screen and into the everyday language of consumers. At this point you have viral media and the advertiser has a much more powerful marketing tool than the ad alone.

Never underestimate the value of getting your language adopted into the way people speak. Take Ronseal. Early this month, David Cameron referred to the coalition government as “a Ronseal deal – it does exactly what it says on the tin”. Ronseal’s slogan has successfully been adopted into the lexicon of everyone from normal people to our most high profile politicians.

The best ads are simple, powerful and effective in their execution. I enjoyed the British Heart Foundation’s ad with Vinney Jones. ‘Push hard and fast to the beat of Staying Alive’ is a useful and memorable message for anyone who finds themselves in a situation having to perform CPR.

 

What’s wrong in the UK?

Too many people and brands desperately trying to make art not advertising. How often do you remember a TV ad and not the brand behind it? People seem to be afraid to put a logo anywhere near their ads!

Marketers are guilty of marketing to themselves, using the same boring techniques, language and jargon they learned at university from lecturers who haven’t actually been very successful. This isn’t the language you hear people using in the supermarket but the jargon does help to explain simple principles to people who need complicated language to understand them.

Sadly you now need the qualification to play the game – nobody starts in the post room anymore. All this produces bland formulaic, conveyor belt advertising that gets credibility from peers for its intellectual process but does little to push creativity or competition.

How can advertising rediscover its creativity?

Individuals and companies need to take more risks. I’d like to see need more predatory thinking, more encouragement of the rebels who are willing to challenge conventional wisdom. As Steve Jobs said, “why be in the navy if you can be a pirate?”

Of course the majority of people lack the talent, competitiveness and courage to not play by the rules. But every generation springs a few surprises with people who reject the ‘can’t be done’ mentality that is so often prevalent in the UK. Jobs didn’t listen to anyone who said you couldn’t make a phone without buttons!

People and companies need to be more bloody minded, ambitious and focused on beating the competition. Sometimes the end justifies the means. Too frequently you here people who work in advertising refer to ‘the industry’ as if it were a cosy, homogenised and democratic commune.

Should we think about online and offline creativity differently?

People who assume that the old thing is dead just because a new thing has come along are quite frankly a bit stupid. Film didn’t die because TV came along.

Smart and creative marketers see media innovations as an extension of their toolkit to get the results they want. The uncreative jump on the latest bandwagon and quickly proclaim a new set of rules. Principles endure, formulas don’t.

Dave Trott will give the  closing keynote at the invite-only iMedia Summit at BAFTA on 24 April speaking alongside leaders from 20th Century Fox, GlaxoSmithKline, McLaren, Shell, Argos, Novartis, American Express, Kraft, Spotify, Vice and BuzzFeed. Click here for more information.

 

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