In 2003, Barr Soft Drinks were putting their media out to pitch and they asked Phil to sit in on the pitch and advise them.
There were three media shops pitching: BLM Media, Feather Brooksbank, and PHD.
Phil says he doesn’t remember what BLM’s pitch was.
Which probably means it was exactly like every other pitch: thorough, attention to detail, making sure all the boxes have been ticked, no mistakes.
In other words, bland and forgettable, don’t get it wrong.
But Phil does remember the next presentation: Feather Brooksbank.
He remembers it just for the quantity: it went on for ages.
Tons of research, endless charts, numbers, graphs, facts, surveys, interviews, focus groups, slides, videos, all incredibly slick with professional production values.
A tsunami of information, demonstrating a commitment to thoroughness.
But that’s all he remembered from that presentation: quantity.
Then PHD presented.
He remembers their presentation centred on two large cards.
Each was mocked up as like a boxing bout.
Barr had two brands: Irn Bru and Tizer.
Tizer’s bout was: "Boys v Girls"
Irn Bru’s bout was: "Safe v Dangerous".
As David Ogilvy said, "Strategy is sacrifice".
PHD said Barr didn’t have a lot of money, so they had to prioritise.
In other words, they had to sacrifice.
Which meant it came down to two straight choices.
PHD said for Tizer it should be boys not girls.
And they went on to demonstrate why that made sense as a target.
Then PHD turned to Irn Bru.
They said Barr was running a wacky creative campaign, but they were running it in safe, predictable media.
PHD showed them how to back up the creative with guerrilla media.
Phil says he doesn’t recall any of the charts from any of the pitches.
All he remembered was those two boxing bouts and the simple, powerful commonsense.
And the next day, when the clients sat down to discuss the pitches, guess which was the only thing any of them could remember.
And, surprise surprise, that’s exactly how advertising works.
Because that’s how the human mind works.
Two of the agencies were thinking, "Make sure we say absolutely everything we want to say".
While the third agency was thinking, "What’s the one thing we want the client to remember tomorrow?"
PHD won the account and they’ve had it for 15 years.
Based on what’s stuck with him since that pitch, Phil Adams has two pieces of advice.
This advice works in every situation where human beings are involved.
Number one is strip it back.
Whatever you want to say, simplify it beyond what is comfortable. Simplify it until you are embarrassed at how simple it is.
Number two is something that is nowadays out of favour and considered dinosaur thinking.
But it will root itself firmly in the brain and displace anything else that’s in there.
Dave Trott’s book, One Plus One Equals Three, is out now